Monday, September 26, 2005

Pedal On For Miles....

It is not my intention to make a bunch of tiny blogs, but for various reasons the place where I was writing previously stopped being conducive. Having no way to save, I had to post. So…where was I?

I got up with the sun on Saturday morning—you don’t need an alarm clock when you are sleeping out. I went in search of the porta-potties because there were way to many folks camped everywhere for a more natural approach to leakin’ the lizard. I encountered a lycra-clad, clippy-shoe’d cyclist standing in line and inquired when the century riders were leaving. "Right about now, I’m pretty sure," she said. It was 6:15 in the a.m. I got a little unnerved—had my "to century or not to century?" decision already been made for me? I had expected to choose whether to ride the 75 or 100 mile course at the 48 mile mark during lunch. Somewhat panicked, I suited up, hit the albuterol inhaler, threw stuff in the truck and locked the door, ate a quick bagel and orange juice and coffee and a banana and a muffin and a boiled egg, then pinned my number to my saddle bag, inflated my tires to 120 psi, and rolled out at 7 o’clock.
It was cold! I was really glad that I had bought warm full finger gloves at REI, and that I had taken a pair of used knee warmers from Connie at my local shop, Tour of Nevada City. (I owe Connie ten bucks!) My toes went totally numb pretty quickly, but I was otherwise o.k. Spinning easy and light, I checked in with myself: Wrists hurt? Check. Back stiff? Check. Left knee hurts in the knee pit? Check. Cold air making bronchial rasp? Check. I was good to roll, or as good as I get, anyway. It wasn’t until I was trying to signal turns that I realized that my left deltoid had been totaled by Thurday’s hepatitis vaccinations—Oowwww! The Center for Disease Control recommends Hep A and B as well as tetanus for disaster relief workers. I hope that I made the right decision by getting them. County Health is waiving the cost of the vaccines for Red Cross volunteers--decent of them, for sure!
At first, the twenty-five milers, fifties, seventy-fivers and centurions are all riding together. Later in the day I could distinguish some of the riders with more common sense from the centurions. With few exceptions, anyone riding a bike that didn’t have drop bars wasn’t a century rider. Anyone with a rack on their bike, not a centurion. Anyone spinning less than an 80 rpm cadence, except on crazy steep hills was probably riding the 25 or 50 mile course, and while I think that men and women were relatively evenly represented in the ride as a whole, the century riders were definitely more men than women, since poor sense is clearly a strong prerequisite.
The first miles were easy and fun. Riding in the foothills of the Sierra as I do, I joke that I am either going downhill at 40mph, or uphill at 5. It was fun to tank along on the flat and rolling terrain somewhere in between those two speeds. Uncle Dale’s sage advice was with me—it is good to get a muscle burn on a workout ride, but on a century,if your legs are burning, you need to downshift and take it easy. Hal from the bike shop also had some wisdom for doing century rides—"Ride fast. Get it over with." I was balancing between these two bits of advice.
Either grapes or apples are rotting in Sonoma County at this time of year. There was a wonderful funk of rotting compost in the crisp air. The day was perfectly clear. Several times ravens croaked and clucked me on during the day, seemingly amused by the antics of the humans. Roads were mostly smooth, with shoulders, courteous traffic, and a clearly marked route. Rest stops were pretty frequent—some had food, some food and a mechanic, some just water. I skipped all water stops, having my two liter Camelbak on me, and a water bottle on the frame full of Accelerade, which tasted awful, but may have helped.

Since I had broken a spoke the previous day, I was a little nervous about the wheels on the "Arby," as I call my Bridgestone RB-1. (My Bridgestone MB-3 is called the "Imby.") Hal had given me the wheels two weeks before from his parts pile. The front one needed bearings and cones, so I rebuilt the hub and mounted up some 700X23 Vredestein tires that I groundscored from a sidewalk pile of stuff in my dad's neighborhood. I have never had such light wheels. My previous hoops for the Arby were 36 spoke Mavic rims laced to chunky Shimano Tiagra hubs running 700X28 wire bead Panaracer Paselas with Tourguard--not exactly high-performance, but definitely stout. I usually go this way--BMW touring motorcycle instead of Honda sport bike, Wesco boots instead of Merrel moccasins, Filson waxed cotton instead of North Face breathable "shell," etc. Of course, as light and fast and beautiful as I think the Arby is, with a triple crank, Brooks saddle, bell, Carradice saddle bag, full size frame pump, and all lugged steel construction, she's an antique pig at 24 pounds, compared to the 17 pound carbon fibre wonders she rode with all day. "Steel is Real" I called out to the other riders on lugged steel bikes, who were few and far between. One woman had a hand-brazed trek with cantilevers, another a beautiful Motobecane. One of the century riders was a burly man on an old Peugeot PX-10 with no front brake--his carbon fibre bike had broken at the bottom bracket the week before, so he'd lubed up the chain on the old PX--and finished just fine, thank you. The bicycle is such a marvelously efficient machine, that even a classic ride like mine is a miracle in motion.

