Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Harry Callahan Was Right

Some people just never learn. I am one of those people. At 48, I simply assume that I can still do anything that I did at 18—an assumption that holds up as long as I don't actually test it. For instance, I am pretty sure I can still do a front handspring, but I am not about to try it any time soon. One thing I do know now, however, is that I can ride my bike a distance of 1200 kilometers (that's just under 750 miles for the metrically-impaired) in less than 90 hours. The following is the story of that latest experiment to discover my limitations.

It’s been twelve days since I peeled myself off the seat of Lil’ HW Jr. at the finish line of the 2009 Gold Rush Randonnée, and I still have not decided how I feel about my accomplishment.Was it the most awesome thing that I had ever done, or the dumbest? And how does the fact that, 36 hours after crossing the finish line, I found myself in a hospital ER with a face like a pumpkin, hooked up to a heart monitor and gasping for breath factor in to the answer to that question? And (with apologies to Chris Carmichael) how sick a f**k am I that, even then, I took pride in the ER personnel’s astonishment at my cycling abilities? Anyway, without further ado, here is the latest installment of that ongoing series, “Stupid Shit I’ve Done on My Bike.”

For the uninitiated, the Gold Rush Randonnée is a 1200-kilometer endurance ride that is put on by the Davis Bike Club, an organization known for its penchant for inflicting pain in the form of extreme cycling challenges. The term "randonnée" loosely translates as a ramble, at least when used to described a walking tour. A "randonnée à vélo," on the other hand, is a long bike ride that may or may not have time contrôles. This particular randonnée was of the timed variety—riders would have 90 hours to complete the course.

The GRR route begins in Davis, California and heads northeast through the Sierra Nevada to Davis Creek, California (someone in the DBC clearly has a sense of geographical humor), within spitting distance of Oregon (although Oregonians are more likely to spit on California than vice versa, I suppose). In addition to extreme distance, the course has a few hills. Okay, a lot of hills. As an added plus, most of the riding is at altitudes exceeding 4500 feet. Factor in the notorious heat of the North Central California summer and the 90-hour time limit and you have all the ingredients for an epic painfest. So of course I signed up for it as soon as I learned that registration was open.

There was a method to my madness, however. You see, I’ve had this whacked idea that in 2011 I would fly to France to ride the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonnée, the grand-père of all randonnées à vélo (as my French co-worker said, “The PBP? Why, that is the most famous of all amateur cycling events!”). Anyway, I thought that before I shelled out a zillion Euros to kill myself on the roads of Normandy, I’d better be sure I could go the distance on a course a little closer to home. So I signed up for the GRR and began riding my a** off in preparation. I extended the mileage of my morning commute, and found all the steepest hills between home and the transit center. More important, I completed a full series of sanctioned brevets (200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometers), the necessary prerequisite to ride the GRR. The 600 was itself an epic painfest and, indeed, ended up being the perfect training for the GRR.

The months flew by and before I knew it (and well before I was ready to accept it), the GRR was upon me. Although I did not have to actually start pedaling until 6:00 PM on July 6, my ride preparations started at least two weeks earlier. First, I dropped Lil’ HW, Jr. off at the mechanics for a new front wheel and a complete physical and any necessary repairs. At the pace I ride, I cannot afford any mechanical failures. Next, I obtained a “packing list” from my friend David Rowe, who is a regular treasure trove of long-distance riding information. The list was one he had developed over several 1200Ks and detailed what he carried on his bike, on his person, and in his drop bags. One less wheel for me to reinvent! I went down the list and packed (and shopped) accordingly. I was more concerned than usual about carrying too much weight on the bike (or my person) than usual. On a 600K or shorter, an extra pound or two may not make much of a difference, but I assumed my fatigue with each added 100K would magnify any excess weight. I decided to carry less “Cecil-specific” food (no boiled potatoes, no tofu jerky) in the hopes that the ride organizers would have heeded my e-mails about making sure the contrôle food pantries were stocked with vegan options. I also decided to forgo rain pants, heavy gloves and booties. I figured that if it did rain, it would be in the form of brief mountain thunderstorms that would soak me before I was able to suit up, anyway. I did pack a light jacket, more to ward off evening chill than rain. Having collected all the appropriate gear, I obsessively packed and repacked until I was positive that I could not possibly need (or carry) anything more.

Drop Bags, etc.

And then it was time to go. Saturday, July 4, we packed up the car, strapped Lil’ HW Jr. to the rack, and headed south.

