05 July 2011
A Grand Six Hundred
You rode 600 kilometers on a BICYCLE??? Well, of course you did.
Yeah, I did. And in doing so, I completed my fourth “R-12” through Randonneurs USA, finished my first full brevet series so I can buy myself a pretty little pot-metal medallion, rode my sixth consecutive month doing one ride of at least 300 kilometers or more, fulfilled a dream that has been with me since I was 7 years old and more importantly, strengthened the bonds of friendship with one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and hang out with.
I started out the year already planning for 2012 and know that if I am going to be strong enough to complete my quest for the California Triple Crown I am going to need to get to where those distances are routine. Now, I don’t really train. Training is for racers. ……
So I was thinking about how to get tougher. And then there was that P-12 thing through RUSA and Mimi wanted to do it. I was excited about her wanting to increase her own cycling, and this got me to thinking that when I started a commitment to do a 200k every month, they were pretty tough for me. I always finished, but usually I was toast by the end. Now, to go out and do a 200k is routine. I can usually finish with a pretty good result and not be too tired or require a lot of recovery afterwards – unless it is something like SIR punished me with this spring on their opening brevet of the year with a few monster climbs – including a 12-14% nearly mile long climb at the very end.
I commenced to announce to the world that I was going to complete one ride of at least 300k every month in 2011. People nodded and told me what a great idea that was. Well, of course they did!
So I found myself riding along on a 400k in Oregon in the rain and the cold and the wind and the typical day to day misery we’ve been stuck with here in the Greater Pacific Northwest all spring and muttering to myself that if this was a 600k I’d never be able to complete it. I needed some sun. I needed some heat. I needed a break from the gray, dreary, dark, dank, moldy, mossy, soggy, muddy, flooded northwest. I needed more than one day in a row of sunshine. I needed to get dried out.
When my friend Mike Sturgill invited me to Arizona to ride the Grand Canyon 600 with him, I pretty much jumped at the chance. I delayed giving an answer because Mimi told me the moon wasn’t right and she didn’t want me to make any travel plans until after Friday because the moon was void of course. So I made my decision, didn’t tell her and waited until Friday to book air fare, rental car and hotel.
Then Mike sent me a message that I didn’t need a rental car. He’d come pick me up at the airport. I didn’t need a hotel. I could stay with him and Cindy. I didn’t need to bring a bike, even. I could ride one of his. I took him up on the first and second, but couldn’t get my head wrapped around riding an unfamiliar bike for 375 miles. Thanks, but no thanks. Gary Prince also offered to let me borrow one of his bikes so I didn’t have to tear mine down. I really do have incredibly great friends. This randonneuring world is just something else. “Here, Boothby, here’s my $5000 toy. Go play with it…”
Katrina is the bike that has gotten me through everything, and she’s going to Arizona. She deserves the sun time, also. She’s just going to need some modifications, and I think of maybe painting her when we get home, since her coat is starting to look a bit worn. I get her into the shop. Bob and I discuss what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it and the schedule. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time,” Bob says.
Well, of course there is.
I get the tracking number. I forward the email to Mike. He replies back, “Do you mind if I put it together for you?”
“Gee, I thought you’d never ask,” I say.
Shipping is over Memorial Day weekend. Not a worry, I’m told. I’ve got a drop dead date of June 1, want it there May 31 if possible. NO PROBLEM, I’m told.
May 31 arrives. Tracking form says package delay due to misrouting. The last place they could show the bike was arriving in Portland. PORTLAND??? New delivery date of June 1 is scheduled by UPS. June 1 is my travel day. I worked all day, checked the website several times only to find “out for delivery” but no confirmation as of when I take off for the airport. Just before takeoff, I get a text. Bike has arrived! Whew. Now I can relax. Well, of course I can.
I get to Mike’s house and there is Katrina waiting for me. In the time it has taken me to fly from Seattle to Phoenix, he has put my bike together, adjusted it, stashed it safely in the garage and driven to the airport to pick me up. I totally don’t deserve this kind of treatment. I’ll take it, though.
After a nice, relaxed drive from North Phoenix to Flagstaff, a nice dinner at the Beaver St. Brewery(reservations recommended for a busy weekend night), we were back to our motel and had everything ready to roll and were bedded down before 9:00 pm.
As I drifted off to sleep, I was still doing mental jumping jacks, hoping I would be fast enough, strong enough, have enough stamina, be able to keep myself fed and watered in the desert heat and my last conscious thought was that I was finally going to get to see the Grand Canyon. It didn’t matter if I finished a 600K ride – I was at least going to get to the rim of the canyon.
0400 came much too early.
Cindy had packed us each a bowl of dry cereal of our choice. Mine was multi-grain Cheerios. We also had some hard boiled eggs and I had four green bananas. I’m such a creature of my routine that it really throws my head out of the game when I don’t have my oatmeal with raisins, chopped nuts and cranberries for pre-ride breakfast, but I had been planning toward this, and knew I’d just have to get the first 50 miles under my belt. I can do it. I’m a tough hombre.
