Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dark was the night, cold was the ground

Well, I missed El Tour (couldn't afford it frankly) and I hadn't been on a good bike ride in a long time. Combine this with training for a marathon which was going to goof up my chances at a brevet season next spring and I was pretty desperate for a ride. So, at the recomendation of a friend (I think it was Bruce) I decided that the time had come to spend some time with my old lady (the roadbike that I started this whole Randonneuring thing on). So, not having ridden my roadbike any farther than 60 miles in the last 3 years I showed up to ride a double century. Maybe I was crazy (in all fairness I had been commuting on it daily for 6-7 months though over a 25 mile commute), or maybe I was just desperate for a ride, either way I decided to do it.
All in all it was a good ride. I even think I was warm once or twice on it. I actually was dressed head to toe warm compared to some of the other riders, with my helmet cover, balaclava, windstopper jacket, longsleeve dayglow jersey, bibs and tights (not to mention fleece gloves with a windproof mitten shell).
I knew there was trouble when I walked out of my house in the morning and discovered I had to scrape my windshield as it had a layer of ice on it. Hmmm, must mean it is cold outside. Alas, I didn't have a scraper, so being the lazy guy I am I turned on the windshield wipers, the defroster and trusted to the deserted streets of 4:30 am Mesa as I drove down the street looking through a 3 inch wide hole of defrosted windshield. By the time I got out of the neighborhood it was fine.
Down at the alley I determined that I was glad that I had listened to my wife and worn my tights (over my bibs of course but that little problem comes into our story a little later). Even with all the gear I brought I was still a bit chilly. I figured that was good though as you don't want to start warm or you will be hot after a warm up. After gettin my stuff ready I kept waiting for other people to show up but alas, it was only to be four men and a lady to sieze the day.
After the quick preride talk, and a little chatting among the people at the start we were off. We slowly made our way across Casa Grande. I was actually happy it was slow as I have not been training for long distance riding since the 600k in April. My goals for the day were to spin easy, and finish. I noticed a few riders up front had obstructed taillights (and Susan did too as they had to readjust their taillights further down the road). The group dropped me on Trekkel and I figured that was fine. With so few riders I figured I would be riding solo most of the day anyway. It was amusing after turning on Cox to be out front as the other 3 were stopped to adjust taillights. They soon passed me again though. It was amusing to hear those old roosters on woodruff crowing as we slid around the mountain before the community college. This time though, dawn was just starting to break so it made sense for them to be letting loose. Around this time my lights started to go flaky on the bumps. I figured it must be the jarring and found some cotton by the side of the road to cushion it when I needed them that evening as it was already light out at that point (Jarring wasn't the problem though but I will get into that later).
Heading across the farmland to Coolidge my thumbtips were freezing. I figured that was a lot better than having frozen hands though and figured my glove system was suitable. Besides with the sun coming up it should warm up soon.
Leaving Coolidge we would have our first introduction to the headwinds of the day. It would get pretty windy during the day, quite a bit more than the weatherman forecasted I think as a few times it was easily up to 20 mph. Besides, when you are just as cold climbing a hill as you are descending, you know there is some wind chill going on. Between Coolidge and the Tom Mix Control I slowly started shedding layers. When it was time for the jacket to come off I bemoaned the fact I had forgotten my ankle reflectors as I had planned to use those to strap my jacket to the back of my brooks using the little d rings it has on it. So, I stuffed it into my jersey pocket (making me look like a deformed camel) and carried on until I remembered my jacket stuffed into it's own little pocket, which as luck would have it, had two handy velcro straps on it (this was also the time I discovered my ankle straps in the pocket of the jacket DOH!)!
Dave Lehnen and Mark Goldentyer were still at the Tom Mix control when I got there. I figured I wasn't going to stop very long at any of the stops to save time since I was just spinning and taking it slow anyway. I did start my days diet of brownies though. One definite perk of riding continuosly all day is guilt free brownies.
My humorous moment of the day (hmmm, it really kind of gained it's humor later on I confess) happened down the road aways when I realized I had to go, and it wasn't the easy one (at least I had thought to pack toilet paper this time though). This is where the bib thing was a real pain. So here is the situation. I am on the side of the road, there are desert trees/bushes but they don't really hide everything. I am sure if some of those cars had been looking in the right direction they would have seen something unpleasant over in the bushes (rare desert sasquatch siting maybe?). Anyway, bibs mean that you have to almost completely undress to do your business. So, I dropped my jersey on the ground next to me right into a patch of Cholla cactus (I later realized after finishing, but before trying to put said jersey back on). So with the wind howling, and standing in my bib/tights in the desert I slowly picked every last bit of cactus spines out of my jersey. After finding my sunglasses again I was off.

