Friday, August 19, 2011

One Fine Day, Reprise - UMCA 12/24 Hour Road Record Attempt

The attempt was done on a course that had been set up and certified by Chris Ragsdale. He’d used it for a 1000-kilometer attempt last year. And - photo credits to Duncan Watson and David Bradley. 

We arrived in La Conner on Friday afternoon. We expected to have to do some digging to find the survey points, but everything was there and clearly marked, leaving nothing to do but sweep the course, and send me out on a test lap while the crew inspected the course for debris. 
Bill and John sweeping the course Friday afternoon

One unanticipated bonus feature on the course was a portable toilet that was (a) open, (b) freshly serviced, and (c) right on the course. Although it may have been faster to pee roadside, I decided that the available facility was a great compromise: it looked like what traffic was out there was going to be tourists, and I’m likely not the scenery they were looking for.
"my" Honey Bucket! 

We also checked in with the folks at the Queen of the Valley Inn – the bed and breakfast inn at the start/finish. Yep – this is a very civilized course! We had rooms there Saturday night, but for Friday we were fortunate to have a homestay with local ultracyclist Scott Youngren. After checking out the course, we got dinner, did some shopping, and turned in early. I slept about as well as I normally do the night before a big event.

Queen of the Valley Inn

We got underway at 6:40 AM. We’d been shooting for 6:30, but – a day’s a day, and that last trip to the porta-pot was worth every minute.  Early weather was cool (low 50’s), cloudy, and relatively calm. I knew I would have to make very good time in the early going, as we anticipated that the wind would increase during the afternoon.
John,  shortly before the start

My focus early on was steady effort and rock-solid cornering. The 10.8+ mile course has six corners plus a traffic roundabout. Over the course of 24 hours I would be doing a LOT of cornering, which means I had far too many opportunities to ride extra distance without credit. The traffic roundabout was a nice feature, actually, even though it slowed me down a few times. The survey map makes it look like you can pick a straight line through it, which you can’t, quite. Making a game out of seeing how fast I could exit that roundabout was a great motivational tool. On a course that was pretty static otherwise, it might have actually have been a benefit to have a challenging section like that. 

UMCA official Elise Ross notes my lap split

As I usually do, I got a cramp in my left adductor about 4 hours into the race. We spent a minute sorting that out. It just seems to happen with hard efforts, and this was a hard effort. By that point, the wind was definitely picking up, and I knew that I’d been smart to get well ahead of pace. Although the wind wasn’t raging as much as it can be through the valley, there was enough to make it a factor. The most annoying thing was that it was never consistent from lap to lap. Winds swirl through there quite a bit, affected by the Sound, the foothills, and thermal gradients. One lap I’d attack the northbound leg into a headwind, have a tailwind on the eastbound leg, a mild crosswind down the south leg, and a stiff headwind on the westbound…make the corner braced for more headwind, and find myself mysteriously riding along at 24 mph…Next lap, I’d do the same leg at 18 with a headwind (or, as I prefer to think of it, an “in-your-face tailwind”).

what goes around, comes around....same ol' thing

Shortly after the winds came out, the fans came out as well! I was amazed to see Mick and Martha Walsh, Tim Turner, and a bunch of other folks, including a lot of the Seattle International Randonneurs club. Guess what? Having people out there cheering really makes a difference.
Coming in toward the start/finish I could see that someone had chalked the pavement. From a recumbent viewpoint, that’s really hard to see on flat ground, so I had to piece it together just a little bit at the time. “We’re…something”. Crap. Missed it. Next lap, I'll try again! Seventeenth lap, I finally got it: We’re the luckiest people in the world. Thanks, Mick!!! I made it a point to go faster over that spot for the rest of the race.

Early in the second six hours, I got my only flat tire of the day. Despite all the work by the crew to get debris off the pavement, I’d picked up a wire fragment, probably from a car tire. We were on our way quickly, but I spent a couple of laps without the disk wheel while the problem got diagnosed and fixed. We changed back to it at my next pit stop. I'd been working a little harder to maintain the speed without the disk; it was nice to have it back. 

A couple of times I was called upon to prove that I am, indeed, faster than farm equipment. I would like to think that I rose to that challenge, though I am told that I scared the bejeebers out of my crew with one pass.
hang on to your bejeebers, lads - she's gonna pass this behemoth!

The crew was excellent at keeping me on track for nutrition. We went 24 hours without a single missed (or even poor) handoff, which is a testament to how invested everyone was. Race fuel was my usual mish-mash: York Peppermint patties, Boost, Los Bagels fare, stroopwafels, pizza, mashed potatoes, soup, and one stray corn dog. Food logs show that I averaged 250 kcal and 12 oz of fluid per hour. The fluid value is low, but the weather was very moderate and nearly all overcast. Ibuprofen was doing its job keeping my hotfoot in the manageable range. I kept the left shoe loose, and I seldom felt that I was throttling back the effort to manage my foot. The shoe was so loose that I had trouble clipping out – the shoe would eject my foot before the cleat disengaged – but that was far better than letting a tight shoe force me into soft-pedaling. 

I was closing in on the 12-hour record when I got a second leg cramp. This time, my right sartorius seized up. Big cramp – end-to-end of the muscle. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to stop, so I continued on. A few minutes of very stern concentration later, I had successfully banished the cramp. This was the first time I’d been successful at riding through a significant cramp on a recumbent; it's extremely difficult to find positions that stretch a cramping thigh muscle. I guess that’s an accomplishment, though one I’d rather have saved for a training ride.

At the 12-hour mark, David, the head official, counted me down. Our arrangement was that I would squirt water from my water bottle straight down at his command; this would be the location that he would mark for the record distance. It might be conservative by a foot or two, but I was fine with that. Except that my water bottle was full of Coke: somewhere in La Conner, Washington, an ant is smiling right now. I sped up a little bit for the countdown, but I didn’t knock myself out – still 12 hours to go. 
Early in the 2nd 12 hours

As we got closer to nightfall, the winds did die down a bit, which was much appreciated.
Laps kept coming around. I’m told that the innkeeper shuttled cookies out to the officials and crew. I saw one deer cross my path. I had an iPod loaded with some pretty good riding music.
I was riding steady at night – but overall a little slower than during the day. I was fine with this. I’ve never been a negative split rider under the best of circumstances, and having put the pressure on to hit both the 12 and 24-hour marks had meant that I probably did more work early than I normally would. My “A” goal of 462 miles was clearly out the window, but my “B” goal of 440 was solid. Just stay on the bike.


