Sunday, October 18, 2009

Devil Wind (or the Devil went down to Douglas)

Once upon a time, there was a highway so horrible, so evil, they numbered it 666. They then determined that perhaps this was a mistake and in an attempt to repent of this great evil they built I-10 over it like the house in Poltergeist built over the cemetary. Though the original pavement is hidden beneath the freeway the demonic spirit still dwells there and tortures poor souls that pass over it. This freeway is a bane to poor cyclists in their annual pilgrimmage around Cochise County finding new ways to torture the tired and weary. Saturday would bear a wicked wind to waylay the brave souls who dared to challenge the great spirit of interstate 10 but let me start at the beginning.

After having left Mesa too late, I managed to get to my previously arranged meeting spot with Bruce just before he did. I had just enough time to get the stuff ready and we quickly loaded his car and were off to Douglas after a brief stop in Benson to get some cash and sodas. I was surprised at the size difference between the expos at El Tour de Phoenix and Tucson, and the Cochise expo (or lack thereof). It's a smaller event that is a much longer drive then the other two but where it lacks in preride panache, it more than makes up for in it scenery and challenge.

Bruce knew a lot of the people at the dinner and I am pleased to say I knew a few too. There was Mike from all of the Arizona brevets, and then of course I knew the event director (Sheila) who used to go to my church up in Mesa. The spaghetti dinner was pretty good and I made a point not to eat too much so I would be not start the day out with a bloated stomache. After the meeting was over and all was said and done I got to bed just after 9 which wasn't too bad.

1:10 AM came all to early but we had enough time to get to the start line a few minutes before it started. It wasn't too cold so I started out with leg warmers and a wind vest. We listened to the national anthem and then we were off into the night. I worked on getting into a group around the front. It's easier to start in a group that might be a little too fast for you and drop than to start in a slower group and move up I figure.

Riding with the faster guys was a rush. We were just barreling across the flats in the middle of the night rotating in and out of pulls. I am pretty sheepish to say that I would usually get up to the number 2 position and then have to peel out of it as I would start to fatigue before the guy in front of me gave me a turn. Everyone still thanked me for the pull on the way back though. Somewhere past the college I saw what I though was a rather large set of buttocks hanging out the window of a passing truck, down the road I realized that is what it was as someones support crew was mooning us as we cruised by, I guess they felt that since it was a new moon they would try and give us a full moon.

I actually was able to hold with the faster guys for just under an hour. They were hauling. As Dan came off the front near where the climbing started I told him to cut in before me as I was about to get dropped. He gave me a few tips on staying in the faster group but I could feel that I was burning matches and it wasn't too much later I let them go. Dan has to be one of the nicest serious racers I have met and it was an honor just being able to ride with him that far. Someday I'll be able to keep up with those guys farther, just not quite yet.

I must confess I enjoy riding in pacelines but I also enjoy solo riding just as much. I watched their gyrating cluster of taillights climb up into the darkness and then I was alone with the milky way and the rest of the stars spread out above me. One of the other riders that got dropped before I did passed me just before I got up to the roundabout in lower Bisbee but he would still be up at the top with his support crew. I climbed further up into old town Bisbee and my generator light lit up the fences above the large open pit mine off to the left. As the road got steeper I would see Bruce off to the side of the road and told him I was good until the top.

I kept looking for the mouth of the tunnel that signalled the last bit of the climb and it seemed the road just kept moving in and out of the gullies but at long last I came around a corner and there I was. There were a few of us climbing in the tunnel that arrived at the same time where the support vehicles wait at the top. Bruce had everything ready including some chain lube for my derailleur that had started to sound like bats chirping behind me. I decided to don arm warmers for the cold descent and was off into the night.

I only hit 43 mph dropping off the hill tonight for some reason. I have heard of people hitting 50 and above but for some reason I didn't which was fine with me. After a long descent I was making my way acrossed the long flat area before the small hill in front of Tombstone when I saw headlights behind me. One guy passed me but behind him was a small paceline which pulled in behind me as we started up the hill. I didn't mind pulling them because I knew that what goes around comes around and after the hill I caught on to the back and it was a beautiful thing.

