Friday, October 30, 2009

2006 epic 400k. Yes, THAT 400k.

Ok, I'm kind of taking a break this weekend figuring most guys take a 2 week break somewhere in the year to let the body regroup. In the meantime, since the website that housed some of my more epic ride reports is no longer I thought I'd post them here so during my downtime, I'm putting them out here. Here's the report of the toughest ride I have ever done.

You are probablywondering how I came to be standing in a smoky bar in a small town near theMexican border on a rainy night with the wind howling and a slightly inebriated woman named Jean asking me if I wanted to play darts as I pondered dropping out of the ride. Well, it was a long ride so it is a long story.

True to form I was sick the week before (this makes 3 for three now) goofing my tapering all up but I did feel good enough Wednesday to go for a night ride which was good as I had some new equipment I wanted to test out (I know I know I commited a cardinal sin in theultra world by adding equipment the week before the event but it ended upworking out, I did get sore knees though so anyone that wants to say Itold you so go ahead). I found a really good deal on Eggbeater Candypedals and since they were pretty much the same pedal as my eggbeaters but withmore platform I figured the fates of ultra-cycling would forgive this littlefaux paux. I also tried a little lower seat position to get a little moreaero, that part ended up not working out though.

As the week progressed the weather forecastgot grimmer and grimmer. Until we went from a 30% chance of rain onSaturday night to a 70% chance of rain most of the day with sustained 24 mphwinds out of the south no less. This made for a rather interestingride, interesting in this case meaning, a thorough test of onesresolve and willpower. I faced some of the greatest challenges to date onmy bike Yesterday.

I woke up at 10 to 2 on Saturday morning noteven needing my alarm, I figured if I woke up naturally I must be on theedge of a sleep cycle so it would probably feel better to wake up now than waitfor the alarm to wake me in 20 minutes. Besides I was pretty excited andfalling back asleep would be difficult. So I got up and made my way toCasa Grande scarfing down cinnamon rolls, sobe and banana chips as I went myway.

Arriving in Casa Grande the first thing Inoticed was how cold it was. This was due mostly to wind chill as it wasstrong and coming from the direction we would be heading. I just hadenough time to take care of all the particulars and line up when we wereoff. That is when I discovered that for some reason my HID light was notwanting to cooperate. Oh well, thats what I have the good old cateye forand the helmet light (helmet light was to see my bike computer with as my GPSwas in the shop). I only had time to say a quick hi to Bruce and Steve aswe took off (wished I would have had more time to chat with them actually but itwas to turn into a day when you had to do everything you could to finish whichis one reason I left the camera behind). I was determined to stay with thepeloton this morning as I had a feeling that draft would be crucial to finishingand it turned out to be that way as we will see.

As we made our way down main/2nd/Frontierstreet the peloton started to form echelons as the wind was not quite directlyheadon. I was looking at my computer and it was reading 21 mph. Ifigured that was a pretty good speed and then I saw 2 riders break off the front(figure it was Mike Sturgill and maybe Sandiway?) and I thought man those guysare animals! Not to long after that I discovered that I was in factlooking at the Max speed screen on my computer and that our actual speed wascloser to 13 mph but I still have a deep respect for Mike's cyclingprowess, he is just one step below Lance now ;) .

The highway patrol didn't like our echelonand asked us to stay to the right side of the lane at one point which we diduntil we got on the frontage road. We cruised through a rather desertedEloy and managed to avoid any trains as we made the jog on milligan over to thefrontage road where we were able to resume our echelon in peace all though wewere more careful to move right when people called out cars to therear. We pulled into the plaza in Picacho just before sunrise whichprobably put us there just after 6 or so. This year I had feeling inmy hands, I did happen to be wearing heavier gloves this year toothough. It seems like last year the sun was coming up when we werehere to so despite the wind we were actually ahead of my time last year at thispoint.