More time. More laps. Caffeine gum to keep me alert.  We’ve got two flavors of military-spec caffeinated gum; both taste awful, but that’s okay because they’re doing the job. I’ve affectionately named them “Bitter Red Hot” (cinnamon) and “Disappoint Mint” (mint).
Although I couldn’t see my speedometer well at night, I could tell when I was slowing down: “Time for your caffeine treats!” as Mark’s disembodied hand reached out the window.

About twenty-two hours in, the unthinkable: I accidentally swallowed a good-sized bolus of air along with some killer-good mashed potatoes. I could actually feel the air bubble travel down the pipes and – I swear – bounce. I could tell right away that it wasn’t a happy event. Mind races:“OK, it feels gross. But it may go away. Keep pedaling. OK, it won’t go away. But you still may not have to puke. OK, pull over….” A couple of moments lost to the heaves, then back on my way, now packing a water bottle full of ginger ale.

At this point, I’m a little bummed. I know from experience that it usually takes a couple of hours of hard work at slow pedaling to bring a stomach around – and that’s all the time I’ve got. So the best case is probably that I can keep it moving forward slowly, and hopefully I can speed up toward the end. I don’t need a permanent fix for the stomach – just a truce that we can both live with until 6:40 AM.

Riding along. Sipping ginger ale, which I’m carefully swishing around in my mouth to destroy any and all traces of bubbliness. Every so often I tested the system, bring the speed up above 15 mph – nope, not yet, keep that up and you’ll heave again. Drat. We came in to the start-finish at just around 6AM, and as I rolled through I informed the officials that I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t quite complete the next lap, as much as I wanted to. They were prepared either way.

It feels like I’m CRAWLING the last lap. But we’re making distance, and distance is what we need. I figured that I need around 7 miles to go over the 440 mile mark, and I know that double-digit speed is pretty much all that’s required. Ride steady. Sip ginger ale. Don’t push. Don’t barf.
With 10 minutes to go, I was pretty sure that I’d made it. The rest was gravy. I nudged the speed up a bit. When David started counting down the minutes at 5, I sped up more.

On his count, I squirted the pavement again to mark my finishing spot and coasted ahead to the nearest safe pullout, just around the corner. I came closer than I figured I would to finishing the last lap – less than 2 miles out.
I. Am. Toast. 

I was sufficiently spent that it took some time and tactics to remove me from the bike. Once extracted, I spent the next few minutes decorating the hood of the follow vehicle with ginger ale.
After the officials marked the finishing spot, we all piled into vehicles and drove back to the inn. After a very short catnap, I eased myself into, and eventually out of, a sunken Jacuzzi tub - no mean feat - and headed into the gathering room. The innkeepers put together an amazing farm breakfast for us; it was so nice to not have to go anywhere, or for that matter even think about what we’d do for breakfast.
The team waits for me to come around at the B&B. 

As ever, there’s a very long list of folks who contributed to this effort. I owe each and every one of them a debt of gratitude. In addition to a lot of well-wishers and cheerers…
  • My crew chief and biggest fan, Bill Spaeth
  • John Vincent, who agreed to come crew on very short notice
  • Scott Youngren (and son John), who came on for the night shift and gave us a warm welcome on Friday
  • Mark Biedrzycki – workin’ on the night crew
  • David Bradley – head official
  • Elise Ross and Duncan Watson – officials
  • Queen of the Valley Inn – hospitality above and beyond
  • Los Bagels – amazing bagels, spreads, and cookies
  • Bent Up Cycles – makers of the Carbent Raven
Equipment used: 
  • Carbent Raven
  • Wheelbuilder wheel covers (rear) 
  • Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL (front)
  • Michelin Pro 3 Race tires (pink!)
  • Nutrition - mixed sources, 6400 kcal
  • Hydration - mixed sources - 278 fl. oz.
Hasta la proxima!!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

24 Hours of La Conner - the waiting is the hardest part

We're making final preparations. Bikes - check. Spare wheels - check. Shoes, helmet (yay! New pink helmet!), food, drink, stopwatches. A UMCA record is a serious undertaking, and we're taking it serious to the max. David is verifying the calibration of my Oregon Scientific clock. In theory it can't be off, but the rules require that an official verify the timepiece, so that's what we're doing.
I'm nervous - a little - and part of me wishes that we were at it, already, so that I can get past the waiting.
I'm supposed to be tapering. I'll not count the spin class that I taught last night...surprise! Well, if the regular instructor's sick, someone needs to fill in, and I've called in my fair share of favors. Now I'll just do a couple of test rides from here out. My legs will hate me for that, but it's what I've gotta do.
Watch David's twitter feed for course updates: @drbradley.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's Not About the Pony - Race Across Oregon 2011

We had a fantastic race – reasonable weather, fantastic crew, good racing, and a nail-biter finish. And yet, as we were mugging for pictures, wearing big grins and finishers' medals, David couldn't help but put in, “now when you write this up, please remember something else besides the pony”....

So I'll put it out there, right now: This Was Not A Race About A Pony. The pony was strictly not necessary to our success. It was found quite by accident, in a parking lot near where we were to pick up David from the parade start. Both racers were supposed to ride the parade together; I gave David my slot since I'd already seen this stretch – and it's so awesome that I wanted to be sure that he got a chance, too.

Still, you don't just leave a pony lying around. And he fit rather nicely on the roof rack: one front hoof hooked over the front wheel tray, and one rear fetlock clasped by the rear wheel strap. We collected David, helped him find his shoes (-:, and spent a couple of minutes finishing the pony installation with zip ties. That couple of minutes meant that we were the last team in the parking lot when it became clear that Cheney – the poor, long-suffering bastard who'd driven late into the night to get here due to a car breakdown – had not been picked up by his crew. We ended up driving him to The Dalles to meet up with his crew, who were a little surprised to find him missing. I don't know where they expected him to be...
the team pony - name TBA

We'd previewed the first 20 miles of the race yesterday, so we knew (A) that Bill wouldn't get lost, and (B) Bill had a heck of a warmup hill in his first pull. After picking up Cheney, we made a quick stop at the Fred Meyers (just north of the meetup point, on Cherry Heights) to pick up the few supplies we'd missed getting yesterday. We did a good job of using available time: by the time we got parked, I had just enough time to check over my bike and take one last pee (memo to self: peeing in the bushes + fluorescent helmet = not so stealthy), the first racers were appearing. Moments later, here's Bill! He did a great job of putting us right in the thick of things. I gave us a 2-second advantage on the rest of the crowd by being the first rocket scientist to figure out that the best place to make our exchange might be AT the stop sign, instead of 20 yards past it.

Off I went, through the heart of The Dalles. Lots of stop signs, so I was on the DF (easier to get it up to speed quickly). Before you know it, I made a couple of turns and headed up 197 toward Dufur. The sun was shining, and I was feeling pretty good. And just like that, it was Bill's turn to race again.

