Adin to Davis Creek to Adin

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

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in GRR 2009, 0 comments

Susanville to Adin

Freezing
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.

Next: Adin to Davis Creek and back

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in GRR 2009, 0 comments

Taylorsville to Susanville

Bonking
Mile 194.6 to Mile 254.3

I rode out of Taylorsville the same way I rode in: happy, confident, and feeling well-rested. I had not experienced falling asleep on the bike as I had in the 600k. And I felt much better at this point in the ride than on that previous one.

Genesee General Store

Genesee General Store

The road from Taylorsville starts by working its way gradually up past Genesee, an old mining town in the northeastern corner of Indian Valley. From there, it becomes another long climb along Indian Creek to Antelope Lake. There is a control at the Boulder Creek Work Center on Antelope Lake. It is just under 25 miles from Taylorsville. I expected to make it there easily. That is, until I started the climb.

Indian Creek Road starts out with a fairly steep grade. After a few miles, it levels off some, but continues to climb. The sun was riding high now, and it was warm, if not particularly hot.

I should point out here that the last Gold Rush Randonnée, held in late July 2005, was a scorcher. Riders had 100º and hotter weather every day of the ride. Compared to that, we were blessed with moderate heat. Nevertheless, something about the steepness of the ascent at the bottom caught me by surprise. The fact that the road leveled some wasn’t much help, as it still went up for some miles. I started to have that same schizophrenic experience that seems so common to me on these long rides. Indian Creek is gorgeous. It is a beautiful mountain stream, winding through small meadows, over peaceful waterfalls, through lovely forests of trees. But I couldn’t enjoy it. I could appreciate it, but that’s not the same. So, one side of my brain was expressing rapture (Look at this gorgeous stream, this beautiful mountain!), and the other was expressing frustration (Where the hell is that goddamned lake? When am I going to get there? Why is it taking so long?).

GRR route profile

GRR route profile (click for larger graphic)

It was at about this point that I realized I should have paid more attention to the route profile – the length and steepness of climbs and descents – than I did. Had I done so, I would have revised my estimated times between stops, and maybe planned a little better. In any case, I also started to notice I was having stomach issues. I had never had stomach issues on previous rides – at least, not during the ride. But I had lost my appetite for Clif bars and Clif Shots, which are my standard food. I also found that every sip of my electrolyte drink made my stomach twinge with a little pain. The only things I could take in were water and Perpetuem, a liquid complex carbohydrate formula. Not being able to eat is a bad sign.

Further up, the road steepened again. I climbed and climbed. Finally, I saw a dam. With a final push, I made it to the lake. But was the control right there? Hell no! We had to ride around the other side of fucking lake to get there. I was really starting to hate this course.

Man, was I happy when I finally made Boulder Creek. Not just for the rest, but also because my friend Jim Skeen, whom I ride with on the weekday rides, was working there. But as happy as I was to see Jim, it also made me realize that I was losing my edge. I was having trouble talking to him, and found I didn’t really have the energy to talk. I decided to lie down for a few minutes. He gave me an army blanket and I napped for about 20 minutes under the trees. I probably should have stayed longer, but it was not all that comfortable. Besides, I knew there was more climbing ahead, and I wanted to get that over with.

From Boulder Creek, the route winds up to the highest point on the course – an unmarked point at the top of Janesville Grade. It is a little over 8 miles from Boulder Creek, but in the condition I was in, distance was getting irrelevant. All I could really focus on was the steepness of the incline. I rolled along fine for a while. The road undulated, alternating quick descents with steep pitches that kept getting longer. After a while, the descents disappeared altogether, and it was all up to the top

I had started riding with a few others, and we were chatting to pass the time. One guy I talked to was Edward Robinson, a rider from Texas. He, like me, was an escapee from law practice. And like most ex-attorneys, channels his energy by committing his time elsewhere. He is president of the Lone Star Randonneurs, is their regional brevet administrator, and serves on the RUSA (Randonneurs USA) board.

At some point, we passed a couple of riders resting on the side of the road. They told us that, according to the mileage, they were sitting at the top of the hill, elevation 6340′, the highest point of the Gold Rush Randonnée. We braced for the screaming downhill sure to follow. (I don’t have any pictures of this part of the ride, which is a shame.  Check out Don Bennet’s.  He’s got some great ones.) And, yeah, the road did go downhill . . . for a little while anyway. Then uphill again. And down and up and down and up for a few more miles. I cannot convey how disappointing it is to get somewhere around mile 225 of a planned 250 mile day, expect a downhill, and be denied. It sucks.

Finally, we did reach the steep descent into Janesville on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Edward raced ahead of me. He was clearly more comfortable descending. I topped out at 42mph; I have no idea how fast he was going. At the bottom he said something very funny, I thought: I think I need a cigarette. I laughed, and appreciated the joke. But as we started rolling on flatter ground, I realized that I was shot. I could barely pedal up the rollers.

And this stretch from Janesville to Susanville is one of those obnoxious, pointless, frustrating patches of road that is just put into rides to piss you off. By everything that is right and good in the world, the control should be at the bottom of a nice long descent. You should be able to step off the bike invigorated and flushed with adrenalin. You should be backslapping one another and laughing about how you almost wiped out on the steepest curve. Instead, you still have to ride 15 miles from the town of Janesville to the control at Susanville, and like it or not, exhausted or not, you have to ride it to get there. Oh, and of course, there’s a fucking headwind. I believe I would not have made it to Susanville were it not for Edward coaxing me along. He stayed back with me when I crawled up the hills, lead me safely along Highway 395, navigated our way to the control. I told him to go on, but he said he was tired as well and didn’t mind riding slowly. His help was a gift.