Gold Rush or Bust

We spent the first night in Weed, California (really, how could we not?) and arrived in Davis late Sunday afternoon. I’d booked a room at the Hallmark Inn, which was about two miles from the ride start and which was offering steep discounts to GRR riders and, perhaps even more enticing, free alcohol from 5:00 to 7:00 every night. Consequently, there were more than a few riders already there when we arrived, including a gentleman named John Evans from Australia, who had flown in on the spur of the moment to do the ride, without having pre-registered. To add to his craziness, he intended to do the course on a fixed-gear bike. I was impressed by his nerve. I was even more impressed by his “Super Grover” jersey because, as anyone who knows me knows, I am the world’s greatest Grover fan. What I did not know at the time, but which (now knowing it) impresses me even more, is that he was not any “John Evans,” but was (is?) THE John Evans, former keyboard player for Jethro Tull. For his sake, he’s probably lucky I did not know it, because I would have inevitably subjected him to some really annoying fan-girl questions about Ian Anderson's penchant for codpieces. It does, however, partly explain how he can afford to fly halfway around the world on a whim to ride his bike. His fixed-gear bike. Sheese. Clearly he's no Aqualung.

Crazy Aussie

My father, who lives nearby in Sacramento, came out to meet us on Sunday evening for dinner. He brought me some delicious figs from his tree at home, which he intended that I put in my drop bags but all of which I managed to eat within three hours of his arrival. I justified my gluttony with the excuse that they were far too tender to survive the rough treatment the drop bags would most likely receive in the loading and unloading process. After dinner, Dad headed back to his home and Greg and I dropped into the hotel bar for a beer with the other riders gathered there. I only had one, and then hied myself up to our room for an early bedtime. I hoped to sleep in on Monday, but was up at dawn as usual. Damn those circadian rhythms. It was going to be a long day. I figured I might as well go down and check out the free breakfast bar; after all, I was in calorie-loading mode. Oatmeal with cranberries and orange juice? Sure! (Don't knock it until you've tried it). Bagel with peanut butter? Okay! Fresh fruit salad? Don't mind if I do! I shared a table with a couple of the other women riders (there were about 14 of us signed up) who proceeded to alienate me with their vows to complete the ride in less than 75 hours. More power to 'em, I guess, but that just ain't my style . . . to ride that quickly, I'd have to stop taking so many pictures, for one thing. Stuffed, I went back to the room, checked through my drop bags one more time, and pretended to nap long enough to fool myself into actually falling asleep. I got up shortly before noon, and gathered my gear together to ride over to the start line for the mandatory equipment inspection. Greg followed me in the car with my drop bags, which I would be leaving there for delivery to their respective contrôles. I'd never had a pre-ride bike inspection before, and so I was not sure what to expect. It turned out to be a couple of guys in white gloves check to see that nothing rattled on the bike, that we had all the required lighting systems and no obvious hazards.

Pre-Ride Bike Inspection

They were a little concerned about the third water bottle cage that was fastened to my top tube with a velcro strap, but okayed it when I assured them that I was not planning on trying to get the water bottle out of that particular cage while the bike was in motion. They were very impressed with Lil' HW Jr. ("That's a beautifully-constructed bicycle." "Why, yes, I know."). I got my card stamped to show that I had passed inspection and turned it back in. I would get it back that evening when I returned for the start. I retrieved my swag bag—t-shirt, cool leg reflectors, rider number and bike/helmet stickers—and headed back to the hotel. I still had five hours to go before the start, and I was restless. I tried to nap again, but no go. So Greg and I took a stroll around town, found a quasi-vegan cafe where I had some lovely curried rice, and fooled around with the public art.

Fun with Street Art

Then I went back to the hotel, took a short swim in the pool and made another futile stab at napping. Finally, 5:00 PM rolled around, the time I had designated to leave the hotel for the start line. Greg bade me farewell at the hotel, because he knew that once I got to the start I would be no fun to be around; apparently hanging out in the hot sun with an anxious cyclist-wife in full-OCD mode is not his idea of a good time. Sensible man.

The start area was already crowded when I arrived. I recognized a few friends from Oregon and Washington (five of us had come down from Oregon, and there were at least another five from Washington), and met up with a couple California riders that had come up to Oregon for rides. One rider came up and asked if I was one of "the famous Oregon Randonneurs." I was not sure what gave me away, because I was not wearing any OrRando gear. It must have been the moss behind my ears. Either that or my wool jersey and fully-fendered bike. It turns out that he had come up for our very soggy "Hot Springs and Dunes" 300/600 in 2007. He had been impressed by our riders' implacability in the face of unceasing rain.

