Friday, July 24, 2009

Aside From That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Did You Like the Play? Being Part Two of The Story of Cecil's Great Gold Rush Adventure.

(This post is a continuation of a previous post - you might want to read that first, or this will make little sense)

And so I was on my way home. The wind was at my back. Sadly, so was a honking huge semi. Not 10 minutes after I left the Davis Creek turnaround, in a scene straight out of Duel, a truck loaded with lumber came speeding up behind me. The driver started blasting his horn and revving his engine and then began to deliberately crowd me off the road. How do I know it was deliberate? First, because there was no oncoming traffic so he could have moved over into the other lane to pass me. Second, because once he pulled up beside me, he slowed until he was pacing me, waited there until I ran off the pavement onto the shoulder, and then accelerated and sped off, with another horn blast to make sure I got his point. I was too busy being terrified and trying to stay vertical to get his license plate number, but when I encountered a CHP officer a few more miles down the road, I gave him a full description of the truck and the incident, just in case the driver should do the same thing to other riders (I learned later that he had indeed crowded another group of riders, but not quite as closely as he had crowded me). What I didn’t say was that the driver could probably be identified by what I had to assume was an astonishingly small penis, because he was so clearly compensating for it by terrorizing female cyclists. On the bright side, I did not crash and the adrenaline rush woke me up and kept me awake all the way back to Alturas.

In Alturas, I made good on my promise to visit the nap room, but I had barely reached semi-consciousness when a loud “Bang!” from nearby, followed by a rush of voices, startled me awake again. I briefly considered getting up to investigate, but that would have involved, well, getting up. Which I just did not feel like doing right then. I figured that if there were some real emergency, they’d come get me. When, half an hour later, I finally dragged myself back to the land of the upright, the volunteers on duty told me that a dust devil had blown through town, knocking all sorts of things over. Great. Apparently I was now going to have to deal not only with aggressive drivers, but with whirlwinds. Good thing I’d gotten that nap.

Napping in Alturas

The stretch from Alturas back to Adin was singularly uneventful. The expansion cracks on the road did not seem as bad in this direction, but perhaps that was just because I was in a better mood. After turning off Centerville Road in Canby, I made a short detour to the mini-mart for a soda and some popcorn. I chatted with the clerk about the weather—a dust devil had destroyed their sign the day before—and the ride. Another customer came in to ask me why there were so many bicyclists on the roads; he’d been seeing them all day long. When I explained what we were doing, I got the usual “You’re crazy” response. Usually, I respond to such comments by protesting that I am quite sane, but at this point I did not think that I could credibly make that assertion. So I just smiled and shrugged. The other customer, a man who appeared to be in his 60s, then asked “So, you’re mostly college students?” Flatterer. I laughed and told him that most randonneurs were likely to have children in college (or even grandchildren), than be in college themselves.

From Canby, I climbed back up and over Adin Pass and onto the flats, which were as demoralizing in the late afternoon as they were in the morning. The wind had shifted and was once again in my face and despite my efforts the turn off the highway into town was not getting any closer. My average speed had dropped significantly, most likely the result of fatigue and a severe calorie deficit. I’d been snacking on Clif Shots (Margarita flavored) and Gu (Orange-Vanilla “Roctane”), but I really needed solid food. I was hoping there’d be more of the veggie pasta left from the night before (I’d given up on getting any tofu).

I arrived back in Adin just after 6:00 PM, which meant that I had covered 450 miles in 48 hours, for an overall average speed of 9.375 mph. Although that was well under the overall average of 12 mph that I strive to maintain on the shorter brevets, it was still fast enough to ensure that I would complete the 1200 within the 90-hour time limit. This time around, the contrôle was nearly deserted. There was only one rider asleep on a cot, and another eating dinner. Two more were leaving as I arrived. I had my pick of cots and, even better, one of the volunteers had gone out and purchased some hummus for me! Sweet! That, my drop-bag avocado, some tomatoes and a pita bread quickly became the best sandwich I’d ever eaten. While I was eating, another volunteer went out to his car and brought in a sleeping pad and sheet to make my cot more comfy. Sometimes being a slow rider has its perks—I was definitely getting red carpet treatment despite my red lantern-esque pace. After eating my fill of hummus, I washed my hair in the sink, changed into my pajamas and settled down for my first extended sleep (REM state and everything) in three days. Of course, by “extended” I mean two hours. But, oh, what a lovely two hours of oblivion.

