Monday, September 17, 2012

Labor Day Weekend 800k: Musashi Meanderings

There’s nothing much finer in this world than the sharing of great times with the ones you love.

Had to take Bill on a Long Trip prior to the 508. Labor Day weekend was an excellent opportunity! Our friends Adrienne and Robert had just completed their move down to Santa Rosa, a healthy 400k south. I figured – let’s make a weekend of it! One day down, a short visit, and two days riding back. Not shabby. We knew that we could easily make it from Willits to Arcata during hours of daylight, so we got a motel there for Sunday night.

We wanted to “sort of” simulate race conditions – in other words, we wanted to travel fairly fast, and fairly light. So instead of doing a true “pack-it-all” tour, Bill sent a change of clothes ahead via UPS. Still, packing everything we thought we’d need into the Musashis, even with two of the Nashbar frame bag “triangles” each, was a challenge. I packed tires and tubes. Bill concentrated on tools. He also had to bring a pair of shoes (Adrienne had been considerate enough to borrow a pair of mine the last time she was up, so I was already set in that department). We would start out WEARING the jackets, but of course we’d need a place to put them once things started to heat up…after a bit of finagling we were pretty sure we had it nailed.

4AM is an awfully early start, sports fans – but we managed it. Out into the dark, through Eureka, taking in the very last of the “blue moon” (even though it was technically the first of the month, I still counted it….). I got a flat just before sunup. It wasn’t quite light, and we couldn’t quite figure out what had caused it, either – no obvious sign of a struggle within the tire. I HATE replacing a tube without any idea whether the tire is okay or not, but the universe wasn’t giving me much say in it. Fortunately the tube held the rest of the way.

Avenue of the Giants just before sunup. Flying along! Woo-hoo!!! We pulled over in Miranda to use the facilities. A touring group pulled in shortly behind us. They had seen us go past their camp, had tried to buck themselves up to catch us, then decided – nah. Best not to work so hard before breakfast…One guy mentioned our kits – mine pink on pink on pink, and Bill’s with the black and blue flames thing going on. I ventured that it made it a lot easier to remember which bike to get on. They had started on Thursday, were headed to San Fran, and would get there Monday. We suggested the breakfast burritos at the Miranda Café. They went for it…

We weren’t quite ready for a full stop, yet, so we soldiered on to Garberville and picked up breakfast burritos of our own (there’s an Azteca restaurant embedded in the Chevron station; it’s fast AND good). A strung-out dude was drumming outside the gas station; I wasn’t sure if folks were supposed to pay him to play, or to stop.

Onward. Can’t believe we (okay, “I”) struggled with the hill to Leggett last year! Of course, it was quite a bit warmer then. By now it was early afternoon and although the jackets had come off, it was maybe mid-70’s. 

From the south end of the Avenue through to nearly Ukiah, it seemed like every second or third vehicle we saw was a Cal Fire rig. Fortunately there wasn’t much smoke!

Laytonville – only real business here was to make sure that Wheels was still open. Yep. That’s the “second breakfast” stop on the way home, for sure! Willits – 83 minutes later (a full 7 minutes faster than last year, despite a lingering headwind!) – we blew through, making sure that we found the Pine Cone (where we’d stay Sunday night).

Shortly before Ukiah, we need to get off of 101. Astute readers will recall that this is the section of 101 that I rode last year where I got (a) four flat tires in forty miles, and (b) escorted off the road by the California State Patrol. We found the right exit – North State Street – and started navigating the maze of instructions that Google Maps had given us. In the end it was pretty simple. We stopped for some food in the middle of it – at a (gasp!) McDonalds!  - and were on our way…onto some of the most beautiful roads I’ve ridden in quite some time, actually. The 101 detour took us east of town, then South along River Road to Hopland. Wine country, quiet roads, excellent scenery, and great company (for me, at least).

At Hopland, we stopped for pizza. Actually, we stopped for “anything-I-can-cram-in-my- mouth” and it ended up being pizza, which was just fine with us. We had a nice chat with a young family who were very curious about what we were up to, and how the bikes worked…and of course the little girls wanted to know all about my (very pink) bike. Fun! 

It was almost 7PM by the time we rolled out of Hopland. We used a bit of 101 again, then onto side roads until we got to Cloverdale, then Healdsburg. Healdsburg was a bit of a challenge, navigationally – GM had planned LOTS of little turns for us. I don’t know whether this was to take advantage of bike lanes, to avoid stop signs, or to take us closer to businesses who pay to advertise on Google, or what. Any way you slice it, lots of unnecessary complication. At any rate, we blasted straight through town, and although we spent a lot of time at stop signs, it wasn’t so bad. 