I ended up leaving the control ahead as Ifigured the group would catch me anyway which they did just as the sun startedto peek over the horizon. I hopped on and took occasional pulls (I feel alittle guilty though as the recumbent means that my draft isn't quite as strongas the next guys, I do try to let the riders on upright bikes pull intothe paceline in front of me though after they come off the front so they get abetter draft while resting). Just after Red Rock we had to split into twoechelons and I was leading the second one until just before the turn atMarana. That was when I figured it was time to let the peloton go as I wastiring too quickly. Interestingly enough this is about where the pelotonbroke up a bit. Going around the bend at Marana and Sanders we split intotwo groups with me leading the second (I figured I was riding my speed anywayand didn't mind breaking a bit of wind for the guys behind me. Somewherebetween Avra and Picture rocks I passed the front group (Glen had pulled off thefront on his recumbent, it really was a good day to be on a recumbent with thewind and all). At picture rocks the group pulled off and I kept on keepingon into the wind alone.

After much struggle I topped the hill and wasdismayed to discover that descending the otherside meant pedalling hard to go 13mph as the headwind was 25 mph straight on. If I had closed my eyes andignored my legs the roar of the wind would have made me think I was going40. Anyway, it was a long slow climb up mile wide but at least thewind was a crosswind (which made slow climbing a trick especially on therecumbent which doesn't like slow speeds but fortunately the wind was steady atthis point if it wasn't anything else).
Dropping down Kinney I kept thinking I hadpassed the control as I seem to remember it being just over the hill last yearand just as I was going to stop and check the cue sheet I ran into Susan andGlen at the turn to Gates Pass (Glenn had re-passed me on the last bit ofclimbing on Kinney I guess he stopped at Picture Rocks too). Anyway Ifilled up the water tank and grabbed some energy bars and gels. I debatedtaking off my full fingered thinsulate gloves but somebody made a comment aboutwinter and I decide to leave them on. Whoever made the comment aboutwinter thank you thank you thank you thank you!

Between the control and Tucson the grouppassed me and I followed them at a distance over Irvington and onto Missionroad. Mission road, I don't think I have ever struggled so hard forso little. I was in the small ring from Tucson to the top and eventhen it was the bottom three gears of the small ring. 9 mph was my fastedspeed on this stretch and most of it stayed between 7 or 8 and much of the lasthour of it was at 5 mph in the rain. I had fears of missing the nextcontrol time in this section and my mind played tricks on me making me think itwas later than it was but I figured sometimes you just never say die and as longas you aren't in any danger you just keep pushing on. After the rainstarted I came onto a cattle guard in one of the steeper sections and figuringgoing 5 mph in the rain on a recumbent crossing it would spell disaster as myback wheel would likely peel out so I dismounted and walked it. Walkinggave my legs just enough change to get reinvigorated and I was off at ascorching 6 mph for a bit. I figure my legs had been constantly churningfor several hours in this stretch and a short walk was a really good thing,might have to remember that in the future)

I eventually reached the top (and there wasmuch rejoicing) and turned onto Helmet peak road where I got my top speed forthe day of 35 mph. My whole mission in life now was to find that McDonaldsI had heard rumors about last year. All the way down La Canada road Ilooked hopefully but never found it. I did however find a KFC onContinental which I stopped at and had a very delicious chicken sandwich, friesand a lemonade which really hit the spot and are probably the secret to mysuccess on the Arivaca stretch.

At the turn to Arivaca with memories ofhaving no wallet here last year I strode into the store and bought 2 bottles ofgatorade to fill my tank and get me to Arivaca. The next stretch was longand hair raising. 3 or 4 miles down the road I was passed by aborder patrol car and then about 3 minutes after that I see a car coming at mein my lane moving really fast. I know he saw me but he didn't care so Ihugged the right edge of the pavement hard and was ready to ditch but he clearedme and his friend behind him did too with a few inches to spare. I figuredthey were probably Coyotes (smugglers). In any case they were either thator Morons, neither one is particularly pleasant to meet out on the openroad.