Ian and David racked my bike, and I hopped into the van to recharge. Job #1 is to leave a message for Bill. When David and Bill did RAO together (2008), Bill's one comment was that he'd been a little hesitant to go all-out because he didn't know how David was feeling. We decided that we'd use a white board to leave each other updates on how things were going. My first update was pretty businesslike:
Intensity 8.5. Feels good. Watch heat: I think it's gonna get warmer than we think it's gonna get”.
Then – hydrate-hydrate-hydrate, grab something to eat (I thought I'd had a good breakfast, but I'd clearly run right through), and get ready...

'Cause here I go again. On into Dufur and a bit past before Bill took over. I got into the van. “Intensity is GOOD. Did you sunscreen? XOX”. Bill was doing well! As a matter of fact, I did sunscreen – but I'm glad he asked; I'm a lot more likely to forget than he is. “Yep – sunscreen. Horchata + Power Recovery = awesome. You look great out there!”

Bill relaxing(?) in the van.

Bill rounded the turn onto Dufur Gap. I got a good chunk of this part, then Bill punches it over the top and onto 197. We race down the hill in the van and barely get set up in time for me to take over at the turn onto 216. “Woo-hoo! Awesome riding!”. I'm flying along 216 – I've ridden this stretch a BUNCH of times for Ring of Fire and I know every little bump. I got enough steam going to roll “12 Mile Bump” (because it comes at mile 12 of the Ring of Fire loop) very nicely. I slowed down just a touch for 15 Mile Bump and headed down to the river with as much speed as I could handle. Somewhere in the turn at the bridge, it occurred to me that I wasn't 100% certain that I'd seen the van go past...and I hadn't. They'd underestimated my speed and were behind me; as I pulled over at our designated meetup point (hey, it's a porta-potty and I was NOT going to be denied) I could just make out the van in my rear view mirror. That was a nice pull!

Back in the van. Now it was Bill's turn, up a steep hill without any pullouts, so he was on his own. He's taken water and food. We would be able to support him in about a half an hour's riding, so we spent a few minutes reapplying sunscreen, washing up a bit, and making sandwiches. I got into the van. By now, the first thing I wanted to do when I got off the bike is to get my hands on that white board! “Worked pretty hard that last pull. Legs a little twitchy.” Bill HAS been working hard. I was glad that I pushed hard on the last pull; it made me feel more like I'm being the teammate he deserves. “Feeling good, last pull 9.0 and lovin' it. Keep drinking! XOXOX – PS Can I keep the pony???”
exchange between Tygh Valley and Grass Valley

David dumped me out at the top of the steep section. A little more flattish climbing on the 'bent and then it's going to be rollers for a while. I took off, working hard. Half an hour (or so) later, back in the van: “Of course you can keep the pony! What's its name? Maybe we can stable it at Rick and Wendy's?” OK, now we're starting to get silly. But I LIKE silly.

Moving right along...Moro (time station #2). Here's Dierdre! Woo-hoo!!!! Bill made the right-hand turn. We kept going. More racing. More passing notes on the white board. “Flat tire was a piece of tire wire – be careful out there!” Sometimes I'd get in the van and just start cracking up. “Anything you'd care to share?” asked David, expectantly. Sometimes yes, sometimes...nah. I considered taking photos of the white board comments, just for the record. Then I decided that what made them cool was that there were temporary. David started referring to them as our “analog Twitter feed”.

Gassed up in Condon. I headed through town and off toward Heppner while the van re-fueled. They brought me ice cream. I was happy: the sun was shining, we were racing, and I had ice cream AND a pony. Can't hardly get any better than that.
David gets his photo in the blog because he got me ice cream - twice.

Up and over the next big hill. We took turns as best we could. Bill was riding a lot faster uphill than me – but we expected that. Approaching the top, we made one more swap: I'm going to take the DF up the last bit and then down a ways. Just before the summit, my right pedal felt weird. Really, really weird. Then it felt even weirder when the pedal body ejected off of the spindle. That necessitated a quick bike/rider swap while we sorted out our options. Fortunately David and I wear the same size shoes, and even more fortunately, he'd brought shoes and pedals along just in case he'd been able to squeeze a ride in while we were traveling. I was a little grumpy that the pedal had decided to give up more or less at the top of a hill.“Sure, you get a great descent, and all I get is a busted pedal”. “STOP BREAKING THINGS!!! xoxox”

Between flat tires, pedal shenanigans, and our general pace of operation, we were going to be a few minutes shy of getting to Heppner by 7PM – the start of mandatory night follow - so David took the van ahead to refill gas while I plugged along. Since we'd just gassed in Condon, it was a quick and easy trip. Final descent into Heppner. Lights on – check! Music – check! I thought it was amusing when we played “Horse Power”...”The pony's talking to you! GO BILL!! WOO-HOO!!!”

At dusk, the owls came. I have seen owls out on the course before – but I've never seen them be so numerous, so concentrated, or so determined. There was at least one family of parent and owlets, teaching the young ones to hunt. I guess that something big and slow, like a cyclist with a fluorescent pink helmet, makes a good training target: I was dive-bombed at fairly close range. “Maybe I shouldn't have polished your helmet with mouse-scented Pledge...” I heard that other racers were being menaced by cougars; I had my hands full with the owls...We keyed them out afterward as being (most likely) short-eared owls. This photo essay makes me very glad to not be a mouse!

Battle Mountain – businesslike. We got it done. At the top, Bill is going to get the long pull down into Dale. This seems sort of backwards to me, but – hey, we're a team. I rolled up onto the bunk and pretended to sleep. “Sweet Dreams, Overlord!” (this is a reference to my RAW crew shirt, which lists my team role as “Overlord” - I did not complain at the time, and “sweet dreams, Overlord” does have a rather nice ring to it).
Bill flies toward Dale, OR!

Bill actually rolled a bit past Dale, almost to the top of the next steep pitch, before I took over. Lots of climbing. It's the middle of the night. I was doing my best but I didn't feel quite right. Breathing wasn't where I expect it to be. But this was Bill's only chance to sleep, and he's one racer who does MUCH better if he gets sleep – so I'm going to suck it up. “Be the teammate he deserves” was my mantra for this stretch. I got us to Long Creek, then made the turn toward Monument. By now the breathing was really bothering me. I considered cutting it short, but I didn't. I wasn't going to be able to completely polish off the Monument climb; I left some of it for Bill. Despite our pact to be honest with each other about how we're doing, I made sure to get him on his way for this pull without letting him know that I was having problems.