We got lost in Santa Rosa. Specifically, we got lost in Santa Rosa, less than a mile from R&A’s place. Significantly less than a mile. Then we compounded the error by heading back the wrong direction for quite a ways before it hit us that, as omniscient as Google Maps is, Adrienne would probably know just as well how to get to her own house. So we called. We were right. Once we got straightened out, Robert headed out to the street to be a human traffic signal. We could see…blinky light….yellow reflective something….headlight…yellow…blinky…as he slowly circled at the entrance to their private road.

Woo-hoo!! We made it!!! Chris is there, too – his whole family is, but Hope and their boys have gone to bed, as have Axel and Liam (Liam’s a champion sleeper for a li’l guy). Apple pie, THEN dinner (life should always be so…) as we catch up. We open up the box of clothes and stuff, shower, and turn in.

Sunday morning was a hoot! I think I was the first up, then Axel, then his bleary-eyed Dad. Coffee was amazing (oh, I do miss something about Portland after all: Stumptown Roasters….) and we were generally decompressing. Axel gave me the tour of his bedroom. Nash caught frogs in the compost. Everyone had an amazing farmhouse breakfast.

Then – off to the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market. We all biked there – a fun mix of different bikes, all traveling together. Chris had his pretty-in-pink Pocket Rocket, Hope on a Bacchetta, Henry on his bike, and Nash riding a teeny-tiny Pinarello that was to die for gorgeous. Lucky kid! Adrienne was on her touring bike, Robert had the boys in the box bike, and Bill and I had our Musashis. The market was colorful and crowded and had a lot of good things to eat and look at. I grabbed a raspberry lemonade iced tea. Bill grabbed pastries.

Home again, then a quick lunch, and it’s time to pack up. We put our dirty clothes in the box, with a pre-paid label for Adrienne to UPS them back to us, and stuffed everything else in the bike bags. I used a combination of electrical tape and zip ties to fasten my sandals to the chainstay. By the time we left, it was 1:30. We’d “planned on” getting started by noon, but we had been pretty flexible on that from the get-go. With kids and all, and wanting at least a little time for visiting, we weren’t in that big of a rush. We called the Pine Cone and let ‘em know to keep the lights on for us.

The trip back to Willits was actually slightly faster than the trip down, even though we were going uphill rather than down. We attributed that mainly to better navigation. There’s a pretty good climb between Ukiah and Willits – as a matter of fact, it pretty much dominates the terrain once you get back onto 101 north of Ukiah. I was pretty determined to get that punched out before it was “really” dark. With a gentle tail breeze and a setting sun, we were kickin’ along in a middle gear and really not bothered by the climb. Comparing notes later, we both were in our big chainrings and a biggish cog – something like a 52/28. I stopped briefly as we hit the top and punched my light into top gear. It made a big difference on the short descent down to Willits.

We pulled into the Pine Cone. Bill checked us in while I sent text messages out to let the folks who were keeping track of us that we’d made our evening’s destination safely. I also noticed that one of my three water bottles had cracked (bummer, but we’ll survive). After we got the bikes parked, we weighed our options for dinner, which were few and far between given that it was now 9PM. On Sunday. In Willits. We probably could’ve hoofed it down to the Safeway, but we were not in a mood to wander – so McDonalds it was (again – sigh). After that we picked up some yogurt and snacks and coffee/energy drinks at the minimart next to the hotel and called it a night….

…since we were getting up at 5 AM, which came around very soon. We were planning to take off at 6AM. I know that it doesn’t seem like it OUGHT to take a full hour to launch two bikes out of a hotel room, but there’s some fearsome logistics to consider: you have to….
  • Get up (no mean feat)
  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Use the bathroom
  • Pack everything up
  • Double check the bike
  • Zip-tie the sandals to the frame (OK, I could’ve done that last night, but I was lazy…)
  • Double-check your double-checking (and still miss something, as you’ll see…)

And so on. We were rolling just a minute or two after 6, which I figure was stellar. We were using headlights for the first hour or so, and saw LOTS of deer. By the time we were out of town the Cal Fire folk were stirring, too, but other than that, there’s not much traffic on a Labor Day morning.

We were riding pretty hard. Destination: Laytonville. Home of Wheels Café. It’s a great breakfast stop, and any day when “second breakfast” starts before 8AM is going well. I had the “keilbasa special” which may or may not have been a small strategic error. On the one hand, it stayed with me a long time. On the other hand, it made darned sure that I knew it was staying with me….

