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Gold Rush Randonnée Wrap Up

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009
Leaving Tandem Properties at the start of the 2009 Gold Rush Randonnée. Picture courtesy of Jean Jackman.

Leaving Tandem Properties at the start of the 2009 Gold Rush Randonnée

The Gold Rush Randonnée started at 6pm Monday, July 6, 2009 at Tandem Properties in North Davis. I arrived at about 5:40pm. We all left right at 6. I was one of the last riders out of the parking lot.

We stayed together as a group for the first mile. A front group took off after we turned west onto Road 27. I was in the second group, well-positioned behind a tandem, rolling easily along in the low-20s. About three miles out, not long before the turn north on Road 99, I began running through a mental checklist. I’m not sure what triggered that process. Whatever the case, I soon feared that I had left my clear lenses at home. I use prescription lenses, and couldn’t ride at night with sunglasses, so I had to make sure. I pulled over, looked through my bags while rider after rider passed me, and sure enough, they weren’t there. So I turned around and rode for home, which was about three miles back. Once there, I went inside, went right to where I knew the lenses should be, grabbed them, and got back on course. So, thirty minutes into a 90-hour ride, I was already 20 or 30 minutes behind schedule, riding alone, and running DFL (dead fucking last).

And that’s kind of how the rest of the ride went. Me riding alone and losing time to contingencies I had avoided, ignored, or just not foreseen. All of this despite 10 months of planning, training, packing, and rechecking what I thought was everything necessary.

Being alone, awake, and active for the better part of 82 hours gives one lots of time to think. I want to summarize the ride, but I also want to get across some of the processes and conclusions and observations I came up with during the ride. Rather than separate the two, I’ll try to combine them here. I hope it works.

Here’s the story, in all its subparts:

Part I

Part II

Part III


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Davis to Oroville

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Davis to Oroville – Rolling for Time
Mile 0 to Mile 103.1

Getting ready for the ride

Getting ready for the ride

My plan for the Gold Rush Randonnée (GRR) was to break it into thirds of roughly 250 miles (or 400 kilometers) each: Davis to Susanville, Susanville to the turnaround at Davis Creek (near the Oregon border, by Goose Lake) and back again, then Susanville back to Davis. (If you look at the online map, you can select each third of the route by clicking on the “Tracks” in the upper-right corner.  By default, all three sections of the route are shown.  Clicking on a track will hide it.)  I counted on making each 250-mile leg in 20 hours (based on the 18 hours it took me to ride the 400k brevet earlier in the season). Doing so would allow ample time to rest in Susanville on the way out, sleep there overnight on the way back, and still allow for any mechanical breakdowns. If everything went perfectly, I hoped to finish by midnight Thursday.

The first hundred miles of the course, from Davis to Oroville, is essentially flat. It is all Central Valley agriculture with only three small towns in between. My plan was to make this stretch in six hours. That would give me a good time buffer so I could take a long break in Susanville. My plan would have easily worked with a group. It was not so easy with my six-mile detour and no one in front to share pulling duties with.

So, I rode along fairly quickly (19 – 20 mph) and kept laughing at my mistake. I mean, I had planned everything so well. I had mapped the route out online months in advance; manually typed in the directions from the cue sheet to help me memorize the course; printed out the control closing times to calculate my windows of time to leave each one to make the next safely; packed each of my four drop bags with separate “Outbound” and “Inbound” packages; labelled each and included instructions so I wouldn’t forget anything; carefully selected songs for the iPod to match different types of terrain, weather, and mood. I went so far as to coordinate sock colors with the jerseys I planned to change into.

But the one thing I left to the last minute – really, the only decision I did not make beforehand – was whether I would wear sunglasses or clear lenses for the start. It was sunny, and we had a five-mile leg right into the sun at the start, so sunglasses made sense. On the other hand, after we turned north I could ignore the sun. And if I had sunglass lenses in, I would have to stop at some point and change to clear lenses, which would mean possibly losing the group I hoped to be riding with. In the end, I chose sunglasses, and in so doing, inadvertently left the clear lenses in a black fabric case on a black desk in a room with the shutters closed. Forty-five minutes into the ride, 25 minutes behind schedule, that seemed pretty funny to me.

Then a thought struck which panicked me. The first part of the route takes a roundabout way to Knight’s Landing, which meant someone could cut out five miles or so by taking a more direct route. On the 600k brevet in June, which traced this same route northwest of Davis, there was a secret control about 15 miles out to make sure no one cheated. It made sense there would be a secret control again. Controls are only open for specific periods of time based on a speed ranging roughly between 8 and 20mph. I realized that with my detour home, there was a chance I wouldn’t make that window. So I tried to calculate how long the secret control would be open, how fast I was going, where I was, and whether I would make it in time. I would have been humiliated to DNF in the first 15 miles of the ride.

And it’s one of the funny things about riding, at least for me, that I can fixate on a thought, and at the same time, never arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. It should have been easy to calculate 8mph x 15 miles and come up with a closing time, then compare that to my location and pace. I was riding roads that I ride virtually every Monday morning, so I know the landmarks, turns, small hills, stop signs, etc. It should have been easy to figure out my ETA at the15 mile mark. But I never did arrive at an answer. I would keep getting lost in the knowledge that it was possible to DNF 15 miles into the ride, only to start the calculations over again.

In the end, I made the control, and they confirmed what I already knew: I was last. Not that position is important: a randonnée is by definition not a race. But my mistake threatened my great plan for a long break in Susanville.

After the secret control, the next landmark of note was Knights Landing. I knew this country from the Monday rides and the 600k I rode in early June, so I concentrated on my balance of speed and fatigue. While I wanted to make up time, it was more important not to let my heart rate run too high or to cross over my lactate threshold. That’s the surest way to run out of energy on a long ride.

At one turn to go north over Interstate 5, I came across Lee Mitchell who, as always, was driving the lead sag (support and gear) wagon. I stopped to top off my water. Just as I was pulling up, another rider took off. It turned out that he was riding with the lead group, took the turn fast and slipped out in some loose gravel. Lee had patched him back together, but the rider didn’t wear gloves so his hands got pretty scratched up. Lee was going to keep an eye on him because he didn’t think the rider would be able to go too much farther with that kind of hurt.

By the time I got to Knights Landing, I had passed two other riders. They were riding together and seemed perfectly comfortable at their slower pace. I wondered how they would ever make the entire course on time. I crossed the Sacramento River and turned onto a levee road. It is a very relaxed sort of road, winding along the river just high enough off the valley floor to give you a view of the farms and ranches extending to the north and east. I started to catch other riders on the road, and was feeling a little more relaxed. To my surprise, I came across four groups of people along here cheering riders on. The last spectators were a middle aged couple who had pulled out lawn chairs to the edge of their front lawn. They were drinking red wine and offered a toast as I went by. They asked if I was last. I said no, and asked them if I’d missed the turn. They said no and good luck and turned their attention back up the road looking for the next rider.

The Sutter Buttes from the Sacramento River levee road (Cranmore Road) at sunset

The Sutter Buttes from the Sacramento River levee road (Cranmore Road) at sunset

The sun was starting to get low now. I started a new calculation. There was a water stop at about mile 45. I wanted to make it that far before I had to change lenses or turn my lights on. So again, I started getting into time–speed–distance calculations to see if I would make it. At the same time I was trying to calculate, I had decided I would go to the 45-mile mark before I changed lenses even if it got dark. That made me try to ride a little faster.

Which is another strange thing about riding a bike. For some reason, not stopping can somehow become the most important consideration in making plans, either beforehand or on the fly. There is no practical reason I couldn’t reach down and turn on the light. And it wouldn’t take more time to change lenses out on the levee than it would at a water stop. But the psychological effect of making an unplanned stop is huge. It breaks momentum, breaks concentration, requires re-calculation. All of these minor, minor issues in reality, but huge in the reality of cycling. Your 19mph average speed over 20 miles might drop to 18.8mph because of a two minute stop. But it is still enough of a difference to make you ride in the dark with sunglasses to avoid that delay.

In the end, I made the stop with plenty of light even though the sun had set. I changed my lenses, refilled water bottles, turned on the light, chatted with the folks working there – all while swatting swarms of mosquitoes – and made it back out in about five minutes.

Some people had left not long before me, so now I had some rabbits to chase. This part of the ride was fun. The air was cooling. The orange light in the western sky was reflecting in channels between the rice fields. Frogs were starting to croak. The moon, one day short of full, was rising in the east. I was fully warmed up and the road was dead straight and flat. This is my riding: Central Valley flat. There is a French term for people accustomed to this type of riding: Rouleur. And though it seems easy, people who don’t ride flats regularly get beaten down a little bit by this type of riding. It’s monotonous for one thing, and they don’t deal with wind as well, don’t feel the subtle rises or take advantage of the equally subtle drops. To me this is quick, easy riding that takes no mental effort, releasing me to focus on whatever goal I happen to have.

In this case, my goal was to make up lost time. I saw tail lights ahead, put my head down, and started to chase them. The pavement was fresh chip seal, a rough finish that is uncomfortable and slow. But the workers had left about a six inch-wide strip of the old smooth pavement untouched in the middle of the road. (For those of you who don’t ride, pavement quality becomes a huge concern to those of us who do. Ask any cyclist you know about pavement in your area, and they will be able to tell you about every rut, bump, and hole in incredible detail.) The road was empty of cars, so I rolled right up the middle, swerving every 10 to 20 feet to go around the yellow lane reflectors. It was a fun game. I could see riders I passed looking over at me, and I imagined they were trying to figure out what the hell I was doing in the middle of the road. Passing your ass on this smooth pavement while you ride on that bumpy crap is pretty much what I was thinking.

My thought processes are not always as elevated as I would like.

I vaguely knew the route through this area, but not in detail. There was a group of riders ahead of me. I couldn’t tell how many, but enough to follow their tail lights from almost a mile back. Occasionally, the lights would disappear in front of me and reappear on some tangential course. It was cool watching the lights glide over the fields. When that happened, I would start watching for an intersection, then turn once I saw where the lights were headed.

I rolled into Sutterville. It was fully dark now, and other riders were there tending to their business. I switched empty water bottles from my frame for full ones from my seat post, mixed some electrolyte drink, and got going again.

It’s kind of ironic, now that I think about it, but as important as it is not to stop in the middle of a leg, it is equally important to make sure you do stop at any major landmark, no matter how short the stop is. There is something pleasing about arriving, getting off the bike, and getting back on again. Conversely, there is also something enervating about looking forward to a landmark, planning to break, and not allowing yourself even that two-minutes of rest.

A lot of cycling is played out in your head.

From Sutterville, the course continued north along the east side of the Sutter Buttes, past more ranches and fields, and on into the town of Gridley. I caught up to fellow club member Jonathan Gray who rides a recumbent. It was nice to have company for a while, even if he was too low to help pull me along. We rolled along chatting as if we were on one of the weekday rides together, picking up and dropping other riders along the way. That made the long straight stretches of road to Gridley a lot more pleasant.

There is not a whole lot to see in Gridley. It’s like so many other agricultural towns scattered up and down the Central Valley: gas stations, a few restaurants and businesses . . . nice enough, but nothing spectacular. But for some reason, I noticed it had a Taco Bell, and that triggered a craving for a 7- Layer Burrito. Taco Bell food is crap. I sometimes eat there because it is the only non-meat fast food I can find and, more often than not, regret it afterward. Why would I want to eat there now? I didn’t know, but I made a mental note to stop by there on the way back home as a way of putting aside the thought of an unanticipated stop now.