He knocked off the rest of the Monument climb and we had some relatively easy miles (in theory) racing in to Spray. My breathing, which had been crappy on the upright, was atrocious on the recumbent: gravity is working against solid chest expansion. I had to force myself to remember good breathing technique – expand from the diaphragm first, forcefully, every breath – just to stay in the game. I gave what I could for a pull and got back into the van. Reluctantly, I grabbed the white board...”Some trouble breathing, working through it, mainly okay...”

Turns out, Bill was having some of the same issues – fortunately not quite as bad as I was. We're pretty certain that pollen was to blame. Spring had come late and there was a lot of blooming going on. I remember how lovely the sage smelled....

Just short of Spray my digestive system woke up and decided that it was time to get to its daily work. I really didn't want to force another stop during night follow hours.... We were very lucky to find a restroom at...7:01(???) - Muleshoe Recreation Area. Good vault toilet, will be in the route book next year! This is the second race in a row where Bill has been abandoned right at 7AM to expedite a restroom mission.

By the time we got to Service Creek, it was clear that it was going to be warm. “Glad we'll be done with Clarno before it gets TOO hot!” Up and over Butte Creek, then Bill headed down the other side. I took off out of Fossil. We ran into some touring cyclists on the Fossil climb. They'd been out on tour for about a month. We did some shorter pulls to get over that summit, sent Bill down the other side, and headed back up again.
they've been touring for 30 days now!

We settled into a rhythm of shorter pulls on the climbs. It seemed to speed things up a little bit – if nothing else it made the time go faster since we got to send notes to each other more often. My breathing was still a little weird, but becoming tolerable. I learned to concentrate on deep belly breathing, and to forcefully exhale through pursed lips.“Make sure David gets ice cream in Shaniko!”.

Onward – and upward. Over Clarno. I actually got to take the descent down to Antelope. I made the turn in Antelope and handed off to Bill.

Bill took a pull and the plan was to relieve him quickly and have me take the last bit into Shaniko. Then Bill would get on the course at the turn and head toward Bakeoven. The road did not cooperate; we had about 2 miles of no pullouts whatsoever. Finally we found one and I'm off. I polished off the last 2 or 3 miles as best I could. When we got to the gas station, we discovered that there was no gas – the place turns over often, and the current management must feel that they're doing just fine selling smokes, cokes, and beer.

We've got plenty of gas, so this wasn't a problem – just means one more thing for the crew to do in Maupin. We were hoping to lighten the crew's load a little bit there so that they could enjoy some of the Imperial's fine hospitality. Instead, we had to settle for “just” ice cream in Shaniko. Strawberry for Bill (no surprise there) but I had to pick...drawing a blank...too many choices....OK - mint chocolate chip!!! I can't remember what David and Ian had, but it looked good. For some unfathomable reason the clerk thought to mention that perhaps she should include a pickle with Bill's ice cream. We thought otherwise.

We caught up to Bill just short of the Bakeoven Summit, and let him go a little bit past until we found a reasonable turnout. The first miles out of the summit are flat-to-rolling – so finding a turnout where he'd be losing speed was not that difficult. Then I was off to the races for a fairly long pull, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There were some headwinds, but they were fairly light. In 2009, the wind had been so fierce that I'd crawled down this slope at about 12 mph.

David pulled me in to get a short rest. The guys must've mentioned the pickle incident: “Glad there's no pickle in the ice cream!” (Well, me too!) I would take the last 9 miles down to the Maupin. David would leave Bill and his DF there, go into town to get gas and ice, and return to pick me up. They hoped to get back before I did. I hoped they wouldn't – because that would mean I was going faster!

I pushed as best I could heading down the hill. I always fight to not be too conservative on the switchbacks leading into town – imagine Wile E Coyote going over a cliff and you'll have a pretty good idea of the consequences of a mistake in this section. I didn't exactly air it out, but I did have more fun than I've had before.

Bill was waiting for me when I got there – big smoochy sendoff, and he was out on the next climb. I had a second to grab (but not eat) a sandwich, and say “hi” to Rob and Deirdre before David and Ian came rolling in for me. We racked the Carbent and headed up the hill after Bill.

The plan was for Bill to take the steep part of the hill, for me to take the flat part, and for Bill to finish and take the downhill to Tygh Valley. By this time he was almost feeling sheepish about getting yet another downhill – if one were keeping strict score, he was significantly ahead in the downhill miles department – but I held firm on this one: it's very sweet and I've done it a bunch of times, so it was a good one for him to get to try. “Woo-hoo! Enjoy this descent!!”

Sadly, what goes down must...come up. The climb to Tygh Ridge Summit was a bear: hot, exposed, headwinds. I did my part, but Bill did more. When we got to the top, David was going to let Bill take the descent, but Bill was having none of it: “Sandy's fresher – send her”. This was smart racing all around – Bill needed to get back into the van for some cooling – because the descent was quite a bit harder than it looked. Despite the great gravity assist, I could only manage 25 mph. There was a lot of headwind slowing me down, but every once in a while it would become a nasty crosswind, or mysteriously disappear altogether. With the swirling wind, it was difficult to predict where the bike would go if I put serious power down. A couple of times I ran afoul of the gust gods, and the bike lurched into a sudden lack-of-crosswind, so I did my best to concentrate on smooth riding and keeping the pedals moving.

By the exchange, the crew must've known that I was at my limit; they were cheering and whooping and hollering up a storm. Ian even did some kilt-twirling! At registration, Deirdre asked him what he was wearing under his kilt, to which he replied, "shoes". He was right.
Sorry, sports fans - what happens at RAO, stays at RAO.

Once we moved off of the highway, Bill took over again. We were on the final assault now – heading toward FR44 and ultimately the downhill finish. The 3000' of climbing between here and there – well, we'll get it done somehow. Smallish detail.

Once the climb began in earnest, we did shorter and shorter pulls until we got to the top. I was really feeling the climbing and the heat. At one point, all I could think of to write was, “I AM (picture of a slice of TOAST)”. Bill started working harder to get us to the top. “Can you smell the barn?”, he wrote. “I'm pretty sure the barn can smell ME!”, I answered....
Bill is riding great!!!

As we got close to the top, it was clear that the last 4-person team, Team AARP Approved, was catching up with us. I figured that was okay – at this point we knew we were going to come in at a decent hour, not totally kill ourselves, and meet our goals. But getting passed so late in a race kind of hurts, you know? They did pass us just before the final summit, and made their escape toward Hood River.

I. Am. Toast.

After my “toast” comment, Bill was figuring that he might have to finish the race on his own. I knew that once we got off the climb, things would get better. How much better, I could not have guessed....

We put Bill out on the recumbent for the first descent – down FR44 to Hwy 35. We lost a minute or so here because when the guys pulled it off the rack, it had a flat tire. Augh. It was faster to change his wheel than to haul me out of the van. Finally, he was off and we flew ahead to the next turn, to set me up.

