Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Messin' With Texas!

"Don't Mess With Texas". Hm. I took that as a personal challenge. I'd raced the Tejas TT in 2008, with disastrous results. Actually, it was a springboard for a lot of good things:

  • I met a lot of instant friends - this race is hospitality defined!
  • I got introduced to recumbent racing (by puking on the Rans XStream prototype. This led amazingly directly to my being willing to be the Team RANS crew chief the following year.) 
  • I got to visit my daughter and my parents, and
  • I finally made myself understand what kind of fitness commitment it was going to take to be a strong racer again. 
So when Dex asked me in Annapolis this year if I was coming back to Tejas, I made the snap decision that I would. Other than the flaming disaster/heat exhaustion/cramping/puking parts, I LOVED this race and I was happy to think that I might do better this time around. 
Sports fans, let me tell you something important here: When you find a good race, you need to support it. And one of the very best ways a racer can support a race is to BRING A FRIEND. Thus was born the "Let's Mess With Texas Tour". I roped (get it?) three friends into coming: Chris, Mark, and Mark. As it turned out, both Marks had to bow out with health issues, but Chris and I mounted up Eggplant and struck out  southeasterly on Monday night, primed for action. The trip out was uneventful, unless you count finding stick-on chrome mudflap girls that would fit Chris' pink race bag perfectly. Or the Bird Incident. We hit a large and solid bird rocketing through west Kansas (or was it east Colorado?). It bent the van antenna and made me scream, much to Chris' amusement. 
We picked up my daughter - a most excellent crew person - in Norman, OK. While there, we double-checked our supplies, got a few last-minute things at Buchanan Bikes, sat in on a rehearsal of the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band, and had a most excellent dinner at Coach's.  
We arrived around 3PM, in plenty of time to register, put up the tent and the canopy, and get Chris ready to go. It was...hot. And humid. And - did I mention HOT? OK, low 90's isn't that bad of a draw for that time of year - but WOWSERS!
The race is at a new venue - Glen Rose rather than Cleburne - and I LOVE it. The start/finish is in a municipal park, right next to.. SONIC. For a couple of Oregon kids on pink recumbents, this is heaven: when the going gets tough, the tough get...corn dogs! There's also a "slushee happy hour" from 2-4 PM. Duly noted!

About the time I started filling Chris' bottles with the first few hours' race nutrition, Shellene showed up. She was not racing - she's still coming back after a foot injury - so she's there to provide race support. COOL! 
Chris is using the demo light that I'd gotten from TrailLED. Turns out that Grady is also a race sponsor, so he's going to be there to provide neutral light support. This turns out to be REALLY USEFUL as we've got two lights and two batteries to share between the two of us. 
A quick hug-and-hi for Sharon as folks are gathering for the start. And...they're off! Woo-hoo!!!!
Chris tore up the course for three laps. And at the same time, the course was tearing him up - let's just say he went out "at least as" fast as he should have. So we had some down time in the following laps to take care of some maintenance issues - tailbone pain, GI distress, hotfoot, a touch of overheating, and the like. But Chris was a trooper - never complained, just told us (sometimes emphatically) what was going on. Since this was his first qualifier, he didn't have any particular expectations. I'd put him on a schedule to finish in 32:39 (no particular magic to that number, it's just how it came out) and he was running ahead of that. 
After Nancy showed up (she'd stayed in Norman to put in one last practice session with her mellophone section Thursday afternoon) I was officially on sleep detail. By this time, Kent Polk was also in the house and in support. He'd brought his friend Paul to race the 24. It was Paul's first 24-hour race. Chris was in excellent hands. 
I got up in time to hand off a breakfast burrito to Chris. I got breakfast for myself, and spent some time just socializing and hanging loose. I was worried that I didn't sleep all that well, but I reminded myself of the advice that I give to my athletes: just pretending to sleep is almost as good as the real thing. 
Sometime late Friday morning or early Friday afternoon I heard the news: Jure was dead. It was so eerie being at a bike race at the time. I didn't want to talk about it with other racers: the folks who didn't know might be upset and have a bad race as a result. Everyone talks about RAAM being dangerous. Sure - but THE accident can come at any time. We all know that - and we all have to ride like we don't: ride and train and plan for the future, race with trust that we're going to avoid disaster. I didn't exactly "dedicate" the race to Jure, but I did think of him often. I was lucky to get to meet him at the RAAM start this year. 
It seemed like 6PM wasn't EVER going to get there. And then - there I was, at the start line. We're...racing! Woo-hoo! The course is a BLAST - continuous rollers with a couple of more sustained climbs. I am working pretty hard, and staying toward the front of the pack. Out the 2-mile section to the yield sign, across the bridge, a steady climb up to Nemo, a quick downhill, some upward-trending rollers, and then... 
I'd heard folks come in mentioning County Line Hill. Well, a hill it is: straight down, then straight up. I knew that the only way to survive that little monster was to hit it early with everything I had - so I spun up my biggest gear as I headed down. I had to downshift around the middle of the hill, and I ended up in my inner chainring - but it was still a LOT faster (and easier) to use physics to my advantage: every lap I managed to pass one or more folks who were treating the hill as good, honest work. I'll bet they all finish their vegetables before moving on to dessert, too. 
After County Line, there was a great section through the trees - weird pavement, so I was glad to have good light - but really fun. A bunch of upward-trending rollers with a significant climb around mile 15. Then rolling uphill to mile 22 or so, when we reach the high point of the loop and head back down to Glen Rose. Woo-hoo! 