I figured the lady in front of me in the paceline was likely going to be the first place female finisher since I hadn't seen any ladies in the front group. There were also a couple of guys with "California Triple Crown" jerseys in the group (you have to do 3 of the double century events in California to get one) so I knew I was in good company.

We hit the first pocket of cold in Tombstone and one of the guys in the group mentioned that we should hold judgement on what was cold until we dropped into St. David. The border patrol checkpoint outside of Tombstone waved us on through and in a short time we were indeed in cold air approaching St. David where the hills would flatten out into fields and sporadic houses with a monastary thrown in for fun.

Up until St. David I was the only one who had his support crew regularly making appearences along the route. Bruce was had to be the envy of the other guys. The hour before twighlight is always tough for me and it was cool to have Bruce popping up regularly checking in. It was in St. David where the Triple Crown guys stopped for their support crew. The lady in front of me had her support crew try a few unsuccessful hand offs in front of me (I backed off for safety sake) before she told them to meet her down the road. Around here I took a good pull heading into Benson and we kept it in the low to mid 20's all the way to the check in before getting the interstate.

Bruce gave me new bottles and we popped the generater hub off and put on the normal front wheel and I was off. I figured I would keep a "full services" break off until I got to the Texas Canyon rest area 20 miles down the road. When I first got onto the interstate I wondered at Bruce's tales of the evil's on I-10. The shoulder was smooth and recently paved. It was actually not bad at all. I kept good time to the base of the hill and had good power starting up the hill.

Bruce passed me about halfway up and I gave him the thumbs up. Near the top of the first steep section I looked off to the right side of the shoulder and there was the pavement of hwy 666 laying there in the gully. Was that an evil chuckle I heard? Naw, couldn't have been, the morning was calm, the sun had just risen and shoulder was nice. What could go wrong?

At the Texas Canyon Rest area I refuelled and was about to go take care of something I'd been waiting since Benson to take care off when I felt the back tire was a bit squishy. Back down to Bruce I went and we swapped the wheel out with the wheel off my commuter (which had a fat Armadillo tire on it, take that foul interstate!). I also took this opportunity to put on sunblock and chapstick. Thank goodness for the chapstick or my lips would be about twice their size from chapping right now from the hellacious winds we had for the next oh, 11 hours (holy cow, I just realized how long that torture lasted)?

I pulled out of the rest area and the california triple crown guys were ahead of me again. Working together they were faster than me in the wind and I wasn't able to catch them. It was around in here I got short on water and my power would drop for the next 7-8 hours until I figured it out. The wind really sucks the water out of you.

On the way to wilcox I could feel the wind draining my willpower and sinking my spirits so I pulled out my headset for my phone and turned up the tunes. It helped at first, and I guess it continued to help it is just that being low on water I got a really bad attitude that lasted until Road Forks and a little bit beyond. The shoulder started to get cracks in it but it still wasn't too bad. Other than the wind the road was pretty good up until Wilcox.

I originally had intended to skip Wilcox and cruise by on the interstate but I needed a feed bottle so I opted to turn off. Since Bruce didn't know about my change of plan I called him up while I rode (the headset sure is convenient) and was surprised to see a guy sitting at the gas station talking on a phone that looked amazingly like Bruce as I rode by. It was Bruce so I pulled off and got a bottle, mentioned something about wind and was off again.

So far so good.

In Wilcox the wind was now attacking with extreme prejudice. It had to be 20-30 miles an hour directly head on. As I pedalled along at a measly 10-11 mph the chipseal became highly irritating and I was starting to hurt. Soon after the stop David O'Brian passed me and I got a little depressed. I just wasn't generating the wattage I needed. After getting on the interstate another rider passed me but I was able to hold on. It was mind boggling how much easier it was riding in the wind shadow of only 1 rider in this gale. Usually the benefit isn't nearly that pronounced behind one rider but the wind was really howling.

We managed to work together until the next stop. I originally wasn't going to stop but I figured if we could keep working together I would likely end up going a bit faster in the long run. In hindsight I should have just kept going although it did feel good to lay down while everyone rested. Dave took off first and then I headed out with the other rider and we caught Dave and worked together for a mile or two. They were going just a bit faster than I could muster and when we hit the crappy shoulder they dropped me.