Napping in Adin

But nothing good lasts forever and the persistent beeping of my watch alarm finally forced me back into consciousness. While I had been sleeping, the other slow riders had come in (and some had already gone out) and it was apparent that the volunteers were just waiting for the rest of us to get going so that they could clean up and go home. I changed into yet another clean pair of shorts, jersey and socks, brushed my teeth, applied my various creams, unguents, lotions and goops, and was on my way.

It was just a little before 9:30 PM, and the bright and full moon of the previous night(s) had given way to a not-quite-so bright and full moon. The previously crystal-clear skies had clouded a bit, as well, and so it was darker and the road less easy to follow. I did not mind the clouds, because they would help to keep the day’s heat from radiating away into the ether. As it was, I did not need my arm or leg warmers yet, especially because we had to climb for quite a while to get out of Adin and the exertion was quite warming.

I was once again alone, but as I began the first of the night’s steep climbs, I noticed what appeared to be a bicycle’s red tail light not too far ahead of me. I had not recalled anyone leaving the contrôle ahead of me, so I was wondering who it might be. I then noted that the light did not appear to be moving and thought that perhaps the rider was having mechanical difficulties. When I finally reached the source of the mystery light, I discovered a single cyclist, standing astride his bike in the center of the lane, fumbling with a camera. “Look at the mooooooon,” he said,"‘isn’t it organic-looking?” Um, okay. I’m not sure “organic” was the word that immediately sprang to mind. He went on to tell me, in a “have you ever really looked at your hand” sort of way, about all the shapes he was seeing in the clouds as they passed over the face of the moon. I gave him a quick once over. Physically he seemed fine. He was wearing a jersey from the London-Edinburgh-London 1400K, so I knew he had experience in these kinds of rides. As he started back riding, I could tell that he was steady on the bike because the beam of his headlight was tracking well and not waving all over the road. We rode together for a while, but he kept stopping to look at the moon and, frankly, I was not getting the same thrill out of it as he was. So when he dropped back on the next hill, I did not wait. We were not far from the Grasshopper water stop, and there was at least one sag van driving the route, and so I figured he’d be fine.

When I got to the Grasshopper station, I told Lois and Bill that there was another rider coming, and described what he had been doing. Based on my description (including his dawdling to moon gaze), they said they knew exactly who it was, and did not seem at all concerned about him. That made me feel better about leaving him on his own. I did not spend a whole lot of time at Grasshopper on this pass, but was there long enough to eat what was quite possibly the tastiest instant oatmeal ever. I then grabbed a bag of pretzels for the road and was on my way. The skies had cleared and it was beginning to get cold. I was worried that if I rested too long I would stiffen up.

From Grasshopper, the road descended steeply to Eagle Lake. I had put on my arm and leg warmers earlier, but even so I was a Cecil-Sicle by the time I reached the bottom. I was so cold that I did not warm up even when I began to climb back to Antelope Summit. I was again exhausted, which I expect is one reason I was more susceptible to the cold because, to be honest, it was only cold by California standards. But I was shivering nevertheless. I was also becoming very unsteady on the bike—my headlights were waving all over the place, proving that even though I felt like I was in control of my bike, I clearly was not. By this time I had reached the end of the long plateau that preceded the drop back down to Susanville and I was in no shape for that descent. It was time for drastic measures. I found a wide spot of shoulder, lay my bike down between me and the road (hey, I love my bike, but if a car were to veer onto the shoulder, I would rather it hit the bike than me), pulled my space blanket out of my bag, wrapped it around my shoulders and had myself a little sit down. About five minutes later, a sag van pulled up and the driver asked if I were okay. Yes, I told him, I just decided I needed to get off the road for a while. He wished me well and drove on. I gave myself a few more minutes and then moved on as well.