Onward. Up and over Rattlesnake Ridge, which somehow came and went without remembering to bite us. Standish-Hickey – we were spotted by Barb and Cammy, who managed to pull over and call Mary to report a “Bindy Sighting” without us noticing them one bit. Figuring on our next stop being Garberville again…but we stopped a bit short, at the gas station across the street from the “One Log House” – just south of Richardson’s Grove. Since I was down to two water bottles, I needed to load up.

We took advantage of the facilities, got ourselves fed. By this time Bill had totally given up on “healthy” and was digging into anything with calories. He grabbed two beef and cheese “Tornados” (tagline: “A whirlwind of flavor”). He offered to share. I was hesitant, but eventually I succumbed. Jackets off again. Why is it that every time you stuff a jacket into the same @#$&* space it takes up a little more room? Hygroscopic expansion?

Past Garberville. Hit the south end of the Avenue at about 1:00 – good time. We’re flying along up the Avenue – definitely on familiar roads today. By the time we get to Redcrest, it’s pretty warm, and I’m out of fluids again. So we stopped for ice water, iced tea, and…ice cream. Nice to have a theme….back on the bikes. This is where I discover that I’ve got a slow leak in my front tire. I’ve not checked it since we left Arcata, and it’s almost flat. We pump it up and hope that it will hang in there. I hate suspense, so I’ll let you know that it does. By the time we get to the Blackberry Popsickle stand in Pepperwood, we’re not inclined to stop. We’re really ready to get home.

Off the Avenue right around 3PM, and headed for Rio Dell, Fortuna, and points North. Arriving back on 101 means that we can’t hide from the wind any more, and it’s a pretty stiff headwind. I took stock. For the past 450+ miles, Bill has ridden steadfastly behind me – just out of a legal draft. When I’ve slowed, he’s slowed, even though it must be painfully difficult for him to climb as slow as me. I don’t know what’s motivating him to do that, but it struck me that forcing yourself to follow in someone else’s tire tracks might be a pretty good training tactic. So I decided to be the very best training partner I can be, and I kicked it up a notch. Or two. Or more.

It worked. We pulled off at Fernbridge – our last opportunity to hit a blue room before Eureka – and Bill was nearing his limit, too. Woo-hoo!! We were having a GRAND time, and when we rolled into the gas station, we were both gasping for air and laughing like loons. Reminded me suspiciously of the ride where we met…

Honestly, I don’t remember much about the very last bit of the ride. We were just really, really focused on getting home. We so much wanted to tell David and Mary about our adventure. Part of me was thinking, hey – we should just ride straight to their house, don’t waste time showering, it’s right on the way, and time is short. But when we got to the point where we would turn up Janes’ Road to David’s house, there was a strange van there. So we didn’t. 

If you don’t want to read the rest of this post, well, I don’t blame you. You can stop right here and rest assured that the two of us had another very excellent adventure, and know that when you come right down to it, there’s nothing much finer in this world than the sharing of great times with the ones you love. I won’t blame you for quitting while we’re ahead. Because quite frankly the rest of this post sucks.

I’d planned on calling my folks while we waited for breakfast. Since they were such a big help in getting Bill’s Musashi home, I wanted to make sure that they knew we were out having fun with it. But I didn’t have a signal in Laytonville, so I turned my phone off.  When we got home, turns out I had missed several text messages. One of them – “Call when you get home”…well, I knew. We would never tell David about our amazing adventure. David died while we were pounding along 101, right around Rio Dell – the site of the infamous Team Raven Lunatics Golf Tournament.

David had liposarcoma. He lived about thirteen years after being diagnosed. About half of his kids’ lives. He worked like crazy to stay alive. But the cancer won. And that sucks.

There is not one good thing about this. Some people say that they really “find themselves” after a cancer diagnosis – that it’s a wakeup call, that they live life more fully, that they get to do things that they might never had if cancer hadn’t come along and given them a good, swift kick in the pants. And I’m glad that some folks have found that positive, or at least that peace, within their cancer.

But that’s not David. David did not need a good, swift kick in the pants. David WAS a good, swift kick in the pants. He already knew who he was, he already knew what he wanted to do, he was already DOING it, and he was an amazing friend and advocate and just overall good person. He made the people around him laugh, and he made us better people. Cancer didn’t make him that way. It just chipped away, little by little, at his ability to do the things that made him who he was.

