Jul 052009
 

The Paradox of Momentum
Mile 321.8 to Mile 449.3

Alturas Control

Alturas Control

I rode out of Adin control at 4:50am. The sky was light, though the sun wasn’t up yet. And it was still cold. I was glad I had all of my clothes on.

Immediately out of Adin, the road began to climb. Eventually, it would top Adin Pass (elevation 5173′). Not a huge climb, but enough of a wake up call. I could see tail lights ahead of me. I caught and passed a couple. Others, including a group of six or so, pulled away. More riders appeared occasionally on the other side of the highway, headed home. I thought this would be dispiriting to see others so far ahead. Instead, I was too lost in my own ride to worry about anyone else’s.

After a quick, steep downhill, I was back in high desert. Open country with no protection from the sun or the wind. There was a light headwind, and for the moment, the rising sun was feeling very welcome. I turned off Highway 139 – the same road I had been on since Susanville – in Canby, and started heading east toward Alturas on Highway 299. There were more ranches now, and some farms. This was wide open, rolling country under a huge blue sky.  (Here is a good picture of the country from Don Bennett.)

At some point in this stretch, I had a moment I had anticipated earlier, but had forgotten about. It was a moment of presence, for lack of a better word. A Be Here Now-ness that I usually lack when riding. I knew, roughly where I was geographically. I knew I was miles from anything familiar, that it would take days of riding to get back to any part of my day-to-day life. And in that brief moment, I felt very alone, very separate. For the first time on the ride, I felt like I had come a really far distance. That finally, I had stepped out of my normal place in the world, as it were. I have had moments like this before – driving the Yucatan in the early ’90s, sailing off the Baja coast, traveling in the Japan Alps. And they always make me pause for a moment and appreciate the ability to be lost, but not lost. To be away from what I know, but comfortable where I am. This was one of the reasons I wanted to do this ride, to experience that separation from the normal. Moments like that can carry you along for quite a few miles on a bike.

After some more riding, I reached Alturas. For some reason, maybe the nearness of the turn-around point, I didn’t feel like staying any longer than I had to. I checked in, restocked, and moved on. The final 20 miles to the turn-around were nice enough. The road was slightly uphill, the wind in my face, but the end was near. We were on Highway 395 now, following the North Fork of the Pit River. Road cuts exposed interesting formations, which I noted, and which I wished I could read. As it was, I just wanted to move on. Not long before the turn-around, I saw Paul Guttenberg headed the other way: same helmet, jacket, and riding style, though he was alone now. He gave a friendly shout and wave, and that was the last I saw of him on the entire ride.

Davis Creek Mercantile

Davis Creek Mercantile

I reached the turn-around point in Davis Creek at 9:35am. It was warm now, but remembering my chill the night before, I stayed fully dressed. Besides, the sun was strong. A little sun protection seemed like a good idea. Dan and Sharon Cucinatta ran the checkpoint. It was at the Davis Creek Mercantile, which seemed to be one of few businesses in the area. It was a friendly place. We were on the side patio with picnic benches and umbrellas. Really, it would have been easy to spend a few hours there watching riders come in and go out. A perfect place for a BBQ and a beer.

But by now I was starting to feel time pressure. I was about 3 hours behind my schedule, and if I wanted to get sleep in Susanville that night, I had to get going. I ended up staying only about 35 minutes. Dan and Sharon were going to be there a few more hours, until the control closed at 3pm, then head to Oregon to join other bike club members on a week-long bike tour centered around Corvalis. That seemed so civilized right then, so much more sane than riding 370-odd miles back to Davis.

Don't Burn the Man

Don’t Burn the Man

At this point, I had seen the entire course. There wasn’t anything in the next 20 miles back to Alturas to surprise me, and I was feeling good, if a little pressured. So, for the first time, I set up my iPod so I could ride with some music and maybe check out a little, mentally, while I rode.

As I started to pedal, Little Martha by The Allman Brothers came on. The wind was behind me now, and the road bent slightly down. This was a really sweet moment. A Spaulding Grey Perfect Moment from Swimming to Cambodia. I stepped on the pedals and was soon cruising steadily over 20mph. I got down into the drops, got my rhythm, and just powered down the road. Every song seemed better than the last. I had forgotten what I had loaded, so it was a constant surprise.

I passed a slower rider. He jumped up and caught on to my wheel. After a while, I slowed so he could pull a while. He declined, so I sped up again. When the road rose a little, he dropped back. The nice thing to do would have been to wait for him. But I was feeling good, not charitable. I wasn’t willing to use up my strength to help him. I knew god would punish me for that, but another song came on and away I went. I found out later that that rider was on something like his twelfth 1200k ride. He finished 30 minutes behind me. So much for needing my help.

Back in Alturas, I found I didn’t want to rest. People in the upstairs area, where the food was, were watching the Tour de France. That seemed so incongruous to me. I don’t know, like drinking a Slurpee in a snow storm, you know? I happened to run into two other riders from earlier. I saw Jonathan Gray, on his recumbent. He had yet to get to the turnaround. He was in good spirits, though he was getting further back at each control point. I had thought he was far ahead of me; he assured me he was not. I also ran into Edward Robinson, who had helped me limp into Susanville. I apologized for losing him there, and thanked him again for his help. He was heading out, about 30 minutes or so in front of me, so I knew I’d see him again.

Main Street Coffee

Main Street Coffee

I packed up quickly again to get going. I had planned to eat breakfast in Alturas, but was worried about the time I had lost. On the way back out of town, I was with a group of a half dozen riders. It was really tempting to stay with them. But I had promised myself I’d stop in Alturas.