I reached the outskirts of Susanville just after 4:30 AM. The sun was barely rising as I picked my way through the back streets to the Armory. When I finally reached the contrôle, I was surprised by how many riders were still there, including many that I had thought were significantly further ahead of me. Granted, many of them were on their way out as I arrived, but there were still quite a few in the hall eating, sleeping or otherwise faffing. I think that one or two of them may have been riders that had decided to quit, but most of the others appeared simply to be resting before the next leg.

I once again perused the food options. It appeared that my best (and only) bet in the "hot food" category was a pot of spaghetti with tomato sauce that had a little Post-It note on it that read “Meatless.” There were also some cold roasted potatoes with olive oil and rosemary (yum!) and, of course, peanut butter. After a couple helpings of spaghetti and potatoes, I gathered up my toiletries and proceeded to take a much-needed shower. After almost 60 hours on the road, and despite frequent changes of shorts and jerseys, I reeked. The showers were in the men’s bathroom, so I had to wait until the coast was clear and then set up a little barricade outside the door. Because it was a National Guard Armory, the shower set up was your basic “long wall with multiple shower heads” set up; I hate to think what kinds of bacteria were growing on the floor. Fortunately, I’d packed shower shoes.

After showering, I changed into fresh pajamas (drop bags are wonderful things) and lay down on a cot for another lovely nap. I was awakened by someone yelling something about sprinklers. Apparently, the spot where we had all place our bikes was being soaked by automatic sprinklers. As I started to get up to rescue Lil HW, Jr. (and TRFKAF) from the deluge, another rider who was already up told me not to worry, he knew what my bike looked like and would go get her for me. He shortly returned and pointed to the inside wall where he had leant her and showed me the towels he’d used to dry her off. What a nice guy –I wish I could remember who he was. I felt bad for TRFKAF, who had gotten drenched, but at least he was wearing his Showers Pass jacket.

I had been in Susanville for more than two hours and it was once again time for me to get moving. Ahead of me lay the Janesville Grade, which I had so much enjoyed descending two days previous, knowing even then that I would pay for that joy later in sweat (if not blood or tears). But first I had to get through Janesville, which required a short trip on the very busy Highway 395, and then a stretch of rollers between the highway and Main Street. I stopped at the store for a soda, because I was feeling caffeine deprived and because, I’ll admit it, I was not quite ready to begin the climb up the grade.

I went to the restroom, where I had an unpleasant surprise.

WARNING: Readers who are put off by discussions of the mysteries of women’s health would do well to skip this paragraph.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my story, I am 48 years old. For about a year, I have not had a period. My doctor is not convinced that I have reached what Archie Bunker would call “mental pause,” but considers it possible. She is more inclined to believe that my periods have been put on hold by the stress I put on my body through cycling. Well, if endurance riding was the cause of my missed periods, then there is clearly a tipping point, because I was definitely having a period. It was a good thing that I was wearing the shorts with a dark chamois. It was also a good thing that I happened to be in a market that sold tampons. One unanticipated purchase later, and I was ready to tackle the Grade.

Okay, squeamish ones, you can start reading again. . . .

I had delayed my ascent of the Janesville Grade as long as feasible. Waiting was not going to make it any less steep. Once I started the ascent, I realized that it really was not so bad. Granted, at points it had certain wall-like qualities, and there was one short portion where I had to get off my bike and walk for about 100 yards, but I chalk that up more to my general fatigue. Although there were rumors that sections of the Grade’s incline exceeded 20%, I don’t think it was ever any worse than any other hill that I have encountered. Indeed, I think that the upper portion of the second roller on Cole School Road is probably worse than anything on the Janesville Grade. But then again, I was more exhausted at this point than I’ve been on any other ride, and so any slope was magnified. As it was, my average speed up the hill was about 4 mph - not the slowest I've ever gone on my bike, but close. I even managed to pass a couple of other riders on my way up. I also took the time to look for my lost GPS but, sadly, I never found it.