A nice, non-technical descent – definitely my terrain. I spun up the Carbent as quickly as I could, settled in, and enjoyed the ride. David tells me it was mainly at 50+ mph and I don't doubt that for a minute – I was working hard at maximizing speed by applying force where it would be helpful, and by being as aero as possible when further application of force wasn't productive. After several miles, I thought I saw a bike ahead. And then I was SURE I saw a bike ahead. And then it dawned on me – AARP! I was going to catch them. There was no holding me back at that point. What breathing problems? Hell, you hardly need to breathe to pilot a recumbent rocket down a mountain...when I was sure I was going to pass, I sent the team van around to set up an exchange, put the hammer the rest of the way down, and hung on until I got some relief. It took a LONG time to get to the exchange – but David had had to go a long way down the mountain to get to a point where he knew he was far enough ahead to make the exchange without losing time.

Bill took the small grade reversal on his Cervelo at about 6:55 PM. David decided that the thing for us to do was to get him to the top of that hill, where he'd arrive at almost exactly 7:00, and the two of us would ride the rest of the way down, together, on our recumbents. Since night rules were coming back around, this was the only way to get both of us out on the course to finish together without a full stop. And – we're racing!

From the top of FR44, the view is amazing!
We managed both exchanges without catching sight of AARP. Now Bill and I were careening down the boulder-sealed highway toward Hood River and the finish line. Bill dropped his chain and for a moment I forgot about the night follow rules, and headed on without him. Fortunately I figured it out and slowed, so that when he got his chain back on, he didn't have to sprint too far to bring us back together (OK, he may think it was 'too far'!).

Down, down, down...pushing each other, having a blast. Eventually David lets us know that there's no further threat from the rear, and we can take it down to a reasonable pace for the last couple of miles, and so we do. We rolled across the finish, photos, medals, smiles...woo-hoo!!!
Oh, yeah. And a pony.
Thanks again and again to David and Ian for amazing crewing, to Bill for being the best teammate EVER, and to everyone involved with RAO. We had a blast and I'm already looking forward to next year. 

We've got one T-shirt left from the party. They're very cool. (See David's photo above). It could be yours!!! Best pony name wins the shirt! Enter by email or by comment on this blog.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Through tree to shining tree - a Fourth of July ride like no other....

Well, I said it...that I had missed biking through the "drive through tree" at Leggett. Bill, that righter of wrongs, decided that we should do a training ride to fix that lapse on my part. Since he works most Saturdays - helping people train to run to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - available weekends are few, but with Monday as a holiday, we had some room to roam.
By my standards, this tour was going to be a pretty staid affair - heck, we even knew where we were going to be sleeping - the Willits Super 8 - a couple of days ahead of time, and we had collected up some restaurant reviews, eventually circling in on one that promised the "best burgers in town" because (a) it was an easy recovery walk from the motel, (b) the "best burgers in town" really ought to be investigated, and (c) there was a mention of milkshakes.
So - pretty simple: ride to Willits on Sunday, taking a slight detour to ride through a tree, and ride home on Monday. With the long days, we figured it would be relatively easy to beat daylight each day, so the heavy-duty headlight stayed home. (I did bring a flashlight for a just-in-case light, but never needed it).
We packed the few things we'd need for an overnighter. Bill ended up purchasing a pair of water shoes that squashed flat; his running shoes would've taken up half of his luggage space.
We planned an early departure on Sunday and nearly delivered on it: 7:24 when we rolled off the driveway and onto the mean streets of Arcata.
We made good time in the early miles, reaching the Avenue of the Giants a few minutes before 10AM. I'd been wondering what it would be like to have a touring partner. What we ended up doing, much to my delight, was to ride in a manner that I'd describe as "together-but"....we kept an eye out for each other, never let the other completely out of our sights, but we were riding individually, which left me free to dog the hills (a little bit, though perhaps not as much as I would've if it hadn't been for Bill, up there a ways) and push the flats (though perhaps not as much as I would've if it hadn't been for bill, back there a ways....).
Just about the time we got to a good point for a bathroom break, we were at a "walk-in" tree - the Eternal Tree House in Redcrest. I pressed for the privelege of a few minutes of off-bike time, figuring that this would be our "warm-up" tree. It was actually pretty neat!

From there, we pressed forward at a pretty good clip, coming to a screeching halt in Myers Flat....where there was a sign for - would you believe this? - a drive-through tree! Perhaps this was the "real" drive-through tree, and the Leggett sign was for an imposter. You couldn't tell from the road, so we just had to do it.
Six bucks later, we were in. Through the tree, many photos with help from a fellow tourist. As trees go this one was not a very happy looking specimen, but it was (a) big, and (b) you could drive through it. This was a cool little roadside attraction: they had a "Step-Through Stump" for kids, a "Drive On Log" for SUV's, and a very cute pair of Tree Houses.
Mugging for the camera: Me (left), Bill (right). We're tourists!!!!

By now it was late morning, and we had a ways to go, so we needed to step it up. And it was getting HOT. We'd checked the weather and had expected 60's. It was more like 80. Genuine sweat was rolling off my brow in several places as we approached Garberville, which was to be our lunch stop.
After making a couple of slow, hungry circles around the main drag we settled on Getti Up - a burger joint. Yes, I know - we had already set our sights on burgers for dinner, but there was a theme rolling. We were going to bag two trees, so two burgers didn't seem all that outrageous.
I rarely pan a restaurant. But the Getti Up has got some work to do. This Yelp review - which I found post facto - pretty much sums it up:
              "I should have just stopped when the 14 year old behind the counter 
asked me if I wanted cheese on my cheeseburger."
There was no paper in the bathroom. It took a...bit...longer than you'd expect to bring the food. When it arrived, they gave me fries (after I'd asked for no fries and not paid for them). And they gave me the wrong milkshake. On the plus side, they were very sorry for the mistake, didn't charge me for the fries, and re-made the shake quickly and without complaint, and the food was decent. Still, it would've been reassuring to catch any glimpse of an adult on the premises.
Bill had found a re-route in Google Maps for the one section of Hwy 101 that he figured he'd rather skip - the tight curves around Richardson Grove; it involved taking some back roads from Garberville, taking a hillier route to the west of Piercy and coming out somewhere around the non-hamlet of Dimmick. Looking at the terrain that direction, we were both getting nervous about this - me (sorta-secretly) because of the hills that were very clearly in evidence, and Bill because he knows that in Humboldt County, roads in places that look like that are seldom paved. So we started asking around. When the motorcycle riders didn't recognize the roads we were talking about I figured we would be in deep doo-doo if we went for it. A quick trip to the gas station across the street confirmed this. And a State Patrol officer positively told Bill that the ONLY way to get through to Willits was to take 101 through Richardson Grove. When a stater tells me to take the highway, I'm all over it.
So - 101 it was. And it wasn't bad. What traffic there was was pretty polite. I guess no one was in that much of a hurry.
From here, there's a bit of climbing to Leggiet - home of the second drive-through tree. The Leggett tree is a specimen. Really, really amazing. The park is a huge tourist trap...we stood in line behind a bunch of cars. Everyone stopped to take pictures  (which of course is the main point of the adventure so  you can't blame 'em). Christopher Cross blared from the gift shop speakers.
Same day, different tree....