Earlier in the day I had met Edward Robinson, a rider and RUSA Board member from Texas. I'd recently been nominated for a seat on the Board (Vote for Me!), and after hearing someone say my name during the bike inspection he had come over to introduce himself. Now at the start we met up again; he wanted to know if I was ready. "As ready as I'll ever be."

Happy at the Start

And then it was time. After some rule announcements, instructions in the proper use of an ice sock, warnings about road hazards and introductions of returning riders, we gathered at the "blue line" and waited for the signal to start. It was the largest mass start I'd done, and I was a little concerned about the crowding. I found a place at the rear of the pack; after all, I'd be there sooner or later, I might as well get used to it. And then we were off. 105 anxious riders, a clear warm evening, and 750 miles of pavement stretching before us. It was, as my friend David would say, time for The Ride of My Life™. I gave TRFKAF a pat for good luck, clipped in, and pedaled away. My goal was to get to the contrôle in Adin, 500 kilometers away, before taking any extended rest. In theory, if I did not screw around too much at the intermediate contrôles, I could get there in 30 hours. By then I would NEED an extended rest.

For the first 20 mile or so, we zigged and zagged around the outskirts of Davis on county roads that bordered fields of sunflowers and what appeared to be a variety of Roma tomatoes. LOTS of sunflowers. LOTS of tomatoes.


Also lots of chip seal and gravel. Shades of home. Not to long into the ride we were flagged down for a "secret contrôle." Apparently there were some short cuts that local riders may have been tempted to take; the secret contrôle was a way of, well, controlling that. It was around this point that the main pack pulled away from me for good and I settled into my familiar routine of "rando à solo": not fast enough to hang with the main group, but not quite la lanterne rouge, either. I did not mind. It was a pleasant evening—warm, but not too warm; breezy, but not too breezy. I poodled along at about 17 miles an hour, a comfortable pace that would keep well within the time limits. I knew that there would inevitably come a time when I would be enjoying the ride quite so much, so I milked this moment for all it was worth.

At Mile 30, the route turned onto the levee bordering the Sacramento River.  The pavement took a turn for the terrible, and the mosquitoes swarmed around the street lamps.  But not around me.  Perhaps it was the Lantiseptic.  Large swaths of the grass on the levee’s sides had recently been burned, and there was still a strong order of smoke in the air.  I held my breath as much as was possible while engaged in aerobic activity, and got past it without too much discomfort.  At the end of the levee road, the course turned east.  This time the bordering fields weren’t fields at all but, rather, rice paddies.  The moon was rising, and promised to be full and bright.  I had caught up with a few riders who had slacked off their earlier fast pace, perhaps realizing that, with over 700 miles still to go, there was no point in burning themselves out.

Riders and Moon

At Mile 45, there was a stop that was marked on the cue sheet as “water only.”  By that they meant that only that it was not a timed contrôle—there was actually much more than water available for hungry and thirsty riders.  There were some snacks of the basic pretzel, chip, gorp, Clif bar variety, as well as coolers full of soda.  I grabbed a Coke (a “real” Coke, not Diet Coke—some readers had pointed out the incongruity of my sticking to diet soda on extended rides and so I thought I’d give the high fructose corn syrup version a try) and gnawed on a Clif bar.  Edward Robinson was there, he had been about to leave when I arrived, but he stuck around long enough for me to finish my snack so that we could ride together for a while.  I knew that this required him to slow his pace considerably, so I appreciated that.  It was getting dark and although I am not afraid to ride alone at night, it is sometimes fun to have someone else around.  Especially when I am in unfamiliar territory and have forgotten to flip my cue sheet to the next page; Edward helpfully called out each turn well in advance so I did not have to worry about getting lost.

We were still in the flats, and would be for another 50 miles or so, so we set a pretty good pace (for me, at least).  We twisted and turned through the towns of Sutter (another secret controle!) and Gridley.  On East Gridley Road (I think), we were attacked by two large dogs that bolted out of a yard on the roadside with murder in their eyes.  Edward and I had just been talking about our own dogs and we both employed our best dog command voices to yell at these curs to get the hell away and go home.  I could hear  what sounded like their owner whistling for them, but did not see him (or her) make any attempt to actually come out and corral the canine terrorists.  We escaped unscathed, but another rider was not so lucky—we encountered him a few hundred yards further up the road, where he and his companions had stopped to inspect the bite wounds he’d received.  He did not want to lose time, so was not stopping; but confirmed that he would report the incident to the proper authorities as soon as he reached the next contrôle. 