Looking Down the Janesville Grade

I reached the top in much shorter order than I had anticipated. Of course, the "top" was that endless series of badly paved rollers I'd been so annoyed by on the way out. They were just as annoying inbound, but at least this time my path trended downhill. It was almost noon, and it was getting hot. And did I mention that I was tired? I eventually made it to the Boulder Creek Work Center, where I caught up with a few other riders, including fellow Or Rando rider Marcello Napolitano

Marcello at Boulder Creek

I filled my water bottle, applied more sunscreen, ate some chips and set off around Antelope Lake and down the hill, through the burnt trees and rabbit tobacco, and back into Indian Valley.

Rabbit Tobacco Regrowth

I was jonesing for a Diet Coke, and was hoping that the Genessee store, which had been closed when I passed through two days earlier, would be open. As I approached the store, my hopes were raised by the sight of Marcello on the porch—I thought that he had been shopping. But no, the store was closed, and he had merely been resting on the porch. He rode with me for a while, but I was simply too tired to keep up with him, and he dropped me about five miles out from Taylorsville. I poodled along at my own slow pace, knowing that I'd get there when I got there and that when I got there it would be there. Yes, 900 kilometers into the ride and I apparently had turned into Ram Dass.

I finally reached the contrôle, where the volunteers were busy frying up bacon, eggs and potatoes for the 5 or 6 other riders already there. They had recently replaced the floor of the Grange Hall with a sprung hardwood floor, so every time someone trod heavily upon it the whole floor bounced undulated. I started to get seasick. One rider started to try to deliberately make it happen, and I am afraid I snapped at him to stop it. He looked startled by my vehemence and backed slowly away.

The woman I had spoken with on my first pass through was still there and she had saved me an avocado, some pasta and some great vegetable soup. I was starving, and quickly inhaled everything she brought me. After eating, I found my drop bag (this was the last of the drop-bag contrôles on the inbound route) and pulled out yet another clean pair of shorts and jersey. Thanks to frequent changes of shorts and Lantiseptic applications, I was remarkably unchafed and free of saddle sores and I wanted to keep it that way. It was starting to get very hot, so I took the ragged towel I'd brought in my drop bag and tore a square out of it, soaked it in water and put it under my helmet so that it draped down the back of my neck. Then, having somehow frittered away another hour, I worked my way back up and out of the valley toward Tobin,

Once out of the valley, the route turned back onto CA-70 with its narrow shoulders and speeding log trucks. Apparently no one ever educated the log truck drivers on safe passing laws. To add to my discomfort, I was having a negative reaction to the sunscreen I had applied in Taylorsville—my face felt like it was on fire, and no amount of wiping would relieve it. I was also becoming increasingly aware that the shorts that I had changed into at Taylorsville were not going to help me maintain my sore-free status. They were too big and the chamois would not stay in place. The friction was, well, it was not pleasant. Fortunately, I had a pair of shorts in my rear bag that I had worn a couple days earlier that were my best shorts. I turned off the road at the Twain Store, washed them out in the bathroom sink and strapped them to my rear rack. I figured they'd dry quickly enough in the day's heat that I could change back into them before disaster struck. I also checked to see if the store there had a different sunscreen, but they were fresh out, so I was going to have to just risk a sunburn. But at least I got a break from the Mr. Toad-like truck drivers.

Apart from the log trucks, CA-70 is an incredibly scenic road. It runs along the North Fork of the Feather River and there are many cool things like bridges, trains, stamp mills and poisoned springs to look at.