We were hot enough to justify a couple of minutes' downtime to grab a couple of Dr. Peppers from the machine. After that - more climbing to Laytonville.
By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon. The sun was really beating down. There was a lot of rock and little shade. Lizards were common roadside companions. I was a little overdressed (microweight wool baselayer and knickers). My water was warm and swampy. "Now THIS is RAO training", I thought to myself...turns out that Bill was thinking pretty much the same thing. On the climbs, his big difficulty was staying with me (by that I mean, not totally dusting me). He complained that he just couldn't understand why I could spin up the hills SO SLOWLY at such a high cadence. He was (he thought) in his smallest gear, and was grinding at low RPM rather than spinning at a more reasonable rate. This should've been sounding warning bells in our road-soaked brains - but of course it didn't, because just at the point where things started to get intolerable, we reached Rattlesnake Summit and started a downward trend to Willits.
We made a quick pit stop in Laytonville - replaced the hot swamp water with some sweet tea (me), Coke (Bill), and water (both of us), and shared a sandwich. With 25 miles to go, Bill estimated it would be another 2 hours to get to the hotel. I'd been on this road before, told him it would be one-and-a-half, tops. Then I busted butt to make it happen.
As it turns out, downhill and a slight tailwind makes for brisk riding; 1:17 later we were in Willits, coasting through town, marveling at the gas prices ($3.56/gallon!!!) and settling into the Super 8. After we checked in and set the air conditioning to "Nuclear Winter", hunger won out: we cleaned up just enough to be presentable (using the loose, "not turned away at the door" definition of presentable) and saved the serious showering for after dinner.
Grimaldis was billed as having the best burgers in town. Sports fans, it did not disappoint.. The decor looks like it's been locked in place for a quarter century or more, though some recent touches (compact fluorescent bulbs, high quality tile on the floor) suggest that the owners are doing the basic upkeep.
The burgers were works of art. Bill's was on a French roll, I forget the specifics other than it was immense and made him smile that goofy, man-with-really-good-burger smile immediately. Mine featured grilled onions, bacon, and bleu cheese, and was stellar. The beef was nicely done and had that backyard bbq taste.
Milkshakes weren't on the main menu, but we'd passed an ice cream case and the online reviews had specifically mentioned shakes, so we asked. Yep: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Bill had strawberry (again). I had chocolate. They came in tall fountain glasses with whipped cream on top. They were good, but the burgers definitely carried the day.
Bill was giddy from our success, glowing with stories from the road, thinking about the miles completed, really, really happy with the notion of the open road, touring, getting on the bike in one town and stopping someplace entirely different. I added that one of the coolest parts of the adventure is how committed we are. We have no plan B: we will both be pedaling back to Arcata tomorrow. Unlike most riding days, we can't cut it short, or decide we'd rather not, and stay home. And today's tailwind is going to be tomorrow's....yep. Headwind, more likely than not.
We sent the victorious, through-the-tree picture to David, to let him know we were safe in Willits. He sent this back as a warning that our old dog, Cog, may have learned a few new tricks while we were gone:

We decided that an early start was in order, so we picked up some yogurt on the way home for an early breakfast. Hopefully we could be rolling by 6AM....
Without the normal household distractions, we actually rolled a few minutes early. A few miles in, as we were climbing, Bill motioned me over to the side of the road. It turned out that his rear derailleur cable was disastrously out of tension, which meant that he couldn't shift to any of the larger rear cogs. That explained why he was having trouble with finding a high-cadence gear to match mine! We were able to get that resolved just with the barrel adjuster. Life is better with climbing gears!
It was good to get the climb back to Laytonville out of the way early, before it got too warm. In Laytonville, we stopped for Second Breakfast - a bike-touring staple meal that I was delighted to introduce to Bill. Naturally, our eyes fell on Wheels - a local diner. Although it was mainly NASCAR-themed, there was a bicycle on the wall. The French toast was really, really good!
Overall, traffic on 101 was light. Maybe driving on the 4th of July is like flying on Thanksgiving: only the turkeys aren't already where they want to be. 
Laytonville, Leggett - check. We pulled over a bit north of Piercy for fluid replenishment, which meant that we could bypass Garberville. We did take a small detour around Benbow - the State Trooper who'd recommended 101 also mentioned that this was a scenic alternative. We'd not taken it on the way out because it required 2 left turns onto and off of 101, and because the road it bypasses is generally pretty good. But we were in an adventurous was extremely pretty. There was a bit of gravel in one spot, but it was worth it!
By Garberville, the sun and headwinds were indeed fierce. We ditched off 101 and back onto the Avenue of the Giants at Myers Flat, stopping for a bit of lunch. The selection at the minimart was rapacious: $7.00 for a pretty measly-looking sandwich of unknown origin. We opted to make our own, purchasing an avocado, some hamburger buns, and a half pound of roast beef. MUCH tastier. Bill even found a home for the leftover buns!
Compared to 101, the Avenue was shaded and at least partly sheltered from the wind. We tooled along at a reasonable clip, with one good speed challenge thrown in for good measure. I should NOT try to chase cars, even when they're clearly misbehaving. And Bill should probably not chase ME while I'm chasing cars, either. But I'm glad he did, and the speedwork was good for both of us.
Once we leave the shelter of the big trees, the headwinds are back in force. I'm sure it's slowing us down, but I'm not keeping track, really - just making sure that we're going to be home before dark. Fortunately by the time we're this far north, the temperature's down quite a bit.
Next stop - Fern Bridge. Smelling the barn now. We're both a little hungry, and we split up the last of the fluids (he's almost empty, and I've got some to share), with the understanding that we're going to make a beeline for home.
The rest of the way is familiar ground. Loleta, Fields' Landing, Eureka (somehow we managed to make all the lights!), cross over to the waterfront, and we're on the Samoa Bridge. By now I'm pretty hungry. I know we're *supposed* to go to the fireworks display with David and Mary, but I just can't see it happening. What I CAN see happening is a nice, big pizza. I'm actually fantasizing about it: a perfect mixture of meat and veggie toppings, not-too-thick crust, melted and slightly browned cheese....a ginger ale from the fridge. Heck, maybe we could have such a thing delivered and head out to the fireworks. Or - maybe we could have it
With all of this guided imagery going on, my legs were really churning...still into the remnant headwind. I could dimly sense Bill falling back. And I could smell that pizza. Just a little faster won't hurt him....
Whew! Home! Cog is glad to see us, of course. We rack up the bikes, take a good look around, and reach for the fridge. I grab a ginger ale. Bill grabs a root beer. "So I was thinking about tonight", he starts, slowly, almost sheepishly. "We could go to the fireworks..." I cut him off: "..but if we do that, we'll be out until midnight. Maybe we should stay home." He grins. We'd both love to do the fireworks, but - maybe next year. I put out that it would be good to hang here with Cog; sometimes he gets nervous about fireworks, and this is his first year here...."Sounds like a plan", Bill says. "How about we order a pizza? I've been thinking about pizza for the last few miles...."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My RAW Bike Commute