The sheriff's department is staffing the main intersection in town, so we can get through the stop sign easily. We go past the courthouse. The clock there is going to be my only time check out on the course. It comes with about 5 minutes to go in the lap - just enough time for me to assess how I'm doing, figure out what I need to do on the next lap. Not bad. 
First lap - 1:22. Not shabby. Possibly a little too fast, but - felt pretty good.  I took on two bottles, a packet of Honey Stinger chews, and a protein bar. Off for the next lap. My pit crew was AMAZING. They always had what I needed, got it to me quickly, and made sure that I was in and out of the pits faster than anyone else. The only time I ever got off the bike was to pee. My pit stops were so efficient that when Pam wanted to interview me for a "tweet" on the event twitter page, she had to do that through the portapotty wall. Kudos to the crew! As it turned out, every minute counted in this one! 
And so it went, all night. Some laps there were lots of rabbits (meaning: people to chase), which made it fun. One lap, I was someone else's rabbit - also quite motivating. Some laps, it seemed like I was the only person out there. My crew told me that Chris had finished in "32 hours and something" which made me really jazzed: I'd called that one pretty well! 
In the middle of the night I saw a herd of headless white beasts running through a farm field. Although I knew it wasn't real, I also knew I wasn't hallucinating. I figured there must be a logical explanation, and hoped that I'd figure it out in the morning. As it turned out, it was a bunch of these goats: 
I'd not been able to see the brown heads in the dark. When I saw the herd the next morning, it all made sense. 
By the time daylight rolled around it was clear that the promised rain was coming. My crew asked me if I was ready for rain..."Does it matter?". Not much we were going to do about it. All of my Oregon raingear is oriented toward cold rain. If it rained, I was going to be...wet. And I was already wet - the humidity meant that I was riding in a self-created swamp of sweat. 
When the rain did come, it was almost pleasant for a few minutes - then it was absolutely torrential. OK, ride through it. I was worried about how I'd handle County Line Hill in the rain - I would be going into the wind, so the rain would be straight in my face. I can see Brian, my RAAM crew chief, cringing right now - but I handled this one like a champ, thank you very much! I pulled my Team Sandy cap low over my eyes, leaving just a slit to see out of above the handlebars. And I went for it, like a banshee. Swooosh! No worries. 
Still, aggressive cornering was out of the question, and I was slowing down a little. My goal of 14 completed laps was starting to slip out of reach. With three laps to go, I had about 5:25 left. Lap 12 came in at 1:55. AUGH! Off pace! Lap 13: 1:50...a little better, but.. I'd need more like 1:40 for the final lap.
I hedged my bets by informing the finish line folks that I was headed out for a "prorated" lap - if I didn't make it, the mileage that I did make before time expired would all count. I took very little nutrition with me, on the theory that I wasn't going to waste any time eating - I'd have to finish on what I already had in my system. 
Time for some major sucking-up. As I rolled through the neutral zone into lap 14, I gave myself The Talk: "You've had 13 whacks at this course, Sandy. You've got your head wrapped around how it feels to ride each section as fast as possible, and you know how it feels when you lose focus and just ride along. You have to FOCUS, and ride each part of this lap the best way...." Not to over-simplify, but - that's exactly what I did. I rode the heck out of that loop. When I started to feel myself losing focus, I reminded myself of Jure, that I had a chance to set a course record HERE AND NOW, and that I could have it if I chose it. A couple of sips of watery Coca-Cola before the big climbs, but other than that I just went for it. 
I passed easily half a dozen people that lap. And when a guy on a Cannondale caught me at around mile 22, I asked him what time it was. I HAD 20 MINUTES LEFT!!! Oh. My. Gosh. I was going to make it - the rest is all downhill. I sprinted for the finish - figuring that finishing sooner was better than finishing later, and that if, against all odds, I got a flat tire in the last mile of the race I *might* still have time to fix it and complete the lap. 
I came in, fighting back tears, at 23:52. Technically, I could've gone out and done a final pro-rated lap and added a couple of miles to my total, but practically, I was DONE. I figured I could've ridden as far as the porta-pot - if I had to. But I didn't. Brian grabbed my bike, I got hugged and kissed and hugged and stuffed into a lawn chair with a ginger ale...and - here's Paul! Now it's payback time for real: I get to extract my full measure of revenge on this race. Paul hands over the package. I open it. It looks daunting, but I know I can handle it: a full helping of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. 
"You ain't Dainty. That's why there's Dinty." (yes, that's really their slogan!)
In addition to setting a new course record for women (and recumbent women, for that matter) I was the first finisher OVERALL in the 24-hour race - quite an accomplishment as there were some very fast riders. The next-fastest racer finished his 14th lap after time expired: in 15:22 - half an hour slower. To put that in perspective, if I'd have spent one minute MORE per lap in the pits, and he'd have spent one minute LESS, he might have beaten me. Thanks again to my crew for keeping me going through a very tough race! 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tillamook Double Century!