Finally I reached the Tobin cotrôle, which I will say right now wins the prize for the best contrôle for slow riders. At all the other contrôles, the food options available for the slower riders had been, well, sort of picked over. It seemed as if they put out all the foods they had early on, so that when the fast riders descended like locusts, all the best stuff got eaten and we slower folks got the orts. But in Tobin the crew boss had deliberately held back portions of every menu item, so that slow riders got all the same food choices as fats riders. So in addition to the chips and peanut butter, there was pasta, rice, chicken, chili, vegetables and an AMAZING lentil-bean soup.

Lentil Bean Soup at Tobin

But as good as the soup was, I had to get going. I still had a long climb on CA-70 up through the Jarbo Gap that I wanted to do in daylight. So I ate one more bowl of soup, changed into my now-dry better shorts, and once again started down the road. Even though it was late afternoon, the sun was still beating down and the road was very exposed, so I was riding more slowly than usual in order not to overheat. I'd soaked my helmet towel before I left Tobin, but it dried out quickly. Of course, the fact that I had now been traveling for 74 hours with little real sleep may have contributed somewhat to my slug-like pace. The climb also seemed to go on for much longer than I remembered from my outward journey. But I finally made it to the top and, after a brief weird detour to check out a dome-shaped grocery store that appeared to be run by meth addicts, I was on the downhill run to Oroville.

Outside of Oroville, I turned off the highway onto Table Mountain Road, which sort of paralleled the highway and sort of didn't. To my right I could see the lights of the highway and, eventually, of town, but the road I was on was itself strangely deserted. I knew that it was the correct road, because it was the same one we had followed to leave Oroville on the the outbound leg, but it was nevertheless disorienting to seem to be ridding away from civilization. Then, suddenly, I was in town and road traffic picked up considerably. After a brief detour to a 7-11 to pick up some batteries for my dimming tail lights, I reached the Oroville contrôle at about 10:30.

As with all the other contrôles I'd hit on my inbound journey, Oroville was not nearly as crowded as it had been when I was thereon the outbound leg. But it was still pretty busy. The food tables had been pretty well picked over, but I rustled up a bagel and peanut butter, as well as some grapes and strawberries, and grabbed a Coke from the cooler. BUt just as I settled down to eat, I noticed that there was a massage table set up in the corner and a sign that said "FREE 15-minute massage." Food good wait, I was going to get me a rub-down! I was not sore or cramping, but I figured a massage could help to dissuade any leg cramps that might be developing. I did feel a little sorry for the masseuse, who had spent her entire day rubbing sweaty biker bodies, but not sorry enough not to force her to work on one more. Fifteen minutes later, feeling much more relaxed, I ate my bagel and fruit and then curled up in a comfy chair for yet another cat nap.

I finally left Oroville shortly before midnight. I had 12 hours left on the ride clock and just under 93 miles to go. Although I was fatigued, I otherwise felt great. No cramps or muscle pain, no joint pain, and, surprisingly, no saddle sores or chafing. I briefly considered applying more Lantiseptic, but realized I had no more with me. Cue ominous music . . .

Getting out of Oroville was itself an adventure. The streets were not well-lit or well-marked, and the turns were not intuitive. It was too dark to see the Dan Henry's, and I could not really on my cyclometer because I had accidentally reset it three separate times as I was trying to use its "navigator" function. Consequently, I kept having to stop and get my bearings, thus slowing my exit from town considerably. But out of Oroville I finally got, and I slowly picked my way through the dark along roads I barely remembered from my passage down them three days previous.

I was in a zone somewhere between meditation and sleep as I passed through Gridley. I was snapped out of my fugue state by the loud growling of a dog that burst out of the bushes beside the road and came tearing after me. It was one of the dogs from the attacks earlier in the week. I began to scream at it to "Go home!," and pedaled like hell to get away. I knew that the authorities had been told about the previous attacks; I was very displeased that neither they nor the dogs' owner had seen fit to prevent further attacks.