Now, I live in a rural county. I ride in a rural county. And I see road kill. You see way more road kill on a bicycle than in a car because you are going slower and not in a box looking out the windows. Also, you really need to be aware of roadkill, because a big old slimy racoon on the shoulder in a fast decent can ruin your whole ride. In fact, I have become so vigilant that I often smell the sickly sweet scent of rotting flesh before I see the hapless critter that had its life obliterated by a hurtling juggernaut of steel, glass and plastic. Despite previouse experience, I was amazed at how much road kill I saw on Saturday. Sonoma County is hard on wildlife--fox, deer, 'possum, raccoon, squirrel, snake, lizard, cats, dogs, and birds all done to death by the ruthless automobile. Next year, I am bringing one of those hand held counters that they use at rock concerts to see how many folks came. I will affix it to my handlbar, and press the plunger everytime I see a road kill. My bet is that there is easily twice as many dead animals on that route as there are miles in it. The best roadkill was a snake that had eaten a large rodent of some sort. The whole thing had broken open, and told a story of a slow moving reptile full of gopher that couldn't get out of the way of the Hummer...
The rules of the ride suggested that you should announce yourself when passing. I have a bicycle bell on my Bridgestone which rings every time I hit good bump, and I wheeze pretty audibly despite my asthma medication, so I didn’t expect that I would sneak up on too many people, but I would say "on your left" when I approached a slower moving rider, so as not to startle anyone. Many riders passed me throughout the day without extending this courtesy, and it was disconcerting to suddenly have someone alongside--what if I suddenly swerved to avoid a dead ostritch in the road? Bombing along on Highway One, I reeled in a small rider in lavender, and was passing her on a hill overlooking the ocean. Instead of the customary "Left!" I said, "Some people do not live in California. What must they be thinking?" My fellow rider said, "It sure is beautiful, isn’t it?" As I pulled around, I said, "Couldn’t have a better day for a bicycle ride." I stood up to crest the hill, and kept on riding.
At the next stop, mile 35.5, as I sat eating hot vegetable soup and wondering if I would ever feel my toes again, I met Sue, the rider I had passed. We watched the Pacific play with rocks and sand. We talked a little. She also had numb toes, was riding solo, had never done the multiple sclerosis ride before, had never tried a century, and was going to decide whether to attempt it or not over lunch at mile 48.2. I took off my wool zip neck (but not the knee warmers!), ate a couple of Aussie Bites, and rolled out. (Aussie Bites, by the way, are food of the Gods for athletic endeavors. I found out from a seven-year-old on Sunday that they can be had in huge quantities from Costco. I have no idea about the ingredients.)
At lunch, I was still feeling fine. My toes were back, the air was warmer and less rasp-producing, my hands and wrists hadn’t gotten any worse, and my only worry was that except for my wake up pee, and a kind of puny pee at the lunch rest stop, I didn’t seem to be overly hydrated, despite having emptied my two-litre Camelbak. I had just gotten my plate of I-won’t-bore-you-with-the-list but John Helding would be proud, when Sue sat down next to me. We chatted, along with some other folks who were riding the seventy-five. Sue is an occupational therapist, lives in Berkeley, doesn’t wear lycra from head to toe, but more normal looking athletic togs, except for shoes and helmet—even fashion sunglasses, rather than Spacemann Spiff thermonuclear protection glasses. I was polishing of my banana when she asked casually, "So, have you decided which way you are going?" She gestured with a bagel towards the blue seventy-five mile sign which had an arrow pointing left towards Santa Rosa and ride’s end, and then towards the orange century sign, which pointed right, towards points unknown.
"I figured out about five miles ago that you can’t decide rationally whether to do a seventy-five or one-hundred mile ride," I said. "It is like a lot of other great things that people do that common sense would keep them from doing if they thought too much about it—having children, for instance, or getting married. Pursuing a career in the arts comes to mind, as does volunteering to do disaster relief. I’m going down that century road, and if I SAG out, so be it."
"That’s what I decided too," Sue said.
We munched contemplatively.
"You want to ride together?" I asked.
"That would be great," she said.
We finished eating, mounted up, and headed out.
My legs felt like lead. Really rubbery, dead, heavy, slow. I was instantly doubting my judgement on choosing the century road. Would they pump out and feel better? I have sometimes joked that my bicycle is "toothpick" powered because my legs are so skinny, but usually they feel like pretty lively toothpicks. Now they were just dead wood.

We rolled past a road sign showing a picture of a cow. If your olfactory system is working, you don't need no sign! We saw some cute little jersey cows, and went past the Strauss Family Dairy. Sue said, "Looking at these cows I can believe those milk ads about happy California cows. What's not to be happy about?"