I bike-commuted to meet my RAW team in Sunnyvale. I was crew chief for Joan Grant. I'll spoil the surprise (you know how much I hate suspense!) by telling you that we had a fantastic race, and that Joan now holds the womens' RAW record. And I'll leave the telling of that story up to her.

I had originally figured I'd just hop a ride with David and the Team Raven Lunatic van down to the Bay area – but then I realized that I was woefully short on adventures this year. Since I normally have Fridays off, I could ride down the coast to the Bay area. David offered to chauffeur my bike back home, so long as I left it at Jim's place. No problem.

I took off a little after first light on Friday. I felt oddly nervous and unsettled. Maybe it had just been too long, and I'd forgotten the lure of the open road. Or maybe I've got more to miss now. Or possibly some of each. Anyway, I managed to waste a good hour, sorting through stuff, petting Cog, and having that last cup of coffee.

And then – it was 6:45 and I really couldn't put it off any longer. And just like that, off I went...around the bay to Eureka, through town on the back roads, and onto Highway 101. I didn't have a map, or a plan, particularly. Heck – it's pretty obvious where San Fransisco is. Put the water over your right shoulder and keep plowing ahead and you're sure to run into it eventually.

I had packed just enough stuff to get me down there, since David and Bill would arrive shortly after I did. They were lugging all of my luggage for RAW (thanks, guys!). I had a change of clothes, warm gear for night, three good spare tubes, a spare tire, and a couple of tools. That's it, because that's all the room I had. Everything was wedged into my race bag, snug as a bug in a rug.

Southward. Fortuna. Rio Dell. Avenue of the Giants. Munching on waffles and Nutella, swigging water and (more) coffee. It was almost misty at first, then overcast. Somewhere in the southern reaches of Humboldt County, the sun started peeking out. And then I started seeing the signs - “Special Event Ahead: Redwood Run”. Wow – a footrace? On a Friday? Or...not. Turns out that the Redwood Run has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual sport of running. And I was noticing a lot of Harley Davidsons out on the road.

By the time I reached Piercy the sun was out in full force, and it was quite clear that the “Redwood Run” was actually a motorcycle rally. Fortunately for me, bikers like good food, too, and the store was well-stocked with sandwiches, cookies, and the like. The parking lot had spread out to a mini-fair, and I spent my “lunch” time peering at racks of t-shirts and stickers that would make a sailor blush, and hoping there was nothing too unusual about the brownie I'd just slammed down. Got into a few conversations with curious gawkers: “Hey, is that bike, like, COMFORTABLE?” “Where are you headed?” “Is that CARBON FIBER? COOL!!!” and the like.

And on I went. This was the point where I did NOT reapply sunscreen, leading to a particularly embarrassing case of knickertan. Leggett – considered hitting the drive-thru tree, but opted against, not knowing whether it's bicycle friendly. Plenty hilly from here to Laytonville, but with nice conditions and a bit of a tailwind it wasn't bothering me.

More rollers, then some flats, then before you know it I was sailing into Willits, just at dinnertime.
I stopped at Burrito Exquisito for a giant-ish chicken burrito. While I was there I called Bill (and Cog) to let them know how I was doing.

After Willits, life got more, well, interesting. I got my first flat tire between Willits and Ukiah. No problem – I've got three spare tubes. Onward...I start doing the math, trying to figure out when I can figure on making it to Santa Rosa, which is a major landmark on the way down for me. I'm feeling good and I'm flying along, and just at the point where I've got the math figured out and I'm happy with the result, BLAMMO! Another flat tire. Grrrr.

OK, not a problem, I've got three spare tubes, after all. So I replace the tube, getting it mainly inflated before I notice that the tire has a pretty big sidewall cut, and the tube is protruding, and...I made it. Got it deflated before detonation. This was a big deal because “three spare tubes” was starting to sound like “only three spare tubes???”. I hauled out the spare tire, and mounted it with the second tube.

And I'm back on the road. The sun is low in the sky, but I'm riding along, picking up speed, enjoying the last puffs of tailwind before it beds down for the night, and figuring out when I'll make it to Santa Rosa, based on the last flat tire and my current rate of speed and enthusiasm. Just when I think I've got it worked out, and I'm happy with the result....BLAMMO.

Good grief! Three flats in not much more than an hour. I put my third spare tube in (“only three spare tubes???”) and think, weakly, that I should really patch one of the injured tubes now, before it gets dark. “But what are the chances of a FOURTH flat?” I ask myself, and so I forge ahead, into the twilight, enjoying the sunset and speeding right along, figuring out when I'll make it to Santa Rosa, based on the current position, location, speed, and enthusiasm....

By this time, you're probably wondering why I let my mind wander down the Santa Rosa path yet again, since it seems like every time I got to that point in my mental ramblings, I got a flat tire. Well, it wouldn't be such a great story if not for the fact that, yes, indeed, I got my fourth flat tire just as the light changed from dim to dark. Now I had to patch a tube, and I was distrustful of the porosity of the replacement tire, which had let in two pretty minor pieces of road shrapnel. I decided to patch the slit tire, which was otherwise brand new, rather than to trust the spare.

It is difficult to find small holes in black inner tubes in the dark. And my creeping presbyopia doesn't help one bit. Fortunately, I've got a very good light that I can use to illuminate the work area. Unfortunately, as I reached for the light to move it to a more useful position, the mount broke in my hand. I guess I'm lucky that it broke while I was stationary... but now I'd have to figure something out for a front light.

The only tube that I could see well enough to patch was the one that had punctured with the sidewall cut. At least I had that going for me – the hole was big enough to find relatively easily. Hopefully the patch would hold!

About this time I realized that my taillight was functioning on something resembling the “glowworm” setting, so I changed it out for my spare. The spare turned on for 10 seconds, sputtered, and died.