In the end, I did stop long enough to grab an espresso and talk to a couple of folks about the ride. I praised the local drivers who, more than anywhere else so far, went out of their way to give riders room. The owner said thank you, and noted with a smile that people in that part of the world just aren’t in too big of a hurry to get anywhere.

Back on 299 to Canby. Headwinds slowed me down. Small hills wore me out. And long stretches of the road were cracked all the way across with deep, wide fissures every 20 feet or so. They were rim-bending deep, so I had to be careful not to hit one head on. Even still, every one was jarring. Even after I got through this section, I kept a lookout for a rogue crack. After a while, I settled back into the rhythm of the road. The iPod helped me keep a strange sort of detachedness from the scene, tamping down my desire not to be there any longer. I just wanted to be done.

Then, for some reason (the double espresso?) I was flooded with thoughts. I thought I should record them, because I knew I wouldn’t remember them, and they seemed so profound at the time. Of course, I forgot all but a few.

One, I remember, was the Paradox of Momentum. It’s completely the wrong concept, but the title stuck in my head. It refers to the fact that momentum is key to enjoying cycling. The ability to build up speed, to rest, and the need riders feel to preserve momentum because it is so much easier to go from, say, 10 to 15 mph than from 0 to 5. Preserving momentum leads to bad decisions, like running stop signs. And out here, it leads to passing by miles and miles of beautiful country – areas that are beautiful in a way that I can’t describe – without being willing to stop for two minutes even just to take a picture.

Cycling along at somewhere around 15 to 20mph is a perfect speed to see so much. But the desire to keep that speed prevents us – me – from really enjoying it. I referred to that earlier as a type of schizophrenia. Then I realized that long-distance cycling engendered an internal bodily war. Rather than working together, all the parts of my body were fighting for attention. My butt hurt if I sat for too long. When I stood up to give it a break, my legs complained. My arms were tired from leaning forward on them. But if I sat up and rode with no hands, my abdomen would complain about having to work to keep me balanced. For miles, it was a constant struggle to find equilibrium, some place where, if no part was at peace, at least it wasn’t painful.

Then I started to reflect on the Gold Rush Randonnée as a goal. More specifically, I started cataloguing the cost, in money and human terms, of this little 90-hour jaunt. To prepare, I had been riding specific rides tailored to get myself ready. Riding at night, in rain. Riding longer distances when able. I tried to get most of that in while my son was in school or in after-school care, but some of the burden fell on my wife, Lisa. I thought about the hours I spent not working, losing income, and what that might add up to. Then I thought about the fact that I was riding a brand new bike, a bike built by my friend Rick just for this ride. How many hours had that taken him alone (planning, designing, building) and us together? How much did just the parts to build the bike come to? How much gear did I have to buy to make this ride? I had a new, lighter helmet because I was worried about head and neck fatigue. I had new shoes, new pedals . . . in fact I had purchased everything I was wearing in the past few months specifically with an eye toward this ride.

And all of this suddenly made me feel very selfish. I was embarrassed that I had focused so much of the last six months on me and my need to complete this ride. I wondered what better good I could accomplish if I redirected all of this energy to something useful, something meaningful. Something more than this narcissistic aggrandizement of some unspecified, inarticulated need.

Having a lot of time to think is not always good for me.

I finally reached Canby, turned south on Highway 329, and headed back up Adin Pass. This side of the pass was steeper than the other. I was hot, but I didn’t want to stop to strip down, so I just unzipped my vest, my jersey, and my wool.

I remembered the long, gradual uphill from that morning, and looked forward to a nice descent back to Adin. I was robbed. A southerly wind had kicked up, and instead of cruising downhill, I had to work my way down. That really pissed me off. What the fuck? I yelled. How is that fair? I sometimes take acts of nature personally.

It was hot now, and I was tired. I thought about the three climbs on the way back to Susanville, and even though it was only 70 miles, I knew I’d need to rest at Adin. So I ate a little bit, took off all my hot clothes, and lay down on a cot to take a 90-minute rest. And this is the one time I didn’t really take good care of myself. Sometime before that 90 minutes was up, I woke up shivering. I tried to control it but couldn’t. My entire body shook. I got up slowly and went outside to sit in the sun. At the time, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. One rider thought it was salt depletion, so I took some tablets and drank V8. In retrospect, I think I had made a simple mistake, and was angry with myself that I didn’t see it. I was sweating from wearing too many clothes when I arrived. So I took them off and lay down, wet, in a cool room with a breeze. Had I pulled a blanket over myself, I would have been fine. I was upset that I didn’t take better care of my body here.

In my original plan, I had expected to be back in Susanville by 4pm Wednesday. It was now 5pm, and I still had 70 miles to go. I dressed, packed all of my warm gear (knowing I would need it again that night), and got set. Like the night before when I left Susanville, I moved slowly, deliberately, checking in to make sure I was okay to ride.

It was getting close to closing time for Adin control, and the volunteers were a little more relaxed now. They were lounging outside, enjoying the afternoon. A few local children who had volunteered all day were playing in the yard.  (Here’s a picture of the kids’ bikes and some of the riders’ from Jun Sato.)  It was another lovely, simple, quiet scene that would have been nice to stay and enjoy. But I made up my mind that I needed to make Susanville by midnight, so I got ready to leave.

I found Jennifer “J Lo” Wilson , a rider whom I had met on our San Juan Islands tour, to thank for her help. Jennifer and her husband, Bruce, are an incredible tandem team. They are strong up hills, and absolutely fearless downhill. I wouldn’t keep up with them even if I could. J Lo gave me a fierce bear hug, a really deep, caring embrace, and sent me on my way.

Next: Adin to Susanville

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