Sheesh, can't a guy lie down on the side of the road without people thinking he's dead?

This shoulder may as well have not been paved. It was terrible and I am surprised I didn't pinch flat multiple times. When they repaved the idiot guys chewed up the whole road and then only repaved the traffic lanes so the shoulder had a very rough surface. I started imagining very painful things I could do to the guy that chewed up the shoulder. Places I could stick that big stupid machine that grinds the smooth surface off the asphalt. The 5 or 6 miles this lasted were a nightmare. As if the wind wasn't bad enough we had to have a jackhammer up the backside to taunt us and pull the last ounces of energy from our tiring legs.

All alone it was a long haul into Bowie. Dave decided to ride through Bowie to get off the shoulder and interstate for a bit. I was getting thoughts of following him even if it was longer until I noticed the shoulder got better at the exit to Bowie. Besides one good thing about the interstate is occasionally trucks couldn't get over into the other lane and their back draft would give me just a moment or two of a break in the wind.

I was in survival mode by now. Just keep turning the pedals. It may take forever to get to Road Forks but it will take longer if you stop pedalling. Somewhere around in here there was a 12 mile stretch without exits and sure enough I got a little thirsty but not too bad. I was really glad to see Bruce at the exit I must admit. Wind sucks, crappy shoulders stink, traffic is a pain, but somehow it's a little easier when you have someone out there who's got your back and not only gets you water and food but puts a little ice in it too.

After San Simon I got passed by a guy and girl who were riding strong and I watched them disappear into the seemingly endless hill up to road forks. Yup, it was a pain in the butt hill which due to the wind really didn't feel much different than what I had been doing for the last 8 hours or so. Soon I would be at the state line taking a picture of a funny sign and then down to road forks at the bottom of what should have been a few miles down a hill which of course, due to the wind, felt like 2 miles of a slightly less steep hill.

Quick Robin! to the Batmobile, we haven't a SECOND to lose.

For the last bit I had felt the wind shift to coming out of the south east and I had been bracing myself mentally for the fact that road forks would not be the Rubicon, it would not be solace, it would not be sanctuary, no it would be more of the same so that it would not lose it's reputation as being a wrathful vengeful abuser devoid of mercy. I had long given up hope of a good time and was not too surprised to find out I was 12th. I heard over 30 people started though so I guess that's not too bad. I was also comforted to know that everyone was suffering apparently and aside from Dan and a few others everyone was going slow.

A very welcome curve in the road.

In my present state of mind I was very dissapointed upon finding rough pavement for the first bit and thought it would be this way all the way back. Of course, at this point I was in suffer mode so I dealt with it and moved on. Sometimes life is not about happiness, sometimes life is not devoid of suffering, and sometimes we just put our heads down scream at the wind and thrust forward the best we can with aching back, screaming legs, and low spirits.

It was around in here I started chugging water. It suddenly occured to me I hadn't been doing any of the things that are usually associated with a person who is adequately hydrated. It was also around in here that the road turned west a bit to the state line. Having the devil wind at my back brushed the spirits up a bit. I managed to get over 12 mph for the first time since just before Wilcox. It felt good. It felt really good, and when I dropped down a hill for a few miles, I was in the lap of luxory and I began to turn a corner so that when I finally got to Rodeo a few miles down the road I was charged and ready to finish the ride.

Rodeo was the rubicon for me. I knew as I approached it that the sun setting would likely help the wind to lighten up for a bit and even if it didn't the course turned west at that point so the wind could just go take a flying..... well, lets just say a flying leap since I don't like to swear but admittedly this ride seriously challenged that resolve.

We stopped at a point we saw Dave leave just before we got there. We put on my lights and fluids and were off into the descending night. I was riding fast. I didn't know if anyone was behind me and I didn't want to lose being number 12 and it would be cool to even be number 11 if possible. I ratcheted the speeds up to 20-24 mph through much of this section. Up until this point I was figuring I would finish at 8:30 or 9:00. As I got into the last bits I looked at my watch and suddenly an 8:00 finish looked like it might be possible.

It was an absolutely gorgeous evening. The sun lit up the thunderstorms on the horizon and the breeze had turned into a fine caress instead of the cruel pummeling that it had been. As the glow of the sun faded I could hear crickets chirping in the tall grass on either side of the road and I had one of those zen moments as I pedalled strongly along.

