Day 1. San Diego to El Centro
This first day of the trip is one of longest climbing days, with over 7500 feet in the first 75 miles of this 128 mile day. I had a terrific day today, pretty easy. Most of the grades were gentle, stair step climbs. I don’t think there was much over 5%. We mostly paralleled I-8 today, riding on it for a few stretches of up to ten miles, but primarily rode frontage roads until we descended into the low desert and followed state highway 98 into El Centro. Leaving San Diego we were in suburban regions, passing right by not only several shopping centers but the San Diego Stadium as well, where the tailgaters were just arriving. The roads gradually became more rural as we climbed through cool forested areas, finally reaching our summit at the Tecate Divide. The terrain changed to dry scrub/high desert we had lunch in Jacumba, had about 6 miles to digest, then a 3000 foot descent into the desert on I-8. There were stiff crosswinds, which made it somewhat hairy, because you’d get buffeted by the wind as the road change your angle to it. Also, someone threw a can of beer at me from a passing car. First time that’s ever happened in all my years of riding. When we hit the desert we had a strong tailwind and cruised into the hotel at 20+ mph.
We’re very close to the Mexican border here, and passed a couple of Border Patrol checkpoints. It made me think for a bit about Nepal and Afghanistan, where armed patrols and the threat they pose are a part of life. We do live in a great country, but there are constant reminders about how much of that is a veneer covering the raw exercise of power.
But back to riding. The watchword for the first week is to take it easy and I really tried to take that to heart and stay at 70% effort. When I reached 80% I would back off. I measure this using a heart rate monitor. For me, that means staying around 120 beats per minute, based on my maximum of 170, and really backing off when I get to 140. This really served me well today, I think, because I’m feeling pretty good. Tired legs, but not hurting.
The on road support is quite good. These guys really know their stuff and enjoy doing it. I’ll write about that on another day, however. For now, its time to do some yoga and stretching, then off to a half hour massage before dinner at Denny’s. Hey, it’s right in the hotel. A minimum of walking.
Day 2. El Centro to Blythe
Today had been targeted as an easy day from the beginning, and it was. Only 103 miles, less than 2000 ft. of climbing, pretty much a straight shot out route 78. However, talking to the experienced PAC tour riders on this trip, we heard terrible stories about the heat in previous years. Simone from NY told about 117 degrees and headwinds all the way on the Grand Canyon Tour. Then Mike and Nancy Myers from Kansas told the story of their day on this route in 2000, when it poured, the vans had to go around, and they were wading through rushing hip deep water where the road went through a series of wadis. We definitely weren’t going to be faced that, and as it turned out the temperature was quite manageable–my thermometer showed 102 at about 1:30, which is not real hot weather on the bike. On the bike, you’ve been out all day, you adapt to the heat as it slowly warms up. For me, drinking lots of cold water and replacing my salts with Endurolytes is a pretty good prescription for getting through a hot day. PAC Tour has lots of ice available, and water will stay cold in my Camelback for several hours. They also make “ice socks” available, which are athletic socks filled with ice that you can drape around your neck. I didn’t use there today, however. There were rest stops with ide, water and ice cold sodas every 20 miles, as well, so once again we were well taken care of.
The route wound through some pretty desolate terrain–there is really nothing between El Centro and Blythe, except for a state park with some sand dunes. There was about a 20 mile stretch that had some rollers, but nothing untoward. I rode within myself, felt very relaxed, didn’t push at all and still finished quite respectably. The lunch stop was by a stream, in the shade of some nice trees.
The support on this ride is really great. In addition to Lon and Susan, there are a group of volunteers who, in exchange for a reduced rate, ride one day and work the next. Everyone is having a good time., and because these guys are both very experienced riders (both Lon & Susan have won RAAM–check out their bios at pactour.com), and have been running this company for 25 years, they have the right food and the right drink at the right time and in the right place for the day. Today’s lunch featured green salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, turkey for sandwiches, pickles, olives, two kinds of chips, peach pie, fruit salad, soda, ice water and Gatorade. Plenty for 64 hungry riders. Susan, an R.N. in her other life, is fanatic about cleanliness–we all have to take our gloves off and wash our hands in the thoughtfully provided soapy water before addressing the food, whether at a rest stop or at lunch. Very smart, given the stress on people and the close quarters. There are pipe racks to park your bike at each stop, tents for shade or rain protection, and cheerful, supportive staff. Especially out here in the West, really the middle of nowhere it is much appreciated. . .and necessary!
Tomorrow looks like today, except with a little more distance and a little more climbing. Wednesday is a more challenging day, where we climb out of the desert into the beginnings of the Arizona highlands, and spend the night in Sedona. I think I’ll try a fancy restaurant.
