This Can’t Be the Same Route
Mile 449.3 – Mile 516.8
Even as I left Adin, I knew I wasn’t all there. I rode very, very slowly, so as not to get too far if I needed to turn around. Wind was light and swirling: it felt hot when it was behind me, and cooling when it came around in front. It was getting toward evening and the colors were softening again. But I wasn’t really appreciating them. I was focused on the road, on my breathing, my balance. My hold on clarity and focus. My ability, in short, not to hurt myself.
I remembered freezing along this road from the night before. I remembered there was a long downhill run into Adin, and that I would have to climb back out. After a while, I felt stronger, more secure. I got into an uphill rhythm and just kept the pedals turning. I passed two other riders after a while. As I passed, I looked over and said, “I want you behind me so you can get help if you see me off the side of the road.” One of the guys answered by saying, “If they find one body over there, they’ll find all three of us.”
After an hour or so, with no pass in sight, I started to wonder what the hell was going on. I was slow, but not that slow. But the hill kept rising, and rising. I reached a couple of false summits, which offered short breaks, but no real respite.
Finally, around sunset, I reached the top. I took a break and ate a little bit. I got off the bike and laid it down. I was hot and sweaty from the long ascent. I figured out it was 20 miles from Adin. The ride coordinator, Dan Shadoan, had nicknamed this Joe Goldrush Summit. Just then, I wasn’t amused.
There was no one around, and I wanted to cool down a little faster. So I pulled down my shorts and turned my butt into the breeze to cool off. I probably would have bent over to express how I felt, but it was too difficult. Besides, just thinking about mooning the summit made me feel a little better.
Eventually, I heard a car approaching. I pulled up my shorts, mounted up, and started rolling down the hill. Instantly, I got cold. Remembering the cold from the night before, I pulled over right away and put my vest on. I started rolling again, and I still got cold. So I stopped and put my arm warmers and leg warmers on. The two riders I had passed now passed me. A truck came by, then turned around and came back to make sure I was okay. I must have looked pretty pathetic sitting on the side of the highway struggling to get the warmers over my shoes. I thanked him for his kindness and assured him I was okay.
After a brief downhill, we were back in rolling high desert. I passed the riders again, a little overheated now with all my clothes. I tried calculating the distance to Grasshopper water stop by the mileage on the signposts. Happily, I was a couple of miles off and got there sooner than I expected. (Here is a good shot of the Grasshopper water stop from Don Bennett.) Lois and Bill and the crew were still there, still as cheery and helpful as the night before. Bill informed me that I had moved up quite a bit in the standings, though I have no idea how that could have happened. I had the best instant oatmeal I’ve ever had, along with other snacks. I stayed a while to chat and rest, but was itchy to move on. I still wanted to get to Susanville by midnight. (Here is a picture of a mileage post at Grasshopper, courtesy of Joseph Maurer.) So it was back on the road again, this time with Eagle Lake on my right. (Here is a good shot of Eagle Lake from Don Bennett, and another from Jun Sato.)
At the rest stop, I had disagreed with the other riders about how much climbing we had on the way back. I thought it was less than they did. But then again, I was surprised by the 20-mile climb to Joe Goldrush Summit. It’s strange how you can ride the same road in one 24-hour period and barely remember any of its details. In any case, they were right. The sun had set and it was getting dark now. It was a hell of a climb back up to the top of the pass. Along the way I started hearing noises. At one point, I thought I heard a very faint call for help, far off over the ridge to my left. I looked but couldn’t see any roads heading in that direction. I thought I heard whispers, but I couldn’t make out any words. I pedaled harder.
Over time, I made it to the summit. A sign announced a very long 6% grade, though I forget the distance now. It was glorious. The road was wide, smooth, and empty. I turned the light on high, tucked in, and let gravity do the rest. I was well-dressed, so I didn’t shiver all the way down. If I wasn’t so tired I probably would have sung. After the descent, I had another open stretch of desert to cross to get to the bottom of Antelope Grade.
As I started my ascent, I noticed something for the first time. I watched my headlight swing wildly left and right. I know handlebars move back and forth a little while riding, especially if you’re pressing hard on the pedals. But this was far more than a little back and forth. I took it as another sign of my fatigue. At the same time, even though the light was swinging all over the road, the bike was moving absolutely straight. These swings, which would send my carbon road bike all over the place, weren’t enough to set this bike off course. Rick and I had talked a lot about stability in the design of the bike. We knew that stability would be more important as I got more tired. We spent a lot of time discussing design theory and massaging values for measurements like trail, drop, and chainstay length. Often, the numbers we played with seemed insignificantly small to me: usually a matter of millimeters. He told me they made a huge difference. I was seeing here what he meant in a way I could never see on paper.
There were bikes ahead, so I set about reeling them in as a way to stay awake. Once I got to the top, I knew the descent would be fast and curvy, but wide and smooth. I set the light on high again and rolled. I was closer to the other bikes now and knew I would pass. My light has a feature that makes it blink when you have it on the highest setting and try to make it go higher. I wasn’t sure it was on high, so I pushed it. The light blinked. I think the cyclist in front of me took that as a signal I wanted to pass. I didn’t mean it that way, but it worked really well. He pulled over and I flew past. So I tried it again on the second rider. Worked great. I was dropping into Susanville fast, and I just couldn’t get there fast enough.
I made it to the control by 11:30. That meant I could eat longer, take a longer shower, get everything ready that night so in the morning I could just get up and go. It meant I could sleep a little longer. Things were looking up for the last day.
All told, it was 27 hours from the time I left Susanville the day before until I checked back in. I had planned on 20 hours. I seriously underestimated the difficulty of the course and overestimated my ability to keep a pace over hilly ground. Happily, my 20-hour scenario had given me a 12-hour break in Susanville. I still had a little over 5 hours left.
While I ate at the control, I talked for a while with the president of the San Francisco Randonneurs. On the outbound leg, the night before, we were both leaving Susanville at about the same time. He’d asked if we could ride together. I agreed, but told him I had a few things left to do before I left. That reminded him that he needed to make a call. He told me to go ahead, and I told him I’d ride slowly for a while. I remember looking back and seeing bike lights coming up Antelope Grade, but they never caught me. This evening, I came to find out that he’d started out last night, only to decide he was done and turn back to Susanville. Instead of riding, he was volunteering at the Susanville control to help other riders. It was nice to see such dedication.
I filled up on pasta and headed back down the street to the hotel. Just like Adin, I figured everyone would leave around 4am again, so I planned to get out at 5 and miss the rush. I got everything ready, showered, and got into bed as soon as I could. I set the clock for 4am. That would give me three hours sleep. There is a school of thought that says you should break up your sleep into 90-minute segments because that is the “normal” human sleep cycle. I haven’t tested the theory extensively, but I tried to adhere to it anyway. I was hoping for four and a half hours here, but an early start seemed more important. So three it was.