Soon I could spot Mike's support car in the distance and I locked in on them and picked up the pace. Bruce said he could see my whole form and persona change. I nearly caught him but we hit the hill and I think he speeded up at some point so I figured we had both worked hard and I expected a little more hill than we got so I played it conservatively. If I had known that a tailwind would spring up and push me over the hill I might have pushed it a little harder but I didn't know how much hill there was and that I was within a mile or two of a long and most sweet descent into Douglas. I knew there was a hill but I didn't think it was that big of one.

I could see the glow of Douglas over the hills as I climbed up to the saddle and soon I saw the lights in the distance as I hit the back of the hill and let gravity pull me down to the finish. Dave grabbed the escort car on his way in so I had to catch the sign for Avenue A to make the turn. It would have been easy to miss but I didn't. There was a strong headwind coming up the ave and the pavement was absolute crap but I was within 2 miles of finishing a long and brutal ride so it really didn't matter. I whaled through douglas at 20+ mph and rounded the corner into the finish where a car would pull out right in front of me but fortunately we did not join each other in a love embrace. That would be quite the end to this ride wouldn't it?

Anyway, I had a medal and a hug from Sheila waiting at the finish line. I don't know if everyone got a hug, but after all the ugliness of the wind, a hug was a beautiful thing. The wind on this ride reminded me a lot of the 2006 400k, the main difference was this ride was 90 degrees and didn't have rain and borderline snow. I think we had around 10-15 miles less wind on this ride too but it was still vicious.

Bruce was a godsend on this ride. Anywhere I needed anything, Bruce was there. Anything I needed, Bruce got it. Anytime I needed someone with a better attitude for a little encouragement, Bruce had it covered. Bruce also dealt me a few surprises. I was not going to plan on ice but dang that cool water and drink hit the spot later in the course. I also had not originally planned on the cliff bars and sprite but they were an excellent break from my constant supply of maltodextrin and protein. I don't think I'll do this next year, athough I'd like to crew if Bruce decides to do it. I think I'd like to do it again in 2 years though. On all my training rides I have not been this sore afterwards as I am today. I think it's not that I did so poorely, I just think the course was THAT hard this year.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Paul! Once again you inspire by your never say die attitude.

Alan M.

jcrutcher said...

Good job finishing this crazy ride. You and I rode together a few times, I was the old guy wearing the Berge Ford Jersey riding the Livestrong Trek. The first time was outside of Tombstone when you guys caught me and I pulled for a few miles before the two guys pulled over and water bottle situation with Jessica. Later on the freeway I'm sorry we dropped you on the rough stuff, it wasn't my plan since I enjoyed riding with you two.

I ended up quiting at the 206 mile mark. Legs were good but didn't have the engine to keep it up. I'm not dissapointed and agree with your blog completely. It was nice riding with you and i hope we'll meet again (I won't do the 252 again either).
Jim C.

Sir Bikesalot said...

Yeah you saved me out there. I was in a dark bad place when you provided a very much needed draft. I'll do the 252 again someday but not next year as the training took a lot out of my family time and I owe my crew a role reversal if he wants to do it next year.

Runbob said...

Hi Paul, Congratulations on an awesome ride! I was crewing for Dave-O, sorry we stole your pace car into Douglas. Maybe I'll see you out there again next year anyway? Joe P.

Dan Trued said...

I like that Rodeo area, it's really in the boonies. With all that wind do you think aero bars would have made a difference. It's all aerodynamics in Cochise.

Sir Bikesalot said...

They would have made a sizeable difference I think. My problem with Aero bars is I haven't figured out how to get an efficient pedal stroke going with them. I just can't get a good pull through the top that I like. Guess I'll have to get that worked out before next time.

jcrutcher said...

I had aero bars and found my pedal stroke was better if I pulled on the bars, it kept me on the saddle in the right position. The bars didn't help me that much. During the 4 hours of darkness I was nervous to used them since it was hard to see. On the freeway (that just stunk!) it was hard to use them with the rough road surface, it pushed the front end all over the place and out of the narrow sweet spot. Once I turned on 80 heading south they were a great help. Just FYI from my experience.