Day 3. Blythe to Wickenburg, AZ
Today was characterized by long shallow climbs, desolate surroundings, and loooong mind-numbing stretches of road. You could see 20 miles down the road, and it all looked the same. We took two turns today over 116 miles, riding on I-10 for 36 miles and Arizona 60 for the rest. This is a poor part of Arizona–we saw junkyards, abandoned and ruined buildings, small shacks, trailer and RV parks, small towns with open air markets, lots of cactus and scrub brush. Wickenburg, though, has the trappings of leisure–I think it’s a winter escape for people. The best part of the day was the 30mph, 9 mile descent into town at the end of the day, where everyone feels like a million bucks.
I had another pretty strong day of riding. I still tried to stay mellow, keeping the pressure out of my legs, but I did work a little harder today, my heart mostly in the 120’s, whereas yesterday it was below that. I had my first flat today, which I think was due to overinflating my tire and popping it right off the rim after riding for about 6 miles. I also got into a fast group on the last stretch before lunch, and had to force myself to back off a bit. Of course, having a lunch of grilled cheese, salad, fruit salad, rice and beans and coke revived me. I needed the caffeine, and I then felt great for the afternoon, singing, powering up the rest of the climbs in the big ring. Met an interesting fellow who has spent the last few years working for UNEP in Nairobi, so we compared notes on UN agencies. We both agreed that the people were motivated hard workers and hamstrung by the bureaucracy.
Tomorrow is a big climbing day, and I am looking forward to it–nice to get out of the plains and into some terrain, even if it will be hard. We end the day in Sedona, so I’m looking forward to that as well–maybe we’ll get a good meal, but don’t get me wrong, even Denny’s is good after a long day in the saddle.
Day 4. Wickenburg to Sedona
Wow. What a great day. I love riding in the mountains, and today we had them in abundance. There were three big climbs among the 9260 (yow!) feet of climbing, but comfortable temperatures, beautiful weather, and a strong and steady performance from yours truly. Today’s route followed Arizona state routes 93, 89, and 89A. The first climb took us out of the desert into a land of gentle upland meadows, the second climb took us up to a ridge line above pine forests, and we then followed the ridgeline, swooping down a few hundred feet, then climbing up again until we reached our lunch stop above Prescott. A descent through Prescott, a trip across a valley on a very rough and bumpy road, which yielded some grumpy riders, and then the last climb took us up above the valley of Sedona.
WE began the descent, and suddenly the whole expanse of the red rock valley opened up in front of us. What a phenomenal view!! And a phenomenal descent, too–12 miles. We went through the tourist town of Jerome, perched above the valley like a little European hill town, then zoomed back into America in the mall town of Cottonwood. From there it was only 17 miles to Sedona, but they were hard miles, long rollers on a busy freeway into the wind–it seems like we’d never get there.
I rode mostly alone today–the fast guys left the group early, and I basically outlasted everyone else. I was as strong on the last climb as I was on the first, and I was high as a kite when I pulled into the hotel. Went out to a nice Italian restaurant tonight with a few folks–I figured Sedona was one place we could get a coastal meal, and it was good.
Tomorrow is an easier day again, 103 miles and less than 2000 feet of climbing. I’m riding a tandem tomorrow with Anny Beck, a strong rider who I know from the California doubles scene. Should be fun.
Day 5. Sedona to Winslow
Well, on the way into Winslow, on the interstate, which we were on for the last 8 miles of today’s ride, there is indeed a big sign that says “Come stand on the corner. . .exit here.” This perpetrated a series of denigrating comments (I will spare you those here) about life in Winslow between myself & Anny Beck, whose tandem I was captaining today. There are five other tandems on the trip, 4 of which ride every day and one, that of Doug & Susie Slack, is out every other day, as the Slacks are part of the crew for this tour. Anny received permission to bring both her tandem and her single, and has been recruiting captains. I got the honor today, and we made a good team.
Tandeming is a whole little subculture in the cycling world, with its own language, culture and traditions. Many of you know that Anne & I own a tandem and ride together regularly. The person in the front is the captain, the rear the stoker. Generally, the more experienced rider is the captain, although Anny is extremely experienced, having ridden across America 7 previous times, and chooses to stoke for other reasons. To captain requires more upper body strength, and a devotion to keeping the stoker happy. A happy stoker makes for a good team, because tandeming truly is a team effort. All these cracks about “she’s not pedaling” could not be farther from the truth. Tandems are particularly well suited to going downhill, to going on flats, and going into the wind. We had all of these situations in abundance today.