Not long after Gridley, the course started into the small rollers leading to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Jonathan started to cramp a little, so he told me to go ahead. I did, and soon enough, arrived at Oroville control. I got there at 12:28am, about half an hour later than I had hoped – about the same time it took me to go home and get my clear lenses. I checked in, ate, and got the bike ready to go again. Then I visited for a while with Cary Thompson, one of my weekday ride friends working there. I also decided to nap. I wasn’t tired, but knew I would be. One of the things I learned for myself (and from other riders) on the 600k, is that your circadian rhythm will make you sleepy at unpredictable times. On the 600k, for instance, I got very sleepy around 7am, well after it was light outside. So I lay down in a large open room and pulled a blanket over me hoping to disrupt that pattern. I only closed my eyes for fifteen minutes, but thought that would be enough. I was rolling again at 1:30.

Next: Oroville to Taylorsville >

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Oroville to Taylorsville

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Oroville to Taylorsville – The Steady Grind
Mile 103.1 to Mile 194.6

From Oroville, the route turns northeast into the hills. It starts with a rolling 7-mile stretch to get to Interstate 70, climbs to Oroville Dam, then climbs further up to the town of Yankee Hill and over Jarbo Gap. From there, the road plunges (6-mile decent at 4% grade) into the Feather River Canyon. Once in the canyon, it is a long, slow, more or less unbroken ascent to the control in Taylorsville (elevation 3500′).

I rode this course a month earlier in the 600k brevet, and dreaded riding it again. At the same time, I knew what to expect. So when I reached the hills, I put the bike in low gear and took my time climbing. Even at that slower, more relaxed pace, I passed other riders on the way up. Which surprised me, because my bike is so heavy.

My randonneuring bike, designed and built by Rick Jorgensen

My randonneuring bike, designed and built by Rick Jorgensen

I should talk about my bike for a minute here.

The bike I rode was designed and built for me, for this ride, by my friend Rick Jorgensen. I cannot say enough about Rick, his understanding of bikes, and his skills. I also cannot say enough about the process of building this bike; it would just take too damned long. It was an incredible process. We talked about this bike, other bikes, cycling, randonnées, etc. pretty much every day for about 10 months. I cannot begin to capture that process here.

Rick designed this bike specifically for this ride, and no other. And more specifically, he designed it for the last 250 miles of this ride, and pretty much ignored what it needed to do for the first 500 miles. Rick was convinced I could do the first 500 miles on my carbon Ibis road bike if I had to, so that part of the ride did not really enter into the design parameters. Rick has a range of design philosophies. Two are relevant here.

The first is that in all designs, his goal is “to maximize the biomechanical interface between the human and the machine.” So he designed the bike as best as he knew how based on who I am, how I ride, and what ride I needed the bike for. In addition to our conversations, we rode together on various road and mountain bikes in a variety of terrains and conditions, all of which helped him understand how I ride.

Which leads to a second tenet: the weight of the bike is a result of good engineering, not a design parameter. So, for instance, my bike has front panniers. Their placement over the front wheel is the best place to carry load, and in this case, was designed to stabilize the bike’s steering as well, thereby decreasing my arm fatigue. But adding racks to hold the panniers adds weight. Some people will pay $40 or more for carbon fiber water bottle holders, rather than $10 for plastic, to save a few grams. We were adding pounds to the bike, not just grams. Rick’s contention is that a bike that fits well and does what it is designed to do will allow the rider to perform better; in any case, certainly better than a less well-designed bike that just happens to be lighter.

There is far more to discuss here, and I hope to discus the bike more fully elsewhere. But the point I’m trying to make is that as a result of going with front panniers, along with dozens of other decisions (such as carrying five water bottles, e.g.), my bike is pretty damned heavy.

So, as I was rolling along up these long grades, I was shocked to be passing other riders. What do you know? I thought. That crazy bastard Rick was right.

Another cool thing about this uphill stretch of road was that between my slow speed and the moon full up, I could ride with my headlight on low power. That allowed me to make sure my batteries would last all night. It also allowed me to look around and see more of the surrounding country. The moon was bright enough to cast my shadow on the pavement. I really didn’t need a headlight at all, but thought that if I crashed for some stupid reason, I would like to be able to say yes, the light was on. Besides, it helped the empty trucks bombing down the road toward me know I was there, for whatever that was worth.

Now, this light issue is another thing. Bike headlights are increasingly bright and efficient. They are also extremely lightweight, and as a result, there are more of them on each bike. Most riders have one or two mounted on the handlebars and another on their helmet. And they are all very bright LEDs, some with multiple bulbs. When you ride behind a group of riders at night, it looks like a UFO landing, like something out of The X-Files. When you ride in the group, it can be very uncomfortable. For while light is generally a good thing at night, too much can be bad.

For instance, if I am in front and the person behind me has their light on full, their light will cast my shadow in front of me, darkening the road. And there’s no reason for the bikes in back to have their lights on so bright anyway: when you’re following someone, all you are lighting is their butt and the reflective tape they’ve stuck all over their bike and helmet. The worst, though, are the people who run helmet lights on full all the time, because when someone with a helmet light turns to look at you, they blind you. Jonathan Grey, whom I rode with in the flats, had a helmet light; but he only turned it on when he needed to read a cue sheet to see what our next turn was. I wish all riders were that aware.

How did I get on this subject?

Low lighting. Right. I ride with my light as low as I comfortably can. And on this beautiful moonlit night, that was the lowest setting. Instead of fixating on the road, which was only passing by at 8mph anyway, I got to see the boulders and golden grass and green and tan oaks. I got to follow the folds of valleys fall away from the road. I got to do something other than focus on pavement and pedaling. It made the climbing a lot more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. It’s times like this – riding by moonlight at 2am on a warm summer night – that make riding special.

After some time, I reached the top of Jarbo Gap. Time for the long decent. I caught up to a group of four of five riders just before the top. They were stopped, so I continued on past. I thought to ask what they were doing, but got too excited about going down to stop. And there’s that whole necessity to avoid unexpected stops thing, too. Anyway, I soon figured out what they were up to. They were putting on clothes. I had worked up a sweat coming up the hill. Now I was going downhill at about 30mph, and the air was getting colder with every 100 or so feet of decent. By the bottom, I was freezing.

Darell's Piston light

Darell's Piston light

And, in case anyone is concerned, I had the headlight on full for the decent. My friend Darell Dickey loaned me the light. In fact, he loaned it to me for the last six months. And it’s amazing. He was part of a team that designed this light, and it’s now sold out of Australia as a kit. Which isn’t all that important, really. Except that like the bike, which looked like no other on this ride, the light looked like no other. It has three LEDs in a huge casing with an immense heat sink that kind of looks like a miniature Robbie the Robot out of Forbidden Planet. Darell modified it for me to run off 12 AA batteries so I could replace them anywhere on the road without having to find an outlet to recharge a battery pack. He also set the maximum brightness to ¾ of its full potential (750mA). And still, when I turned the light up, I could, as someone else once said, fry road kill at 20 yards. Point is, it’s a bright fucking light. I couldn’t outrun its beam even later in the ride when I was topping 40mph down steeper hills.

So, I’m flying downhill, light on full, starting to shiver, and trying not to get distracted by the grandeur of the canyon I was dropping into. This is one of those times when I think, Why don’t I stop and enjoy some of the scenery? I have that thought a lot while riding, and like my time-speed-distance calculations, it’s one of those topics of internal debate that never gets settled. I still don’t know why I didn’t stop, because soon I was crossing the bridge and sailing along the canyon just above the river. A few miles later I finally got so cold that I did stop and put my vest on. There was a road maintenance yard that was lit, and two other riders were there. Far less scenic than the descent into the canyon. But what the hell. I guess I just got uncomfortable enough.

Post office at Tobin resort

Post office at Tobin resort

Not long after, I pulled into Tobin control. Tobin is a tiny set of resort cabins halfway up the canyon between Oroville and Taylorsville. It has a post office and a lodge. I arrived about 4:50am. The folks running the control had strung christmas lights out front. Bikes – expensive bikes – were strewn all around, lying in the dirt lot. It was strange to see them, each worth thousands of dollars, lying all around. The control was in the lodge which had a low wood ceiling. It was cozy, and warm, and reminded me of a train dining car. A huge selection of food was laid out all along one counter.

Bikes at Tobin

Bikes at Tobin

I don’t remember what I ate there. But I do recall being worried about falling sleep while riding after the sun rose, so I took a 30-minute nap. The club had rented a number of cabins, so I took my shoes off and lay under the covers for a very welcome power nap. I was rolling again in less than an hour, feeling rested and ready for the next tedious stretch.

The next official stop was Taylorsville. To get there, the route turns off Interstate 70 and heads north on Highway 89. After a steep climb, the road enters Indian Valley, an area northwest of the Feather River Canyon and on the way to Lake Almanor. This is a beautiful little corner of the world, and someplace I would never have known about but for riding. There is a cutoff at the lower end of the valley to go directly to Taylorsville. But our outbound route passes this cutoff, and for better or worse, circles the entire valley and heads up to Greenville in the northwest corner before turning east to get to Taylorsville.

Cozy dining at Tobin

Cozy dining at Tobin

On this road for the 600k, I remembered thinking I should stop in Greenville first to eat breakfast. It was a kind of promise I made to myself that if I rode though the town again, I’d at least stop long enough to eat. I think it’s a mistake to charge through these areas without spending a little time, even though I keep doing it. So I planned to stop at Anna’s on the corner of Highway 89 and Main to have breakfast.

Just before entering Greenville, I caught up to fellow DBCer Paul Gutenberg. Paul was, as always, talking – this time to his riding companion, Nicole. I recognized his riding style and outfit from a quarter mile back, and started hearing him from about 100 yards off. I only mention this because from the start, I was wondering when I would catch up to Paul. In each of the previous brevets this season – 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k – I had at some point in the ride caught up to him and in most cases rode with him the rest of the way. For this ride, especially with my having to retrace the first part of the course, I took catching up to him as a sign that I was back on schedule.

And there is something reassuring about the consistency of Paul. Knowing I would catch up at some point, that he would be wearing a helmet with red on the back and a day-glo green shell that puffed up like the Michelin Man, and that he’d be talking in that happy baritone voice of his . . . all of that somehow told me all was right and as it should be.

So I rode with Paul and Nicole the last few miles into Greenville. And in the first test of sticking to my plan, I stopped for breakfast while they continued on to Taylorsville 12 miles on.

Anna's Cafe in Greenville

Anna's Cafe in Greenville

I can’t say breakfast at Anna’s was especially noteworthy. But it was nice to have a breakfast burrito and talk to a few people in the restaurant there and be sort of an ambassador – explaining why all the cyclists were coming through and where we were headed. It was, as I had hoped, a little bit of a grounding experience – a chance to step out of the cycling reality for a while and to come back to the ride a little fresher. Leaving the restaurant and riding slowly away in the morning sun, I felt more like I had just had breakfast after a 30-mile ride rather than the 180-mile ride I actually had under my belt.