We did it - a legitimate double century, right here in Oregon. I'll get more pictures up onto this post as soon as they become available, but I really wanted to get the story down before I head off for the Tejas Time Trials.

The inaugural Tillamook Double Century was lightly attended, but incredibly staffed: a 1:1 staff to rider ratio. Don't expect that next year, but - it was good to be able to keep tabs on all of our riders, and watching rider progress gave me a lot of feedback on how the event could be improved.

We rented a nice little house in Rockaway Beach. Elise drove up with me as the advance team. We got groceries in Tillamook, got dinner ready, and got the sag supplies more or less organized. John, Joanne, and Kevin arrived a little later. A few stories later, we had an early lights-out - start time was 5AM so we had a 4AM wakeup call. Since everyone who was riding was already in Rockaway, we decided to shift the route up the course, and just start there. There's one major drawback to this - a late finish on Hwy 101 - but overall it seemed like the sensible thing to do.

By the time we were putting the final preparations in place, Keith showed up. Keith and Kevin have committed to riding the whole distance, Elise is riding selected portions, and I'm on the fence. John and Joanne haven't brought bikes.

I sent the intrepid threesome out the door, not fully realizing quite how many times I'd hear the word "intrepid" over the next 14 hours: Kevin's phlog

After settling into a second cup of coffee with John and Joanne, I realized that it was going to be a lot more instructive for me to stay with the sag vehicle all day. That, and I suddenly realized that I still had the disk wheel on the Carbent after Ring of Fire.

So we all set out in John's support van, prepared to provide full concierge service to the gang. The route heads north for starters - up to Hwy 26, and then east to Necanicum Junction. There was a pretty bad wreck on the way north, and we were glad to be close enough to it to see that all of our riders had gotten through the area safely - but the support vehicle was detained for an extra 20 minutes while a downed power line was secured, temporarily putting a bakery stop in Cannon Beach in jeopardy.

We did have to head a few miles up Highway 53 to chase down Keith, who was making excellent time. We refilled his waterbottles, gave him a banana, and headed back to support Kevin and Elise.

So far, good weather - no rain, and blue sky peeking out here and there...Hwy 53 is amazing as ever. When we got to the turn at Mohler, we realized that it was a little ambiguous in the route instructions, so we hung around there to direct folks. We even found sidewalk chalk - on sale, no less! - at the local grocery, so we had great fun chalking the turn.

Miami-Foley Road is much the same, and all too soon you're at Hwy 101 - not the fun part of this route, for sure, but it's the only way through this particular bottleneck. We sagged Elise up ahead - she knew she didn't care to do the whole 200, so why in the heck would you do the least fun part?