Today’s ride left Sedona on route 89 to Flagstaff, then took route 505, 15 and 99 through the Navajo reservation before finishing up on I-40. There is a long climb out of Sedona, which combines some long steady climbs with stair step rollers that takes you from Sedona’s 4240 ft. To Flagstaff’s nearly 7000. It is a delightful climb, forested, with a stream running nearby, and every so often these amazing red rocks jutting up out of the ground, or a long view to the red cliffs, that reminded you where you actually were. Really nice. On a tandem, you just find an easy rhythm in the right gear and tool on up, which we did, Over the crest, though, we truly entered ‘tandem country.” A long series of rollers carried us through the forest into Flagstaff (where some guy made a right turn onto a driveway directly in front of us, requiring an immediate and extraordinary exercise of my captaining skills). The next 30 miles were basically downhill, and we covered them in less than an hour and a half. The final 15 miles into lunch trended downhill to Leupp, a town in the Navajo reservation, and despite a headwind we were cruising along in the low 20’s. I really was reminded of Peter Rowan’s song, “Land of the Navajo.” We were riding through a desolate, deserted plain, covered with scrub brush that could barely eke out an existence on its own, much less provide a base for modern human existence. Every once in a while you’d see a house, standing by itself against the vastness of the plain and the distant mesas. I could visualize the howling winds of the wintertime, the families huddled against the cold, the houses ultimately being abandoned.
Today’s massive Pac Tour lunch was hamburgers, lovingly cooked by Susan Notorangelo, one of our hosts. My burger was supplemented by rice salad, chips, soda, lemonade, apple pie and a brownie. On another day I’ll quantify my eating for you, but we’re putting down between 6,000 and 10,000 calories per day. That’s each, not altogether. After lunch we ground into a headwind , moving gently uphill, for about 2 hours until we arrived at the Travel Lodge of Winslow. Not one of your nicer hotels, but the bed and the shower work, and that’s all that I really care about.
Tomorrow we spend pretty much the whole day on the Navajo reservation, ending at Chinle which is the access point to Canyon de Chellly. I expect I’ll be too tired to even want to go see the ruins. Oh well.
Day 6. Winslow to Chinle
You never know how you’ll feel from one day to the next. Today I felt tired all day, sleepy, despite the fact that we had pretty extraordinary conditions–beautiful weather again, a strong tailwind that got stronger as the day went on–that is generally a prescription for a fun and fast day on the bike. For me, it meant that my bad day actually didn’t look like one, because I had the help of nature. The wind in the afternoon pushed us along at such a rate, I hardly had to pedal. Rolling at 23 mph with a heart rate under 100 doesn’t happen very often. After having a chatty ride yesterday, I rode alone for most of the day today, resolutely concentrated on my own rhythm. Except when I sang “Aoxomoxoa” from front to back. “Cosmic Charlie” does get you up some hills . . . My rear hurt a lot today–I spent a lot of time standing, but it probably wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if I hadn’t been as tired. Nonetheless, I’m breaking out the saddle pad for tomorrow’s ride, the longest of the tour thus far.
We woke to another chilly morning this morning, rode out at the usual time. Today’s route followed Highways 87, 60, 15, & 191. After negotiating a construction site early on, the terrain gradually started changing from the ‘hard’ desert of yesterday to a bit of a softer look, with more greenery, occasional trees, and some of the classic Arizona scenery, with the mesas, rock spires, and colorful canyonlands. Very pretty, and with the wind as strong as it was, it took very little effort to pedal, so you could actually enjoy it. We spent the entire day on the Navajo reservation, which, I’m happy to report, is populated by friendly and courteous drivers. We got lots of waves and friendly honks. Chinle is the gateway to Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which I’ve never seen, and still won’t, because I have to concentrate on recovery! Oh well–at least the restaurant at our Best Western offers a Navajo menu. I had mutton stew, salad, fries & carrot cake.
Tomorrow we enter Colorado, seemingly a day much like today, and then the two following days will be mountain days again. I can’t wait!
Day 7. Chinle to Cortez, CO Entered Mountain Time Zone
Well, we’re done with the desert. And not a moment too soon for this California boy. I don’t think I’ve gone four days without seeing a tree in my whole life. Now, the desert is majestic and all, and riding your bike through it gives you an appreciation that you may not get from the air conditioned seat of your car, and certainly not from the tiny window of your airplane seat 35,000 feet up. The changes in the desert are subtle. Today’s route took us out of the greener desert we entered yesterday into the high, dry desert of buttes, washes, rock and cliffs. We saw the classic butte that is in all the Arizona tourist stuff, and we bordered on the canyonlands. Long straight roads, subtle climbs and descents, and the constant presence of the sun drying out your lips, skin and sinuses.