From Greenville, the road to Taylorsville along the northern edge of Indian Valley is mostly flat with just small rollers to slow you down and speed you up again. This was a fun stretch, a carefree stretch of road. I came into Taylorsville feeling rested, well-fed, and very strong.

The crew at Taylorsville control was incredible. They were cooking breakfast to order in a tiny kitchen: eggs, meat, pancakes, french toast. I had just eaten, so I passed. In retrospect that was a mistake. But at the time, I wanted to move on. I had just spent an extra 40 minutes in Greenville. I stayed long enough to restock water bottles and visit a little with John Hess, who was working at Taylersville control.

John and his home espresso machine

John and his home espresso machine

John had asked me before the ride if there was anything I would want at this stop. I’d said espresso. John understands these things. A couple of years earlier, we were both on the Davis Bike Club’s San Juan Islands tour. He’d brought Peets coffee and brewed enough every morning for anyone on the tour who had wanted some. He and his wife, Katherine, had researched every decent coffee house and brew pub on our trip, and their daily bike rides were largely between these destinations. These people know how to travel. So John dutifully packed up his compact home espresso machine, a set of demitasse cups he found at the SPCA thrift store, and a couple of pounds of Peets. Once I was done getting my possibles, and without having to ask, he handed me a double espresso. And think about it: how many people would be sensitive enough to serve espresso in a demitasse cup? I was so touched by this generosity that I felt a little choked up. I thanked him and got going again.

Next: Taylorsville to Susanville >

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Taylorsville to Susanville

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Taylorsville to Susanville – Bonking
Mile 194.6 to Mile 254.3

I rode out of Taylorsville the same way I rode in: happy, confident, and feeling well-rested. I had not experienced falling asleep on the bike as I had in the 600k. And I felt much better at this point in the ride than on that previous one.

Genesee General Store

Genesee General Store

The road from Taylorsville starts by working its way gradually up past Genesee, an old mining town in the northeastern corner of Indian Valley. From there, it becomes another long climb along Indian Creek to Antelope Lake. There is a control at the Boulder Creek Work Center on Antelope Lake. It is just under 25 miles from Taylorsville. I expected to make it there easily. That is, until I started the climb.

Indian Creek Road starts out with a fairly steep grade. After a few miles, it levels off some, but continues to climb. The sun was riding high now, and it was warm, if not particularly hot.

I should point out here that the last Gold Rush Randonnée, held in late July 2005, was a scorcher. Riders had 100º and hotter weather every day of the ride. Compared to that, we were blessed with moderate heat.

Nevertheless, something about the steepness of the ascent at the bottom caught me by surprise. The fact that the road leveled some wasn’t much help, as it still went up for some miles. I started to have that same schizophrenic experience that seems so common to me on these long rides. Indian Creek is gorgeous. It is a beautiful mountain stream, winding through small meadows, over peaceful waterfalls, through lovely forests of trees. But I couldn’t enjoy it. I could appreciate it, but that’s not the same. So, one side of my brain was expressing rapture (Look at this gorgeous stream, this beautiful mountain!), and the other was expressing frustration (Where the hell is that goddamned lake? When am I going to get there? Why is it taking so long?).

GRR route profile

GRR route profile (click for larger graphic)

It was at about this point that I realized I should have paid more attention to the route profile – the length and steepness of climbs and descents – than I did. Had I done so, I would have revised my estimated times between stops, and maybe planned a little better.

In any case, I also started to notice I was having stomach issues. I had never had stomach issues on previous rides – at least, not during the ride. But I had lost my appetite for Clif bars and Clif Shots, which are my standard food. I also found that every sip of my electrolyte drink made my stomach twinge with a little pain. The only things I could take in were water and Perpetuem, a liquid complex carbohydrate formula.

Not being able to eat is a bad sign.

Further up, the road steepened again. I climbed and climbed. Finally, I saw a dam. With a final push, I made it to the lake. But was the control right there? Hell no! We had to ride around the other side of fucking lake to get there. I was really starting to hate this course.

Man, was I happy when I finally made Boulder Creek. Not just for the rest, but also because my friend Jim Skeen, whom I ride with on the weekday rides, was working there. But as happy as I was to see Jim, it also made me realize that I was losing my edge. I was having trouble talking to him, and found I didn’t really have the energy to talk. I decided to lie down for a few minutes. He gave me an army blanket and I napped for about 20 minutes under the trees. I probably should have stayed longer, but it was not all that comfortable. Besides, I knew there was more climbing ahead, and I wanted to get that over with.

From Boulder Creek, the route winds up to the highest point on the course – an unmarked point at the top of Janesville Grade. It is a little over 8 miles from Boulder Creek, but in the condition I was in, distance was getting irrelevant. All I could really focus on was the steepness of the incline.

I rolled along fine for a while. The road undulated, alternating quick descents with steep pitches that kept getting longer. After a while, the descents disappeared altogether, and it was all up to the top. I had started riding with a few others, and we were chatting to pass the time. One guy I talked to was Edward Robinson, a rider from Texas. He, like me, was an escapee from law practice. And like most ex-attorneys, channels his energy by committing his time elsewhere. He is president of the Lone Star Randonneurs, is their regional brevet administrator, and serves on the RUSA (Randonneurs USA) board.

At some point, we passed a couple of riders resting on the side of the road. They told us that, according to the mileage, they were sitting at the top of the hill, elevation 6340′, the highest point of the Gold Rush Randonnée. We braced for the screaming downhill sure to follow.

(I don’t have any pictures of this part of the ride, which is a shame.  Check out Don Bennet’s.  He’s got some great ones.)

And, yeah, the road did go downhill . . . for a little while anyway. Then uphill again. And down and up and down and up for a few more miles. I cannot convey how disappointing it is to get somewhere around mile 225 of a planned 250 mile day, expect a downhill, and be denied. It sucks.

Finally, we did reach the steep descent into Janesville on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Edward raced ahead of me. He was clearly more comfortable descending. I topped out at 42mph; I have no idea how fast he was going. At the bottom he said something very funny, I thought: I think I need a cigarette.

I laughed, and appreciated the joke. But as we started rolling on flatter ground, I realized that I was shot. I could barely pedal up the rollers. And this stretch from Janesville to Susanville is one of those obnoxious, pointless, frustrating patches of road that is just put into rides to piss you off. By everything that is right and good in the world, the control should be at the bottom of a nice long descent. You should be able to step off the bike invigorated and flushed with adrenalin. You should be backslapping one another and laughing about how you almost wiped out on the steepest curve.

Instead, you still have to ride 15 miles from the town of Janesville to the control at Susanville, and like it or not, exhausted or not, you have to ride it to get there. Oh, and of course, there’s a fucking headwind.

I believe I would not have made it to Susanville were it not for Edward coaxing me along. He stayed back with me when I crawled up the hills, lead me safely along Highway 395, navigated our way to the control. I told him to go on, but he said he was tired as well and didn’t mind riding slowly. His help was a gift. I was thinking of how I’d explain the value of his help to the guys at home. Without Edward, I thought, I would have lain down by the side of the road in Janesville. Coyotes would eventually rip me apart limb by limb, then the vultures would have moved in. The riders returning home would find nothing but a bike and a skeleton off the side of the road in Janesville. But thankfully, Edward was there, so I kept rolling on.

By the time we hit Susanville, I was done. I mean done. Ready to quit the ride. I went inside the building to sign in and found it was 3:40 in the afternoon. I had been riding a little over 21.5 hours, and was only one hour and forty minutes behind my planned schedule. But that wasn’t really all that comforting at the moment.

I thought about eating, and started to feel nauseous. The same thing happened to me at the end of the 600k. At the end of that ride, I leaned over to throw up and passed out in the dirt behind the Park ‘n Ride in Davis. I realized that being at a control was probably the safest place to pass out, but I wanted to avoid that scene.

I had rented a motel room just down the street. Looking around, I was really glad I had done so. The control was in a National Guard Armory. Picture an oversized gym stripped of any sports equipment, and that’s pretty much it. There was one shower, and several rows of cots right next to where people were checking in, eating, and talking. Not really a restful place.

I lost sight of Edward, and in my fatigue, focused on just one thing: getting to my room before I got sick. I found my drop bag, strapped it on my back, and rode back down the street to the hotel. I had a hell of a time checking in. The receptionist was spewing information at me and asking questions. It was all I could do to nod or grunt. I got into the room, took off my shoes, set my alarm for two hours, and went to bed.

This, dear reader, is what we cyclists call bonking.

I have read about bonking, of course, and have seen it in others. The first time I saw it was on my first century – Foxy’s Fall century in 2006. I had talked my friend Mark Stout into riding it with me. After all, he’s the one who got me started cycling, loaned me his carbon Team Postal Trek, took me on my first ride. Mark is a natural athlete. He can do any sport better, faster, longer, and more gracefully than I. I thought Foxy’s would be a breeze for him. And sure enough, I chased his ass for 70 miles. It beat the crap out of me to keep up with him. But he bonked. He wasn’t able to eat enough to sustain his energy, and he limped home for the last 30 miles – the easiest, flattest part of the course. He didn’t smile, didn’t talk, and didn’t look anywhere but down or straight ahead. I had never seen him like that and I couldn’t understand what could make him feel that bad.

Lying in that bed in Susanville, I finally understood. Bonking isn’t getting tired. It’s losing everything. It feels as if something reached down out of the sky and grabbed your soul and ripped it out of your body. You have no energy, no will. You are done.

Lying there in Susanville, air conditioning blowing away, I started to plan my way back to Davis. The problem was, there was no easy way to get back. No way could I ride up Janesville Grade. Maybe Greyhound? But then I’d have to pack the bike. Maybe Rick would come get me. Of course he would. But I didn’t want to ask. I thought about going forward, but the prospect was bleak. There is a 7-mile, very exposed climb to Antelope Summit just to get out of Susanville, and that didn’t seem possible at the time. So instead of planning my return home, I tried to gauge how crappy I would feel if I gave up then. Surprisingly – or not surprisingly, perhaps – I didn’t think I’d feel crappy about it at all. It was sounding very sensible to me.

My alarm went off at 7pm. I lay still for a few minutes and took inventory. Incredibly, I thought I could move. So I tried. I could! I sat up very slowly. No headache, no real stiffness. I recalled reading over and over again how people get over bonking. Some rest, some food, some time, and they’re good to go again. I was starting to believe it might be true.

I took a shower then changed into a t-shirt nd shorts I had packed. I walked across the parking lot to the Black Bear Diner. All of Susanville decided to go to the Black Bear that night. I sat at the counter and it took 15 minutes to get a glass of water and another 20 to get my dinner.

While I waited for dinner to be served, I posted a poem on Twitter that had been rattling around in my head. A haiku by Issa.

Katatsumuri
Fuji san o noboru
Soro soro de

Oh, Snail
Climb Mt. Fuji
But slowly, slowly

I posted it because it was a sort of mantra for the day. Also, my ability to do so was a sign to me that I was regaining lucidity. It was, finally, a sign to my wife, Lisa, who was following my progress via Twitter, that I was doing okay.

Finally, my dinner arrived. It was about the only thing without meat on the entire menu: some sort of tostada which was really shredded lettuce with tomatoes and cheddar cheese on some oversized deep fried piece of batter designed to look like . . . hell, I don ‘t know what. I just remember it was a big ugly piece of shit, so I dumped the salad onto my plate and moved the shell to the counter and chowed down.