Temperature check at 0445: 38F
15 minutes to go time and I’m nervous as a three-legged cat in a wolf’s den. Do I have enough clothes on? We are climbing to over 8,000’ right off the bat. But what about later? What to do with all those clothes as the temperature rises? So many unknowns. So many doubts. So much fear and yet with a veneer of self confidence since I’ve been on tough rides before. I’ve lived in the desert before. I’ve never died before.
0500 and we roll out. About 14 of us altogether. One guy hears me chatting to another rider and hearing I’m down from Seattle, asks me if I know Gary Prince. He’s buying some wheels and other stuff from Gary. We admire each other’s bikes. I look around as we’re getting underway and see there are actually at least 3 bikes here with fenders. Not a mudflap to be seen. Not a cloud in the sky. Not a hit of rain in the air. Dry, crisp mountain air greets us as we roll quietly through downtown Flagstaff and I think this would be a lovely little town to come spend a couple of days sometime. Then we wait for the train to pass. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait.
I knew it was going to be a long one when four locomotives were pulling it. And we waited some more. Finally, two more locomotives pushed the end by and we all rolled along again. This was when I ran into Richard Stum.
I met Richard on the Cascade 1200 a couple years ago and it was nice to see the familiar face.
We’ve been riding along for about a half hour or so when Mike and I start to exchange data from our computers about the temperature. A couple other riders join in. We can never agree on what the REAL temperature is, but I know from experience that my VDO is always the most accurate measurement. That has been verified by many, many miles and passing a lot of bank thermometers. I think Mike has the same thought about his, but I don’t say anything. I want him to stay with me for at least a few hours. He did say he was going to ride with me, after all. Well, of course he will.
Near the top of the climb at an elevation of 8,046, the temperature has dropped to 27F.
Several people are remarking about how uncomfortable they are. I ride along thinking about how good I feel. My toes are a little chilled and my face feels the cold, but since I’ve been living with January weather all year, maybe it doesn’t faze me as much as it does some others. Well, there’s that and the fact that I have my wool base layer, wool arm warmers and my Seattle Randonneurs lycra jersey on. I’m SUPERMAN! I’m feeling really good as we top the hill and start the descent. I know this is going to be a fast descent. I’ve looked at and studied the profile. I’m ready. All is going really well and suddenly I’m spun out. No more pedal. I backpedal a half-stroke and the chain wedges between the rear stay and cassette. DAMN!!! I slowed a little and coasted, trying to get it jarred loose, but no luck. All I could do was watch the gang pedal off down the mountain while I stopped and fixed it. When I did, I checked and, sure enough, I’d hit 51.50 mph. First time ever on Katrina over 50. I took the opportunity to “mark my territory” in fitting ceremony. The last time I got to do this was coming off Stevens Pass several years ago. Then I stood there and took in the grandeur of the mountains.
Back on the bike, I caught up to another guy who had dropped off the back. Scott was riding along at a nice pace, so we ended up chatting most of the way into the first control where I caught back up to Mike. Tom and April, two other Bull Shifters are waiting for us, and I try to make my stop as brief as possible. Walking across the slick tile floor in the store, though, I lose my footing on a wet spot and go down hard on my butt and my left hand. I think to myself that this can’t be good, but there doesn’t seem to be anything seriously wrong, so shake it off and go on. The butt doesn’t bother me again. The hand would plague me for the rest of the ride and for several days afterwards.
I force down a banana, chug-a-lug a Starbuck’s Frappucchino and dump another one into the water bottle with my Spiz which is nearly gone. The temperature is quite comfortable now, rising into the low 70’s and by the time we go through Tuyasan (pronounced Scion) we’re down to our summer wear. It is now the Four Mustkeers, Me and three Bullshifters. Tom is the quiet one and tends to hang off the back. Mike does most of the work at the front with April and I swapping places on his wheel. We’ve started at 7,000’, dropped to about 5,000’ and now in order to get up to the rim of Grand Canyon, we have to climb back to over 7,000’. Mike and I have talked about the profile and route. He tells me there are some rolling hills we’ll have to deal with inside the park.
Well, of course there are.
As we roll up toward the gate, I’m a little off the front, mostly from excitement, I guess. I’ve waited a long time to see this place, and it is all I can do not to just go flying right about now. A $12 entrance fee later, and I’m in Grand Canyon National Park. Traffic seems heavy to me, but my tour guides Mike and April keep remarking how deserted the park is.