"Well..." I said.

"O.K., O.K., A cow's life isn't all clover,"she acknowledged. "Still, it's a lot better than those feed lots on I5."

No argument there.

No improvement in my thighs, either. And then, THE HILL. Century riders being century riders, they had asked for more challenge on their route from previous years. The answer to this on the part of the event organizers was THE HILL. We hit this incline just a few miles after lunch. Sue asked me why I was riding for multiple sclerosis. I told her the whole story:

"When I was still in graduate school, a childhood Quaker friend of mine got in touch with me after we hadn't seen much of each other in quite a while. She and her woman partner were looking for a sperm donor who could help them to realize their dream of having a child. Because bothe women are people of color, they didn't want a white donor, which shortened thier list of potentials a bit. I was surprised and flattered to be asked--it is really something when a woman who isn't in love with you wants to have your baby!"

I was getting out of breath on the hill, but still on the middle chain ring, spinning a decent cadence, and feeling somewhat optimistic. Legs still felt like they were stuffed full of teddy bear cotton instead of muscle and blood, though. Other centurions were going past us.

"Don't let me hold you up on this hill," I told Sue. "I'm a terrible climber."

"You're not holding me up at all," Sue said graciously. She didn't seem to be breathing hard, or sweating perceptibly, however.

"Slow and steady wins the race," I said, sweat dripping off my beard onto the dusty tops of my shoes. Sue reached out and we touched palms in a solidarity high-five.

"So, I told them that I would think about the whole donor thing," I continued. "I didn't think about it with the front of my brain at first. I just let it percolate in my subconscious. When Andrea got hold of me a while later, what I knew was that I didn't have any stop to it, as Quakers say, but I wasn't clear to proceed really either. We agreed to get together and have a meal."

"That is so great that you considered it," Sue said.

"Well, I was adopted myself, and I think that the experience gives one a somewhat malleable sense of family. You know, family is who you decide it is..."

"So...?" Sue prompted. I was running out of breath, and still couldn't see the top of the hill. Lycra-clad riders on carbon-fiber bikes were passing us regularly now. With only double cranks, they couldn't get a low enough gear to sit and spin up the hill--they had to stand and 'honk' up, at a much greater pace.

"So, we ate together, I asked every question I could think of, and it just seemed so clear after that. I have an eighteen month old biological daughter named Imani Joy, and her grandmother had multiple sclerosis, and the family does this event every year, the People in Purple team, and so this is my first year, and I'm not sure that I'm going to make it up this hill. You'd better go on ahead." I finished the story ubruptly, gasping.

Sue pedalled on, the way other bicyclists do on hills, in a lower gear, but still going. I shifted to the tiny ring, biggest cog on the rear cassette, vowed not to walk, and hoped not to throw up. It was a long hill, with guys with legs like boulders passing me the whole way. Sue's lavender jersey disappeared in the distance, which I really appreciated--I didn't want to slow her down, and I didn't want her pity either. After two false summits, I coasted down the other side, catching my breath, drinking water, appreciating the cool breeze made by speed. At least my legs didn't feel like lead anymore--they were on fire!

I caught up with Sue, we talked about her life, a cat, a beau, a trip to Singapore coming up. We had miles of stiff headwind, two more hills, but not as bad as THE HILL, Sue's knee started to hurt. At the 89 mile rest stop we both ate some ibuprofen and some more Aussie Bites, rested for longer than usual and got back on the bikes for the last 11 miles, which were fast, no wind, easy. Sue's knee didn't slow her down so's you'd notice. We rejoined the fifties and the twenty-five milers, and somewhat enjoyed calling "Left side!" as we tanked past slower riders on our century quest. As we rolled onto the event grounds, we were cheered in, and felt pretty grand. One Hundred miles by bicycle! No need to fear lesser mileages ever again! We hadn't SAGGED out. The moral support was critical, we agreed--all along the route we had encouraged one another. We had a Fat Tire ale ("Bicycle Beer," I called it). We found the Hartsough clan: Chester, Tala, Lena, Carter, Andrea, and the beautiful Imani Joy in the shade picnicing on the lawn, and I introduced Sue to everyone, and the ride was over. It was glorious. I ate and ate and ate and went to bed at eight at the same time as Imani. Slept like the dead. Would I be able to ride the next day?

12 Comments:

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5:40 PM, September 26, 2005  
Blogger timschon said...

Carl-
Don't be discouraged by lack of comments here. As "Marek" (whom I suspect is a spammer and not a real person) says, you do have a great blog started here.
Sounds like your bike ride was one of those "epic days" that only come around once in a while.
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10:45 AM, September 27, 2005  
Blogger Rebecca Sullivan said...

Way to go Carl.
hope that you have a fun time.
sounds like the ride went will and that you had fun.

7:28 PM, September 27, 2005  
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