And goddamn if they weren’t right! A little rest, sleep, and food, and you could get over bonking. I could feel the cloud lifting as I ate my salad. I finished the entire thing – something I could never do under normal circumstances – then went back to my room. I changed into new cycling clothes I had packed, double-checked all the items I had to do on my Outbound Checklist, and headed back to the Armory to check out. By the time I was rolling again, it was 8:30pm, just under 5 hours from when I had rolled in. Incredibly, I was only 30 minutes behind where I expected to be at this point.

I still can’t completely understand how I pulled out of bonking. I mean, I’ve read about it, and I know it’s a temporary condition. But at the time, it was so devastating that I couldn’t imagine feeling well enough to go outside, let alone consider riding another 250 miles before sleeping again. The RUSA guidebook says you need an “unwavering determination” to finish the ride to get over obstacles like this. Maybe. In my case, I think it was more of a flexibility: a willingness to let the ride go if necessary. An ability to wait and see how things developed rather than forcing myself to go on. At least, that was true in Susanville on the outbound leg. A little later that same night, I did have to force myself to go on. But that was a different situation entirely. Had I known what the rest of the ride to Adin would be like, I may well have quit at Susanville.

Next: Susanville to Adin >

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Susanville to Adin

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Susanville to Adin – Freezing
Mile 254.3 to Mile 321.8

I rode slowly out of Susanville control. I still wasn’t entirely convinced I was okay to ride, so I wanted to take it easy. The course quickly turned onto Highway 139 and started to climb over Antelope Grade (elevation 5472′). I seemed to feel fine, so I kept pedaling slowly over the hill. Antelope Grade is not a natural pass. Someone decided there needed to be a road here, and these hills were in the way, so they plowed a road right over them. The good news was that it was a steady climb rather than the uneven steps you get up a natural pass. Slow and steady was what I needed right then.  (Here is a picture at the top of Antelope Grade taken by Joseph Maurer.)

I was glad I slept at Susanville. As it turned out, I really had no choice. But I had planned to anyway, contrary to general wisdom. Two very reliable sources – Larry “The Legend” Burdick and Bill Bryant (former president of RUSA) – had both advised that it would be better to ride straight through to Adin rather than stop at Susanville. A lot of people followed that advice. It’s about 320 miles from Davis to Adin, and the argument for riding that far is (1) to get further down the course and build up more time to sleep later, when you’re more tired, and (2) a lot of people who stop in Susanville don’t finish the course, whereas people who ride past Susanville statistically do finish.

I compared this advice to my experience in the 600k. I figured it would take me around 27 hours to get to Adin. I rode 30 hours straight in the 600k, and it toasted me. I decided to ride my own ride. I would have slept in Susanville even if I didn’t need to, and I still think that was the right plan for me.

Another advantage to starting out from Susanville just before sunset was how pleasant the evening was. The sun was setting now, the wind had calmed. The full moon would be rising soon. Everything was soft. It was a beautiful time to ride. Very welcoming in a way the the harsh afternoon could never have been.

I topped Antelope Pass and started down. The descent was fun, though like all descents, seemed to end too soon. I was now out in high desert with nothing around but rocks and bushes and far off mountains. There was a slight cross breeze, just enough to annoy me. It was getting colder, so I stopped to put on my vest. Absolute silence. That deafening desert silence. I was happy to be out there.

Occasionally, I would catch a headlight in my rear view mirror and it would give me a start. Looking back again, I would see it was just the full moon following me up the road.

Further up, the route passed over a mountain pass, somewhat higher than Antelope Grade. This one was long and steady. For better or worse, visibility seemed unlimited in the clear desert air. I could see bike tail lights ahead of me: one about half a mile off, and another far beyond that. They told me I had a very long climb ahead.

I couldn’t read my speed, but I estimated it at 5mph. Based on the tail lights and the contour of the hills, I estimated the grade to be somewhere between 4 and 6 miles long. Then I regretted all my estimating because now I knew I would be grinding up this damned hill for an hour or so. And there was nothing I could do about that, except go slower, I guess. So, I put my head down, shifted into low gear, and set to grind it out.

This seemed like a good time to eat. I mean, I didn’t have shit else to do for an hour. I pulled out a Clif Bar, one of my stock riding foods. It took me a long time to open the package. Not because it was difficult, but because the thought of eating the bar was so unappetizing. I knew I needed to eat, otherwise I’d bonk again. So I opened it and nibbled a corner. I had only nibbled about ¾ of the bar by the top of the climb. I knew then that I’d need a new refueling strategy.

After crossing the pass, the road dropped into a screaming downhill, with Eagle Lake looming just to the west. Another too short downhill and I was pedaling again. The road was mostly flat along the lake, and I knew that the Grasshopper water stop was near Eagle Lake somewhere. But the lake kept going, and I kept riding, and the rest stop never appeared. It is only about 25 miles from Susanville to Grasshopper – about the distance of Davis to Vacaville, a ride I do every Friday. Twenty-five miles is nothing on a road bike. A warm up ride. But this evening, it dragged on forever.

The road started to climb away from the lake. I was wondering if I missed the stop. I mean, there is no way I could miss it; there is nothing out there. The rest stop would be the only thing with lights, sound, and people. I think I was starting to panic. And get cold.

Finally, the rest stop appeared on the right. There was a Davis Bike Club rest stop sign on the road, lighted by a blinking bike tail light. What a welcome sight . . .

Grasshopper was run by the co-captain team of Lois Springsteen and Bill Bryant. Lois is the current RUSA president, and her husband Bill a past president. Bill also wrote a lot of the articles in the RUSA handbook about how to prepare for the 1200k, including the one which advised riding the 600k without sleeping. Back when I was younger and fresher – Monday – I had thought I’d give Bill an ear full about what lousy advice that was, how it almost kept me from riding the 1200k, etc. Right now I was so grateful for their help that all I really wanted to do was to hug him for just being there.

One of the real advantages of having experienced randonneurs running rest stops is that they know what you’re going through, and how to take care of you. This was supposed to be a water-only rest stop. Instead, it was better stocked than most rest stops on any ride I’ve been on. It was filled with hot food options, hot chocolate, snacks, a full selection of supplements, and like all the rest stops, a crew of people who insisted on doing everything for us.

Now that I was off the bike, I could feel the cool breeze. The temperature was probably in the mid-40s, and with the breeze, it felt like it was dropping fast. Lois gave me an army blanket to wrap up in while I ate. The only remaining clothes I had packed were my arm warmers. I had packed the rest – leg warmers, glove liners, and wool undershirt – and sent it forward to Adin, which was 37 miles away. I didn’t think it would get this cold, and in any case, thought I’d be a Adin sooner.

After eating and resting, I felt ready to go. But I wanted to warm up more first. They had a large Ryder truck with them that they used to haul the supplies up. It was empty now, so they had set up a couple of cots and a pile of blankets. It wasn’t elegant, but it was out of the wind. I crawled into the back of the truck, wrapped up in another blanket, set the alarm, and slept for 30 minutes.

When it was time to get up, I hesitated. I knew it would be cold. I knew I’d be underdressed. I had a long-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, and a vest, so I knew my core would be okay. But the arm warmers were not very thick, and my fingers and legs would be exposed. So I evaluated my options: go to Adin to get my warm clothes, go back to Susanville, stay wrapped up in a blanket in the back of a truck for 4 or 5 more hours. I decided going forward wasn’t any worse than the other options.

So I rose, grabbed some more food, and as quickly as I could, dropped the blanket, got on the bike, and started pedaling.

What can I say. It was fucking freezing. My teeth started chattering immediately. I pedaled as fast as I could to generate heat. It wasn’t enough. I started a routine of rubbing my left arm with my right hand to warm both up; then right arm with left hand an equal number of strokes; then left thigh with right hand; right thigh with left hand. Rest, then start the pattern over again. I was hyperventilating, breathing hard and shallow because the air was so cold. My neck was starting to seize up because my shoulders were hunched and unmoving.

Then I crossed another pass and started to go downhill, and it got colder. After that, high desert again and more cold air. Occasionally the road passed through a cut and the earth on either side warmed up the air just enough to let me relax. Then out into the open again and more cold.

I was really miserable.

The road climbed up one more pass. It was harder riding, but the surrounding trees offered some protection from the cold. Three riders caught up to me. Wordlessly, I dropped into their group. They were all fully dressed. I figured I could stay behind them and get a little shelter from the wind.

Once at the top of this pass, there was nothing but downhill and flat to Adin, 20-miles away. At the time, I had no idea how far it was. Normally, I’d love a downhill. This one was hell. I let the bike go, trying to keep up with the others. I imagine I was riding somewhere between 30 – 40mph most of the way. I tried to figure which was worse: the colder air from going fast, or being stuck out on the road any longer than I had to be. I chose to get to Adin as soon as I could. Warm clothes there, I thought. Blankets, cots. Shelter.

Some part of me thought it was really stupid to be going this fast in this cold weather and in this condition of less than full consciousness. I thought about crashing, lying by the side of the road, or even off the side, unconscious. I wondered how long I would last unprotected in the cold, how long it would take for someone to find me, then to get help.

But the bike was rock fucking solid. It moved downhill as stable as if it had four wheels. I had the headlight on full and could see every rock, crack, and pebble in the road. It just felt safe, so I went with it.

One rider dropped off. The other two were spread out. And it was a good thing, because both were weaving badly, even crossing the centerline in places. I assumed they were avoiding bumps and holes in the road. Then one of the remaining riders started to drop back. I caught up to the lead rider and told him, as I thought those two were riding partners. He thanked me, then explained that his friend was having trouble staying awake. So he dropped back, and I was once again alone, no one to block the wind.

Somewhere in here, I saw the first rider already on his way back home.

We made it to the bottom of the hill then had a few miles of rollers yet to get to Adin. My teeth chattered all the way into town. My fingers and toes were numb. I got off the bike and got inside as soon as I could. It was now 3am.

I figured most people would get going around 4am. I don’t know why I thought that; I guess it’s because that’s what time I figured I’d get going if I were on schedule. But I also wanted to miss the rush. So I set my alarm for 4:30 and found one last empty cot to rest on. I wish I could say more about what I did here at Adin, but I really don’t remember. I just recall having to get warm and get to sleep as quickly as I could.

When I awoke, just about everyone was gone. Most of them had not stopped in Susanville like I did. They had ridden here, 320 miles from the start, and about 30 hours, before sleeping. Now with four and a half hours sleep, they were rolling again.

I dressed in all of my new clothes: wool shorts, wool undershirt, glove liners, wool socks under my regular riding socks, leg warmers, arm warmers, and jersey. I switched my nutrition routine. Earlier, I was alternating bottles of electrolytes with bottles of Perpetuem. I dumped the electrolytes, switching to a pill form I also carried, and loaded two bottles of Perpetuem. At a minimum, this would at least keep me fueled up between stops.

Loaded up again, reasonably well-rested, and as protected from the cold as I could be, I headed out to Alturas and the turn-around at Davis Creek.

Next: Adin to Davis Creek and back >

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Adin to Davis Creek to Adin

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Adin to Davis Creek to Adin – The Paradox of Momentum
Mile 321.8 to Mile 449.3

Alturas Control

Alturas Control

I rode out of Adin control at 4:50am. The sky was light, though the sun wasn’t up yet. And it was still cold. I was glad I had all of my clothes on.