We left Chinle on 191, turned left of 160, and took that all the way to Cortez, a ride of 141 miles. We were pushed by the same tailwinds as yesterday for the first 75 miles which went by very fast. We had our least appealing lunch stop today, a wide opening in the side of the road barely able to accommodate our group, but lunch was still pretty tasty. 15 miles after lunch we visited Four Corners, which took about 5 minutes to completely and fully experience. It is a cool idea and all, but the big thing to do at 4 corners is to order a sno-cone. It is not fraught with historic significance, cultural portent, or environmental relevance.
After that we began our long slow climb to Cortez. I could see the landscape changing–the eastern sides of the hills began to sport trees, and as the road rose up to the north, trees came into view there as well. Our hotel is situated on the eastern edge of Cortez, which sits up on a plateau. To the south we have the dry hills, to the east and north the beginnings of the western slope of the Rockies are visible. Cool. I’m ready for the mountains.
I was feeling good today, fully recovered from yesterday’s episode. Riding easy yesterday, coupled with my self-treatment in the sauna and hot tub, not to mention a good night’s sleep, really let me recover and be prepared for today. So, the process of the last three days has been very instructive. You can never think of just one day, but must keep every day in mind. Its like Jens Voight in the Tour this year–he killed himself to get the jersey for one day, and then the next day he couldn’t make the time cut and was out of the race. Today feels like a corner has been turned, and that I will be getting stronger for the rest of the trip (or at least until exhaustion takes over).
I had dinner tonight with Peter Phillips, an oncological neurologist from Philadelphia, and Lew Meyer, a retired pilot and 72 year old ultracycling heavyweight. Very interesting guys–of course, we talked about Peter’s three flats, what’s going to happen on the road tomorrow, and climbing Haleakala. Oh, I’ve done that, I said. They did it twice in one day, which goes to show you something. Please email me if you know what, because I’d like to know, too.
We pass by the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get off the road and see it. Right. At least I’ll get to climb a couple of mountain passes and ride in the Colorado Rockies again.
Day 8. Cortez to Pagosa Springs
Today was deceptively hard. While it wasn’t super long, nor an inordinate amount of climbing, the way the day was set up, plus the fact that we were at 6500 feet and higher all day made for a day that got pretty hard later in the day. WE began with a sustained climb up out of Cortez to an 8000 ft pass on Colorado state route 160, followed by a fast descent into Durango. We then took routes 172 and 151 before rejoining 160 for the final 10 miles into town. This route was a very pretty route with very light traffic, but was constant up and down for 70 miles, so I’m tired tonight, more so than on most other nights.
Durango is a pretty town, nicely done up for the tourists. I actually went off the route today to do a little sightseeing–I felt like such a rebel! I feel a certain amount of pressure to stay on the route and with the group plan–partly this is from the nature of the beast, in that each day is hard and you don’t want to do anything extra, and partly because of the way the organization is set up to support you on the road. You can do the whole tour without ever talking to a local, except to order dinner. PAC Tour is in its own little capsule, moving smartly down the road at 13-17 mph. You eat breakfast in the parking lot, leave the hotel, ride 25 or 30 miles to the Dodge Caravan, refuel, ride 25 or 30 miles to the Hotel van, refuel, it goes to the hotel, you ride to lunch at 75 or 85 miles, eat, then ride 25 or 30 miles to the Caravan, reload again, then ride in. When you get to the hotel, wipe down your bike, get your bag, roll both to the room, shower, go find dinner, come back, and try to stay awake until at least 9:00.
Thus my rebellion of going off the course today to Durango, having a doppio and coffee cake and actually seeing the town a bit. The time between Durango and lunch was delightful, these high subalpine valleys, with large views out to the high mountains. We’re still south, so there are occasional reminders of the desert, as we passed by chimney rock and other outcroppings. After lunch is always slow, as your legs and your stomach fight for a limited supply of blood.
I’ve been promising as few stats about the group, so here they are. The average age is 50.1. The distribution is: 29 in their 50’s, 26 in their 40’s, and 6 each over 60 and under 40. The youngest is 21; there are two guys who are 72. There are 13 women and 54 men from 21 states and
5 foreign countries–Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Its a large enough group that I quite likely will not meet all of them–I tend to see mostly the same people on the road each day–I rarely see the fast guys or the slower group.
Tomorrow we climb Wolf Creek Pass, 10,500 ft, as part of the shortest day of the tour.
Day 9. Pagosa Springs to Alamosa
AT the end of the day today, we have ridden over 1,000 miles and completed 9 days of riding. I’ve written about the rhythm of the days, the little capsule of PAC Tour rolling across the country. Today we got into Alamosa at about 2:15. I went to the supermarket. It seemed like a different world! Such a wide range of choices, cool temperatures. I don’t make very many choices at all on this trip–pretty much what to order for dinner is the extent of it.