The next contrôle was in Oroville, where the organizers had taken over the local sports club.  There was food and drink a-plenty, as well as showers for the overly fastidious.  Edward and I had been discussing “control efficiency,” which is not my strong suit, and our goal was to get in and out of Oroville with a minimum of fuss.  Of course, my concept of minimal fuss still involves an excessive amount of fussing and faffing, so it still took me almost 15 minutes to get going again.  I changed shorts, reapplied various unguents, drank some juice of a variety I cannot recall, ate half a bagel and some watermelon, and was finally ready to go.  It was well and truly night by now, but the moon was so bright that, if it weren’t against the rules, we  could have ridden without headlights. 

Within a few miles of leaving Oroville, we turned onto CA-70 and the route took a turn for “up.”  It also took a turn for nerve-wracking, as we entered into a prolonged session of “log truck dodge-em.”  Apparently, CA-70 is a major artery for the logging industry and, despite the late hour, we were forced to share the road with a seemingly endless procession of speeding log carriers.  They were all empty, so they must have been heading for the cutting zones to gather logs.  More than a few of them were completely covered in lights, as if trying out for the  Paul Bunyan float in Disneyland’s Electrical Parade.  It made for a pretty sight that I probably would have appreciated more if I were not so terrified of being run over.  We were pretty well lit up ourselves.

Night Riders

Our first long climb of the ride was up through the Jarbo Gap, a long and gentle ascent followed by an even longer but equally gentle descent.  Edward and I caught up with some other riders here: Jeff Loomis, who had come down from Seattle, and “locals” Kim and Jack.  Kim explained that she had done a 1200 before, but not since 1999.  What she didn’t tell me, but what Jeff was quick to point out, is that she had ridden PBP three times.  I was suitably impressed.  The good company made the climb go quickly, but I eventually pulled ahead and was again on my own for a while.  I can’t help it—give me a long enough climb and I can lose most of my riding companions.  We all met up again at the next contrôle in Tobin, however.  At Tobin, the volunteers were cooking up breakfast.  Most of the offerings were decidedly non-vegan friendly, but there was a large pot of oatmeal, which, after ensuring that no milk was used in the cooking, I happily tucked into. 

I had ridden 144 miles, and at a pretty good pace.  My “In” time for Tobin was 4:59 AM, which meant that my overall average speed was 13.5 mph, well over the overall average necessary to complete the ride in the time allotted (slightly under 8.5 mph).  I was well ahead of the closing time for the controle, and so I decided to reward myself with a short rest in a comfy chair.  I figured I could spare 45 minutes.  Edward wanted to keep going, so I thanked him for his earlier company and settled down for a quasi-nap.  I was too wired to actually sleep, but I at least closed my eyes.  Sharing the cushy chair area with me was fellow Or Rando rider Sam Huffman.  Sam was not having a good day.  Early in the ride he had wiped out on some gravel and ripped up his hands and legs—he’d kept riding, but was in a lot of pain.  At the time I saw him, he was planning on continuing, but I later learned that he had opted to DNF after all.

Even allowing myself the 45-minute sit down, I was still up and out of Tobin in less than an hour.  The sun was up, and time was a-wasting.  From Tobin it was another 50 miles or so to the next contrôle in Taylorsville.  Taylorsville was the first of our three “bag-drop” controles, and I was looking forward to picking up a fresh pair of shorts, a clean jersey, and a new supply of Lantiseptic packets.  I was also looking forward to munching on the avocados in my drop bag. To get to Taylorsville, I first had to endure another 26 miles of log truck intimidation on CA-70, though.  Between the absent shoulder and aggressive truckers, it was more like Terror Alley than I would have liked.  At least it was daylight. 