Immediately out of Adin, the road began to climb. Eventually, it would top Adin Pass (elevation 5173′). Not a huge climb, but enough of a wake up call. I could see tail lights ahead of me. I caught and passed a couple. Others, including a group of six or so, pulled away. More riders appeared occasionally on the other side of the highway, headed home. I thought this would be dispiriting to see others so far ahead. Instead, I was too lost in my own ride to worry about anyone else’s.

After a quick, steep downhill, I was back in high desert. Open country with no protection from the sun or the wind. There was a light headwind, and for the moment, the rising sun was feeling very welcome.

I turned off Highway 139 – the same road I had been on since Susanville – in Canby, and started heading east toward Alturas on Highway 299. There were more ranches now, and some farms. This was wide open, rolling country under a huge blue sky.  (Here is a good picture of the country from Don Bennett.)

At some point in this stretch, I had a moment I had anticipated earlier, but had forgotten about. It was a moment of presence, for lack of a better word. A Be Here Now-ness that I usually lack when riding. I knew, roughly where I was geographically. I knew I was miles from anything familiar, that it would take days of riding to get back to any part of my day-to-day life. And in that brief moment, I felt very alone, very separate. For the first time on the ride, I felt like I had come a really far distance. That finally, I had stepped out of my normal place in the world, as it were. I have had moments like this before – driving the Yucatan in the early ’90s, sailing off the Baja coast, traveling in the Japan Alps. And they always make me pause for a moment and appreciate the ability to be lost, but not lost. To be away from what I know, but comfortable where I am.

This was one of the reasons I wanted to do this ride, to experience that separation from the normal. Moments like that can carry you along for quite a few miles on a bike.

After some more riding, I reached Alturas. For some reason, maybe the nearness of the turn-around point, I didn’t feel like staying any longer than I had to. I checked in, restocked, and moved on.

The final 20 miles to the turn-around were nice enough. The road was slightly uphill, the wind in my face, but the end was near. We were on Highway 395 now, following the North Fork of the Pit River. Road cuts exposed interesting formations, which I noted, and which I wished I could read. As it was, I just wanted to move on. Not long before the turn-around, I saw Paul Guttenberg headed the other way: same helmet, jacket, and riding style, though he was alone now. He gave a friendly shout and wave, and that was the last I saw of him on the entire ride.

Davis Creek Mercantile

Davis Creek Mercantile

I reached the turn-around point in Davis Creek at 9:35am. It was warm now, but remembering my chill the night before, I stayed fully dressed. Besides, the sun was strong. A little sun protection seemed like a good idea.

Dan and Sharon Cucinatta ran the checkpoint. It was at the Davis Creek Mercantile, which seemed to be one of few businesses in the area. It was a friendly place. We were on the side patio with picnic benches and umbrellas. Really, it would have been easy to spend a few hours there watching riders come in and go out. A perfect place for a BBQ and a beer. But by now I was starting to feel time pressure. I was about 3 hours behind my schedule, and if I wanted to get sleep in Susanville that night, I had to get going. I ended up staying only about 35 minutes. Dan and Sharon were going to be there a few more hours, until the control closed at 3pm, then head to Oregon to join other bike club members on a week-long bike tour centered around Corvalis. That seemed so civilized right then, so much more sane than riding 370-odd miles back to Davis.

Don't Burn the Man

Don't Burn the Man

At this point, I had seen the entire course. There wasn’t anything in the next 20 miles back to Alturas to surprise me, and I was feeling good, if a little pressured. So, for the first time, I set up my iPod so I could ride with some music and maybe check out a little, mentally, while I rode.

As I started to pedal, Little Martha by The Allman Brothers came on. The wind was behind me now, and the road bent slightly down. This was a really sweet moment. A Spaulding Grey Perfect Moment from Swimming to Cambodia. I stepped on the pedals and was soon cruising steadily over 20mph. I got down into the drops, got my rhythm, and just powered down the road.

Every song seemed better than the last. I had forgotten what I had loaded, so it was a constant surprise. I passed a slower rider. He jumped up and caught on to my wheel. After a while, I slowed so he could pull a while. He declined, so I sped up again. When the road rose a little, he dropped back. The nice thing to do would have been to wait for him. But I was feeling good, not charitable. I wasn’t willing to use up my strength to help him. I knew god would punish me for that, but another song came on and away I went.

I found out later that that rider was on something like his twelfth 1200k ride. He finished 30 minutes behind me. So much for needing my help.

Back in Alturas, I found I didn’t want to rest. People in the upstairs area, where the food was, were watching the Tour de France. That seemed so incongruous to me. I don’t know, like drinking a Slurpee in a snow storm, you know?

I happened to run into two other riders from earlier. I saw Jonathan Gray, on his recumbent. He had yet to get to the turnaround. He was in good spirits, though he was getting further back at each control point. I had thought he was far ahead of me; he assured me he was not.

I also ran into Edward Robinson, who had helped me limp into Susanville. I apologized for losing him there, and thanked him again for his help. He was heading out, about 30 minutes or so in front of me, so I knew I’d see him again.

Main Street Coffee

Main Street Coffee

I packed up quickly again to get going. I had planned to eat breakfast in Alturas, but was worried about the time I had lost. On the way back out of Alturas, I was with a group of a half dozen riders. It was really tempting to stay with them. But I had promised myself I’d stop in Alturas. In the end, I did stop long enough to grab an espresso and talk to a couple of folks about the ride. I praised the local drivers who, more than anywhere else so far, went out of their way to give riders room. The owner said thank you, and noted with a smile that people in that part of the world just aren’t in too big of a hurry to get anywhere.

Back on 299 to Canby. Headwinds slowed me down. Small hills wore me out. And long stretches of the road were cracked all the way across with deep, wide fissures every 20 feet or so. They were rim-bending deep, so I had to be careful not to hit one head on. Even still, every one was jarring. Even after I got through this section, I kept a lookout for a rogue crack. After a while, I settled back into the rhythm of the road.

The iPod helped me keep a strange sort of detachedness from the scene, tamping down my desire not to be there any longer. I just wanted to be done.

Then, for some reason (the double espresso?) I was flooded with thoughts. I thought I should record them, because I knew I wouldn’t remember them, and they seemed so profound at the time. Of course, I forgot all but a few.

One, I remember, was the Paradox of Momentum. It’s completely the wrong concept, but the title stuck in my head. It refers to the fact that momentum is key to enjoying cycling. The ability to build up speed, to rest, and the need riders feel to preserve momentum because it is so much easier to go from, say, 10 to 15 mph than from 0 to 5. Preserving momentum leads to bad decisions, like running stop signs. And out here, it leads to passing by miles and miles of beautiful country – areas that are beautiful in a way that I can’t describe – without being willing to stop for two minutes even just to take a picture. Cycling along at somewhere around 15 to 20mph is a perfect speed to see so much. But the desire to keep that speed prevents us – me – from really enjoying it.

I referred to that earlier as a type of schizophrenia.

Then I realized that long-distance cycling engendered an internal bodily war. Rather than working together, all the parts of my body were fighting for attention. My butt hurt if I sat for too long. When I stood up to give it a break, my legs complained. My arms were tired from leaning forward on them. But if I sat up and rode with no hands, my abdomen would complain about having to work to keep me balanced. For miles, it was a constant struggle to find equilibrium, some place where, if no part was at peace, at least it wasn’t painful.

Then I started to reflect on the Gold Rush Randonnée as a goal. More specifically, I started cataloguing the cost, in money and human terms, of this little 90-hour jaunt. To prepare, I had been riding specific rides tailored to get myself ready. Riding at night, in rain. Riding longer distances when able. I tried to get most of that in while Kazu was in school or in after-school care, but some of the burden fell on Lisa. I thought about the hours I spend not working, losing income, and what that might add up to. Then I thought about the fact that I was riding a brand new bike, a bike built by my friend Rick just for this ride. How many hours had that taken him alone (planning, designing, building) and us together? How much did just the parts to build the bike come to? How much gear did I have to buy to make this ride? I had a new, lighter helmet because I was worried about head and neck fatigue. I had new shoes, new pedals . . . in fact I had purchased everything I was wearing in the past few months specifically with an eye toward this ride.

And all of this suddenly made me feel very selfish. I was embarrassed that I had focused so much of the last six months on me and my need to complete this ride. I wondered what better good I could accomplish if I redirected all of this energy to something useful, something meaningful. Something more than this narcissistic aggrandizement of some unspecified, inarticulated need.

Having a lot of time to think is not always good for me.

I finally reached Canby, turned south on Highway 329, and headed back up Adin Pass. This side of the pass was steeper than the other. I was hot, but I didn’t want to stop to strip down, so I just unzipped my vest, my jersey, and my wool. I remembered the long, gradual uphill from that morning, and looked forward to a nice descent back to Adin.

I was robbed. A southerly wind had kicked up, and instead of cruising downhill, I had to work my way down. That really pissed me off. What the fuck? I yelled. How is that fair?

I sometimes take acts of nature personally.

It was hot now, and I was tired. I thought about the three climbs on the way back to Susanville, and even though it was only 70 miles, I knew I’d need to rest at Adin. So I ate a little bit, took off all my hot clothes, and lay down on a cot to take a 90-minute rest.

And this is the one time I didn’t really take good care of myself. Sometime before that 90 minutes was up, I woke up shivering. I tried to control it but couldn’t. My entire body shook. I got up slowly and went outside to sit in the sun. At the time, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. One rider thought it was salt depletion, so I took some tablets and drank V8. In retrospect, I think I had made a simple mistake, and was angry with myself that I didn’t see it. I was sweating from wearing too many clothes when I arrived. So I took them off and lay down, wet, in a cool room with a breeze. Had I pulled a blanket over myself, I would have been fine. I was upset that I didn’t take better care of my body here.

In my original plan, I had expected to be back in Susanville by 4pm Wednesday. It was now 5pm, and I still had 70 miles to go. I dressed, packed all of my warm gear (knowing I would need it again that night), and got set. Like the night before when I left Susanville, I moved slowly, deliberately, checking in to make sure I was okay to ride.

It was getting close to closing time for Adin control, and the volunteers were a little more relaxed now. They were lounging outside, enjoying the afternoon. A few local children who had volunteered all day were playing in the yard.  (Here’s a picture of the kids’ bikes and some of the riders’ from Jun Sato.)  It was another lovely, simple, quiet scene that would have been nice to stay and enjoy. But I made up my mind that I needed to make Susanville by midnight, so I got ready to leave. I found Jennifer “J Lo” Wilson , a rider whom I had met on our San Juan Islands tour, to thank for her help. Jennifer and her husband, Bruce, are an incredible tandem team. They are strong up hills, and absolutely fearless downhill. I wouldn’t keep up with them even if I could. J Lo gave me a fierce bear hug, a really deep, caring embrace, and sent me on my way.

Next: Adin to Susanville >

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Adin to Susanville

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Adin to Susanville – This Can’t Be the Same Route
Mile 449.3 – Mile 516.8

Even as I left Adin, I knew I wasn’t all there. I rode very, very slowly, so as not to get too far if I needed to turn around. Wind was light and swirling: it felt hot when it was behind me, and cooling when it came around in front. It was getting toward evening and the colors were softening again. But I wasn’t really appreciating them. I was focused on the road, on my breathing, my balance. My hold on clarity and focus. My ability, in short, not to hurt myself.