Today’s ride was a rest day, although every day has its challenges. We left Pagosa Springs in 30 degree weather, rode 15 miles through this beautiful valley, then climbed Wolf Creek pass–an 8 mile, 3000 foot climb. This is not a hard climb for experienced riders but it was made a bit harder by the altitude. Some riders had to slow way down. It being the mountains, I enjoyed the climb–I do well in this terrain, both going up and down. To climb effectively, you get into a rhythm, spinning your legs in the right gear, taking a break by shifting down two or three cogs and standing, then moving back into your spin–its real fun. I climb at around 7-9 mph, and at that speed you see everything. This climb was very Colorado–trees, cliffs, bright blue sky It was a beautiful morning, it warmed up to around 50 or so, and the climb was over seemingly in no time. Then, you get dessert–the descent. It was a wide, straight and smooth road, and I hit 51 MPH.
We had to stop for a while to get escorted through a construction site, then we completed the descent, had lunch, then John Blaida, Alan Stokes and I put together a great paceline into a pretty strong wind for the next 25 miles, down a long, straight, unprotected road. Being behind the lead rider in a paceline save you 15% – 25% of your energy.
Tomorrow is the longest day of the tour to date–146 miles to la Junta, CO. We climb again to 9400 ft, but end the day at 4000, so I think we have a pretty fast day in store. Check in then . . .
Day 10. Alamosa to La Junta
Well, today was a super fun day on the bike. A few days ago I did a 100 mile ride that felt like 150, and today we did a ride of 150 that felt like 100. 5000 feet of descending can do that for you. The size of the country is really becoming apparent. We transitioned into a new terrain today, coming out of the mountains and into the high plains. We followed route 160 to Walsenberg then route 10 to La Junta. The day dawned real cold again (Alamosa is at 7400 ft) and we had a flat 30 miles or so to the first rest stop, where it was picture day, and Lon took everyone’s picture with their bike, in their favorite jersey, with 14,000+ ft. Mt. Blanca in the background. It warmed up a bit by then, so the toe warmers, fleece headband, full finger gloves and jacket came off, but the long sleeve undershirt and leg warmers didn’t come off till lunch. We then had an easy climb up La Veta pass. On the climb, I passed and spoke to a gentleman, at least 75, I think, pedaling fully loaded (meaning carrying all of his clothes & camping equipment) to Memphis to visit his daughter. This is what’s great about cycling. It is a lifetime sport, one that can be engaged in by anyone in many many ways.
So anyway, after the climb, we were treated on the other side to a great, fast 3000 ft descent that took us all the way into lunch with about 12 pedal strokes. After lunch we lost an additional 2000 ft, riding 75 miles through absolutely nowhere. Hundreds of square miles of scrub brush-no animals, telephone poles, nothing. I was riding at that point with Anny Beck & David Licatevich, her captain for the day. We had a hard time figuring out why a road was put there to begin with, but the ride was peaceful & fast. I ended the day hammering in a paceline with the 2nd group-Tandemists Dennis & Karen, plus Reed, Jim & Brad (more about the on the road hierarchy another day) for about 20 miles into town. Physically, I’m getting stronger, and am adapted to the work of this trip.
A word about dinner–When we come into these tiny towns, we are carless and tend to go to the local restaurant next door, and overwhelm them–its taken about 2 hours to get in and out of these places. So today, John & I called Pizza Hut, they delivered, and it was all very easy to do the waiting in the room, instead of trying to go somewhere. Quality?? Its calories, baby.
Tomorrow is the longest day of the tour, and I’ll let you know how it goes.
Day 11. La Junta to Ulysses, KS. Entered the Central Time Zone
This was a long day on the bike. I’ve ridden a lot of rides of this length or longer, and as they go today’s was pretty easy, but no ride of this length is easy–it takes focus and concentration to make it happen. The ride was flat–only 1300 feet of climbing over 160 miles. The first four hours had a strong tailwind and I covered the 86 miles to lunch with ease, riding with Jon Wolf and Tonya Jeffries on their tandem, and Robert Moore, a PAC Tour Hall of Famer (meaning 10K PAC Tour miles). After a quick lunch, the ride got hard as we turned south for a 40 mile grind into a headwind, in temperatures that reached 110. It didn’t get much better when we turned east again, because the wind shifted to a crosswind. By this time we were all out of water with 15 miles to the rest stop. What a welcome sight that was! After about 20 minutes of recovery, we got back in the saddle and rode what seemed to be an interminable 24 miles to the hotel. So there you have it. A ride with an ecstatic start had an agonizing finish. Sometimes it’s just the opposite. So, all in all, it was an OK day in the saddle, but we were awfully glad to see the hotel. The hoteliers fixed a dinner for us tonight, which was very nice. We could go through the buffet line, sit down and eat and talk with ease about our day’s adventures.