Final tally: It's well after dark. I'm on Hwy 101. I have a LED leg bracelet rigged as a temporary headlight, and a taillight that is barely visible. I'm riding a patched tire and tube, and am carrying three spare tubes that have holes that are too small to visualize in the dark. And I've changed four tires (make that five, if you count the one that I did twice before discovering the bulge in the tire). I'm covered in grease and grime.

Fortunately it's only eight more miles to Cloverdale. I'm creeping along, really missing my light, certain that at any moment the tire bogeyman will rear his ugly head yet again. But by some small miracle, I made it without incident.

At that hour (sometime after 10PM) there's not much action in Cloverdale. I pulled into the first minimart that presented itself: a rather seedy place that doubles as a liquor store and appears to be where the local 18-year-olds go to celebrate their 21st birthdays. I picked up batteries for the taillight, a hotdog and coffee for myself, and started McGuyvering. With most of the parts from the light mount, plus an armband for an iPod, plus some electrical tape scavenged from elsewhere on the bike, I could put the light back into service – as a helmet-mounted light. Only downside is that the battery cord is short, so that I need to wear the battery pack on my helmet as well. Heavy, but that's what it's going to take. I inspect the tire. So far, so good. The patch is holding. And I'm well-lit, which is a good thing.

Off I go, back into the night. Before you know it, my thoughts were wandering, back to my current speed, figuring how long it was going to take to get to...STOP. RIGHT. THERE.

In a perfect world, I would have spoken those words to myself, to ward off the brain waves that attract flats like my strawberry plants attract slugs. Since this is NOT a perfect world, the “STOP. RIGHT. THERE.” that I heard had come from the speaker of a California State Patrol car.

The officer was not amused by my presence on the 101, particularly at that hour. He started asking me questions:

Officer: “Have you seen any OTHER bicycles out here, miss?” (“Miss? Really???)
ME: “No, sir, I haven't.”
Officer: “Well, don't you think that it's STRANGE that you're the only bicycle rider out here?”
ME: (can't help but think that this is a trick question...) “No, sir, not really; I'm pretty used to being the only bicyclist out some times.”
Officer: “Well, you're not supposed to be riding on the freeway. Didn't you see signs to that effect on the freeway onramp?”
ME: “Sir, I got onto the 101 in Eureka. There's no onramp.”
Officer: “Eureka? When was that?”
ME: “This morning, sir, at approximately 7:15”.
Officer: (pausing for dramatic effect): “What are you drinking in your waterbottles? Have you had anything to drink?”
ME: “It's Diet Coke, sir”.
Officer: “That's really interesting, Miss, because when I do cardio, I can't drink soda at all. Are you SURE that's Diet Coke?”
ME: “Yes, sir. If you're like most police officers, you do CrossFit for your cardio, and I'd never be able to drink soda for that, either. I'm not drinking alcohol; you can't do that and operate a bike safely.”
Officer: “Where are you headed?”
ME: “Sunnyvale, sir. I'm meeting a team of racers that's going to ride from Oceanside to Durango”.
Officer: (shooting me The Look) “The one in Colorado?”
ME: “Durango is in Colorado, sir; Oceanside is in California.”
Officer: (same Look, squared) “I'll need to see your drivers' license.”....

He had his partner run my drivers' license, and after a long minute he returned. And then he said the strangest thing of all:

Officer: “Well, miss, I guess that other than the bicycle thing, you're pretty normal, so I'm going to let you off with a warning. But you have to leave the freeway immediately.”

Wow. I've been called a lot of things. But...normal??? If I pass for normal in this guy's world, he must lead a pretty interesting life. But if it gets me off without a ticket, that's great. He literally frog-marched me down the next offramp and into Geyserville. Between the flashers and the headlights, I almost felt like I was ultraracing. If only I could ride my bike...Once I was safely in Geyserville, he cut me loose.

I didn't mind riding side roads the rest of the way. It was slower going since I had to think more about where I was going. But I didn't get any more flats, so getting off the highway may have been a good thing. I got through Santa Rosa in the wee hours, and made it to Petaluma sometime around 4AM. I found a 24-hour breakfast place – Henny Penny's, which is just across the street from the Denny's (say that three times fast!).

I had the bacon and eggs breakfast – very slowly – and a quantity of coffee. I sent a text message to Bill to let him know I'd made it to the Bay area, figuring he was not likely awake yet. Turns out I was wrong – he'd volunteered to take some neighbors to the bus station – so we talked briefly. I was able to milk breakfast until it was fully light, and I could better assess my options.

Next time, I think I'll take...a bicycle map. As it was, I ended up doing the full scenic tour of Marin County on Saturday morning. It was a lovely day for a bike ride, so that wasn't such a bad thing, but I was frustrated that I was not getting substantially closer to my goal.

Around 10 AM I admitted defeat. I had made it to San Rafael and I felt like it would be unwise to keep trying to find the Golden Gate Bridge, so I decided to take the ferry. With about an hour to kill before the next ferry launch, I spotted a farmers' market nearby and checked that out. Three peaches later, I was feeling pretty chipper.

I settled in for the ferry ride. And then we got spit out onto the Embarcadero. I had gone from the solitude of biking, solo, from Arcata, to the hustle and bustle of the big city, just like that. And the Giants were playing, so it was doubly busy. Between the road haze, and the sleep deprivation, and the crowds, I was feeling a little overwhelmed.

And then the naked bike riders came through. A gaggle of naked guys and one brave, equally naked, girl. They were headed in the opposite direction, slowly, nakedly, confusingly. I seldom hallucinate, and when I do, it's never anything fun or interesting, so I'm sure it was real.

Three hundred miles, thirty thousand baseball fans and thirty naked bike riders was enough; I was ready to throw in the towel. I made one feeble attempt to not get lost in downtown SF, but ended up at the corner of four different roads, and none of them were where I belonged... Again, admitting defeat, I ended up taking the train to Mountain View, where Joan picked me up. From there, I was swept into the singleminded busy-ness of RAW: travel, packing, planning, execution, exhaustion, exhilaration.

This time of year always finds me a theme song. This year, the first song I hit on my ipod when I got home was just amazingly, deeply, psychically “right”. Here it is....enjoy. And – don't forget to sunscreen!


The Apache Relay – American Nomad
I see the sun, I see the stars again
I feel the air, I hear the scream of the wind

I'd ask everyone I know just where I am
But I don’t care.

I want to be lost find myself and start again
Tear up the map cause I don't need directions
I want to be free, I need some time to clear my head
If I can

but Ohh my darling,
The road has split
but I will follow,
It's who
I am

I write my thoughts, I write `em down on a page
They can't be yours, (but) we'll find a ground to relate
Sayyyyeddd cause I wanna talk
I wanna run
I wanna change
If it's not too late