Nearing the top of the climb (which had been a bit tedious thanks to the winds) I was again stopped but by a group of people needing directions (don't ya know if a guy is bicycling he must know everything about the area). They were Mexican and were looking for the Eloy correctional facility. This was kind of funny as they were from California and had a mapquest printout but it was amazing to see how far off they were. So trying to give good directions across a pretty strong language barrier(one of these days I am going to study spanish in ernest) I think I gave good directions to them. Although on second thought, perhaps I should have told them to follow me as I would be passing that very facility in about 12 hours.
Descending the otherside of the hill down to Oracle junction I was pleased to find out I didn't need to stop and put any extra layers on as it wasn't anymore cold going down as it was going up since the wind was about the same. Turning onto Oracle road was like turning on the afterburners and I was coasting at 25mph for a lot of the way down to Rancho Vistoso (which is good as my average speed was really low at the time).
Susan informed me that the other guys had left just a little before me when I arrived. I didn't spend long at this stop and just filled my bottles up and downed a brownie or two (oops and a banana, figured I'd be healthy). This was the time when the wind started to shift around. I liked this new section of the route though as it was pretty much the last section of the Tour De Tucson route which I had ridden several times. I discovered going down Tangerine that my neck was getting sore when I was in the aero bars. I did manage to stay in them down to the bottom of Tangerine though and so was able to watch my average speed climb a bit.
Heading by the cement plant I spoted a cyclist up ahead, he had some massive panniers on the back and a nice coat on so I figured he must be a tourer. Finding it oddly appropriate for a "fast tourer"(ala Randonneur) to meet a "normal tourer" out on the road I pulled up alongside of him and talked for a bit (besides, it is not like I had a lot of companionship through the day anyway). He was from Washington and was riding from Lake Pleasant down through Tucson. He was of the opinion that it was cold too so I didn't feel like such a wussy (I had been cold all day despite my tights and long sleeve jersey). We chatted a little bit and then I had to peel off to do the trip around rattlesnake pass onto silverbell. The roads through the pass were just as rough as I remembered them, but then again the scenery was just as beautiful so it worked out.
I am pretty sure I had a tailwind heading down silverbell as it went by quickly and I was actually, warm for once! I would stay warm heading up into Gates Pass.

Gates Pass. It was for this that I had been spinning easy all day. I knew it took a lot of energy and leg strength to get over it and I was pleased to see that when I got to gates pass, despite not having ridden this far on the roadbike in years, it was not too bad. In fact, it was a lot easier on the roadbike than the recumbent (I knew this though, as the first time I climbed this was on the very first 300k when Arizona had it's innaugural brevet season. In any hase I climbed it and had not completely destroyed my legs in the process (not that they were anywhere near fast during the day but at least I didn't feel bonked for the next hour or two as I had in years past). I had my top speed of the day here hitting 40 on my way down.

Around the corner on kinney road Susan was waiting with a truckfull of food and this was the lunch stop (well, maybe Linner as it was 4:30, hey I told you I wasn't riding fast. I figured this wasn't too bad considering I hadn't even trained for this). Being a little tight on funds as of late I had resolved to eat as much of Susan's food as possible this go round as opposed to stopping at stores. I must say that the wraps tasted mighty good and I took one for my jersey pocket to eat later as well. I didn't stop at lunch too long either as I knew it was going to be a late night, a little later than I expected even.

So, bidding Susan adieu until Casa Grande (Oh my, is it really 74 miles away?) I was off to finish the climbing for the day in the next few miles through Saguaro National Monument. Fair readers, I must tell you that the wolf did not appear to be on the haunt today. Perhaps the cold had kept him in. In any case I did not see him, I do know that I was cold and I was wearing a long sleeve jersey so knowing the wolfs tendency to not wear tops I figure he was haunting or roaming inside today.

Cruising through Picture Rocks I was happy to be in the 17 -20 mph hour range, unfortunately that would be the last I would be up there for the rest of the day. The winds were playing their havoc once again and were keeping my speed down. I was at this time well into a ride which I had not necessarily prepared adequately for and my speed reflected that. I had the endurance to keep pressing on, just not very fast. It was in here that I discovered my problems with my lights was a little worse than I thought.

My superbright homebrew LED light had a severed wire which I managed to finagle back together but it would flicker for the rest of the night. My faithful Catey el500 which was my backup light and had served me faithfull come hell and highwater was flickering on the point of uselessness as well. So, the evening was foreshadowed in a bit of an ominous way. I figured I had my cell phone though so if worst came to worst I could call Susan the "Wonder RBA" who is always ready to help poor Randonneurs in distress. I also took this opportunity to take off the sunglasses and put the jacket back on figuring it would be more than adequate for the temperate night time temperatures. Ha ha.