At Beaver, we gassed the van. It was starting to rain pretty good. Elise was considering riding. We made sandwiches. We ate sandwiches. We thought about it while we waited for Kevin (Keith was already through).
I chalked the turn. The chalk disappeared...finally the rain started to lighten up and Elise was back out on the bike. After a few minutes, we found Kevin making a quick pit stop at the store, and sent him to chase Elise down.

Keith was so far ahead that we figured it didn't really matter when he missed a turn and got 22 bonus miles. We sent Kevin the right direction, put Elise back in the van, and followed Keith's route. When we found him he was back on the ride route, but he'd just blown a tire, badly. John located his spare, and we got him back on the road. With the "shortcut", Kevin was now a little bit ahead, but overall the two of them were much closer together. The slightly devilish side of me would consider this to be "good racer management", though Keith might disagree as his route had a 3-mile gravel portion...again, beautiful scenery along here. Not "beachy", but forested and with a babbling brook running along beside us.

By the time we got to Willamina it was really raining! Joanne showed me a really nice reroute that takes us off of Hwy 18 - we'll definitely be using that next year. We got the gang onto Hwy 22 and put Elise back out just before the turn onto the Little Nestucca River Road - another scenic beauty.

The Little Nestucca ends in Pacific City, ands it's back to 101 for a quick stretch before heading out on the Three Capes loop. The original route was a little over mileage - about 210 - and takes in all three capes. By now it was getting toward 6PM and we had screaming horizontal rain (but a very nice tailwind!), so the scenery, though spectacular, wasn't quite the attraction it should have been. We made a very judicious edit to the route - leaving off the third Cape - to bring the total down to 202 miles. That's probably what we'll do next year, too - Whiskey Creek Road brings us straight back into Tillamook for the finish.

The wind was howling so hard and fast that the guys were riding at a great pace despite the torrential rain. We didn't have great visibility, so we didn't have a lot of warning that they were coming - so we had to jump out and flag them down to explain the re-route as soon as we saw them. Two minutes out of the van and I was soaked! Usually September is still a fairly dry time at the coast - but not today.

Unfortunately, since we'd started the loop in Rockaway, the guys still had about 15 miles to go once we hit Tillamook. Next year, that won't be an issue since we'll start and end in Tillamook. We checked on them one last time, and took the van back to the beach house. I ordered up some great pizza from Upper Crust:
Three guesses what I ordered. The first two don't count. The crew got our showers while we were waiting for the pizza, got the house nice and warm, and put out dinner provisions.

John headed back out to make sure that Kevin and Keith got back safely. As it turned out, when he got back to them, both were down with flat tires! Between the dark and the rain and the highway conditions, and being within a couple of miles of home, and with pizza on the way and warm showers waiting, it seemed pretty silly to start repairing flats - so John stuffed 'em in the van and brought them home.

Showers, pizza, stories...lots of miles: sweet success. Technically, it was a 100% DNF rate with the two flats - but I'm sure not looking at it that way. A HUGE thank-you to everyone who participated! I'm really looking forward to producing this event next summer.

Next stop: Norman, OK!
My daughter Nancy - Tejas Crew


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ring of Fire!