The adrenaline rush woke me up for the next few miles; long enough to get to the gas station/mini-mart that served as a "receipt contrôle." I purchased a soda and a snack, and because I was the 95th or so rider that the clerk had seen so far, I did not even have to ask for the receipt—the clerk automatically handed it to me. He then went outside and found me a milk crate to sit on while I dined. Three more riders arrived as I sat there, looking slightly worse for wear. I suppose I didn't look all that fresh, either. They were still eating as I left, but I was pretty sure I would see them again.

I had less than 55 miles to go, and it was at this point that my body began to rebel. My stomach, which had been unusually calm throughout, started to churn, and my left Achilles' Tendon began to feel tender. More distressing, though, was that my nether parts were suddenly beginning to feel sore. It was only now that I appreciated the true magical qualities of Lantiseptic; just 40 miles without it and the skin over my sit bones had burst into flame. No matter how I positioned myself, I could not get comfortable. Then, as the icing on an already over-frosted cake, I fell asleep on my bike. At least I think I did. All I know is that one minute I was at one point on the road and the next I was many yards further down, on the wrong side of the road, without remembering how I got there. How I managed to stay upright and pedaling, and not crash, is beyond me. It was once again time for drastic measures. I rode along for a few more yards until I came to a spot where the shoulder extended into a flat space covered with soft wood chips. I set my watch for 30 minutes, pulled out my space blanket, rolled myself up like a giant burrito, and settled in for the traditional randonneuring roadside ditch nap. Or as much of a nap as was possible when every passing driver stopped and woke me up to see if I was okay.

My alarm went off, and I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again. By this point my space blanket was shredded, so rather than try to refold it I just wadded it up and stuffed it in my pack. The sun had risen and that helped to revive my spirits. A few miles down the road, I caught up with a group of riders that had passed me while I was sleeping. I was very happy to have companions for a while. Talking helped the time and distance go by faster, plus it helped me to stay awake.

Red Lantern Peloton

Together we pedaled past the rice paddies on Reclamation and Kirksville Roads, where I spotted not only a snowy egret but also a small flock of what appeared to be cormorants. As we reached the levee, we came upon another "secret" contrôle (actually a fairly poorly-kept secret, since its existence, if not its exact location, had been the subject of numerous announcements). Three volunteers had set up a tent and were dispensing coffee and more snacks. I stopped briefly to use the blue room and eat some raisin bran, but was anxious to keep going and so did not stay to socialize.

After leaving the secret contrôle, I turned left onto the levee road and immediately posted off my saddle in pain. The pavement on the road was atrocious and the vibration was more than my bottom could bear. I quickly realized that there was no way that I was going to be able to stay seated. So I stood. For the next 28 miles. Because it was not just the levee road that sucked, but also the road through Knight's Landing at the end of the levee, and the road from Knight's Landing to Woodland, and the road from Woodland to Davis. So there I was, pedaling standing as long as I could, and then, still standing, bracing my leg against the seat to coast. Pedal, brace, coast. Pedal, brace, coast. Pedal, brace, coast. For 28 fucking miles.
I did not burst into tears at any point, but came damn close.

Two miles from the end, I sucked it up and sat for a final sprint. Those were the longest two miles of my life. When I reached the final contrôle at Tandem Properties, I could not even muster a weak smile. As I turned my card in for the final validation, one of the workers asked if I was elated to be done. Um, yeah, elated. That's the word I was looking for. No, I was not elated. I was too tired and too saddle sore to be elated. But I was done. Elation would have to come later.

1200 kilometers in 87 hours, 30 minutes

And so my adventure was over. I'd ridden 1200 kilometers in 87.5 hours, with no lasting damage. Or so I thought. Cue more ominous music . . .


My friend Lisa had driven out from San Francisco with Greg to pick me up at the finish, and my Dad came out from Sacramento. The four of us went to the post-ride lunch, but did not stay for the festivities because I was starting to fade. I was also starting to lose my voice. I chalked that up to four days of sucking dry high-desert air and the occasional screaming at dogs. My legs were doing their usual post-ride swelling, a phenomena I had noted over the years but which my family doctor had been at a loss to explain. So we decided to bag on the party and head back to the City. Greg drove out car and we followed Lisa to her house in the Sunset District. As the day wore on, I found it more and more difficult to talk, and my stomach, diaphragm and chest felt oddly compressed. But I had been eating a lot of starches and figured I'd just over-stuffed myself. I went to bed and fell asleep quickly.