I remembered freezing along this road from the night before. I remembered there was a long downhill run into Adin, and that I would have to climb back out. After a while, I felt stronger, more secure. I got into an uphill rhythm and just kept the pedals turning.

I passed two other riders after a while. As I passed, I looked over and said, I want you behind me so you can get help if you see me off the side of the road. One of the guys answered by saying, If they find one body over there, they’ll find all three of us.

After an hour or so, with no pass in sight, I started to wonder what the hell was going on. I was slow, but not that slow. But the hill kept rising, and rising. I reached a couple of false summits, which offered short breaks, but no real respite. Finally, around sunset, I reached the top.

I took a break and ate a little bit. I got off the bike and laid it down. I was hot and sweaty from the long ascent. I figured out it was 20 miles from Adin. The ride coordinator, Dan Shadoan, had nicknamed this Joe Goldrush Summit. Just then, I wasn’t amused.

There was no one around, and I wanted to cool down a little faster. So I pulled down my shorts and turned my butt into the breeze to cool off. I probably would have bent over to express how I felt, but it was too difficult. Besides, just thinking about mooning the summit made me feel a little better.

Eventually, I heard a car approaching. I pulled up my shorts, mounted up, and started rolling down the hill. Instantly, I got cold. Remembering the cold from the night before, I pulled over right away and put my vest on. I started rolling again, and I still got cold. So I stopped and put my arm warmers and leg warmers on. The two riders I had passed now passed me. A truck came by, then turned around and came back to make sure I was okay. I must have looked pretty pathetic sitting on the side of the highway struggling to get the warmers over my shoes. I thanked him for his kindness and assured him I was okay.

After a brief downhill, we were back in rolling high desert. I passed the riders again, a little overheated now with all my clothes. I tried calculating the distance to Grasshopper water stop by the mileage on the signposts. Happily, I was a couple of miles off and got there sooner than I expected. (Here is a good shot of the Grasshopper water stop from Don Bennett.)

Lois and Bill and the crew were still there, still as cheery and helpful as the night before. Bill informed me that I had moved up quite a bit in the standings, though I have no idea how that could have happened. I had the best instant oatmeal I’ve ever had, along with other snacks. I stayed a while to chat and rest, but was itchy to move on. I still wanted to get to Susanville by midnight.  (Here is a picture of a mileage post at Grasshopper, courtesy of Joseph Maurer.)

So it was back on the road again, this time with Eagle Lake on my right. (Here is a good shot of Eagle Lake from Don Bennett, and another from Jun Sato.) At the rest stop, I had disagreed with the other riders about how much climbing we had on the way back. I thought it was less than they did. But then again, I was surprised by the 20-mile climb to Joe Goldrush Summit. It’s strange how you can ride the same road in one 24-hour period and barely remember any of its details.

In any case, they were right. The sun had set and it was getting dark now. It was a hell of a climb back up to the top of the pass. Along the way I started hearing noises. At one point, I thought I heard a very faint call for help, far off over the ridge to my left. I looked but couldn’t see any roads heading in that direction. I thought I heard whispers, but I couldn’t make out any words. I pedaled harder.

Over time, I made it to the summit. A sign announced a very long 6% grade, though I forget the distance now. It was glorious. The road was wide, smooth, and empty. I turned the light on high, tucked in, and let gravity do the rest. I was well-dressed, so I didn’t shiver all the way down. If I wasn’t so tired I probably would have sung.

After the descent, I had another open stretch of desert to cross to get to the bottom of Antelope Grade. As I started my ascent, I noticed something for the first time. I watched my headlight swing wildly left and right. I know handlebars move back and forth a little while riding, especially if you’re pressing hard on the pedals. But this was far more than a little back and forth. I took it as another sign of my fatigue.

At the same time, even though the light was swinging all over the road, the bike was moving absolutely straight. These swings, which would send my carbon road bike all over the place, weren’t enough to set this bike off course. Rick and I had talked a lot about stability in the design of the bike. We knew that stability would be more important as I got more tired. We spent a lot of time discussing design theory and massaging values for measurements like trail, drop, and chainstay length. Often, the numbers we played with seemed insignificantly small to me: usually a matter of millimeters. He told me they made a huge difference. I was seeing here what he meant in a way I could never see on paper.

There were bikes ahead, so I set about reeling them in as a way to stay awake. Once I got to the top, I knew the descent would be fast and curvy, but wide and smooth. I set the light on high again and rolled. I was closer to the other bikes now and knew I would pass. My light has a feature that makes it blink when you have it on the highest setting and try to make it go higher. I wasn’t sure it was on high, so I pushed it. The light blinked. I think the cyclist in front of me took that as a signal I wanted to pass. I didn’t mean it that way, but it worked really well. He pulled over and I flew past. So I tried it again on the second rider. Worked great. I was dropping into Susanville fast, and I just couldn’t get there fast enough.

I made it to the control by 11:30. That meant I could eat longer, take a longer shower, get everything ready that night so in the morning I could just get up and go. It meant I could sleep a little longer. Things were looking up for the last day.

All told, it was 27 hours from the time I left Susanville the day before until I checked back in. I had planned on 20 hours. I seriously underestimated the difficulty of the course and overestimated my ability to keep a pace over hilly ground. Happily, my 20-hour scenario had given me a 12-hour break in Susanville. I still had a little over 5 hours left.

While I ate at the control, I talked for a while with the president of the San Francisco Randonneurs. On the outbound leg, the night before, we were both leaving Susanville at about the same time. He’d asked if we could ride together. I agreed, but told him I had a few things left to do before I left. That reminded him that he needed to make a call. He told me to go ahead, and I told him I’d ride slowly for a while. I remember looking back and seeing bike lights coming up Antelope Grade, but they never caught me. This evening, I came to find out that he’d started out last night, only to decide he was done and turn back to Susanville. Instead of riding, he was volunteering at the Susanville control to help other riders. It was nice to see such dedication.

I filled up on pasta and headed back down the street to the hotel. Just like Adin, I figured everyone would leave around 4am again, so I planned to get out at 5 and miss the rush. I got everything ready, showered, and got into bed as soon as I could.

I set the clock for 4am. That would give me three hours sleep. There is a school of thought that says you should break up your sleep into 90-minute segments because that is the “normal” human sleep cycle. I haven’t tested the theory extensively, but I tried to adhere to it anyway. I was hoping for four and a half hours here, but an early start seemed more important. So three it was.

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Susanville to Taylorsville

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Susanville to Taylorsville – Facing the Wall
Mile 516.8 to Mile 576.5

GRR course mark

GRR outbound course mark

I was up with the alarm, dressed, packed, and back up the street to Susanville control by 4:30.

There were still a few riders hanging around when I arrived, though as I suspected, most who had spent the night left already. I left my drop bag and went searching for a large breakfast. The volunteers looked exhausted. Everyone, in fact, looked exhausted. I’m sure I didn’t look any better.

I couldn’t find anything substantial for breakfast. I’m not sure if I missed the rush or if there wasn’t much to begin with. I grabbed the last half bowl of cereal I could find and ate some fruit. There was plenty of dinner left over from the night before, but cold spaghetti didn’t sound so good. So I ate what I could, hoping it’d be enough.

I had a text from Rick: This is the part we designed the bike for; the bike will take care of you; trust the bike. I replied that I knew that, and that it was taking care of me. Probably a weird exchange to anyone else. But we got it.

It was around 4:45am or so. Some light in the eastern sky, but not enough to read by once I got outside. So I read my cue sheet under the lights inside the control and memorized the first couple of turns. Then I got back on my bike and started to navigate my way back to Janesville.

It wasn’t very difficult, especially if I kept my eyes out for the route markers painted on the road. These aren’t always easy to find, and sometimes they are closer to the turn than others. Times like this – when you’re tired, the light is changing, and you really don ‘t know the country – it’s very easy to second-guess your choices. As it turns out, I followed the course perfectly. But I did stop a few times, wondering if I would have to retrace my route.

A word about route markings here. All of the advanced materials for this ride warned that there would be no course markings because we couldn’t get permission to paint on the pavement. I know it’s always a problem for organized rides, as they have to negotiate with each local authority. Then one day on a weekday ride, I found out that Larry Burdick and Dan Barcellos (two regular Davis Bike Club weekday riders) were planning to take two days to paint the route. I asked Larry how they managed to get permission. I never did get an answer. Larry doesn’t always do things by the books.  (Here is another example of road markings at Grasshopper from Lois Springsteen.)

I slowly worked my way south to Janesville. Not only because I wasn’t sure of the way, but also because I knew the toughest climb of the course was just ahead. I wanted to be warmed up, but not worn out in the least, before I climbed back over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Janesville Grade is one of those roads that just has no reason to exist. The Eastern Sierra is a wall with very few cracks for passes. Janesville Grade might lead to a pass, but it’s really hard to tell. The overall grade has a relatively easy average incline of 8%, which isn’t too bad. But a good part of that is 12-15%, and it tops out in one section at 19%. All told, the steepest part climbs 2300 feet in five miles. Not the worst in the world, but let’s face it: it’s a steep fucking hill. Especially coming at around Mile 525 of a 750-mile ride.

My plan was to take it easy, walk if necessary, but in any case, save some energy for the remaining 200 miles of the ride. I stopped at the bottom to get things in order. I had full bottles ready to drink, ate a granola bar of some type, and put in the iPod hoping to distract myself from how long it would take to climb. The sun was peeking over the hills to the east now. It was a beautiful morning. Really, I couldn’t have asked for better conditions.  (Here are a few pictures of Janeseville Grade from Jun Sato.)

While I was stopped, three people passed me and headed up the hill. I didn’t want to chase them, but they would be good indicators by which I could measure my progress. I took one last look at the hills to the east and the rising sun. Finally, there was nothing to do but to do it.

Things started out well enough, Nice tunes, nice morning. The first hill was steep, but I could see that it would level a little about 100 yards up. The riders ahead stayed ahead, and I just kept it in low, monitoring my breathing, looking at the houses (which all seemed to be labeled as ranches for some reason), and enjoying the warming sun. As the grade steepened, I started to think about walking. (For those of you who understand these things, I had a triple chainring and was turning a 30 – 27 combination).

Further up, I saw two riders walking. It turned out to be the two guys I had crossed paths with on the way from Adin the previous evening. I decided to watch them, and if they were walking faster than I could ride, I would walk. I steadily gained on them, so I kept on pedaling. Soon after, I passed one of the three riders who passed me at the bottom of the hill. For the first time, I noticed he was on a fixed gear bike. (A fixed gear bike has one speed, not thirty as mine does. Also, a fixed gear bike doesn’t allow coasting; if the rear wheel is turning, so are the pedals.) He had tennis shoes on his aero bars in case he had to walk, but he was chugging up the grade fine so far.

A little further up, the grade steepened to its worst pitch. I was going around 3mph now, even when I was standing on the pedals. The bike felt more like a Stair Master as I mashed the pedals down to keep going. I didn’t really feel strong enough to keep pushing as hard as I needed to in order to go fast enough to keep my balance, so I thought again about walking. Just then, a second rider who had passed me at the bottom of the hill started walking, and I gained on him. Better to ride and get this over with sooner, I thought.

