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.


  1. Hilarious write up Sandy! Congrats to Team Raven Lunatics for a great race, and for having FUN from start to finish as always (if you consider transforming into toast FUN). And congrats to both of David's shoes for making it to the finish, too. Loved the white board, great idea! Oh Sandy we won't soon forget your 2009 RAO solo recupright success, gutting it out to the bitter end. Isn't the team setup so much more fun!
    Sharon Stevens

  2. Good to see you rockin' the RBENT jersey, kid!!! Congrats (to you both)on another very tough adventure... perhaps the pony should be named Luna? Or Zippy, since it was secured with zip-ties... ;^)