It wasn't supposed to be this way. But it worked. I was planning on crewing Ring of Fire for David and Bill, who were going to come out and absolutely SMASH the 2x 50+ mens' recumbent record. But they got busy (I have some complicity here; I distracted 'em with a Furnace Creek team bid), so I was on my own. So I planned to race 2x mixed recupright with Mark Newsome. He got sick on Wednesday (bad reaction to a tetanus booster). Within hours, Mark Biedryzcki called: he was making an emergency business trip to Germany (who but Mark would have to take an emergency trip to Germany during Oktoberfest?) and - could he borrow my Bike Friday? "Sure, Mark - but...what are you doing this weekend....?" was all it took - we were quite literally off to the races. I'd have to drop him directly off at the airport on the way home from Maupin, but what the heck. So long as he didn't forget his passport we were golden. We called ourselves Team Tailwinds, signed up as the first 2x mixed recupright team in Ring of Fire history. Possibly in ALL of history. I'll have to check on that.
There are a lot of charming things about Mark - encyclopedic knowledge of Portland eateries, enthusiasm, and great biking skills are among the first things that pop into my mind, but the one thing that I've just gotta love about the guy is that he makes me look prepared and organized.  Of course I didn't have to pack for a week of intercontinental business as part of my race prep, but...we were only a little late getting out the door. No worries.
Hugs all around at the racer meeting. And - HEY! Bill Phillips is racing! Woo-hoo! Big Bill makes a CA2 with 700c wheels look puny. He's a great tester for the platform.
We have a great dinner with Bill, Lonnie, Carly, and Chris. Off to the Oasis for some sleep. We've bagged the last room in the place. Dubbed "the bunkhouse" it's..just that. No bathroom. Bunk beds. I get the bottom bunk so Cog can sleep with me. Tesla (Mark's dog) gets the floor.
Mark figures that we can get up an hour before our start and have plenty of time. I don't think so....dogs to walk, breakfast to digest...we've got a solid hour and a half. I set the alarm for 5:15, and woke Mark at 5:45 after I was dressed and had breakfast.
We put the Europe-bound gear in the room, got Mark's bike out, and I headed out to the first exchange with the dogs. Yes, we had TWO crew dogs. Fortunately Cog is experienced crew, having done Ring of Fire under uber-crew-chief Robert last year. Tesla was coming up to speed quickly.
I hung out at the top of the first climb (OH. That's the strategy, in case I wasn't perfectly clear: Mark gets all the climbs - or at least all the steep ones - and I get everything else) and waited. Our start was at 6:55. The 6:57 start (Mick Walsh) rolled past and informed me that Mark had missed his start - but only by a minute - and he would be along shortly...which he was. It's okay - he's riding well. I figure that the fear and adrenaline have probably negated the minute already.
We settled into a rhythm...bike out, helmet on, RIDE LIKE CRAZY, make exchange, open rear door, remind dogs to STAY while we racked the bike (we bungied the off-duty bike to the inside of the van - faster than racking on top and almost as fast as racking on a SportRack), grab bottle, eat, drink, pet dogs, and drive up the course.
I didn't miss ALL the climbing but I think we did a fairly good job of breaking it up to make good forward progress. I got to climb Bennett Pass and then took the entire descent on Hwy 35. Mark took the steepest part of the FR44 climb. Since there are limited pullouts, I just went ahead to where I knew the portapotty was waiting, got out and let the dogs stretch their legs for a bit. When Mark got there, he asked me how much riding I wanted..."See you in Dufur" was NOT what he expected, but it was the right thing to do. I worked hard to get to the top, and harder to get to the bottom - just enough headbreeze that I was able to keep pedalling the 53/11 without spinning out too often. That stretch gave Mark enough of a rest to make the big climb up and over Tygh Ridge Summit a lot more comfortably.
I took the descent, and handed off to Mark at the turn onto 216. We needed gas BADLY! I got to Tygh Valley and filled up. Hey! Look at that bike jersey! It's Brian - Molly's husband, and the ring leader of the Grundel Bruisers RAO team. Cool! He was just passing through on a training ride with a buddy.
I tore back up 216 and was able to make an exchange with Mark at Sherar's Bridge. I'm not sure I was 100% compliant with posted speed limits. I didn't exactly have time to look at the speedometer. (Is that a valid excuse? "No, officer, I'm afraid I don't know how fast I was going; I didn't have time to look....") I was pretty motivated; if I didn't take a good pull here I was going to get stuck with the first part of the Bakeoven climb. That would be a serious lapse of recupright strategy. Mark is no slouch in the driving department, but he was impressed that I got a fully gassed up car to him that quickly.
He was ready for me at the start of the Bakeoven climb, and figured he was good for 6 -7 miles. I found a good pullout at 7.1 and took it. From there I did the middle, less-steep, 8 miles, and he pulled me off the bike when he figured he was recovered enough to storm the summit.
Bakeoven Summit was staffed by Rob and Susie Miles - owners of the Imperial - and their kids.  Susie needed a ride down to their house, partway down the hill, and I volunteered Mark to provide one....fortunately for us! On the way down, she was able to explain my strategy for our trip down Bakeoven - I'd take all of the (working) descent, until the last few miles where it's very steep and technical. Then Mark took the rest of it and went straight into our first night loop. It worked perfectly. I was able to work VERY hard on that section since I knew I would get almost 2 hours' rest, and he was a little loose and warmed up when he started the night loop (which starts out with about 1000' of climbing in the first few miles).
The night loop is, overall, pretty sweet for recumbents. It's 27 miles long, and my usual comment on it is that it's a 27 mile loop with 20 miles of headwinds and only 7 miles of climbing....The first three miles are very tough, but most of your climbing is really done then, all of the tough stuff anyway. Then it's a 4-mile cruise to the very sweet downhill, a slightly lumpy flat section, a hairpin turn at Sherar's Bridge, and an uphill river grade to the start/finish. Usually the river road has a headwind. Today it had a slight tailwind. NICE.
Competition was fierce but friendly in the 2x division - we had Mick and Brian who were clearly outclassing everyone, and Angela and Christina who were breathing down our necks most of the night. We all shared stuff and had a great time pushing each other!
The pit area at Ring of Fire is great. Since it's at the resort, most people can go into their rooms to change or rest between laps. There's a conference room that's opened up with a microwave and a place to charge batteries and generally get warm. And Rob snuck into the kitchen and came out with treats periodically. Faithful readers would know that I wasn't able to pass over the offer of a mini corn dog!
We finished 8 full laps. I pushed as hard as I could on my last one (#8) so that Mark could get as many miles as possible. As much as I kid Mark, he was a champ, and took the opportunity to do the "bonus" lap seriously. He got 20 miles, and would've gotten more if he'd not gotten a flat tire. He pinch flatted around mile 15, and limped along on partial air the rest of the way. Since I didn't know this, I assumed he'd be riding in...in fact, he should've only been 2 or 3 miles out when time expired. Finally, Chris and Carly took pity and brought him in.
Final tally - 393 miles - over 16 mph. Not shabby!
tapir - it's not just a Brazilian mammal...
Now it's taper time....legs feel amazing and strong, but tired. It bodes well for Tejas.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