The riding was the only interesting part of the day, because the plains were flat, flat flat. You’d look in the distance and perhaps see a few trees, but they would be planted around a house, and otherwise it was “Breadbasket of America” time. WE also passed a huge stockyard today–burgers on the hoof literally as far as the eye can see. I did enjoy meeting Jon & Tonya, who have three teenage children in their blended family, and, when they got married, registered at the bike shop.
Tomorrow is the second longest day of the tour, at 151 miles, but the weather is expected to be significantly cooler. Talk to you then.
Day 12. Ulysses to Pratt
Well, the only thing to say about this day is thank god its over. 151 miles into strong headwinds all day. Ten hours in the saddle, with only about 45 minutes in cumulative stops. The noise of the wind in your ears, the big trucks going by–on your side, the provided a brief respite from the wind and a small bit of draft. On the other side, their passing would roil the air, jerk your bike around, and throw dirt in your face. We got in as the sun was going down. The thing about today was the monotony of it. The only time you had to change gears was to stand, otherwise I was spinning a 42×19 gear into the wind, over and over again. And to top it off, dinner was out of the deli case at WalMart.
Days like this you really depend on your fellow riders to help keep you spirits up. Half the riders got into the SAG vans today, either because they got too tired or because they would not be able to make it in by sunset. I thought about it, but my companions helped keep me on the road. I rode much of the day with Mike and Nancy Myers, a coupe from Baxter Springs, Kansas, and we talked about a lot of things–her cancer, Eva’s death, rides we’d been on, Paris-Brest-Paris 2003, and I was singing. A lot. They would name a musical and I would sing a song from it. Or several songs from it. Many of you know this penchant of mine, and it came into good use today. Days like this are hard, but there is always someone tougher who’s fcing a greater challenge than you are. Two cases in point–Anny, who probably weighs 100 lbs, fought the wind fo the last 60 miles by herself, getting in around 8. Woody Graham got in at 9:30.
A topic of discussion is whether the remains of Rita will get us wet next Monday or Tuesday, or if we will be far enough east to avoid it.
Anyway, I am totally fried, so this is it for today. We’re supposed to get into some hillier and tree-ier terrain tomorrow, thank God. Tomorrow morning we will cross over the halfway point–1561 miles ridden. It is going by quickly.
Day 13. Pratt to Winfield
After yesterday, today was expected to be a ‘slow motion’ day, and it did not disappoint in that respect. I was in a fog for most of the day, unable to work hard because I was still trashed from yesterday. We followed a fairly easy circuit, though we had headwinds for most of the day. My average speed was about 14, down from 15 yesterday and 18 the day before. I could not hold my heart rate much higher than 100 for a sustained period of time, so I succumbed to the inevitable and rode at a slow and steady pace all day. I was so tired coming into the second rest stop at 64 miles that I laid down on the grass and took a nap. It was only about 5 minutes, but it helped. I then got to ride with the Turtles. The Turtles are the group of riders who ride slow and steady, and generally come in toward the end of the day. They pride themselves on their turtle-ness, and their goal is to ride with everyone else at least once. So today I got to ride with Turtles Dan Aaron (20K+ Pac Tour miles) and Anne Marie McSweeney. We had a good time, as Dan & I sang show tunes. That 21 mile stretch, followed by lunch, perked me up, and I was able to hold the wheel of Jon & Tonya (remember them?) into the final rest stop. Leaving there, it definitely felt like my legs were back, but I was still quite tired. I didn’t trust myself to be safe in the fast paceline, so I dropped out and rode the last 19 miles on my own, which was quite enjoyable. Hopefully a good night sleep tonight will restore my spirit as well as my legs, and I’ll be back to normal tomorrow.
I was invited to dinner with the Turtles tonight–a great honor to eat with Dan, Anne Marie, Simone and Gail (who is not a turtle–she’s in the fast group). Had a good steak dinner at the Golf Clubhouse restaurant next door to the motel. All of these people are Pac Tour vets, and the culture of PacTourness was in play. They talked about previous tours, desert camp (see pactour.com for more on this). I can’t see riding across the country again, but this is a good Company and one of their lesser adventures might be doable.
Day 14. Winfield to Parsons
Today was a shorter day, 117 miles and about 2500 ft of climbing, so I was able to use it to continue my recovery from the day before yesterday. I had my legs back, but my spirit still needed repair. I rode the first 30 miles with a relatively fast group, then dropped off and rode my own pace the rest of the day. I unlimbered my iPod for only the second time and listened to Live Dead, After Bathing at Baxter’s and 2400 Fulton St. (Jefferson Airplane albums) and Possessed by the Klezmatics. That wasn’t the greatest choice, as the last 20 minutes are the soundtrack to the Dybbuk, and it doesn’t benefit me to get pulled into the world of the dead (still remarkably accessible even eight years later). Anyway, I do feel somewhat repaired and hope that a good night’s sleep will ready me for the next very challenging three days.
