Mile 254.3 to Mile 321.8
I rode slowly out of Susanville control. I still wasn’t entirely convinced I was okay to ride, so I wanted to take it easy.
The course quickly turned onto Highway 139 and started to climb over Antelope Grade (elevation 5472′). I seemed to feel fine, so I kept pedaling slowly over the hill. Antelope Grade is not a natural pass. Someone decided there needed to be a road here, and these hills were in the way, so they plowed a road right over them. The good news was that it was a steady climb rather than the uneven steps you get up a natural pass. Slow and steady was what I needed right then. (Here is a picture at the top of Antelope Grade taken by Joseph Maurer.
I was glad I slept at Susanville. As it turned out, I really had no choice. But I had planned to anyway, contrary to general wisdom. Two very reliable sources – Larry “The Legend” Burdick and Bill Bryant (former president of RUSA) – had both advised that it would be better to ride straight through to Adin rather than stop at Susanville. A lot of people followed that advice. It’s about 320 miles from Davis to Adin, and the argument for riding that far is (1) to get further down the course and build up more time to sleep later, when you’re more tired, and (2) a lot of people who stop in Susanville don’t finish the course, whereas people who ride past Susanville statistically do finish.
I compared this advice to my experience in the 600k. I figured it would take me around 27 hours to get to Adin. I rode 30 hours straight in the 600k, and it toasted me. I decided to ride my own ride. I would have slept in Susanville even if I didn’t need to, and I still think that was the right plan for me. Another advantage to starting out from Susanville just before sunset was how pleasant the evening was. The sun was setting now, the wind had calmed. The full moon would be rising soon. Everything was soft. It was a beautiful time to ride. Very welcoming in a way the the harsh afternoon could never have been.
I topped Antelope Pass and started down. The descent was fun, though like all descents, seemed to end too soon. I was now out in high desert with nothing around but rocks and bushes and far off mountains. There was a slight cross breeze, just enough to annoy me. It was getting colder, so I stopped to put on my vest. Absolute silence. That deafening desert silence.
I was happy to be out there. Occasionally, I would catch a headlight in my rear view mirror and it would give me a start. Looking back again, I would see it was just the full moon following me up the road. Further up, the route passed over a mountain pass, somewhat higher than Antelope Grade. This one was long and steady. For better or worse, visibility seemed unlimited in the clear desert air. I could see bike tail lights ahead of me: one about half a mile off, and another far beyond that. They told me I had a very long climb ahead. I couldn’t read my speed, but I estimated it at 5mph. Based on the tail lights and the contour of the hills, I estimated the grade to be somewhere between 4 and 6 miles long. Then I regretted all my estimating because now I knew I would be grinding up this damned hill for an hour or so. And there was nothing I could do about that, except go slower, I guess. So, I put my head down, shifted into low gear, and set to grind it out.
This seemed like a good time to eat. I mean, I didn’t have shit else to do for an hour. I pulled out a Clif Bar, one of my stock riding foods. It took me a long time to open the package. Not because it was difficult, but because the thought of eating the bar was so unappetizing. I knew I needed to eat, otherwise I’d bonk again. So I opened it and nibbled a corner. I had only nibbled about ¾ of the bar by the top of the climb. I knew then that I’d need a new refueling strategy.
After crossing the pass, the road dropped into a screaming downhill, with Eagle Lake looming just to the west. Another too short downhill and I was pedaling again. The road was mostly flat along the lake, and I knew that the Grasshopper water stop was near Eagle Lake somewhere. But the lake kept going, and I kept riding, and the rest stop never appeared. It is only about 25 miles from Susanville to Grasshopper – about the distance of Davis to Vacaville, a ride I do every Friday. Twenty-five miles is nothing on a road bike. A warm up ride. But this evening, it dragged on forever.
The road started to climb away from the lake. I was wondering if I missed the stop. I mean, there is no way I could miss it; there is nothing out there. The rest stop would be the only thing with lights, sound, and people. I think I was starting to panic. And get cold. Finally, the rest stop appeared on the right. There was a Davis Bike Club rest stop sign on the road, lighted by a blinking bike tail light. What a welcome sight . . .
Grasshopper was run by the co-captain team of Lois Springsteen and Bill Bryant. Lois is the current RUSA president, and her husband Bill a past president. Bill also wrote a lot of the articles in the RUSA handbook about how to prepare for the 1200k, including the one which advised riding the 600k without sleeping. Back when I was younger and fresher – Monday – I had thought I’d give Bill an ear full about what lousy advice that was, how it almost kept me from riding the 1200k, etc. Right now I was so grateful for their help that all I really wanted to do was to hug him for just being there.
One of the real advantages of having experienced randonneurs running rest stops is that they know what you’re going through, and how to take care of you. This was supposed to be a water-only rest stop. Instead, it was better stocked than most rest stops on any ride I’ve been on. It was filled with hot food options, hot chocolate, snacks, a full selection of supplements, and like all the rest stops, a crew of people who insisted on doing everything for us.
