Monday, June 28, 2010

With a little help from my friends...600K in the books.

It's Friday evening and time to load the rental car. The cost of renting this vehicle, only to leave it in a parking lot for 2 days makes me wonder about the sanity of selling my car a couple of years ago. No use crying over spilled soy milk.

In keeping with my lack of sense, I didn't ride a 200K ride this month for the R-12 award. I have to finish this ride or I lose BOTH the R-12 award and the SR award. It's all on the line today.

What's more, in the pre-loading bike check, I found a broken front spoke. It wasn't broken on my last ride (which was yesterday) so I'm not sure when it happened. I'm grateful that I found it here, where I can repair and retrue the wheel, and not in Edwardsville. I have a bad feeling about this now.

So far, so good. The riders are all checking in. It's 3:30 a.m. and the ride starts at 4:00. Did I mention that I had to get up at 12:45 in order to drive here in time? Not gonna be much rest this weekend, I fear.

Here we go. The decision whether or not to abandon has now been made by the decision to start. Come what may, I'll have to make it the whole way. (I hope.) It also occurs to me that by always waiting to take the pictures of the riders leaving, it puts me off the back from the start. I'm concerned that that may not be a good strategy today. I'll have to hurry and catch up with a group.

For now the moon will keep a watchful eye on our progress. But daylight is coming, and Mr. Sun will try his best to defeat us today. The temperature is supposed to be in the mid-high 90's with clear skys and high humidity.

There doesn't seem to be anyone with me. That's because I had a flat at mile 25, still in the dark. It's my first flat this year. Not the time I would have chosen to have one. Besides being quite alone as the others went on, the mosquitoes, who always pick off the weak and sick, saw an easy target and attacked me. I looked like an OFF commercial.

The only thing to do is to catch up. I turned on my Heart Rate Monitor which I wore for keeping track later of heat stress. My max heart rate is 199. I'll have to keep it below 175 or I'll use up too much precious energy - but I'll have to hurry. I struggled to get that Gatorshell tire back on. Remember, this is my first flat and it fits really tightly. I'm hoping that the others pre-hydrated fully, and they'll need to stop to pee in Pocohontas.

Yea! Back on. It's only two riders, John Jost, our RBA, and Dennis Smith. But I'm not alone anymore.

Every sixth row of corn you pass is a gallon of ethanol in your gas. Or so they say. At this rate, Illinois will soon be the Saudi Arabia of ethanol.

You're looking at my secret weapon against the sun today. I purchased sun sleeves from Pearl Izumi and fashioned this really stylish head gear out of an elastic band, some velcro dots, and a white bandanna. The European judges have already marked me down on style points for wearing a beard and not shaving my legs, so this won't cost me too much more. And maybe it'll save the day. We'll see.

This is Ralph. Later tonight, I'll sleep with him. No really! It turns out that no one had emailed me about sharing a room, so I reserved a hotel room with one king size bed. And it turns out that Ralph had not reserved a room. When I arrived in Vienna at 10:30, beat up by the day's events, Ralph said that he had already paid for my room and asked if he could sleep on the floor.

"That's nonsense," I told him. "You're not gay and neither am I. You can sleep in the bed with me. Sleeping on the floor is nuts."

That's how I came to sleep with Ralph. Actually I didn't sleep - I laid there for 2 hours listening to him snore. Oh well. It saved me $35 bucks.

Back out on the open road, John is feeling good and setting a good pace. Dennis is constantly encouraging us to take it easy and save some for later. One of these riders might be wrong.

200 kilometers are in the books. Only 400 more to go. Sounds like a lot when I put it that way, huh?

In Irvington, John puts on his secret weapons. He has brought sun leggings, and a beanie. I think he looks ridiculous, but perhaps I'm not the right one to be judgmental, all things considered.

At Irvington, we pick up Ken. He started with a faster group, but fell off the back and decided to wait for another train to come by. Our little peleton is now 4. The rest of the ride, Ken will keep his strategy up. He'll leave us in his dust, then wait for us up the road to ride with someone, because riding alone is difficult. Everybody has to have a strategy.

Dennis is ready to roll. He has no secret weapons, and no real strategy. He is merely determined to make it all the way to the finish in less than 40 hours. He rode Last Chance 1200K last year, and has already declared this ride more difficult than that one. That worries me.

Stopping for ice and water will be the theme of the day. No gas station will be missed in our goal to finish this ride. In fact, at the first stop, John threw away a bottle of water when he finished filling up and it was left over. Horrified, I rescued it from the trash can. I'd sooner throw away the Hope Diamond today, than a bottle of water. I'd rather carry the extra weight in my pannier, than do without it later and wish I had it. Hey, I thought there were 4 riders in this group. Where's Miles?

