600k Brevet Redux
Mile 654.8 to Mile 745.7
The ride south from Oroville started out nice. The temperature was warm and pleasant, the roads easy. Again, I felt energized by the long stop.
Mario was being extra cautious not to get in front and pull me. We had made an unspoken agreement that we would play by the rules, even if the fact that we were playing at all violated them. A lot of cycling involves nonverbal communication. It’s one of the rewarding things about the sport. The ability to read another rider’s movements and posture is key to safety when you’re not riding alone. Mario was making it very clear that we were riding together on separate rides. I really appreciated that sensitivity on his part.
But even as we were rolling through horse country on this lovely evening, I felt a creeping sense of dread. This was exactly like the 600k. Mario and I had left Oroville about the same time, the temperature was similar, and it was just the two of us. Later, the miles seemed to get longer and longer, the headwind strengthened and chilled. We had to drag ourselves to the finish. It was this stretch on the 600k, more than any other, that made me reconsider riding the 1200k.
I mean, it’s hard to complain about 90 miles of flat roads. You can’t really ask for an easier way to finish off a long ride, even with a headwind. On the other hand, that 90 miles starts to feel like punishment, like the last 15 or so into Susanville, only worse. Longer and more desolate. It seems like there is no point to it, nothing gained, nothing to see, nothing of any interest whatsoever, no good place to take a break. There is nothing between you and the finish but road and time, and the only thing that will get you through is sheer stubbornness.
For the moment though, as I said, things were fine. Not far outside Gridley we crossed an intersection at the same time as John Hess, who was returning from his stint in Taylorsville. It was a funny chance encounter, so we pulled over and hung out for a few minutes. Once in Gridley, I kept my promise to myself from three days earlier and stopped at Taco Bell to get a 7-Layer burrito. Tasted like crap, but all things considered, the calories probably did me some good.
After that it was dark, and we still had seventy-something miles to go. Now was the time to buckle down and count off the miles. But miles don’t count off so easily at this point in a long ride. Every mile is a struggle. My three points of contact with the bike – hands, feet, and butt – were all sore as hell. I kept swiveling my feet in and out to change the point of pressure on my pedals. I had to move my arm position every few seconds to change the pressure point on my hands and the point of tension in my arms. And every few minutes I had to stop pedaling altogether and just stand to give my butt relief. The ride went on like this, mile after tedious mile.
The Sutter Buttes appeared ahead of us, moved alongside, and dropped behind. I barely registered their presence but to mark that we were that much closer to Sutterville, the next stop on the itinerary. I was cognizant of the outline of the buttes, the slowly fading orange and deepening blue. But I was far past appreciating any sense of beauty around me.
Sutterville was a receipt control, which meant I had to buy something at the local 24-hour mini-mart to prove I was there. I bought some water and a few minutes later we were moving again. (Here is a picture of riders outside the Sutterville mini-mart from Jun Sato.) Not far past Sutterville, I started to get chilled. I pulled over to put a vest on. A few hundred yards later, I stopped again to add arm and leg warmers and glove liners.
And that was about it for distractions. Nothing left but to put my head down and pedal. And you might as well ride with your head down because there’s not a goddamned thing to see out there. Lights up ahead don’t get closer. The scenery to the sides never seems to change. I was riding along looking for a street sign that I knew was ten miles down the road, but I was looking anyway because I was so desperate for something, anything to break the monotony and the pain.
I don’t think I can convey adequately just how tortuously boring and physically painful the ride was between Gridley and Davis. I’m trying here, but I don’t know. It’s something you have to experience to really understand. I was thinking again about the bike, and whether it was taking care of me. It certainly was. I doubt if any human feels comfortable on a bike after three and a half days of riding. But I could propel this bike into the wind with very little effort. Maybe it was just my slow speed. But I felt like my legs were turning with no apparent strain on my thighs, and I was very grateful for that just then.
At some point, we saw tail lights ahead. One mile? Two? Impossible to tell. Sometime later, they were traveling perpendicular to our path, so we knew the turn was near . . . relatively speaking. We finally made it. Three miles down the road there was another secret control. (Here is a picture of the secret control by Jun Sato.) This one was staffed by randonnée veteran Amy Rafferty, along with John Whitehead and another volunteer. (At this point in the ride, I wasn’t doing really well with names.)
Once off the bike, I felt how cold the wind really was. I ate while wrapped in a blanket, then used the port-o-potty as shelter while I put on my wool under shirt. Fucking mosquitoes were biting me too, adding insult to injury, as it were. Who ever heard of mosquitoes in the middle of the night flying around in a stiff, cold wind and biting people anyway? Mutant bastards. I wrapped up in a blanket and sat in a chair and chugged one last cup of coffee. This should have been a welcome break, but between the cold wind and the biting bugs, we got moving a lot sooner than I wanted.
We had arrived at 12:40am, and were rolling again by 1:20. At this point in the ride, it was impossible not to think about the end. You’re only supposed to think in segments, but that was impossible for me. I knew it was 12 miles down the levee road, 10 more to Woodland, and 8 more from there to the finish. Easy distances, all adding up to less mileage than my shortest weekday ride. It was still a very difficult ride. I had no idea how fast we were riding, but I knew that at an absolute minimum it would take two hours to cross that distance, and probably much more. I found that very frustrating, so I pushed as hard as I could for as long as I could after the secret control. I even surprised Mario. But it didn’t last long. I was soon back to shifting feet and hands, standing every minute or so and coasting practically to a stop, then starting the same routine all over again.
Dear reader, take my advice: don’t ever do this to yourself. Don’t do any ride that makes you this tired and this sore. Trust me, it really sucks.
We made it off the levee road and into Knights Landing. I could see the lights of Woodland from the south end of town, and a stream of smoke from a factory that confirmed what I already knew: the wind was blowing steadily from the southeast. I looked at those lights and that smoke for over an hour. They didn’t get any closer until the very last mile. Then they loomed up and disappeared behind me.
Did I mention that neither Mario nor I had said more than a dozen words while riding since Sutterville? He had to be wondering why he did this to himself again. I know I was cursing myself for thinking it would be easier the second time.
The last bit of road, from Woodland to Davis, passed more quickly because there were cross-streets, signals, big box stores, tract home developments, farms, ranches, and finally, the turnoff to the county dump to act as mileage markers. We turned onto County Road 29, the second to last turn for the ride. Mario finally had enough and took off like a shot. I didn’t see him again until the finish. Left turn down F Street. One mile to go. F Street runs off the grid, and rather than running north/south, runs southeast/northwest. Goddammit! I yelled. Do I really need to ride head on into this fucking wind for the last fucking mile of this goddamned ride? Is this really fucking necessary? Apparently, it was.
So I toughed it out, turned right on Anderson, then took a quick left into the Tandem Properties parking lot. And just like that, the ride was done.
Barbara Anderson was working the check in. Her face lit up when she saw me and she jumped up and hugged me as if I had just returned from the dead. It was now 3:48am. My projected best finish time was midnight; my outside time to finish safely (leaving time for unforeseen delays) was 6am. I was comfortably in the middle of that period. More importantly, I was done. (Here is a picture of me taken at the finish by Don Bennett.)
And now I had my answers for the guys: Yes I finished; it took just under 82 hours; and no, I didn’t walk up Janesville Grade. And goddamn if I’m ever going to do anything like that again.