Our route comes to West Rim Drive. I still haven’t seen the canyon, but know it is just over “there” somewhere. Finally, we get to a gate and ride around it. NO MORE CARS. First a little sweeping descent followed by a 6% climb, and then I come around a bend and there it is. I am amused by the difference in what I’m used to. All my life, I’ve had to look up to see the grandeur of the mountains, or out to the horizon for the splendid sunrise or sunset, but now I had to look down. Deep down. I mean REALLY, REALLY deep. I could see the Colorado River far in the distance. It was a deep almost emerald green. Mike was telling me something about how cold it is because of how it come out from the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam now, but I was only half listening as I continued to try to keep tears from welling up.
Finally, we got to a viewpoint and I just had to get off the bike for a few minutes and take it all in.
I know I’m on the clock riding a brevet, but this may be the only time I ever get to see this magnificent place, and I plan to enjoy myself. Fortunately, April, Tom and Mike were very patient with me, much as a mother might be with a young child.
I stood on the edge of a cliff staring deep into the earth, feeling extremely small. This is a feeling I’ve had so many times before; sitting on the rocky cliffs of the Oregon Coast and watching the roaring surf crash over the rocks below me with such power and force that gigantic logs a hundred feet long are tossed about like toothpicks; sitting on the crater rim of Mt. Saint Helens when it was re-opened to the public after the volcanic eruption in May, 1980; sitting in a hotel room as a hurricane raged overhead. I am overwhelmed with the hugeness of this place, the smallness of me, and then start to think about how small this place is in comparison to all that is. It must be time to get back on the bike and ride.
Well, of course it is.
After a few more small rollers, we got to the control at Hermit’s Rest and spent a few minutes drinking sodas, eating treats and enjoying the squirrels who come and beg from the tourists. I had put sunscreen on but not brought the tube with me. I’ve always been good with a single application in a day, but both April and Mike told me I might want to reconsider that approach in the Arizona desert in June with temperatures going to get up into the mid-90’s before we’re done. I decided I’d buy some at the gift shop and April told me I might want to reconsider that option, as the price was really, really high. I told her it was okay because I like to support the local economy when I am on brevets. I went in and bought Mimi a little trinket – a pretty little butterfly pendant on a chain, and bought Elena a kitchen magnet to go with her collection. This was when I discovered I’d lost my credit card. Well, of COURSE I had! I had about $80 cash, so wasn’t worried too much, then after heading back out to the bike, remembered I needed sunscreen and went back inside. SIXTEEN DOLLARS? YOU GOTTA BE OUTTA YER FREAKIN’ MIND!!! I didn’t say it, just thought it, went over to the snack bar, bought a coke and went over and begged some sunscreen from Mike, who had it out and waiting for me.
“Like to support the local economy do you?” April asked.
“Well, yeah, but not quite that much.”
We rode on. I really didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stop and explore each and every vista. I wanted to get off and walk my bike along the dirt pathway from one end of the canyon rim drive to the other. One nice thing about brevets is that they have introduced me to some beautiful places I would never have seen, even in country I’ve lived in all my life. One of the bad things about brevets is that I don’t have enough time to linger.
And so, with a mixed feeling of sadness and anticipation, I rode on.
I was still doing okay. Now, I must say that Mike had told me several times over the past few weeks that “….we pretty much get a free first hundred miles…”
Well, of course we do.
That “free” 100 miles included over 5,000’ of climbing and a lot of rolling hills. By the time we got close to the control at Desert View, I was starting to fade, falling off the back on the climbs and starting to worry that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Tom and April. I know Mike has said he’d ride with me the whole time, but these Three Musketeers I’m riding with have known each other a long time and put a lot of miles in together. I tell Mike he really doesn’t need to stay back. He tells me to mind my own business. Ok, fine. Have it your way, then! Somewhere, we stopped for something to eat. And Sturgill ate and ate and ate!
And so we ride on.
On the last climb coming into Desert View, I’m done. I’m not overly hot, but I need something and don’t know what it is. I’m not even a third of the way and food doesn’t sound good. I let the gang go and suffer up that last hill into the control. I think this is about the time it hit me.
Most of what I’m doing is at 7,000’ above sea level. I could be doing these same rolling hills close to home. AT sea level. Big difference.
When I ride in, I see The Watchtower.
I really wanted to go see it, but mostly wanted to dunk my head under a faucet, lay down and take a short nap and then spend the rest of the day hanging out exploring the beauty of this remarkable place. I don’t care if I finish the 600k. I’m not feeling like such a super randonneur all of a sudden. Instead of heading over to The Watchtower, I followed Mike over to the General Store, got a gallon of cold water, poured a bit of it over my head, filled my bottles, drank a full bottle down with some Nuun and tried to eat a PayDay bar, my old standby. I suddenly felt nauseous. It was just about 36 hours ago I’d told Cindy I’d never ridden myself to the point of being physically ill. Two bites was all I could get down.,
Off to the bathrooms. I rode a total of a hundred yards. I felt dizzy. It was still only about 80 degrees out, and I was actually loving the warmth and the sun. I ran through the statistics on my computer, though. 100 miles with over 5,000’ of climbing, temperature swings from 38F down to 27F and back up to 80F, and a saddle average of 19.6 mph. And I hadn’t eaten enough. A couple of Honey Stinger gels and another bite of PayDay chased down with a full bottle of Cytomax and I’m ready to go – but not before laying down on a shelf for a minute. “Don’t get too comfortable,” April warns. Well, of course I won’t.