This section of road was really nice in oneway as the trees on the side of the road created a wind break for the first 8miles or so and I enjoyed the break. Remembering this stretch to be longlast year I hunkered down and enjoyed the beauty of the scenery as my legs andheart toiled away. As I climbed higher the winds built and the gustsgot stronger until as I neared the summit above Arivaca they started to remindme of Hurricane winds from when I lived in Okinawa. I figured it wasgusting in the upper 40's. One of the gusts blew me right off theroad. Anyway, pretty quickly after that I started my careful descentinto Arivaca and didn't see Susan so I got my card signed in the general storeand asked about a bathroom and taking a page out of Bruce Chandlers book askedfor a garbage bag (oh, I forgot to mention the driving rain over the last10 miles didn't I, well there was driving rain, the gale force windsmust have distracted me!). She directed me to the bar across the streetfor the bathrooms and warmth and gave me a kitchen sized garbage bag (small andwhite) which turned out to fit snug enough to not flap and turned out reallywell once I got it on.

After using the facilities I stepped into thebar (A cold wet and tired randonneur walks into a you need apunchline after that). The bartender was really nice and directed me overto the gas heater. This was less a bar than it was the localcommunity gathering spot with alcohol actually as there were kids in there andlots of locals just relaxing and listening to the howling wind and storm. I stood in a stupor by the heater for a bit and then I thought I may as well tryto dry off my jacket (nextec may be highly water resistant but wearing it on aday like this is like bringing a knife to a gun fight). It was about thistime that Jean started talking with me and we talked about what I was doing andthey were pretty impressed, and she asked me to a game of darts which Ihad to decline due to my shivering and need to dry my clothes.
About this time Susan pops in the door (Ifigured she was long gone so it was a bit of a shock). Anyway, shebrought food from the car and also some things from my bike out front which I amvery grateful she did as it was cold outside! Everytime someone opened thedoor I would start shivering again. After hearing about conditionsup on the hill Susan figured she'd go out and check on the others, I toldher I would wait as I didn't really want to ride back alone if I didn't haveto. So I hung out and got most of my stuff dry. When she got back wemoved over to the post office and everyone there had called for rides. Hmmm, Susan gave me a few words of encouragement and they were just enoughto push me off the fence and I pulled on my arm warmers, long sleevejersey, rain jacket, Garbage bag, Goretex helmet cover, O2 Rainpants (they were flipping awesome), and my drenched thinsulate gloves (allthis added to the usual cycling gear and tights. With the faint echoes ofthe words of the frozen biker who walked into the bar about snow in the forecastI headed off down the road with sore knees.

Susan caught me stopped down the road tore-adjust my seat to try and ease the knee soreness, I also had to plug inmy HID light whose battery problem I had figured out. Soon after I was offagain and Susan's taillights disappeared into the slightly less blustery nightbut every bit as rainy. I have to say thank you Bruce for mentioningthe garbage bag trick in your 600k last year as it was working really good and Iwas pretty toasty for the next 40 miles or so.

Throughout the night Iremember wondering about thinsulate supposed to be able to insulate whenwet. What I didn't realize is that with snow in the forecast thatmeans the air temperature is pretty cold and even if it was a really goodinsulator when wet it would still be cold.

Rounding the turn towards Three Points waslike turning on the afterburners. I turned on the HID and kept it between25 and 30 all the way to the Robles Jct.. I was passed by a convoy of 6border patrol cars and not to long after started to see the lights of thejunction up ahead. I had made such good time I determined not to stop asit would only make me think of stopping permanently and I was in good shape onfood so I turned and headed off to Sandario rd.. I still had some bars andgels in my pocket from this morning so I ate those and let the wind blow me overSaguaro National Monument. Around Picture rocks the tailwind dieddown a bit and I pushed a little harder to keep the speed up. Withthe end of the tailwind the rain let up too fortunately.