The next morning I woke up, went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and almost screamed. My face had turned into a balloon: all the tissues were swollen as if filled with water. When I tried to talk, my voice was completely gone. Yikes! My legs were still swollen, and so were my hands. Double yikes! I had a massage scheduled, so I asked the masseuse to see if she could get the swelling down. She managed to get my legs and arms in better shape, but could not do anything about my face. So I went back to the house and lay down with a bag of ice over my eyes.

That seemed to help a little. At least I could open my eyes. So after a short nap, I got up and we all went out to lunch and to see a show by the SF Mime Troupe in Golden Gate Park. I was starting to feel weird again, though, so when we went back to the house I tried to take another nap. But I could not sleep because I was finding it harder and harder to breath. I felt as if all my internal organs were being squashed. After some discussion, we decided that I really should go to the local Kaiser ER/Urgent Care. Greg and I were supposed to start the drive back to Oregon the next day, and I was clearly in no shape to drive.

When we got to the ER, I explained to the triage nurse that I had just completed a very long bike ride in the mountains and was now having a hard time breathing. Within minutes I was on a gurney, hooked up to an EEG machine and having several tubes of blood extracted from my arm, as a steady stream of hospital personnel came in to see the freak who had just ridden her bike 750 miles in less than four days. After the EEG, I was whipped down the hall to X-Ray for a lung picture. Then it was back to ER, where they hooked me up to a heart rate monitor (the alarm on which was promptly triggered because my resting heart rate is 44, and the alarm sounds if the patient's heart rate drops below 50). A few minutes later, the ER doctor came in and said "exertion-induced angioedema." Say what? "Your body is having what, in laymens' terms, could be described as an allergic reaction to exercise." I'm allergic to exercise? "You're allergic to extreme exercise." So what do I do? "Well, you might start by avoiding extreme exercise. And take Benadryl."

So they gave me some Benadryl, and eventually I could breathe again. Talking was still impossible; at best I could get the random sentence out. But I was cleared to drive. It took quite a few days for the facial swelling to subside, and my voice was raspy for almost a week. But now I know what was causing my legs to swell on my "shorter" rides; it just took a 1200K to bring the condition to a head. And that means no more 1200K's. I love long-distance riding, but it's not worth the risk of anaphylactic shock. Am I sad that I won't be doing PBP in 2011 after all? Damn straight I am. But I can't "always have Paris" if I'm dead.

So that's it. I now know my limitations. But at least I can say I've done one 1200K, and it was a hell of a ride.


shell said...

words fail. what a story!--shell.

Mike Schwab said...

If you keep riding Brevets, taking a rescue inhaler and benadryl along the way should allow you to control the swelling. I was tested several times for EIA, but did not get diagnosed until I had a 30 mile ride where I could not keep going in a flat area. I had to rest for 15 minutes before I could get air.

bikelovejones said...

I am truly sorry you won't be riding PBP; but I'd rather have a live friend than a dead hero.
What an amazing experience and amazing ride report! I'm glad you made it (congrats) and I'm glad you're ok. You're an epic rider at ANY distance.
Hugs --B

jason said...

Get another doctor's opinion. Not only is the literature on this phenomenon sparse, but I am concerned that it could get worse with time.

Second, isn't there a heck of a lot more weather and altitude on this ride than on the PBP? Give that a good thought before giving up on 2011.

Yay Cecil! Go go Cecil! I'm so glad you did this, and I still wanna be like you when I grow up.

Lisa said...

So here is a thought (that was thought up by someone smarter than me). Why not do PBP, but at your own pace? Greg can take the train from town to town, and you could ride a sane 75-100 miles a day. You could ride PBP AND enjoy France :-)

Kelly Smith said...