Reluctantly, I agreed to ride out of the park. I didn’t want to say anything, and I think it was a good thing that I had a 25 mile descent ahead of me. Mike had told me it was a really fast descent into Cameron, but he’d also said it was like riding into a sauna. More like a blast furnace! The scenery going down that stretch of road was really awesome, with the Little Colorado off to the Left and huge mesas off to the right and the road going constantly down and down and down, about 3,000’ down in fact.
As we got down into the valley, we picked up a pretty nice tail wind. We’d actually had quite a bit of tailwind most of the morning and had been remarking that we’d pay for it later. Now I knew just how that payment would be extracted. I now saw 95 degrees for the first time. it was about 15:00 and I was coming to the hottest part of the day’s ride with 3,000’ of climbing ahead of me.
We were only a mile or so from the turn onto Hwy 87 and as we approached the intersection, I could see the road we were going to be on. This is going to be one tough go for the next few hours. 99 degrees, a strong wind coming straight into my face and nothing I've eaten or drunk seems to be very comforting. I want Ice Cream. I settle for a Twinkie and some Cheetos.
As we rolled out, I started to get cramps.
Well, of course I did..
We have a climb now of about 35 miles and 3,000’ of vertical. I am used to doing shorter and steeper climbs, so have not really worried about this, the first of what I know are going to be very difficult climbs, but as we leave the control I start to count the liquid I’ve consumed. So far, I have been through 16 bottles of fluid, and although my urine tells me I’m not severely dehydrated, I feel like I’ve swapped bodies with a lizard. My skin feels flaky. My mouth is starting to get sore. I’ve got cotton mouth that won’t be quenched with V-8, Coke, water, Spiz, Gatorade, Cytomax or Margarita flavored slushies. Nothing helps. I bought a pack of Dentyne Ice and am chewing gum to try to keep my mouth somewhat moist – mostly to keep me from breathing IN through my mouth as much. It isn’t helping.
We leave the mini-mart. It is 8 miles to the next place to get water. It is a pretty steady 2% climb for the first 3 miles, then the grade steepens to 4 – 6%. For a northwest boy who has done a spring 200k with over 10,000’ of climbing, a tough 300K with several long, steep climbs and a 400k in Oregon that included a 15% wall of pain that will not soon be forgotten, that doesn’t seem like much. Now, however, I have to factor in not the climb but the temperature and the wind which is blowing into us from about 2 o’clock, so we can’t even get a good sheltering pace line to work well. Did I mention that the wind was blowing? This was no gentle ocean breeze coming in off the Pacific with the smell of salt air to tantalize the imagination and make me feel like I’m on a vacation cruise. No. This is a wind straight out of the depths of hell. I feel like the devil has taken a great big breath and is exhaling right into my face. I count pedal strokes and try to calculate how many pedal strokes per mile. How many times do I have to spin before the next watering hole? Everybody is quiet as we work our way up the mountain.
For a while, we were in a sort of a staggered line, with Tom and Mike swapping places on the right side sheltering April and me as much as possible. I did my best to try to get out in front and pull a little bit, but nothing was really seeming to work.
Well, of course it wasn’t.
We rode into the next watering hole. I found a bag of Cheetos was about the only thing I could eat. I’d had a Twinkie at the last stop but food really didn’t sound so good. If not for Spiz, I’d be out of the ride by now, as that was really the biggest source of calories that was keeping me going. V-8 tasted good, but upset my stomach. I wanted ice cream, but was afraid it would really upset my stomach. So I ate some 3 week old pepperoni I had left over from my last 100k with Mimi, fed some of it to the local convenience store dog and got ready to ride, nibbling on Cheetos.
The heat, while I was still thankful that it was hot instead of rainy, was starting to dry my brain out. I was having trouble judging the distance between my front wheel and the rear wheel of the rider in front of me. I think I actually touched wheels with April at one time, but I couldn’t even be sure of that. All I could be sure of was that it was only a couple miles until the next watering hole – and my bottles were nearly empty again.
I have now been through 22 bottles of fluid, not including the three V-8’s, the two Cokes, the Henry’s Premium Root Beer and the Margarita flavored slushy. With all that, I feel like I should be sloshing, but my lungs hurt, I’m coughing and there simply is not even anything pretty to look at (except April, of course) to distract me.