David was an incredibly hard worker. It seemed to come naturally to him. And the cool thing was that no matter how hard he worked, there wasn’t ever a trace of irony, bitterness, or martyrdom to it: if something needed doing, he was doing it, not worrying about who WASN’T doing their share. He could see what needed doing and he did it without fanfare. He wasn’t shy about telling those close to them when they were slacking, or that they’d missed doing something important. But he was always nice about it.

Lots of people will say/have said that David fought a “brave” battle against cancer, and how much that inspires them. That’s cool: David inspired me, too. I’m lucky that I knew the “non-cancer” part of him better than a lot of people. But I don’t know about his personal war on cancer being “brave” – I’d not argue against it, but the main thing that struck me was that he fought as HARD as he could for as long as he could. It could have been equally “brave” to face a deadly cancer by not going for state-of-the-art treatment. It certainly would have been easier.

He fought so hard because he very much loved being alive. He was not neutral on this one bit. Clearly he wasn’t afraid of dying – every treatment that he endured carried the risk of killing him quickly and without mercy. Through the years he put up with a lot of shit that you or I or many perfectly reasonable and equally brave folks might have decided was just not worth it for the privilege of being alive. It made him sick. It made him weak, which he hated even more than being sick. And from time to time, it kept him off his beloved bike, which he really, really hated. But he did it. And he did it because it represented his very best mathematical odds of staying with us until a real cure emerged. To stay alive. Here. Doing things and being David. Because that was worth it to him. And he was right.

When I look back on all the things that David was able to do in the last years of his life, even with the cancer and the chemo and everything, it’s amazing to me. It’s a real testament to his force of character, and a constant reminder to me: Every day matters. Even the sucky days matter, because they are what get you to other, possibly better days. And you just never know what your presence here might bring….

… I strongly suspect that December 31, 2009 was at best a medium-sucky day for David. David had just finished a way-too-long siege with chemo, and then radiation, in Houston, and he was facing major surgery in a few weeks. But – he was alive, and he was home, which meant that I was down visiting, and he was being an amazing host. He could barely make it up a couple of the local hills, but – being David – he knew that I needed some good, healthy exercise. So he brought this friend of his, some neighbor guy, out to ride Fieldbrook with us. Whoever he was, this guy was pretty strong – I’d be the first to admit it – and he handily beat me up the hill. He waited patiently for me at the top, and we even got to chat a bit while we were waiting for David. He told me about the other side – the descent, and then the slightly descending rollers…and we were off! I let him go first, figuring I would only slow down a “local” on the real descent…but the rollers? Woo-AND-hoo!! I was off like a shot. We were both working as hard as we could – no quarter given, none asked. And when we arrived at the bottom, we were both gasping for air and laughing like loons, waiting for David to roll down at his leisure. What fun! There’s nothing much finer in this world than the sharing of great times with the ones you love… 

David’s last ride was STP. Yes - he was able to kick out a 200 mile weekend just a few weeks before he died. I would LOVE to get my hands on just a single can of whatever personal whoop-ass he opened up to get that done. But his guts had already decided to revolt. No food, no energy, no strength, and, after STP, no more biking. It was becoming too much to fight against.

Friends came to visit. Bill and I took everything we’d learned from David about Raven Lunatic hospitality and we tried to apply it to the utmost. We called and emailed the people who were close enough to care a lot, but not close enough geographically to “get” that this was, really, it. He was amazed at how many people called and wrote. “So-and-so called today”, he’d say to me. “Someone must be really worried…” (rolling his eyes). It was a tough line to walk. I didn’t want him to feel like I was ratting him out – but I worried that by the time he thought to tell people, he’d be really too weak to talk or visit.

Relatives came, left, came back, stayed. There were a lot of visitors and gatherings. They tired him out sometimes but he never complained, or at least he never complained to us.

David died on Labor Day. He slipped away gently and without pain. It was duly reported in the paper, on BROL, and on his Caringbridge site. Mary gathered up the family and friends and had an after-party at the Grange. Folks who don’t know David other than as a cyclist might not have guessed that he was an accomplished square dancer. He met his wife square dancing – at the same Grange hall, some years back. It was a potluck gathering. A total feast. Great music, great company, good times. Mary hung David’s event tees in the hall, and urged folks to take one home with them. Many did. It will be good to see those shirts all over town.

We cleaned up the hall, and went home, and went to sleep, and woke up, and had breakfast. There’s so much to do. We’d best be at it. Because making the most of being here, and being alive, is an incredible privilege. There’s nothing much finer in this world than the sharing of great times with the ones you love. But I sure wish David was still here, sharing those times with us.