Finally I turned off CA-70 and onto Highway 89 toward Greenville, down in the Indian Valley, where I would find the only information contrôle on the ride.  I had been playing leapfrog with Kim and Jack between Tobin and Greenville, and caught up to them again as they were filling in the answer to the controle question on their cards.  Both Kim and I were in need of water.  A woman was sitting on the front porch of a nearby house, and Kim asked her if she had a hose or something we could fill up at; she let us go into her kitchen and get water from the tap.  Kim and Jack then moved on, while I took time to apply yet another layer of sunscreen.  There was no cloud cover and we were above 4000 feet, which meant that, delicate Northern European flower that I am, I was at risk for some serious burning.  Suitably slathered, I saddled up and rode on. From Greenville, I continued to circumnavigate the Indian Valley toward Taylorsville, where the Grange Hall served as the location of the next contrôle.  Greg, who has a weird fascination with grange halls, would have approved.  Once again, there was plenty of food, but most of it was not vegan friendly.  I did find some instant miso soup to augment my drop-bag avocado, and had the usual handful of chips.  On of the volunteers did locate some tofu, but it was the silken variety that is best used as a base for dips and sauces—as a main dish, its texture is kind of well, icky.  I declined it, and the volunteer told me that she’d see what they could rustle up for when I returned on the inbound portion of my journey.  She was quite impressed with my avocado option, noting that not only did it pack a heck of a lot of nutrients per serving, but was one of the most easily-digestible foods available.  Not like I needed any further rationalization for eating  a whole avocado.  After eating, I grabbed a fresh jersey (wool, of course), shorts, and socks from my drop bag, changed clothes, washed my face, brushed my teeth, replenished my front bag’s supply of snacks and potions, and was on my way.  All told, I’d spent about 40 minutes at the controle.  I still had another 200 kilometers to ride to get to the Adin contrôle; if I was going to achieve my goal of reaching Adin by midnight, I needed to step on it.  Not only was time passing, but the next 200 kilometers contained some of the most (if not the most) significant climbing of the course, which meant my pace was going to decrease considerably. 

Not long after leaving Taylorsville, I bid farewell to the relative flatness of the Indian Valley and began the long climb up Indian Creek Road to Antelope Lake.  It was now early afternoon and starting to get quite warm.  Shade was at a premium, primarily because most of the trees along this stretch of the route had burned four years previous, just after the last running of the GRR.  Regrowth was well underway, but it was mostly low stuff, like wildflowers and rabbit tobacco.  Indeed, there was so much rabbit tobacco that I suspected that the 2005 fire must have been caused by bunnies smoking in bed. 

Riding Through the Burn

The road finally flattened out at the Antelope Dam.  By “flattened out” I mean, of course, that the steep pitches of the climb gave way to more forgiving rollers.  It was never actually “flat.”  I circled the lake until I came to another “water-only” stop, this time at the Boulder Creek Work Center.  Again, there was much more on offer than just water.  I scarfed down some grapes and dried apricots, a few more handfuls of chips and a couple of wheat crackers.  The volunteer there was impressed by my chain ring tattoo, and even more impressed when he realized it really WAS a tattoo.  He insisted on taking a picture of it to show his daughter.  I once again met up with Kim and Jack, and we three set out together for the next leg, which included the climb to the “Top of the GRR and a promised swift descent down the infamous Janesville Grade.  More than 20 hours and 200 miles into my journey, I was still making good time, all things considered, and feeling strong.  It may have had something to do with the caffeine pill I had just taken, but I felt positively chipper.

Antelope Lake

According to the cue sheet, we crested the “Top of the GRR” at Mile 227.3.  Most. Anticlimactic. Summit. Ever.  Not only were there no signs, balloons, or cheering crowds with sirens and cowbells, but according to both my cyclometer and my GPS unit (not to mention the stress on my quads) we continued to climb for several miles past that mark.  Granted, there were some lovely Kodak moments along the way.

The View from the Top

Just when I thought the endless grind past the “Top” would never end, the road took a sharp dip down and to the right; the next thing I knew I was flying down the Janesville Grade at 40 mph.  Whoo-hoo!  Deep in my lizard brain I knew that I would have to come back UP this thrill ride in a day or so, but I refused to let that knowledge spoil my fun.  I let it all hang out in my quest for maximum velocity, which in my case topped out somewhere around 46 mph.  ZOOMA ZOOMA ZOOM!

Whump.  I was about a third of the way down when I hit a bump and felt something thump against my chest.  It was not a hard enough hit to distract me or slow me down, though, so I did not think much of it.  The wind had been playing with the reflective harness I was wearing, and I assumed it had just been that smacking against me.  I immediately put it out my mind.  After a few more breathtaking minutes of flight, I reached the flats and the turn on the Janesville’s main street (such as it was—Janesville is not exactly a bustling metropolis).  I looked down to check the map display on my eTrex, only to see that my eTrex was no longer with me.  All that was left to show its previous existence was a sheared-off handlebar mounting pin.  Well, that would explain the “Whump” on the downhill; it was my eTrex literally flying off its handle.  I could see that I was going to have some ‘splaining to do when I got home.  I turned around and started back up the hill to look for it, but quickly realized that I did not have either the time or the energy to climb back up the Grade.  So I reluctantly resumed course.  I figured I could look for it when I returned on the inbound leg, and could ask other riders to look for it as well.  The chances of finding it were ridiculously slim; at the speed I was traveling, its ricochet off my chest could have sent it flying well off the road and into the woods.  I stopped at the Janesville store to comfort myself with a Coke and popcorn.  There I caught up with Kim and Jack, and we three rode together into Susanville.