I was thinking of how I’d explain the value of his help to the guys at home. Without Edward, I thought, I would have lain down by the side of the road in Janesville. Coyotes would eventually rip me apart limb by limb, then the vultures would have moved in. The riders returning home would find nothing but a bike and a skeleton off the side of the road in Janesville. But thankfully, Edward was there, so I kept rolling on.

By the time we hit Susanville, I was done. I mean done. Ready to quit the ride. I went inside the building to sign in and found it was 3:40 in the afternoon. I had been riding a little over 21.5 hours, and was only one hour and forty minutes behind my planned schedule. But that wasn’t really all that comforting at the moment. I thought about eating, and started to feel nauseous. The same thing happened to me at the end of the 600k. At the end of that ride, I leaned over to throw up and passed out in the dirt behind the Park ‘n Ride in Davis. I realized that being at a control was probably the safest place to pass out, but I wanted to avoid that scene.

I had rented a motel room just down the street. Looking around, I was really glad I had done so. The control was in a National Guard Armory. Picture an oversized gym stripped of any sports equipment, and that’s pretty much it. There was one shower, and several rows of cots right next to where people were checking in, eating, and talking. Not really a restful place. I lost sight of Edward, and in my fatigue, focused on just one thing: getting to my room before I got sick. I found my drop bag, strapped it on my back, and rode back down the street to the hotel.

I had a hell of a time checking in. The receptionist was spewing information at me and asking questions. It was all I could do to nod or grunt. I got into the room, took off my shoes, set my alarm for two hours, and went to bed.

This, dear reader, is what we cyclists call bonking. I have read about bonking, of course, and have seen it in others. The first time I saw it was on my first century – Foxy’s Fall century in 2006. I had talked my friend Mark Stout into riding it with me. After all, he’s the one who got me started cycling, loaned me his carbon Team Postal Trek, took me on my first ride. Mark is a natural athlete. He can do any sport better, faster, longer, and more gracefully than I. I thought Foxy’s would be a breeze for him. And sure enough, I chased his ass for 70 miles. It beat the crap out of me to keep up with him. But he bonked. He wasn’t able to eat enough to sustain his energy, and he limped home for the last 30 miles – the easiest, flattest part of the course. He didn’t smile, didn’t talk, and didn’t look anywhere but down or straight ahead. I had never seen him like that and I couldn’t understand what could make him feel that bad.

Lying in that bed in Susanville, I finally understood. Bonking isn’t getting tired. It’s losing everything. It feels as if something reached down out of the sky and grabbed your soul and ripped it out of your body. You have no energy, no will. You are done. Lying there in Susanville, air conditioning blowing away, I started to plan my way back to Davis. The problem was, there was no easy way to get back. No way could I ride up Janesville Grade. Maybe Greyhound? But then I’d have to pack the bike. Maybe Rick would come get me. Of course he would. But I didn’t want to ask.

I thought about going forward, but the prospect was bleak. There is a 7-mile, very exposed climb to Antelope Summit just to get out of Susanville, and that didn’t seem possible at the time. So instead of planning my return home, I tried to gauge how crappy I would feel if I gave up then. Surprisingly – or not surprisingly, perhaps – I didn’t think I’d feel crappy about it at all. It was sounding very sensible to me.

My alarm went off at 7pm. I lay still for a few minutes and took inventory. Incredibly, I thought I could move. So I tried. I could! I sat up very slowly. No headache, no real stiffness. I recalled reading over and over again how people get over bonking. Some rest, some food, some time, and they’re good to go again. I was starting to believe it might be true. I took a shower then changed into a t-shirt and shorts I had packed. I walked across the parking lot to the Black Bear Diner. All of Susanville decided to go to the Black Bear that night. I sat at the counter and it took 15 minutes to get a glass of water and another 20 to get my dinner. While I waited for dinner to be served, I posted a poem on Twitter that had been rattling around in my head. A haiku by Issa.

Katatsumuri
Fuji san o noboru
Soro soro de

Oh, Snail
Climb Mt. Fuji
But slowly, slowly

I posted it because it was a sort of mantra for the day. Also, my ability to do so was a sign to me that I was regaining lucidity. It was, finally, a sign to my wife, Lisa, who was following my progress via Twitter, that I was doing okay.

Finally, my dinner arrived. It was about the only thing without meat on the entire menu: some sort of tostada which was really shredded lettuce with tomatoes and cheddar cheese on some oversized deep fried piece of batter designed to look like . . . hell, I don ‘t know what. I just remember it was a big ugly piece of shit, so I dumped the salad onto my plate and moved the shell to the counter and chowed down.

And goddamn if they weren’t right! A little rest, sleep, and food, and you could get over bonking. I could feel the cloud lifting as I ate my salad. I finished the entire thing – something I could never do under normal circumstances – then went back to my room. I changed into new cycling clothes I had packed, double-checked all the items I had to do on my Outbound Checklist, and headed back to the Armory to check out. By the time I was rolling again, it was 8:30pm, just under 5 hours from when I had rolled in. Incredibly, I was only 30 minutes behind where I expected to be at this point.

I still can’t completely understand how I pulled out of bonking. I mean, I’ve read about it, and I know it’s a temporary condition. But at the time, it was so devastating that I couldn’t imagine feeling well enough to go outside, let alone consider riding another 250 miles before sleeping again. The RUSA guidebook says you need an “unwavering determination” to finish the ride to get over obstacles like this. Maybe. In my case, I think it was more of a flexibility: a willingness to let the ride go if necessary. An ability to wait and see how things developed rather than forcing myself to go on.

At least, that was true in Susanville on the outbound leg. A little later that same night, I did have to force myself to go on. But that was a different situation entirely. Had I known what the rest of the ride to Adin would be like, I may well have quit at Susanville.

Next: Susanville to Adin

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in GRR 2009, 0 comments