Then, a really stupid thought entered my head. I knew that once this was over and I was back riding with my regular weekday group, they would ask three questions about the ride: Did you finish?; What was your time?; and Did you have to walk up Janesville Grade? And there was something about knowing that would be a question that made me resist getting off the bike.

So when I couldn’t keep the speed up to balance any longer, I started zig-zagging across the road. Back and forth, back and forth, keeping the pedals turning. I was able to sit and pedal which made my rate of climb more sustainable. I noticed that I was still pulling ahead of the walkers, so I guessed this wasn’t a completely stupid thing to do. After a time, I got past the steepest part and back down to the under-12% grade where I could pedal in a straight line.

I was thinking about making it up the grade in this heavy-ass steel bike, and thinking that Rick was correct again. The gearing for the bike was perfect: any higher gearing and I wouldn’t have made it; any lower and it would have been wasted capacity. The bike was taking care of me.

I’m not exactly sure how long it took me to get to the top of the grade. Over an hour, certainly, to ride those 9 miles. Maybe wo hours. But it really didn’t matter at the time. The point was that I made it, that I wasn’t exhausted, and that Boulder Creek control was somewhere not far ahead.  Or so I thought.

Once over the top, I noticed two things.

The first was that it was really, really cold. Like low-30s cold. I rode it out as long as I could, then stopped in a patch of sun to put on whatever clothes I could. One by one, all the riders I saw ended up doing the same. Except the fixed gear rider. He passed me while I was stopped and rode the entire way in a jersey and shorts. Incredible. At the rest stop further up, another rider complained about the lack of trash on the road. In cold weather, riders will stick something under their vest – a newspaper, bag, anything available – to block the wind and keep them warmer. He found himself cursing the fact that there weren’t more litterbugs in the area.

The second thing I noticed, and which became more apparent and frustrating with time, was that Boulder Creek was quite a way farther from the summit than I thought. Fifteen fucking miles or something. This turned into one of those nosebleed sections like the road from Janesville to Susanville. Just another long stretch designed to grind riders down. I would like to talk about how beautiful the stretch was, how the pavement was white from the granite used to make it, how Antelope Lake appeared glistening through the trees in the clear alpine air, etc. But I really didn’t care. It was just that much more scenery keeping me away from a rest and some food, and it just pissed me off.

By the time I arrived at Boulder Creek, I was bordering on bonking again. The climb, the elevation, and the lack of a decent breakfast all threatened to take me down. Boulder Creek was a water stop, not a full-fledged rest area, so there was not a great deal of food here. I foraged whatever I could. I remember eating a banana and a lot of Wheat Thins. Jim Skeen was still working the stop, still awake, and outwardly apologetic about not being quite all there.  (Here is a picture of Jim and me from Peter Norris.)  He said a stream of riders had come in through the night, and neither he nor Peter, the other volunteer, ever got more than 20 minutes of sleep. I stood in the sun to get warm, then wrapped up in a blanket and sat for a while to get warmer. After a while, Jim nudged me along, saying he hated to say it, but I had better get going before it got too hot further down the road. He was right, so I moved on.

I was really looking forward to the next stretch anyway. I remembered struggling up Indian Creek Canyon Tuesday morning. Now it was Thursday morning, a bit earlier in the day maybe, but if the road was steep coming up, it must be steep going down.

Wrong.

I had to pedal most of the way down the road. Now I was really getting angry. It wasn’t until the last couple of miles of this nine-mile canyon that I was able to coast and get some real speed. And even then, there were little rocks on the road here and there that had slid down, so I had to be careful. The end result was not a very restful ride down from the mountain.

Sign on the Genessee Store

Sign on the Genessee Store

The road past Genessee and along the rim of Indian Valley was rolling, as I had recalled. But I had even less energy today than I did on the way up. I rode up the small hills very slowly, and down the other sides not much faster. It wasn’t an annoying road, but I could tell I was in bad shape. I took my time, tried to relax, and limped rather gratefully into Taylorsville. It was now about 10:40am. I had already been riding for 6 hours. I needed a break.

Taylorsville ended up being an oasis, a paradise in an unexpected place. John Hess was still there, still smiling and as helpful as ever. Lorna Belden was in the galley, still cooking breakfasts to order. And Milt Blackmun was running around refilling supplies, checking people in, and doing whatever else needed to be done to take care of the riders. John was ready to make espresso, but I asked him to wait. I needed to eat and rest first. So I had a fine breakfast of pancakes and eggs and fruit, then I lay down for 30 minutes or so, and got up and had another breakfast, this time with french toast. I talked with John for a while, getting updates on other riders, news . . . just little things. Then slowly restocked and double checked and rested some more. And then I was treated to another demitasse of double espresso. It felt so elegant at the time. So refined compared to my ragged state which was anything but refined right then.

It’s times like this, when others care for you when you have no real right to expect it, that are so moving. I didn’t know how to express how grateful I was, how cared for I felt. I was really touched. And I’m sure fatigue had something to do with it, but it was all I could do not to cry. Not that that would have been so bad. But it’s like throwing up. It might be expected under the circumstances, but can be kind of awkward for everyone to deal with.

Next: Taylorsville to Oroville >

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Taylorsville to Oroville

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Taylorsville to Oroville – Downhill, Upwind, and Narrow
Mile 576.5 – Mile 654.8

felt good rolling out from Taylorsville. I was rested, fed, and knew the prevailing grade would be down hill from here through Feather River Canyon. There were rollers, there would be headwind. But this was the route I had ridden one month earlier in the 600k brevet. I knew what to expect.

I started reviewing the ride so far, and what caused me to want to do it in the first place. Then I wondered whether it was worth it. At that moment, I couldn’t say it was. I was not happy about bonking on the way to Susanville, riding to Adin from midnight to three in freezing cold weather. I didn’t recall with fondness the wide open country from Canby to Alturas. At that moment, it was all struggle and survival. The good parts were all hidden by the bad.

I wondered whether I would ever want to ride another 1200k. Most people hold out Paris-Brest-Paris, the granddaddy of all 1200ks, as a must-do event for any cyclist. The evening before, at Grasshopper, I was saying I didn’t see riding this distance again. Another rider – one of the two I passed walking up Janesville Grade – said PBP is nothing like this ride. Instead of 100 riders, there are 5,000. Instead of high desert and the Sierra Nevada, you pass through village after village where people are up all hours of the day and night cheering riders and greeting them into their towns. One big rolling party, is how he described it.

I was trying to imagine what it would feel like to be in a big rolling party just then. Not good.

So why ride this distance? It seemed like a good idea ten months earlier. I liked that the start/finish was walking distance from my house, that I would know the people working the rest stops. I also liked the idea of immersing myself in riding for a week. Some part of me also wanted to see the remote northeast corner of California, and this seemed like a good way to see it.

But at this point in the ride, none of that really made sense. I think what was bothering me more than anything was that I felt like my body was wearing down. Not the muscles – I expected them to be sore – but my internal systems. My sinuses were shot from the dryness of the desert. I had had a clogged, bloody nose for the last two days. Somewhere in there I had also picked up a hacking cough. That kept me from breathing deeply, and even still coughing attacks came on every once in a while. And something weird was happening with my tongue. Something I ate, or the fact that I was swallowing so much powdered liquid, irritated it and it hurt to rub it against my teeth. It was even getting hard to want to drink.

I was thinking that this was a really bad thing to do to my body.

Then I started contrasting these thoughts and sensations of pain against my regular rides around Davis. And it seemed so clear to me that that was what I should be doing. It was Thursday. I should be riding the 35 or so short, flat miles to Steady Eddy’s in Winters and back, like we do every Thursday. The scenery is boring. The route is boring. I have ridden up and down Putah Creek Road more times than I can count. I can do it in my sleep. But that doesn’t matter. Riding isn’t about the scenery. It’s about doing something fun with people you like. It should enrich your life, not break you down to a jibbering heap of lycra.

Oh no, I thought. Now I’m getting maudlin.

Soon, I was back at the base of Indian Valley and Highway 89. There is a very fast, long downhill from the cutoff road I was on back to Highway 70 and the Feather River Canyon. Make that a very fast, long, and narrow downhill. Parts of this road have no shoulder, and other parts just have sloping dirt that end at a rock wall. It’s a fun ride with no cars; it’s scary as hell when they want to pass you. (Here are a few pictures, starting with this one, of the road in this area from Jun Sato.)

Mostly, the descent was fine. But at one point a couple of yahoos in an old pickup towing a trailer of tools wanted to get past me and there were cars coming at us. There was no shoulder. None. Just a white stripe then a rough granite wall. And still these assholes honked at me to move over. When it was clear for them to cross the double yellow, they did so, then swerved quickly back in so the trailer would cut me off. I had anticipated that, so I was ready. But still, you know? What the fuck?

Further down, about five minutes later and just before the junction with Highway 70, a double trailer cement truck made the same move. Only when he passed, a car came the other way. He swung back into the lane not caring at all if he would hit me. I wasn’t ready for this one. I locked my brakes to keep from getting hit. I skidded off the pavement into a narrow, sloping dirt shoulder. I don’t how I didn’t crash. It was all reaction and instinct at that point.

I was a little shaken now. We all ride bikes for different reasons, but none of us rides so we can get splattered all over the highway.

And I swear, not five minutes later, as I was cruising along Highway 70 thinking about how dangerous Highway 89 was, a fully loaded logging truck coming at me on the other side of the highway honked. I looked up, and he flipped me off! From the other side of the road! That did it. For the rest of the day I was looking over my shoulder waiting for that guy to come back down the canyon, because it was obvious he wasn’t going to stop until he hurt somebody. (Here is a picture of an empty logging truck on Highway 70 from Jun Sato.)

I decided then that no matter what, I was never going to ride up Feather River Canyon again. Other than these incidents, the majority of drivers, even log truck drivers, were courteous. But it only takes one.

I focused on the task at hand – getting to Tobin safely and in good time – and tried not to focus on how close I came to being wiped out.

I hit Tobin sooner than I thought I would, and was glad for the break. There had been a headwind, but not so strong as on the 600k. I still felt pretty strong.

Tobin was even more welcoming now than on the way out. There was an amazing array of food (roasted potatoes, pasta, fruit, rice, sandwich meats, coffee, etc.) and again, a staff of people who insisted on filling your plate for you. It was comfortable in there. Cozy, like a resort nested in the hills alongside a river should be.

But I was feeling good, and I wanted to get in as many miles as I could while I felt that way. I was there less than half an hour.

Just before I left, a rider rolled in who looked as shaken as I felt earlier. He told me an empty logging truck had just came by him, horn blasting, and passed within inches. I was sure it had to be that same driver who flipped me off. I was glad, at least, that I wouldn’t have to keep looking over my shoulder for him now.

It was three in the afternoon, and I had one more climb for the entire ride: the six mile climb back over Jarbo Gap to get out of the Feather River Canyon. I got on the bike and raced along here – racing being a very relative term – until I got to the base of the hill. But as I started to climb up, I realized it was much easier than I remembered. Or maybe just easier than what I had climbed early that morning. Whatever the cause, it was a nice surprise.

At one particularly narrow point a pilot truck passed by with a Wide Load sign on it. There was no shoulder on my side, only weeds then a rock wall. So I crossed the highway and rode on the other side until the load and all the cars backed up behind it passed. One last reminder not to go back to that canyon on a bike.