Susanville Contrôle

Susanville was another bag-drop contrôle, set up in the town armory.  In addition to tables of food, the hall contained a number of cots for people who wanted to get more than just a few minutes’ rest.  At this point we had ridden 400 kilometers, which is a point where many people choose to extend their stops to include novelties like sleeping and showering.  There were still some cots available, but I was still intent on reaching Adin before indulging in such luxuries.  So I changed my shorts and jersey, ate an avocado and some chips, replenished my on-bike supplies of snacks and potions, and headed out.  Even so, I was at Susanville more than an hour—my contrôle efficiency was, well, not very efficient.  I was clearly beginning to tire.

The distance between Susanville and Adin was less than 70 miles, with another “water-only” stop at the midpoint, but just outside of Susanville the course again took a turn upward.  Actually, it took a few turns upward, as the road followed a series of grinding switchbacks to reach the top of Antelope Pass, after which it meandered across a high plateau before eventually dropping down toward Eagle Lake.  It was somewhere on this plateau that I had my first “I can’t do this” moment.  Physically, I felt fine.  I had no muscle or joint pains no hand or foot numbness, no saddle sores, or any aches of any kind.  But I was exhausted, and although time seemed to be passing quickly, the miles simply were not ticking away on my cyclometer the way I thought that they should.  And here is where I made the best decision I made the whole ride.  I decided to stop looking at my cyclometer.  At this point, the course was pretty intuitive; there were not that many turns to keep track of, and wherever there was any doubt, the organizers had painted Dan Henry’s on the pavement.  Instead, I set my watch to go off every 15 minutes.  When it went off, I would stop, drink some water, reset the timer, and start riding again.  Every fourth time it went off, I would eat a bit of energy bar, or suck on some Clif Blox.  My speed did not increase, but my anxiety level dropped considerably.

The sun set while I was on the plateau, and the dark descent down to the shores of Eagle Lake was somewhat dreamlike. Or perhaps that was simply because I was half-asleep. When I first saw the lake, I mistook it for a fogbank because the moonshine on it made it glow white. Then I saw a campfire that someone had built on the shore, and realized that what I had thought was fog was actually water. Lots of water. The road hugged the lake shore for a while and then, once again, turned uphill. About halfway up this climb was the “Grasshopper” water stop, staffed by current-RUSA president Lois Springsteen and former RUSA president Bill Bryant. Lois was not there when I arrived; another rider was having medical issues and she had taken him to the hospital. But Bill was a genial host, pointing out all the snack options and apologizing for the lack of “official” restrooms. They did have lots of toilet paper, however, and he promised not to look when I went out to the bushes. There were plenty of comfy camp chairs, as well, but what excited me the most was the cooler filled with individual-serving cartons of chocolate soy milk. I drank three.

I was very tired, and it was tempting to hang out at Grasshopper drinking soy milk and chatting with Bill and the others, but time was passing and Adin awaited. I had given up on my stated goal of getting there by midnight, but if I got on the stick I could still get there by 1:30 AM. But I would not get there unless I started riding. As Jeff Loomis, who was at Grasshopper as I arrived, put it, Adin was not getting any closer while we sat there. As an additional incentive to keep moving, the temperature had noticeably plummeted. So much so that I took out an extra pair of socks to layer over the ones I had one, with chemical toe warmers between the layers. My hands were starting to feel stiff, so I pulled on a pair of stretch gloves over my riding gloves and stuffed chemical warmers between them, as well. Then I heaved myself up out of the comfy chair and onto my slightly less comfortable bike. Jeff and another rider left at about the same time.