Now that I was off the bike, I could feel the cool breeze. The temperature was probably in the mid-40s, and with the breeze, it felt like it was dropping fast. Lois gave me an army blanket to wrap up in while I ate. The only remaining clothes I had packed were my arm warmers. I had packed the rest – leg warmers, glove liners, and wool undershirt – and sent it forward to Adin, which was 37 miles away. I didn’t think it would get this cold, and in any case, thought I’d be a Adin sooner.
After eating and resting, I felt ready to go. But I wanted to warm up more first. They had a large Ryder truck with them that they used to haul the supplies up. It was empty now, so they had set up a couple of cots and a pile of blankets. It wasn’t elegant, but it was out of the wind. I crawled into the back of the truck, wrapped up in another blanket, set the alarm, and slept for 30 minutes.
When it was time to get up, I hesitated. I knew it would be cold. I knew I’d be underdressed. I had a long-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, and a vest, so I knew my core would be okay. But the arm warmers were not very thick, and my fingers and legs would be exposed. So I evaluated my options: go to Adin to get my warm clothes, go back to Susanville, stay wrapped up in a blanket in the back of a truck for 4 or 5 more hours. I decided going forward wasn’t any worse than the other options. So I rose, grabbed some more food, and as quickly as I could, dropped the blanket, got on the bike, and started pedaling.
What can I say. It was fucking freezing. My teeth started chattering immediately. I pedaled as fast as I could to generate heat. It wasn’t enough. I started a routine of rubbing my left arm with my right hand to warm both up; then right arm with left hand an equal number of strokes; then left thigh with right hand; right thigh with left hand. Rest, then start the pattern over again. I was hyperventilating, breathing hard and shallow because the air was so cold. My neck was starting to seize up because my shoulders were hunched and unmoving. Then I crossed another pass and started to go downhill, and it got colder. After that, high desert again and more cold air. Occasionally the road passed through a cut and the earth on either side warmed up the air just enough to let me relax. Then out into the open again and more cold. I was really miserable.
The road climbed up one more pass. It was harder riding, but the surrounding trees offered some protection from the cold. Three riders caught up to me. Wordlessly, I dropped into their group. They were all fully dressed. I figured I could stay behind them and get a little shelter from the wind. Once at the top of this pass, there was nothing but downhill and flat to Adin, 20-miles away. At the time, I had no idea how far it was. Normally, I’d love a downhill. This one was hell. I let the bike go, trying to keep up with the others. I imagine I was riding somewhere between 30 – 40mph most of the way. I tried to figure which was worse: the colder air from going fast, or being stuck out on the road any longer than I had to be. I chose to get to Adin as soon as I could. Warm clothes there, I thought. Blankets, cots. Shelter.
Some part of me thought it was really stupid to be going this fast in this cold weather and in this condition of less than full consciousness. I thought about crashing, lying by the side of the road, or even off the side, unconscious. I wondered how long I would last unprotected in the cold, how long it would take for someone to find me, then to get help. But the bike was rock fucking solid. It moved downhill as stable as if it had four wheels. I had the headlight on full and could see every rock, crack, and pebble in the road. It just felt safe, so I went with it.
One rider dropped off. The other two were spread out. And it was a good thing, because both were weaving badly, even crossing the centerline in places. I assumed they were avoiding bumps and holes in the road. Then one of the remaining riders started to drop back. I caught up to the lead rider and told him, as I thought those two were riding partners. He thanked me, then explained that his friend was having trouble staying awake. So he dropped back, and I was once again alone, no one to block the wind.
Somewhere in here, I saw the first rider already on his way back home.
We made it to the bottom of the hill then had a few miles of rollers yet to get to Adin. My teeth chattered all the way into town. My fingers and toes were numb. I got off the bike and got inside as soon as I could. It was now 3am. I figured most people would get going around 4am. I don’t know why I thought that; I guess it’s because that’s what time I figured I’d get going if I were on schedule. But I also wanted to miss the rush. So I set my alarm for 4:30 and found one last empty cot to rest on.
I wish I could say more about what I did here at Adin, but I really don’t remember. I just recall having to get warm and get to sleep as quickly as I could. When I awoke, just about everyone was gone. Most of them had not stopped in Susanville like I did. They had ridden here, 320 miles from the start, and about 30 hours, before sleeping. Now with four and a half hours sleep, they were rolling again. I dressed in all of my new clothes: wool shorts, wool undershirt, glove liners, wool socks under my regular riding socks, leg warmers, arm warmers, and jersey.
I switched my nutrition routine. Earlier, I was alternating bottles of electrolytes with bottles of Perpetuem. I dumped the electrolytes, switching to a pill form I also carried, and loaded two bottles of Perpetuem. At a minimum, this would at least keep me fueled up between stops. Loaded up again, reasonably well-rested, and as protected from the cold as I could be, I headed out to Alturas and the turn-around at Davis Creek.