Oh there he is. I thought he'd already abandoned. Whew! That was close.

"I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus..." If you haven't seen "Cool Hand Luke", rent it.

I always carry this plastic Jesus when I ride. I'm not superstitious, and barely religious. But it reminds me of a story I made up about Crista Borras, the RUSA Permanents Czar.

When she was a Girl Scout, she went on a weekend hike featuring an orienteering trial at the end. She really wanted that orienteering badge for her sash. During the hike, she twisted her ankle rather badly and a Scout Leader encouraged her to sit out the orienteering trail and wait for next year. Crista uttered what would become her motto, "If they haven't had to call your next of kin, yet, quitting is not your only option!" Fashioning a crutch out of a nearby limb, she went on to get that orienteering badge. Today she always carries it to remind her that she can make it, no matter how difficult things get.

I like that.

At the control in Belle Rive the crew is looking grim. A couple of these riders are only 20 miles from abandoning. The heat has been trying today. In the corner is a rider who probably doesn't know his name. He's out now.

The bridge is out. We will have to carry our bikes across the creek. The creek bank is lined with rocks the size of your head. I fell down, skinning my leg and my bike. I also landed on my bike and untrued the front wheel. I needed to take a little time to "field" true it before I could go on.

John fell down and decided that he was too exhausted to go on. A vehicle will come pick him up soon. Too, bad. He's a strong rider with a lot of grit. But the conditions don't respect him for that. They've been gunning for him for a little while now.

In another few miles, Ralph will abandon as well.

Finally, one of our enemies takes a break from pounding us. The sun is finally going down. What a tough day so far. After the flat I had at the 25 miles mark, I continued to flat all day. Although I carefully inspected the tire, I couldn't find the offender. Every 11-15 miles, I had to stop and repump the tire to keep going. And I replaced the tube twice, hoping I'd solved it.

Finally, at Thompsonville, after nearly 12 hours of this nonsense, Dennis looked at my tire for me. He found a small rock in the outside of the tire which didn't seem to come through the casing, but must have been working it's way through as I rode. Once removed, at least I wouldn't be wearing out my pump or myself now. Thank you Dennis.

Dark again. We'll soon be on the Tunnel Hill Bike Trail. 15 miles of crushed limestone, sticks, and only God knows what else. We'll have to ride carefully and pay attention. And with no mishaps, maybe by 10 or so we'll be in Vienna. That puts us about two hours behind most of the riders, but still in the money.

Day two. Dennis and I left the hotel at 2:45. Not much rest. Surprisingly our legs are strong, but our bottoms are complaining. Dennis is wearing two pairs of shorts, and I decide to do the same. It helps a little, but this could be a long 162 miles today.

Dennis has encouraged me to "go on ahead, if you want". I refuse. We've come this far together, I couldn't imagine separating now. We'll pull each other to the finish today.

At last! Okawville! It's the last control before the finish. Only 50 miles to go, now.

After getting a ride from Vienna back to Edwardsville, John met us at the Gas Mart in Okawville. He still looks beat up. But he'll be back for another try later. He's tough.

The dynamic duo today. Dennis Smith and me. Speaking of style point, notice the straps of my bib shorts? I know you're supposed to have them UNDER the jersey. The first pair IS under the jersey. I was too tired to mess with the second pair. I just pulled them on. I'll never get my picture in American Randonneur if I don't get my style together.

Putting the Brevet card in the plastic box at the Police Station is the last thing I have to do. 375 miles ago, I wasn't sure we'd have this picture. I'm glad we do.

And I couldn't have done it without help. Thank you John and Dennis for riding with me today; especially you, Dennis. Without your help with my tire, I might have had to abandon in Vienna. Without your encouragement I might have fallen to the conditions. In fact, at one time, when the heat was really getting to me on day two, I mentioned to Dennis that I really needed to stop and cool off. We found a shady spot on the roadside, and I lay in the grass to rest. I immediately fell asleep. Dennis sat patiently, watching over me for a few minutes until I woke up and was ready to go again. That's the kind of friend he was on this ride.

And special thanks to Mrs. Stoneman. As the CFO of our little enterprise, she has never flinched at yet another bicycling purchase. She wants me to realize my dreams, and is willing to go along without complaint. I couldn't have done it otherwise.

Finally, thank you to the makers of Advil. You made the difference in this ride. Together we defeated the saddle sore demons which harassed me for these two days. And now Hibiclens will take over.

I was hoping to do the entire series for the first time this year. There were plenty of obstacles threatening my promise to myself. But now it's done.

Miles to go...Promises to Keep...With a Little Help From My Friends.