We rolled up near the next watering hole and I saw a lone cyclist sitting out front. It was Richard Stum. He’d been waiting for somebody to catch up to him, he said, and looked about like I feel and says he feels worse than I feel like I feel. He was obviously one hurting unit. We’re all looking like some hurting units right about then. I went into this dumpy, dreary, dark, dismal and depressing mini-mart. I looked around. There was absolutely nothing in that store I wanted. Somebody was smoking. I wanted to throw up, but was afraid to say anything. And there, in a corner, in all of that darkness, I saw it. There along a wall was a small blue case with a glass top. I have seen this case before. I knew that inside that case was the answer to all of my problems. There, in that little blue box were frozen little boxes of the very thing I needed. I looked deep within that frozen case and saw it. A Haagen-Daaz chocolate bar with dark chocolate. I’ve not had any chocolate all day since I had a “Kind” bar about 8:00 am, knowing chocolate in this climate will melt faster than a coyote will kill a chicken.
Quickly, I opened the case, but ever so slowly I reached in, allowing the coolness to rise up to meet my face for a brief moment. Ah, how good that felt. I wanted to crawl in, lie down and just eat my way through the entire case. Of course, I didn’t. I grabbed myself a bar, paid and departed to the Group W Bench, where I sat and chatted with Richard for a few minutes and let that ice cream slowly absorb into my system. I really, really wanted another, but was afraid to do it, so went back, got another pack of gum, got my bottles full and got ready to ride. Leaving out, we were now a gang of 5. I knew there were at least 3 behind us still, maybe 4, and either 4 or 5 riders in front of us.
Now, Mike told me, we got to the “real climb.” And we did.
And we did some more.
And then after that, we did some more.
There was one difference now, however, the sun was sinking low on the horizon. I could look behind me and see the wide open desert below and we were starting to come into some scrub junipers, so the air started to pick up some fragrance. The temperature dropped to 90, then to 88 then to 80. That happened pretty fast, and then I had to call for a pee stop. We all pulled off. Tom and April had dropped back with another flat, so it was a good time to pause, let them catch up and get geared up for the night. I was having trouble mentally, but physically, I was starting to feel stronger. I SURE DO LOVE ICE CREAM. Mike said something. I don’t know what. Later we talked about it, and he couldn’t remember what. I snapped at him. He looked hurt. I apologized. He’s done so much to help me, and I was getting cranky.
Well, of course I was.
And we rode on up the mountain. Only a thousand more feet of climbing to go now. then 900’, then 800’. At every 100’ marker, Mike and/or I would announce it. At the 300’ mark, April took off like some circus performer who had just been shot out of the cannon. I mean she was flat out GONE! This, not 3 minutes after telling me I didn’t have to race up the hill, it was a long way to go still to go to Flagstaff.
I asked her about it later. She said she was tired of hearing about how many more feet we had.
It was full dark now, and the temperature was down into the low to mid 70’s and finally, we topped out.
From there to the Flagstaff City Limits sign, it was a pretty sweet ride. Tom was pretty quiet all day, but he’d become really really quiet and it seemed like he was having as much trouble as me. Richard had left us behind. Mike came back to the front to guide us through town. I thought we’d never get there, and if I ever go back, I’m not sure I’d be able to figure out where we were. It seemed like we did a complete circle to the east and around the town before circling back to the motel. Finally, we’d made it. 209 miles.
The first half was history.
Tom and April announced that they, too, were history. Their car was there, their bed was in Camp Verde and they were not riding 63 miles before they slept. I desperately wanted to ask if I could ride in the car with them. I didn’t, of course.
I needed to lie down. NOW. So, I did.
Five minutes later, Susan Plonsky had my control card filled out for me and gave it back, telling me I needed to get ready to go. No, I need to rest. I ate some chili, drank a Starbucks Frappucchino that was in the cooler, envied Mike because he found a San Pellegrino orange soda, watched him wolf calories like there was no tomorrow and thought to myself that this was the difference between a super randonneur and a guy like me. He rolls in and just packs the stuff in. He knows how to keep the tank fueled. I’m such a rank amateur.
After about a half hour it is decision time. We have to decide. Are we going on? He says he’ll leave it up to me. We weigh our options. We can sleep here and get up super early in 38 degree weather or we can ride on, do the descents from here in the dark but still pretty warm and still hit the big climb tomorrow before it gets hot. Or we can ride on. Or we can DNF. My choice. He’s good with whatever. It has been a tough day. Even he says its been a tough day.
“Let’s ROLL.” I’m now the decider. Well, of course I am.
Richard, Mike and I gear up, and light up the night over first some mild rolling hills, then a sweeping descent through Oak Creek Canyon followed by a pretty steady 4-5% descent into Sedona. I had managed two little 5 minute power naps, had some caffeine in my system and the temperature had come down. I felt good. I was alert, energized and having a ball. The descent was fast, steep and winding so we had to be a little careful not to go into the switchbacks too hot, but with temperatures now in the upper 40’s and low 50’s, I was enjoying the coolness and quiet of the night. I only wished it was light so I could see the magnificence of Sedona, so I imagined it. I’ve been there in the daytime and tried to picture some of it in my brain, remembering the glorious day I spent here last year with Mimi, I took my bike for a little exploration while she sat and painted.