Our route today basically followed routes 160 and 400, with a bunch of detours onto less trafficked county roads. This part of Kansas is quite pretty, with low rolling hills, lots of trees and water, farm fields that you actually can see the other side of–although we still had that easterly wind, we were sheltered from its direct force for a lot of the day by the trees and hills. The morning had a gentle quality to it–gentle slopes, gentle pace, soft hills, pastel colors. Then, the first thing after lunch we were on ten miles of gravel road, then had maybe 30 miles of rollers into Parsons–a harbinger of the challenge of Missouri. All in all, though, a nice day. My cumulative exhaustion is building, and I’m getting real tired of being on the bike so much. The little aches and pains are building, my neck on the right, my left hand and elbow, ach-y knees, sore quads, but I take it day by day, get through each day. Only 11 more. 14 gone already. Wow. Pretty good!
A case of 24 hour stomach flu has been going around–John
(my roommate) had it, but fortunately I’ve been spared so far. The Turtles got hit pretty badly.
As I promised yesterday, the order of the road.
- The fast group–Micah, Gail, Steve, Mark, Charlie and one or two others. These guys are strong, light and gear mashers, and they are up the road within the first thirty miles or so.
- Franz and Elanor always leave early on their tandem, often accompanied by 5 or 6 guys. Now F & E take a lot of pictures, so they tend to fall back during the day, leaving a group of guys as #2 on the road. John is often in this group.
- Campionissimo Jim Hutton, accompanied by Reed, Brad and Dennis and Karen on their Erickson Tandem. Jon & Tonya are putatively a part of this group, but tend to ride on their own. They may pick up one or two others. I can ride with these guys when I am feeling very strong.
Next, and this order could flip depending on the terrain:
- The Myers tandem and whoever they have picked up for the day.
- Strongman Jonathan Page and whoever has the ability to stay on his wheel, unless he is riding with Melissa that day.
- Various flavors of solo guys, who sometimes ride together, sometimes apart, and sometimes with the above. This is generally where I am.
- David & Freddie Ackerman from Germany, and whichever of the guys from #6 end up with them
- The next group of solo guys.
- The faster Turtles. When Susan rides, she generally rides here.
- The slower Turtles.
- The slower guys.
- April, who is new to distance riding and rides well each day, although she often needs a sag boost
- Woody, a vastly experienced distance rider who rides at his pace through every and any condition.
Some people choose to SAG, or take a ride in the van. You can be boosted from one rest stop to another, or be taken from a later rest stop into the hotel. Some people have to sag due to mechanical problems, injury or illness, others due to slowness or exhaustion. I flirted with the van two days ago, but I put my head down and rode. I am determined to pedal every stroke of this fakokt tour.
Day 15. Parsons to Springfield, MO
Whew. We’re out of Kansas, land of headwinds. Even our Kansans were happy to get out of Kansas. Four days pedaling into those winds is just too much, and we all paid for it in various ways. Today we paralleled routes 400 and 160 again, mostly on small country roads. As we rolled deeper into Missouri, the terrain changed and became more and more beautiful. We are in the northern area of the Ozarks, and are going to be spending the next two days going up and down through these hills.
I was riding with the Myers again today from the beginning all the way to lunch. They are in their later fifties, second marriage for both with lots of children and a few grandchildren. We were only 50 miles from their home, on roads that they often ride, and they were full of stories. We talked pretty much nonstop, but riding next to them put me in the wind without the advantage of a stoker, so I began to fade a bit before lunch. It really took two full days to recover from that very difficult day in the wind on the plains of Kansas. There was a lot of climbing after lunch, so I rode that alone, because I wanted to ride at my own pace, and take care of my legs. It worked, pretty much, and I rolled into Springfield tired, with lactate loaded legs, but feeling happy about the day and looking forward to the next two.
The entry into Missouri was a little bit more of the open plains, and the headwinds were picking up, but the stretch from lunch to the final rest stop in Ash Grove was really gorgeous–beautiful woods, tiny little towns, easy climbs and sweeping descents. It was a real pleasure.
Anyway, tomorrow is supposed to be an 8000 foot day, up and down all day. It could be a grind, with all the climbing, but if the terrain is as beautiful as today it will be worth it.