I didn't really start to get cold until I was at the store in Marana. I bought a strawberry milk and Something else to eat I can't remember. I started to shiver as I gave my lights one last try to make them work a little more reliably. I figured I would stop at the picacho peak gas station and stuff some newspaper in my jacket if I got too cold (idea I read in Bruces first 600k ride report). I looked forward to that newspaper all the way down the frontage road because I was freezing. This was pretty much my lowpoint in the ride. I was going slow, I was cold, and the wind was blowing pretty hard. Time seemed to slow down. I could see the powerplant in the distance but it never got closer, as did the radio tower near picacho peak after I had passed the plant. Eventually, freezing and full of hope I pulled in to find the gas station closed. There were some credit card application on the pumps but I didn't think those would work so well, so, off into the night I went figuring there would be something at La Palma where I would need to stock up on food.

It was another cold long haul to La Palma with the exception of a few warm spots on the way north into La Palma. I regret not stopping at the gas station in the town of Picacho (Eloy jr.) where we turn north.

La Palma historically is my favorite stop. It is a nice place for a tired randonneur to sit down for a bit and pause before taking that last ride into Casa Grande. I knew of course that it would be too cold to sit outside and contemplate life the univers and everything, but I had rather hoped to buy a chocolate milk and warm up temporarily before heading out on the last leg. Fair readers, I must tell you it was quite a blow to not see the bright streetlight shining over the dirt parking lot of the La Palma market, and more distressing was to see the building lieing in shadows without a soul in sight and the wind blowing tumbleweeds across the desolate landscape (ok, so it was missing the tumbleweeds but you get the picture). It was at this time that I decided the ride report would have it's current name as this piece by the reverend Blind Willie Johnson had pretty much captured that feeling in the song of the same name (which, even more appropriately is flying out into the outer reaches of the solar system, in COLD dark space on a gold record on the Voyager spacecraft). So, feeling a bit glad I had snarfed that poptart I had stuffed in my pocket earlier in the day and hoping that my water would hold out, I steered my Old Lady towards Casa Grande.

I pedaled in the dark with a flickering light (it had been flickering for many hours now). Time was no longer a continuum but seemed to be slowing further and only the thought of being so near the end made things more bearable. Somewhere in here I saw a pretty impressive shooting star. My spirits started to perk up after passing 11 mile corner seeing a sign that said 6 miles to the I-10 interchange (which is really the end of the ride for me mentally as the cruising through town stuff is pretty much just a victory lap). Six miles, I can ride six miles. Even if I am completely blown out I can ride six miles. I can ride six miles really cold even. Time started to speed up again. I could see the new shopping center on this side of the freeway in the distance and it was a while before it started to appear bigger but who cared, That was the end! This ride would be in the bag. I was now happy that I pressed on and didn't call Susan from Picacho with some kind of stupid excuse about hypothermia and crappy lights. I had the ride in the bag. Despite all that I didn't have going for me I was done. All that was left was to go wake up Susan and turn my car heater on. Susan must have seen me come into the parking lot as she got up and signed my card (last time we came in this late we knocked on her window and startled her).

On the way home at the first sign of mental fatigue I pulled into a shopping center and nodded off for an hour and a half before getting home.

Post Mortem- good ride, would have been easier with more training but hey, it worked. I think I need to raise my handlebars up a bit if I am going to keep doing this on the road bike. I also think that it was good of me to have a little extra food and water on hand seeing as the Marana to Picacho without services leg turned into a Marana to Casa Grande without services leg. It was a cold but good day all in all.

Post Mortem Addendum 12-17-07

I am happy to report no soreness and I had energy to commute in today. There must be something to this spinning thing. There also might be something to eating something healthy like Susan's wraps as a recovery meal as opposed to Whatburger I think.


Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Bravo, mon ami!

That was a difficult ride--so cold, and so dark too! You rode in the True Spirit of the Randonneur...

Susan kept us posted on your locaton during the ride.

Glad you made it--again, good job!

Cheers! Bruce

Screaming Harry Armadillo said...

Good job getting that one done. Man was it cold. It was a crazy intro to randonneuring for me. We maybe should have taken the early morning hints: ice, only 4 of us...

See you again next time :)

Dan Trued said...

Did you ever figure out what the problem with the lights were? And did anyone figure out why the store in Las Palmas was closed? That is the highlight of that 300, and that would have been a huge let down. Flickering lights on that very dark last stretch before Casa Grande,...I just don't want to think about that. You made it, that's all that counts.

Sir Bikesalot said...

The lights were flickering from avra valley road so it was a bit touch and go.
The flicker was caused by my on the go fix by twisting the two broken wires together. They made a connection, just not a good one.
La Palma looked closed for the long haul, but then again, if I were to imagine it with the lights off, it would look exactly that way anyway so who knows.

Steve Atkins said...

Paul, great ride and report, looking forward to seeing you on one of the next brevets.

Steve A.