Getting into my memories, thinking of my many friends in Arizona who have opened their homes and their lives to me and made me to feel like such a welcome part of their gang was helpful. Thinking back to all the friends I’ve made in randonneuring, he encouragement I’ve gotten from guys and gals in the club. Thinking about my friends on BikeJournal. Thinking, of course, about that one ride that I believe will always be one of the most significant rides of my life when I rode to the top of Mt. Diablo with Nancy Jean Fish, aka Pansy Palmetto. I rode through the night thinking about all of these people.
I started to think about my family and how important they are to me, and how important I have become to them. I thought about a day some 26-1/2 years ago when Mimi deposited me on the doorstep of a hospital and told me never to come home. I thought about how we came back from that low point in our life together and how I got a new opportunity to become the father I always wanted to have; to have a chance to become the husband that Mimi deserves and that is what took me through the night. I was thinking about my sons and something that one of them wrote to me several years ago about how important it had been that I role modeled a follow through to complete the challenges I took on for myself and chuckled that I might not be such a great model if tomorrow was anything like today.
We had about 18 miles to go when we hit a series of hills that brought my attention back to present. I thought we were done with the big climbs, but NOOOOOO. That would be too easy. We made a left turn onto Cornville Road. We passed through what purported to be a quiet little village which had several signs asking us not to speed through their town. Well, at 5-7% I didn’t see much chance of that happening. In the next 12-1/2 miles, I recorded 950’ of climbing, with just a few descents to make me wonder why they couldn’t just build a bridge or two over some of those 100’ deep ditches. Finally, though, with just a mile to go before the next turn, we crested the hill and cruised at 30 mph plus down to the freeway entrance. Richard was off the front and missed the turn. NO WAY was I chasing him. Fortunately, even though he couldn’t hear either Mike or me hollering at him, he was able to hear my loud whistle and looked back just in time to see us exit to the right and onto I-17. Two short climbs, one nice descent, pass one exit and take the next one. I’d studied this on the drive north. Before I knew it, the 6 miles of freeway was behind me, Mike was pulling into McDonalds for some burgers and fries while I rode next door to the mini-mart for some dry noodle soup.
Time for shower. Then some sleep.
Mike, I was soon to find out, snores. Not like a lumberjack, no siree. Lumberjacks snore in deep, husky rhythmic breathing that sounds just about like their chainsaw. No. Mike snores like a thunder storm. It is quiet. Still. Peaceful. The room is bathed in semi-darkness and I’ve left just a very slight opening in the curtains so I can see when it starts to get light. Suddenly, without warning, “BRAAAACHKH, huuuuuuuhnnnah.”
Well, that was special, I think to myself, sure hope that is out of his system.
After a few minutes of lying there listening to my heart to see if I can detect any extra beats like my doc told me to pay attention to, and that helps me to drift off into a dream state, seeing in my mind’s eye that wonderful dead tree where I’d parked Katrina so many hours ago. Oh, how I wish I could have spent more time there, and about that time, “BRAAAACHKH, huuuuuuuhnnnah.”
And so it went.
For about an hour. I put a pillow over my head and it helped a little. I got up and went to the bathroom and saw Mike there, sprawled out on the bed in nothing but some shorts on, arms splayed out to the side, feet dangling off the bed and once again, BRAAAACHKH, huuuuuuuhnnnah. And silence. Well this is going to be a lot of fun, I thought to myself.
Crawling back into bed, I put two pillows over my head and held them in place. I guess it worked, since the next thing I knew, there was a sliver of light coming through the window and I was waking up. It was 6:25 A.M. Our wake up call was for 7:30. I’d gotten just over 2-1/2 hours of pretty solid sleep, and as badly as I wanted to go back to bed, I knew if I did, I’d never leave and finish the ride. I walked to Starbucks for coffee and pastry instead.
At 7:20, Mike joined the land of the semi-alert and we quickly got our gear together and headed to Denny’s for breakfast. He ordered a monster omelet with potatoes, toast and who knows what. It took up a whole plate about a foot deep and in less than 5 minutes it was gone. In the meantime, I’d ordered French toast, 2 eggs and 4 strips of bacon. I wolfed down the eggs, picked at the French toast and nibbled the bacon. I ate less than half my breakfast. Mike ate the rest of the bacon. Finally, along came Richard.
He was done. Or so he said.
Saddle sore issues have probably caused more endurance cyclists to drop out than just about anything I’ve heard about. If you can’t sit, it is hard to ride for 104 miles.