FedEx Touring - There and Back Again (Reprise)

I biked to Arcata - and back again - from Florence. The last time I made this trek I did it from my doorstep in Eugene. This time I was riding home, so I fudged. I was pretty sure that I'd not be happy making the right turn up Hwy 126 - so I drove to Florence, neatly cutting 60 miles off of the trip. About 265 miles all told.

I rolled into Florence at about 7AM and hit the Safeway for coffee and a scone, then looked for a likely place to park my van. Where do you leave a van that's visible (so it won't be vandalized) but out of the way (so it won't be towed), for a week, in a town you know nothing about? I picked a spot adjacent to a vacant commercial building that was for sale. I figured it was a safe bet.I got out and started checking over the bike, making my last minute clothing adjustments, etc, when a guy walking his dog came by. He is a Gold Rush owner, had just been to the recumbent retreat. We talk a little about my bike, his bike, RAAM...cool ! He might actually keep an eye on the van while I'm gone.

I rolled out a little after 8. Since I'm too much of a bum for credit-card touring, I've invented....FedEx touring. I send the stuff I'd rather not carry down to David's house ahead of time. So I was traveling (relatively) lightly: a spare tire, three tubes, reasonably good tool kit, patch kit, two bottles, a bit of traveling food, and a lot of spare clothes. The race bag was still full to bursting, so I'd have to rely on food stops for the bulk of my nutrition. Not a problem as I'd scoped them out pretty well the last trip: Wendy's in Coos Bay, McVay's in Gold Beach (macaroni and cheese STILL rules!) Oh, yeah - ice cream in Langlois...the market advertises "free water for bikers", which I thought was a good enough reason to stop.

Weather was indifferent - sorta spitty mist - for the first 4 hours, then the promised sun and tailwind made an appearance around Bandon.

I had a headstart on last time, so I ended up crossing into California just at dusk. I pulled into the agricultural inspection station and turned on my lights...The inspector was a bit incredulous..."Awful late for a bike ride, miss". "Yes, sir". "Where are you going?" "Arcata, sir". "Do you KNOW how far that is????" "Yes, sir, I'm visiting friends. I've done this before." "Are you SURE?". "Yes, sir. I have NO FRUIT, sir..." Since he had nothing on me but potential insanity, he let me go.

Last time I'd (famously) stopped at the Crescent City Denny's for the ultimate in randonneuring "coffee stops" - a 4-hour stint where I "couldn't sleep, but"...courtesy of a very kind waitress. This time I made a very quick stop - it was only 9:30 and I didn't want to lose my momentum. I figured that if I made it through to Klamath well before midnight the road would be safest. As it turned out, I was right. The only close pass I got was courtesy of a Franz bread truck. I'd had a lot of trouble managing the bike (handling skills) on the slow-speed climbing on this hill in May. This time, no problem...just slow going.