Although we were only 30 miles from Adin, we still had what Bill described as “1 and 1/2 climbs” to go before we reached the contrôle, and those 30 miles seemed to take forever. At some points I could not even tell if I was climbing or descending. I had been leapfrogging with Jeff and the other ride, but at some point they both pulled ahead of me, perhaps during one of my “15 minute” breaks, and I was once again alone, in the dark, tired and, yes, bored. I was ready for a nap. According to the course profile, we had a long sleigh ride of a descent into Adin. I sure don’t remember it; perhaps I was already asleep. If so, it was a good thing, because when I reached the Adin contrôle itself it became clear that any sleep I would get there would be less than restful.

The contrôle was bustling. Picture the bicycle equivalent of Grand Central Station, except that Grand Central has more space for sleeping. Although the route organizers had encouraged riders to try to reach Adin before sleeping, there were very few cots available for riders that took that advice. What few cots there were all were occupied by sleepers, as was just about every inch of floor space not otherwise devoted to the tables at which those riders not sleeping were eating. I began to regret my decision not to stay in Susanville. But c’est la vie, I’d made my proverbial bed and now I must try to sleep in it. At least I’d had the sense to include a sleeping bag and pillow in my Adin drop bag—some riders did not even have that.

Adin Contrôle

But before I could sleep, I really needed something more substantial in my belly than potato chips. I foraged through the food offerings: lots of meat and dairy, some fruit, no tofu. There was peanut butter, of course, and bagels, a combination which I had once thought would be all I’d ever need to be happily fueled, but after 300 miles in which peanut butter was my only protein option it was becoming pretty unappetizing. For hot food there was pasta, and the volunteers had cooked up a really tasty vegetable sauce, and I happily ate that, but some beans or tofu would have really been nice. But it was not to be. So I ate some more pasta, and some more peanut butter, and then changed into my jammies, set my watch for two hours, stuffed ear plugs in my ears, lay down on the hard linoleum floor and closed my eyes. It soon became apparent that sleep would be elusive, so I opted for yoga, instead. Specifically, a two-hour “corpse” pose. I may have dozed off now and then, but never achieved REM state, which is necessary for real rest. At least that’s what they tell me.

My alarm went off and it was time to get moving. I was hungry again. The volunteers were cooking up bacon and eggs, but managed to find some leftover veggie pasta for me. After eating, I washed my face and hair in the bathroom sink, changed into fresh shorts, socks and jersey, and headed out. Although I’d been in Adin for three and a half hours, I still had a large cushion of time. I suppose I could have stayed there longer, but with sleep being impossible I really had no excuse not to ride.

The sun was coming up as I left town. After about five miles, I once again began to question my ability to keep going. I was tired, I was hungry, I was lonely, and I still had almost 400 miles to go. I began to pick out landmarks, telling myself, “If I can make it to that barn, I’ll be okay”; “If I can make it past those trees, I’ll be okay.” Thus, I picked my way from point to point through the valley until I reached the base of the next climb, which would take me to Adin Pass. And here I experienced the miracle of the hill. It’s no secret that climbing is my strength. What I realized now is that not only am I good at climbing, but that the pleasure I get from spinning up a hill is enough to pull me through almost any slough of despond (as long as the weather is cooperating, at least—the triple-digit temperatures on the XTR a month earlier had done an extremely good job of killing my hill buzz). At least this morning, the miracle was working. The more the slope of the road increased, the more my spirits rose to meet it. By the time I reached the top, I was positively giddy. Okay, lack of sleep and hypoxia could have had something to do with that, as well, but I was not about to question the cure.

Sadly, the giddiness did not last long.  After dropping back down a few hundred feet, the road devolved into a seemingly endless series of expansion cracks on bad chipseal and the headwind picked up strength.  My skill at climbing is equaled only by my absolute mediocrity on the flats, especially on bad pavement into the wind (oddly, the GRR route description describes this road as “smooth.”  Ha!).  But I knew that with each pedal stroke I was another foot or so closer to the turnaround, and so I kept on going.  It was definitely “Little Engine That Could” time, and I was in full “I think I can” mode.

What's worse the chip seal?

Finally, I reached Alturas, a shabby but cute little town (I was too tired to take pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it). The Alturas contrôle was in the Elks Lodge, an old adobe building that from a distance looked like a mission.  Alturas is less than 20 miles from Davis Creek, the endpoint of the outbound portion of the route.  Although I was very tired, I stopped only long enough to use the bathroom, apply some more Lantiseptic, and eat some dry Raisin Bran.  I noted the presence of a “nap room,” and made a promise to myself that I would become better acquainted with it when I returned in another four hours or so.  And then I was off to Davis Creek. 