Mario, outside Oroville

Mario, outside Oroville

Eventually, I saw the crest of the hill. I was feeling great. Just then, I noticed a rider coming at me from the other direction. Unlike the randonneurs, he didn’t have a lot of gear, so I figured he was someone local out for some hill training. The rider crossed the highway to my side and stopped. As I approached, I realized it was Mario Hlawitschka, a friend from Davis, a riding partner, the person whom I suffered through these miles on the 600k with. I pulled alongside and asked him what the hell he was doing. Looking for you, he said. What? Why? He shrugged and smiled, and I never did find out. But at some point the night before he decided he was going to ride up and find me and join me for the last leg home. That would mean better than a 200 mile day for him, on a whim!

See, these are the kind of people I ride with. No wonder a 1200k ride seemed reasonable.

So we rode down the hill then back down the rollers to Oroville control. I rode quite a bit slower than he, but he was good about waiting for me up ahead and seeming not to get bored.

I have to say that I had mixed emotions about Mario being there. On the one hand, how cool that I would have someone I know to ride with. And how nice that he came out to ride with me. On the other hand, I had ridden probably 600 of the last 650 miles alone. I was tired and sore and didn’t have a lot of capacity for too much outside stimulation. It’s important to ride consistently when riding with others, to be able to maintain course and speed. I didn’t want to have to focus on that. I wanted to be able to slow when I wanted, or swerve if I had to, and even just go slow for long stretches without worrying whether I was making the ride tedious for someone else.

As it turned out, none of that was an issue. We didn’t ride a paceline; Mario either went far ahead, dropped far back, or rode alongside if he had something to say. If I dropped back, he went ahead and took a picture or made a call. If he stopped, I kept going and he caught up. He was a perfect riding companion, letting me have my own space, which is something I really needed just then.

We rolled into Oroville around dinnertime. All told, I ended up spending close to 90 minutes here, for a few reasons.

For one, it was nice. They had good food and it was air conditioned and comfortable. Also, they had showers, so I enjoyed a long hot one and washed off all the sunscreen and bugs and grime that had accumulated since the morning. Finally, I had to deal with a controversy.

There was a group of us at Oroville, all roughly the same speed, and I was recruiting riders to finish as a group to help each other. I figured as long as I was riding with Mario, I might as well get a bigger group together.

One of the people I approached was Edward, whom I met earlier in the ride (on that last long leg in to Susanville). He declined my offer and went about his business. Then he reappeared, obviously troubled. He started by apologizing and feeling bad about what he had to say, but that as a RUSA board member, he felt he had to tell me that if I rode with Mario I might be disqualified.

Why? Because despite all of the official support riders receive, randonnées are styled as self-supported rides. Anyone who uses a personal support vehicle has to do so under very tight restrictions. Riders can accept help from any other rider, but not from anyone outside of the ride. By showing up, Mario was arguably lending me outside support. He could pull me along, giving me a break from riding into a headwind. Or he could ride just enough ahead to act like a rabbit I would chase to help keep my pace up. Even riding alongside and talking can be interpreted as giving me outside moral support.

I hadn’t really thought about any of that. I told Edward I understood, and apologized for inadvertently putting him in such an awkward position.

I decided to call Dan Shadoan, the regional brevet administrator for the Davis Bike Club and organizer of the GRR. He’s a DBC member, and he knows as well as I that riding out to meet a fellow rider is typical of our members. I told him the situation. After considering everything, he told me that he advised me against riding with Mario.

So, what do you do? Ride 750 miles and have it not count with the official organization? Or tell Mario that he has to ride home alone? It was strange, but in this completely unanticipated way, the entire meaning of my riding a 1200k – of riding this 1200k in particular – became an issue.

I told Dan I couldn’t ask Mario to ride home alone; I would ride with him and make sure no one else rode with us so that if I was DQ’d, at least no one else would be.

So, fed, showered, restocked, rested, and resolute, I set off for the last 90 miles home with Mario.

Next: Oroville to Davis >

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Oroville to Davis

Posted by admin on Jul 19, 2009 in GRR 2009

Oroville to Davis – 600k Brevet Redux
Mile 654.8 to Mile 745.7

The ride south from Oroville started out nice. The temperature was warm and pleasant, the roads easy. Again, I felt energized by the long stop. Mario was being extra cautious not to get in front and pull me. We had made an unspoken agreement that we would play by the rules, even if the fact that we were playing at all violated them.

A lot of cycling involves nonverbal communication. It’s one of the rewarding things about the sport. The ability to read another rider’s movements and posture is key to safety when you’re not riding alone. Mario was making it very clear that we were riding together on separate rides. I really appreciated that sensitivity on his part.

But even as we were rolling through horse country on this lovely evening, I felt a creeping sense of dread. This was exactly like the 600k. Mario and I had left Oroville about the same time, the temperature was similar, and it was just the two of us. Later, the miles seemed to get longer and longer, the headwind strengthened and chilled. We had to drag ourselves to the finish. It was this stretch on the 600k, more than any other, that made me reconsider riding the 1200k.

I mean, it’s hard to complain about 90 miles of flat roads. You can’t really ask for an easier way to finish off a long ride, even with a headwind. On the other hand, that 90 miles starts to feel like punishment, like the last 15 or so into Susanville, only worse. Longer and more desolate. It seems like there is no point to it, nothing gained, nothing to see, nothing of any interest whatsoever, no good place to take a break. There is nothing between you and the finish but road and time, and the only thing that will get you through is sheer stubbornness.

For the moment though, as I said, things were fine. Not far outside Gridley we crossed an intersection at the same time as John Hess, who was returning from his stint in Taylorsville. It was a funny chance encounter, so we pulled over and hung out for a few minutes.

Once in Gridley, I kept my promise to myself from three days earlier and stopped at Taco Bell to get a 7-Layer burrito. Tasted like crap, but all things considered, the calories probably did me some good.

Me lit up from the back

Me lit up from the back

After that it was dark, and we still had seventy-something miles to go. Now was the time to buckle down and count off the miles.

But miles don’t count off so easily at this point in a long ride. Every mile is a struggle. My three points of contact with the bike – hands, feet, and butt – were all sore as hell. I kept swiveling my feet in and out to change the point of pressure on my pedals. I had to move my arm position every few seconds to change the pressure point on my hands and the point of tension in my arms. And every few minutes I had to stop pedaling altogether and just stand to give my butt relief.

The ride went on like this, mile after tedious mile. The Sutter Buttes appeared ahead of us, moved alongside, and dropped behind. I barely registered their presence but to mark that we were that much closer to Sutterville, the next stop on the itinerary. I was cognizant of the outline of the buttes, the slowly fading orange and deepening blue. But I was far past appreciating any sense of beauty around me.

Sutterville was a receipt control, which meant I had to buy something at the local 24-hour mini-mart to prove I was there. I bought some water and a few minutes later we were moving again.  (Here is a picture of riders outside the Sutterville mini-mart from Jun Sato.)

Not far past Sutterville, I started to get chilled. I pulled over to put a vest on. A few hundred yards later, I stopped again to add arm and leg warmers and glove liners. And that was about it for distractions. Nothing left but to put my head down and pedal.

And you might as well ride with your head down because there’s not a goddamned thing to see out there. Lights up ahead don’t get closer. The scenery to the sides never seems to change. I was riding along looking for a street sign that I knew was ten miles down the road, but I was looking anyway because I was so desperate for something, anything to break the monotony and the pain.

I don’t think I can convey adequately just how tortuously boring and physically painful the ride was between Gridley and Davis. I’m trying here, but I don’t know. It’s something you have to experience to really understand.

I was thinking again about the bike, and whether it was taking care of me. It certainly was. I doubt if any human feels comfortable on a bike after three and a half days of riding. But I could propel this bike into the wind with very little effort. Maybe it was just my slow speed. But I felt like my legs were turning with no apparent strain on my thighs, and I was very grateful for that just then.

At some point, we saw tail lights ahead. One mile? Two? Impossible to tell. Sometime later, they were traveling perpendicular to our path, so we knew the turn was near . . . relatively speaking.

We finally made it. Three miles down the road there was another secret control. (Here is a picture of the secret control by Jun Sato.) This one was staffed by randonnée veteran Amy Rafferty, along with John Whitehead and another volunteer. (At this point in the ride, I wasn’t doing really well with names. Sorry!)

Once off the bike, I felt how cold the wind really was. I ate some while wrapped in a blanket, then used the port-o-potty as shelter while I put on my wool under shirt. Fucking mosquitoes were biting me too, adding insult to injury, as it were. Who ever heard of mosquitoes in the middle of the night flying around in a stiff, cold wind andbiting people anyway? Mutant bastards.

I wrapped up in a blanket and sat in a chair and chugged one last cup of coffee. This should have been a welcome break, but between the cold wind and the biting bugs, we got moving a lot sooner than I wanted. We had arrived at 12:40am, and were rolling again by 1:20.

At this point in the ride, it was impossible not to think about the end. You’re only supposed to think in segments, but that was impossible for me. I knew it was 12 miles down the levee road, 10 more to Woodland, and 8 more from there to the finish. Easy distances, all adding up to less mileage than my shortest weekday ride. It was still a very difficult ride.

I had no idea how fast we were riding, but I knew that at an absolute minimum it would take two hours to cross that distance, and probably much more. I found that very frustrating, so I pushed as hard as I could for as long as I could after the secret control. I even surprised Mario. But it didn’t last long. I was soon back to shifting feet and hands, standing every minute or so and coasting practically to a stop, then starting the same routine all over again.

Dear reader, take my advice: don’t ever do this to yourself. Don’t do any ride that makes you this tired and this sore. Trust me, it really sucks.

We made it off the levee road and into Knights Landing. I could see the lights of Woodland from the south end of town, and a stream of smoke from a factory that confirmed what I already knew: the wind was blowing steadily from the southeast. I looked at those lights and that smoke for over an hour. They didn’t get any closer until the very last mile. Then they loomed up and disappeared behind me.

Did I mention that neither Mario nor I had said more than a dozen words while riding since Sutterville? He had to be wondering why he did this to himself again. I know I was cursing myself for thinking it would be easier the second time.

The last bit of road, from Woodland to Davis, passed more quickly because there were cross-streets, signals, big box stores, tract home developments, farms, ranches, and finally, the turnoff to the county dump to act as mileage markers.

We turned onto County Road 27, the second to last turn for the ride. Mario finally had enough and took off like a shot. I didn’t see him again until the finish.

Left turn down F Street. One mile to go. F Street runs off the grid, and rather than running north/south, runs southeast/northwest. Goddammit! I yelled. Do I really need to ride head on into this fucking wind for the last fucking mile of this goddamned ride? Is this really fucking necessary?

Apparently, it was. So I toughed it out, turned right on Anderson, then took a quick left into the Tandem Properties parking lot. And just like that, the ride was done.

Barbara Anderson was working the check in. Her face lit up when she saw me and she jumped up and hugged me as if I had just returned from the dead.

It was now 3:48am. My projected best finish time was midnight; my outside time to finish safely (leaving time for unforeseen delays) was 6am. I was comfortably in the middle of that period. More importantly, I was done. (Here is a picture of me taken at the finish by Don Bennett.)

And now I had my answers for the guys: Yes I finished; it took just under 82 hours; and no, I didn’t walk up Janesville Grade. And goddamn if I’m ever going to do anything like that again.

Next: Postscript >

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