Past Babe and his Blue Ox right around midnight (I think). By now the fog was starting to settle in and I was glad to have extra light. It was starting to get chilly so I stopped to add a layer. By now it was Really Foggy and I was not feeling confident descending. Plus there were rumble strips. Ask any member of my RAAM crew how I feel about rumble strips; they'll just roll their eyes.

Another good climb, more foggy descending, and I'm bearing down on Arcata. The AM traffic is barely starting to pick up. I didn't remember exactly how to get in to town off the freeway so I accumulated some bonus miles, backtracked, took the Janes Road exit (hey, I'd BEEN on Janes Road...), managed to fumble my way to Alliance and a minimart where I had my AM coffee and a treat, and got my bearings. I left there around 5:40 and figured I'd cruise David's house, see if anyone was up...not having much hope on that, but - HEY! His car is missing. At 6AM. He must be...at SPIN CLASS!

Tracked him down at HealthSPORT. I did a slow lap of the parking lot, trying to figure out if this was the sort of place where they'd give me grief for breaking into David's van and taking a nap in it. I guess I hoped that it was, but...OK. The spin studio is on the front of the building, so I can roll up and bug him. Before I know it, David has my bike, I'm being ushered in, and I'm on..a spin bike??!! To make matters (worse?), Bill is teaching - it's not his usual day, so I guess I got lucky? - and it's a hard class with a lot of hills.
Sports fans, I'm here to tell ya' that it makes good sense to be warmed up adequately for one of Bill's classes, but I may have overshot slightly. That spin class made me a little sore the next day.

Fortunately, Friday was a day of rest, unless you count a particularly gluttonous trip to Costco, where David and I picked up supplies for the weekend bike camping trip. Just after noon on Friday is definitely the time to hit Costco, sample-wise. We stopped by the ribeye station so many times they had to switch to New York steaks just to give us some excuse to come back. I also cleaned my bike, and inspected the tires and brakes - very necessary for the upcoming couple of days' riding.

We were shopping for David's version of the 2-day TUC - a camping weekend punctuated by sporadic biking, epic firebuilding, really good food, and a lot of good storytelling - some of it truthful. The ride goes Saturday and Sunday, over some pretty gnarly territory. I wanted my bike to be in good shape mechanically.
Saturday AM, I rode the 30-something bonus miles to the ride start - a good warmup as it was mostly flat. I left well after Phil - but got there sooner. He was riding 35 very hilly bonus miles, starting from the campground where we'd all spend Saturday night. A good reminder that Sunday's ride was not going to be trivial...

The ride starts tame enough - some warmup miles with a couple of hills, and a great run through the redwoods. I find myself riding with none other than Phil Plath. I entertain myself by convincing him that I've not seen a movie since Blazing Saddles. This is not quite true; anyone who knows me at all knows that I've seen Apollo 13 numerous times. For unexplained (inconceivable?) reasons, Adrienne and Mandy forced me to sit through The Princess Bride. And I guess for the sake of full disclosure I'll admit that I will never make it through Shrek (I) with dry eyes. But I digress...

An excellently staffed lunch stop at the Immortal Tree (thanks, Mary!!!) and off we go. A well-fed assault on Panther Gap means that I'm toting a few more M&M's than was strictly necessary, but - there you go. Up, over, turn at Honeydew, and I rolled into camp. Jim and Phil are already there, Michelle is on the way, Robin has been hanging out in camp, and Mary has gotten there a few minutes ahead of Jim and Phil. We have fudge, but critical errors have been made: the beer is in David's van, which is supporting the second wave of riders. We make do with wine until he gets there, but there's nearly an insurrection.

A quick dunk in the creek is at least as good as a shower - and maybe better. The sun is shining, it's warm, and not too breezy - much nicer than the weekend before. More arrivals - Steve and Noreen - then Tim, Genevieve, and Wendy. Dinner, epic campfire (I'd been a bit taken aback at the quantity of wood David hauled up there, but we managed to do in most of it), stories...Jim brought out the guitar and some more good times ensued. No one knows the words, but we're making an honest effort.

Sleeping under the stars - amazing. I'm looking up at them, just can't imagine how I'll ever fall asleep with so many stars to look at...oh - it's morning!