I Can See Oregon From Here

More chipseal, more expansion cracks, and more desolate agricultural scenery.  The fields next to the roads were filled with small scurrying rodents and their relatively large burrows.  I think they might have been Oregon ground squirrels.  I would see a few critters standing guard outside the large holes they’d dug, but as soon as I got within 10 yards of them, they’d bolt.  More than a few also bolted across the road in front of me, and from the flatter, less lively versions of them that I also saw on the road, I deduced that they often bolted in front of larger, faster, more deadly vehicles as well.  I also saw many cyclists, all heading back to Alturas and, eventually, the finish line.  They all smiled and waved.  I waved back, and tried to smile, but I am guessing it came across as more of a grimace.

I knew that I was nearing the Oregon border and, therefore the end of the outbound journey, when I passed the agricultural products inspection station, where the drivers of all vehicles entering California must declare their vegetal holdings.  Four days earlier, when entering California on I-5, Greg and I had set an unofficial world record for speed-eating blueberries and watermelon after I realized, less than a mile from the inspection station, that we still had a cooler full of fruit.  By the time we got to the station we could truthfully say we had no fresh fruit in the car (it’s not fresh if it’s being digested), but I think we both felt a little ill.  But I digress.

Border Signage

I finally reached the Davis Creek Mercantile, site of the final outbound contrôle.  I mustered a small “Hurrah” as I presented my card for validation.  I then proceeded to waste almost an hour with unproductive faffing.  The only food left was a few sorry packets of potato chips and some tangerines, so I did not spend much time eating.  There was no Diet Coke to be had (the real stuff had turned my stomach—the HFCS was more than I could handle), so I did not spend much time drinking, either.  Indeed, apart from applying sunscreen and Lantiseptic, I am not entirely sure what I was doing for an hour, but that’s how long the official spreadsheets says I was there and spreadsheets don’t lie, do they?  But I finally saddled up and set out for the return trip to Davis, a little over 360 miles to the southwest.  Although the course was an out and back, a little map jiggering resulted in the outbound leg being about 24 miles longer than the inbound leg.  In other words, I was more than halfway through and I was homeward bound.

TO BE CONTINUED . . . . . . .


Kevin said...

Great recounting of the adventure!
Giddy on hills? What's your lowest gear? (mine is a 30 x 28, and I can honestly say I'm NOT giddy if I am forced to use it!)

Congratulations on your accomplishment!

David said...

Can't wait for the second installment! Bravo, Cecil.

mike said...

Great report...! Thanks for putting it out there for us rando's to read. Sorry to hear about the ER visit - but sounds like you are doing OK.

Can't wait for part 2.

Peter said...

wonderful, Cecil - and the suspense is killing me - where's part 2?

Anonymous said...

As always, a detailed and humorous account of your ride. Now wondering if the well-known campaign manager from the Seattle area has yet offered his services?

Anonymous said...

Love to read your trip reports, Cecil. I can't imagine doing the kind of rides you do, but I certainly applaud you for doing it! Congrats, congrats, congrats!! Looking forward to Part 2...

jason said...

I'm sorry to hear about your eTrex. I've had cycle computers come loose and even occasionally come off, but never one with mucho dinero.

Anonymous said...

GREAT account of your adventure. WOW.
I am waiting for the next installment with baited breath...

Anonymous said...

Thank you again Cecil for you blog. You are absolutely an inspiration. An EPO, steroid, blood doping free inspiration. I cannot wait for part 2.

Tim Riley, Seattle (formerly PDX)

Cecil Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rob hawks said...


Nice write up. We rode together for short bits on the GRR, I think for a while along the Feather River at night, and perhaps on the climb after Taylorsville. That segment from Taylorsville to Boulder Creek was the best segment of the ride for me, followed immediately by the worst section of the ride. Like you, I was let down by arriving at 'the top of the GRR'.

Thanks for the nice write up. For a different take on the ride, you can check out my own write up here: under 'Something less than 449km'

rob hawks

Anonymous said...

And if you want to be further impressed, John Evans followed up the GRR with LEL, on a fixed gear. Thanks for another great write up.

Greg Zaborac

Cecil Anne said...

"John Evans followed up the GRR with LEL, on a fixed gear"

That tears it - the man's a freak - and I mean that in the nicest way

Anonymous said...

It's pretty amazing what some folks can do. Rob Gray, who rode this year's GRR on a fixed gear, has done some pretty far out stuff. If you haven't read his account of how he spent his summer vacation in 2002, I think you'd enjoy it.

Greg Zaborac