Cecil Anne, what an epic story! We are a strange bunch, choosing to do these things to our selves. So sorry you had such a frightening experience, think it would be worth getting a second opinion. Few regular doctors know much about sports medicine issues.
Kelly Smith

Peter said...

Great recap, terrible denouement.

I agree - get a second opinion, preferably from some one that deals with, or is them self, an ultra athlete.

CurioRando said...

Wowser! First, I'm glad you're now in the safe zone and not wondering what the heck is going on.

Second, I agree with the cautionary notes to explore further all the constaints--but safely.

Third, what a fabulous tale telling! It is such a service to those of us who are no where near achieving what you've done. It is really helpful, all those details.

Fourth, Congratulations on completing your 1200k! Even more so now that we know the stress your body was fighting back!

Cecil Anne said...

Thanks, everyone, for all your comments. Yes, I will definitely be following up for another opinion, but I should note that the doctor who treated me in SF had experience treating other athletes with EIA and without my telling her she very accurately described things that my body does on even short-distance rides, and my recovery took precisely the course she said it would once I started taking the Benadryl, so I am fairly comfortable she knew whereof she spoke.

Kitty Goursolle said...

Cecil Anne, you looked great during the GRR, whenever I saw you, which was fairly often!
What a great story. I get the leg swelling and puffy face thing too, my body retains fluids after every 1200k, sometimes more or less. This time around it ws 6 lbs more than my 130 lbs. I think you could do PBP, given more training for speed on the flats which would earn you more rest time. A doctor friend said to me that the human body isn't meant to be upright for so much time and that causes some of the swelling. We need to lay down so the fluids can return. Plus, over-drinking can casue it as well. Look into "hyponatraemia" for more info on that problem. Thanks for the info. on Benadryl, I didn't know it could be used for this problem. Hope that by now, you are 100% better. Hope we'll meet again ,

Doctor on a bike said...

Board Certified Portland Allergist I found via the American College of Physicians
Kursteen S Price, MD

This also made me go to Pub Med
And look up stuff on this and related problems. Fascinating stuff! Even about how some people only have this triggered by coincidental ingestion of certain foods during exercise. Hope you can get it under control.

Merry said...

I'm exhausted reading this, but it was a wonderful, if vicarious, experience! Even the last part was instructive.

Thank you for posting this!

tangobiker said...

Cecil ... I'm embarrassed at how long it took me to thoroughly read your wonderful account of GRR ("lecture d'escargot" I suppose, but that's another story). Your account is so descriptive and poignant. As one who has his own PBP aspirations, but isn't as far along as you, it gave me pause. In addition to surviving the epic ride and subsequent trip to ER, I'm so glad you survived the logging trucker's oversized sense of entitlement and belligerence. And I'm equally glad you're still with us ... and serving on the RUSA board!

Murgaster said...


Chances are that this comment may never be seen as it is years after this post. However, I still think it is worth posting.

I read this blog several times before doing the Gold Rush in 2013. I was quite amazed at the similaries between my ride and yours (although I had the benefit of a massive rainstorm and being hit by a landslide on night 1). I had always hoped to run into you at some point to say thank you for such an informative blog. It helped me mentally map out the ride and to expect certain things (they have not fixed the expansion cracks outside Canby). However, I see you are unfortunately no longer doing brevets, so here is this post.

Thank you for a blog entry well worth reading by everyone who intends to do this most difficult ride. Should you ever wish to read about my experience, consult Roadpixie at Blogspot.

Bravo on your achievement.

Cecil Anne said...

Thanks, Murgaster. Yep, the GRR was pretty much the end of my reign as bad-ass randonneur. Over the next few years I tried to stay in the game, but my body became progressively more resistant to the exercise. I got tired of swelling up like an anaphylactic toad after even a 200, and so my cycling is now pretty much confined to commuting and errands, much to the dismay of my former riding companions (not to mention the dismay of my bikes).