Great breakfast, and off again...into Petrolia, around  the corner, up the beach (HEADWIND!) and...naw, I'm going to hike The Wall. I've got 400k ahead of me and I don't need to blow anything up. I did ride it out as far as the end of the Tsunami Hazard Zone - it's good to know that you've got what it takes to be safe, just in case. Michelle passed me along this stretch, and Jim caught me and hung around to make sure I was okay, which I was. Downhill all too quickly, then back up. Endless Hill is a little easier going, but the wind is fierce. I let the faster climbers go and took a pee break. A few switchbacks later I found myself in a bit of a jam...stuck in a switchback with a quick grade change, a wind gust, a horse trailer, and...a barbed wire fence. The fence won my business. Fortunately the race bag made first contact; I just sorta "stuck" there and had to slowly undo myself. No damage. I thought I'd snagged the shoulder on my jersey, but even that was unscathed. Lucky!

The herd of Aerosmith-hating cows were out, along the way to the top. I considered humming a few bars to see if they remembered, but I couldn't think of anything appropriate so I let the moment pass. Not far from the top...recumbent...yellow jersey...Bill! Woo-Hoo! Let's ride...over the top, and down we go. Bounced along the road to the fairgrounds. Somewhere in there Bill ejected a water bottle - I never saw it leave, so I'm not sure where. It's probably not the only water bottle on that stretch of road.

Bill had ridden to the fairgrounds, so I went back with him. Because I need the bonus miles - NOT! Great ride, good to have an escort through Eureka. I'd done it early Saturday morning on the trip out but I wasn't 100% certain about the turns on the way back. FUN! The wind played some tricks on us - a soda can was rolling at us at a pretty good clip on the bridge across the bay, making some really impressive noise in the process.

Sunday evening we hung out, regrouped, and made plans for Monday's bike ride. I was heading out, and David and Bill decided to escort me partway. We took the scenic route - very nice: bike path, Clam Beach, Trinidad, Patricks' Point.
Bill (L), and me (R) at Patrick's Point. Sunny Labor Day!

The guys turned around at Big Lagoon, and after just a little bit of stalling, I headed north. The headwind was starting to pick up (nice tailwind for those south-bound). Traffic was pretty heavy - a lot heavier than I've experienced before on 101 - and the northbound lanes didn't seem to have as much of a shoulder. The road in to Crescent City was pretty tough. I "de-biked" a few times to  make sure that cars, trucks, and RV's could get past safely. I pressed through Crescent City with just a convenience store sandwich, and pressed on. By the time I got to Brookings it was after 7PM - still quite light - but when you simply, physically CAN NOT ride past a Dairy Queen it's time to concede the inevitable, grab something to eat, and settle down for the night.

I found a room on the far side of town. The Blue Coast Inn is inexpensive, has clean rooms with space for bike parking, and paper-thin walls. The guy next door snored. But it didn't matter for more than a minute or two...after I parked the bike and grabbed a shower I headed to Rays Food Center a few blocks up the street to pick up breakfast, since I was planning on leaving before breakfast hours the following morning.
Well...that was the plan. I did get out a little after 6 - later than I expected. I was treated to a brilliant blue and pink sunrise moment as I cruised through Boardman State Park. The colors looked oddly familiar - OH! Robin's Fire and Ice fudge! Shortly after, it starts to rain. Just a little...

Breakfast, Part II, in Gold Beach. Double D Cafe. NICE big plate of food, really fast service. I'm there just long enough to get warm-ish and dry-ish. On the road again.

MORE rain, and more, and more. Before I hit Bandon, it's raining hard enough that it really doesn't matter if  it could rain harder - it can't get me wet any faster than it's doing. But it rains harder anyway, pretty much all the way to Reedsport. It's slow going in the rain. Traffic is heavy, and they don't seem to be anticipating northbound bikes. I do see a LOT of bike travelers - fully-loaded touring - heading south, and I got to spend some time chatting with folks. There was a good sized group heading to San Fransisco, and one heading to LA.
The conditions were so sloppy and crappy that I decided to walk the bridges at North Bend and Reedsport. Between the rain, the traffic, and the lack of shoulder, I was at the limit for feeling safe. Shortly after Reedsport, the rain slowed and ultimately stopped, so I was actually starting to dry out when I got back to the van. I crawled into the dry clothes I'd left there, slammed a Boost, and turned on the heat.

The long drive home validated my choice to drive to Florence; if I'd have had to ride back, I'd probably have spent another night. Sure, it's only 60 miles, but - given the conditions, I was glad to be done.

Weekend damages: just over 700 miles. And I'm happy to report that I've gone well over 1200 miles since my last flat tire. Knock on carbon....Next stop: Ring Of Fire.