Mike had already told me they’re going to be tough miles. Well, of course they would!
Mike and I suggested double shorts and a heavy dose of some kind of butt cream. Richard wasn’t convinced, but finally with enough coaxing, he agreed to give it a try and ride around the parking lot to see how it felt. Mike and I finally rolled out a little before 9 a.m. The temperature was 80 degrees and before we’d gone a mile, it was 84. Before we hit the base of what Mike called the first ramp it was 90. I could see it wind over the mountain far ahead.
The desert is a very deceptive place. What looks like a mile is really several. I had already been through half a bottle of Cytomax and it was 13 miles to the watering hole. I was getting really nervous. The temperature at the base of the climb was 90 and it jumped very rapidly to 92, then 95, then 97, then 102. Then back to 97 – 99 and that is where it stayed for a long, long, long time. I was having to stop about every mile and a half to catch my breath. I couldn’t keep my mouth moist and my lips were cracking, despite the heavy use of lip balm. Cotton mouth was turning into raw spots under my tongue and throat and I was seriously beginning to doubt my ability to make it, but not wanting to say anything, as Mike was being such a great encouragement and ride partner. Sometimes, I’d catch up and pass him, and I could see he was suffering too, but I couldn’t be sure if he was suffering like I was. I was afraid to say anything for fear of starting a failure discussion. He sure didn't LOOK like he was suffering all that much.
So on we rode. Up and up and up into the sky. As badly as my mouth felt, my legs felt great; I felt really strong. My stomach was not bothering me. It was an extremely odd sensation to feel so very good and strong in one sense, and feel like I’m dying in others. The heat actually felt good. It was hot, but as it warmed my joints, many of the aches and pains I live with daily disappeared. Once again, though, as the temperature rose, I started to feel like my pores were not really working because there wasn’t anything left to sweat out. I watched this fantastic mountain in front of me draw ever closer though, and was pleased to find that this was 13 mile rock.
As we rounded the bend, I saw Mike ahead pulling off and pointing to the side of the road. I had less than 3 ounces of water left.
There, sitting in the shade were 4 or 5 gallon jugs of nice cold water. There was also a plastic dish with some fresh oranges, a few bananas and a couple of bottles of Gatorade. I took a few minutes to sit in the shade to eat an orange. One of the things I like about endurance cycling is when I get far out and away from the crowds, find a quiet place and can sit there feeling like I am truly a part of my surroundings. I belong there. I have a place, just like the rest of the critters.
I’m always filled with just a bit of sadness when I have to face the fact that if I’m going to have hope of finishing, I have to move on.
But I did.
We rode on up the next part of the climb, now at 7 - 8% for 4 miles, and I started to feel like a burro, slowly plodding my way up the side of a ridge, just putting one hoof in front of the other, over and over and over. The temperature, though, had dropped to 92 degrees. Mike told me it would get cooler as we got near the top, and finally, there was our sag van. Lara had set up a nice lunch stop and Joey, who had caught up to us while we were sitting at 13-mile was sitting in the shade eating.
I found a container with fresh strawberries and papaya. I would have consumed that whole dish, if I didn’t know there were at least 3 and maybe 4 guys back there.
The best news of the day was when Lara told us that Richard was back on the hill; she’d seen him at 13-mile and he didn’t stop, just kept coming. It was now nearing noon. We’d been in the saddle for almost 3 hours to get 25 miles, and with 80 to go, I was doing counting in my head. I’d hoped to be done by 5:00 but could see that was not going to happen. There’s one more big climb ahead, and Mike tells me it’s a long and hot one.
Well, of course it is!
Richard caught up to us just about the time we were leaving and took a very short break so he could ride out with us. Together again, and we forged our way onward. Just because we were at the top, didn’t mean the climbs were done. From that point on, we seemed to stay at 7,300’ the rest of the afternoon, dropping down about a thousand feet once on a very sweet 40 mph descent, just to be treated with another monster hill. By now, they were all monster hills. The grades weren’t bad at 4-7%, but with the lack of sleep, heat and time in saddle, it was starting to add up. I wanted shade, but there was none to be found. I wanted a bed, but it was far away.
We stopped at the Long Valley store, where I saw Mike eating something disgusting and holding a coke that was as big as a basketball. I didn’t want to sit. I wanted to go, so told them I was going to soft pedal on, and mounted up after a quick potty stop. A mile up the road, I realized I’d forgotten to fill one of my bottles, and stopped at the campground to fill up, where I met the park ranger who told me I was “crazier than a shit-house rat.” I told him my wife usually just called me a dumb-ass, and he said I was that too. We had a few good laughs together, exchanged pleasantries while he filled my bottle for me, and off I rode with him telling me to be careful.
Finally, we got to the Happy Jack climb.