I had another hair raising moment going downSanders, I was just tooling along after keeping an eye out for that dog onthe right that came after me last year and just as I felt safe and past thedanger I see something come at me out of the shadows to the left and see a hugewhite dog go for my back wheel but he missed luckily. I know he wasserious because he didn't even bark. Anyway maybe I had a little nighttimeexageration going on but he seemed to be a pretty big dog at the time and alittle extra adrenelin spiked the pace up to Marana where I ran into the groupahead of me just leaving. I figure I must have really been booking tocatch up to them. Anyway, Susan was there and signed my card and Iwent in and bought some chocolate milk (another thing that really hits the spotfor me late in a brevet) and some chocolate doughnuts and sped off into thenight by the light of my cateye (helmet cover wouldn't allow a helmet light andmy HID was dead after 4 hours of bitter cold riding but it had done what it hadhad to do which was let me ride fast in high tailwinds). So it was abit slower going down the frontage road.

The frontage road! It was a bitof adventure in itself as it seemed every mile brought a flooding streamcrossing the pavement and the excitement was trying to guess whether or not itwas only an inch deep or a foot! Along this stretch I was pleasantlysurprised to find the recumbent put me in a really nice position for avoidingthe splash of the tires. Somewhere in here I went into Buddhist mantramode. This is were things take a turn to the Zen side as you just plugalong and think about one thing over and over which could be a song or somethingelse. In my case I was unfortunately stuck in a meditation of the "Iran over the taco bell dog" song which I now resolve to never listentoo again in the hopes that it will drop out of the grey matter at somepoint and never plague me again.

Passing the plaza in Picacho I noticed someriders sheltering there from the rain that had resumed awhile back. I knewif I stopped I would freeze so I didn't stop and stepped up the pace a notch asmy fingers were numb. Several lives of the taco bell dog later I wasat the turn and had to wait for a train. A few more lives of thetaco bell dog later I had to wait for another train on Milligan, this onewas stopped though. It started to move after a short bit so I just hungout and waited for it. I was at Eloy before the taco bell dog gotran over too many more times. Between Picacho and the I-10 CrossingI got to where I could hardly see the fog line anymore so I stopped under alight and changed my batteries and finished the rainy journey.

The stretch from the freeway to the finish isalways refreshing and for me this is where the taco bell dog or whatever else isstuck in my head stops and I enjoy the last bits of the ride. Tonight wasno different, except I wound up at "From the Heart Yoga" byforce of habit and had to go around the corner to the new finish line (althoughit really isn't that new anymore really).
All told, there was carnage all over theroute in the form of people dropping out and for good reason. I was ridingalong the edge towards the end and I had a lot of gear. It was one ofthose rides where the conditions meant if you happened to have enough stuff youcould do it but it wasn't forgiving enough if you didn't. All told we had2 inches of rain and more wind that you could shake a stick at without having itblow out of your hand and hit someone. This one ranks right up there withmy 300k permanent I rode last year but thankfully I avoided the flats this timearound (I would have been sunk as I was ok as long as I was moving).

On the way home I stopped at a rest stop tosleep and woke up at dawn with a extremely Toasty Jeep and a bottle full of hotgatorade and I was almost dry. My gas tank was on empty though, Imanaged to make it to Wild Horse Casino and refill though luckily and as Icruised back to Mesa my accomplishment sunk in as I saw snow covering theSuperstitions with an amazingly low snow level.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hardest ride I ever did too. I remember you coming in to the Circle K in Marana as we left. The stream crossings on the frontage road were unbelievable. I was in over my bottom bracket at times and my feet were soaked. I was wearing trashbags from Arivaca and disposable plastic gloves from the deli at the circle K to stay warm. John, Liz, and I also encountered the trains. When we got there they were stopped dead. We had to make our way "through them" as the short time we spent stopped was to cold to endure and we weren't sure they would ever move on.