This was the last really big one. Mike and Richard had caught up to me and I let them go, content to just drop and spin my way to the top. There was starting to be a little bit of a cross tail wind with occasional gusts that blew across my face, cooling me and bringing all the wonderful scents of the pine and it felt good to by myself for a little bit. As I finally approached the ranger station, Mike was waiting for me and Richard had gone on. No need to stop now, just a mile from the top of the climb. “Let’s roll,” I said. I just wanted to be done now. This was the highest elevation of the day, but I knew it wasn’t all downhill to the finish, with a lot of rolling hills still to do, temperature still above 90 and fatigue starting to really take over, I was less worried that I couldn’t finish, but started to think about time. I didn’t have a lot left in the bank and was feeling more sluggish by the minute.
By the time we rolled into the Mormon Lake Store, I was seriously in need of some calories, but now nothing tasted good. My mouth was burned and raw, my throat inflamed and I was having to sip water ever couple minutes in order to be able to swallow and just about everything except my butt was killing me; I was starting to have aches in my mid-back and upper neck. If I had to do this for two more days, I thought, I’d never make it. How could I ever do a 1200? Well, that wasn’t something I needed to worry about. Not today, anyway.
We caught back up to Joey who had taken a wrong turn and added on about 15 miles. I looked at my cohorts who all looked worse than I felt, but we all knew we were nearing the end, with just a couple hours to go now, most of it flat and slowly descending into Flagstaff.
Mike, Richard, Joey and I rolled out together, with Joey quickly off the front and becoming a small dot on the horizon and then disappearing. I guess the disappearing act is part of being a wizard.
After the left turn, we cruised along Lake Mary for several miles with the wind slowly turning from a tail wind to a strong cross wind from the left and eventually a straight on head wind. The sun was dropping low into the sky and just about the time we left the lake we got into some long, shallow rollers again and for the first time in a long time, traffic started to get heavy. Well, of course it was! That meant we were approaching a city. Hmmmmmm, must be getting close to Flagstaff again.
We rolled along, with Richard setting the pace about 17-20 mph, the sun in our eyes, starting to filter through the pines and the evening forest perfume starting to take over and much more pleasant than the fumes from the cars blowing by us at 60 mph. With about 8 miles to go, I announced that I would be dropping off the back at about the 5 miles to go mark, because I really like to finish these things alone. Mostly, it is about time in my head, especially when I’m doing something this difficult for the first time. It is time to thank the cycling gods for the safe passage, reflect on the ups and downs (quite literally, sometimes) and just relax and enjoy the finish instead of hammering in so I can shave a minute off my time.
With a little over 5 to go, I bid Mike and Richard a fond farewell, Mike and I shook hands, thanking each other for 370 miles of fun and hard work and then I dropped my speed and watched them disappear into the nearly setting sun.
Less than a half mile later, I felt a familiar coarseness in the ride and thought I maybe should stop and check the tires to make sure I didn’t have a flat. I did. And I did.
Well, of COURSE I did!!!
So I sat down on a rock for about five minutes. It was beautiful, a little piney wood park.
I’ve lacked the ability to sit outside in the evening much this year, and it just felt so wonderful to sit there and look out to the west at the sunlight filtering through the pines, smelling the evening aroma and listening to the birds. I felt like I could sit there forever, just taking in the serenity of the moment. Eventually, though, it was time to move on. Time to change the tire and get down the road. That was when it hit me.
Before the ride, Mike and I were in his garage getting our gear together and I was concerned because the pump hanger on my seat tube had never been a problem when I had fenders on the bike, but without fenders, I was worried the pump would drag on the rear wheel. He said I could just leave my pump behind, since we were going to be riding together. It sounded like such a great idea.
As I stood there, looking down at the flat tire, the spare tube and rim tools spread about me and thought about all this, I became really glad that I had not listened to this one piece of advice from my good friend. I chuckled as I pulled my little mini-morph out of the front of my handlebar bag and aired up the rear tire to about 75 pounds for the final few miles.
Three little rolling hills later, I arrived at a nice descent, a quick right hand turn and then with the sun blinding me, made my way in front of oncoming traffic. Into the wrong parking lot.
Well, of course.
A quick turnaround, a short hop down the sidewalk and another 50 yards through the correct parking lot, and there I was.
I was done. In 38 hours and 5 minutes, I had completed my first 600k. At 60 years old, I believe I was the oldest of the six who finished. AND THERE WERE A DOZEN DONUTS AT THE FINISH LINE........I'LL TAKE TWO!!!!
A few days later, I checked the results. I emailed Susan to thank her for throwing a great event and letting me come along to play. I looked at the times. I wasn’t the lanterne rouge. And my good friend Mike, though I know he had come in well ahead of me, posted a finish time matching mine. We rode together, and it was important to him that our finish times reflect that.
In the end, I finished. I was now a super randonneur. I’d done the work to get there, and knew as I lay down that night that I would sleep better than I had for several days.
Well, of course I did.