Day 16. Springfield to West Plains
Well, today was pretty much as promised, but before I get into today, the town we were in last night, Springfield, is the biggest city we’ve been in yet–about 150K. We rode through town for 9 miles before we got to the hotel, and dealing with urban riding was odd after all these days on the road, especially with aching legs. All the stopping and starting was difficult, as was simply paying attention to serial traffic lights. This also is the longest period I’ve not been in a car for as long as I can remember, probably in my entire life. One of the obvious but unanticipated benefits of PAC Tour.
So today I rode mostly alone in the Ozarks, talking with people at the rest stops, but mostly with my own riding rhythm and thoughts. I was the last guy out of the parking lot again, but rode up to my usual position in the lower middle of the group by the second rest stop. I got progressively more tired as the day went on, and by the time I left lunch I really wanted a double espresso. Very badly. However, there are not coffee houses on every corner here in the Ozarks. What there is are churches. Every little town had at least one, and some had several. All small, white clapboard buildings, with the occasional brick one. Baptist and Nazarene were particularly popular. The towns are well kept, but quite modest. Small houses, old cars, very few civic improvements except in the largest towns. I had a strong sense of being in the heartland. This is the Bible Belt, the homeland GB is thinking of when he talks of homeland security. We passed cemeteries that were bright with flowers–there is a lot of remembering going on in this part of the world. Drivers were extraordinarily courteous, waiting behind as I labored up these short, steep hills, answering my friendly wave as they passed by. There was a stone house with a sod roof that looked like it could have come out of Medieval Scotland. In places it reminded me of Pope Valley, in places the French pre-alp countryside we rode in last year, in places the Pacific Northwest. The riders from that area did feel at home. John also felt at home today, as this is terrain he is very familiar with. As a result, he is riding very strongly. I, on the other hand, am in terrain that I don’t ride very much, plus the humidity is difficult. It feels like there is too much air. Most everyone else is much more comfortable with the heavier air and lower altitudes.
The end of the day today was sort of a struggle, as exhaustion and a group of niggling little aches and pains begin to make themselves felt. I’ve started to pop aspirin and/or Aleve during the day. But we did pass a milestone today, as we reached 2000 miles ridden there now are only 9 riding days left.
Some general news–We’ve had a couple of crashes in the past two days. Late yesterday afternoon Mike Arnold (neighbor of Buddy Rhodes and Susan Andrews in Laytonville, BTW) got taken down by a dog, resulting in the complete destruction of his Calfee carbon frame. Both the top tube and down tube snapped in two at the head tube lugs. And today, Steve M. got clipped by the rear view mirror of a passing truck, resulting in a trip to the hospital for stitches– only our second emergency room visit of the trip. He will be riding tomorrow, but it could have been much more serious. Riding defensively and with lots of awareness of what’s around you is so important.
Tomorrow we leave the Ozarks and transition to our next geography. What will it be??
DAY 17. West Plains to Poplar Bluffs
Today continued two of the themes of the past few days–beautiful hilly countryside in the Bible Belt, and one tired rider after lunch. Before lunch, I do OK–I’m not exactly able to power over the hills (more about that in a minute), but I’m controlling the ride. After lunch, all I want to do is close my eyes. I’m standing in a 30 x 21 gear to get over these puny hills, its hard to keep the bike in a straight line , I’m grimly ticking off the miles to the next rest stop, and wondering how the heck I’m going to get through the next 8 days (yes, that’s all that’s left to ride, incredibly). I move slowly back through the group as the day progresses, and somehow find my way to the end of the day.
So I have a new strategy, formed by the experience of today. At the last rest stop, I took a three minute nap, laying flat on the ground, then took an Aleve, then I had an espresso Hammer Gel, and by the time I got back to the hotel, I was feeling pretty good. So, now I have a prescription for the rest of the trip–indolence and drugs. Just what my parents were afraid of all those years ago, and it’s now come to pass. I also was assisted by the steady pace of David & Freddie Ackermann, whose wheels I diligently held for the final 24 miles into town.
So my comment above about powering over the hills–The way to ride these rollers is to build up your speed on the downhill, preserve as much momentum as you can on the way up, then power over the top in a big gear. What I do is preserve the momentum, but I have to resort to either grinding in a smaller gear or going back to my spin in a really small gear. When I try to power (i.e. turn a big gear at a fast pace) my legs scream at me and I have to back off. So that breaks the momentum, and then I have to start over at the top of the roller instead of staying in the rhythm, which saps more energy, which then makes it harder to deal with the next one. My strength is in spinning (turning the pedals at a faster cadence) a smaller gear rather than mashing a bigger one, so I’m OK on the flats and good in the sustained climbs, but not so good in this terrain. So I have something to work on next year.
The morning today continued the beautiful terrain of yesterday, but as we moved east the hills flattened out a bit, and after lunch we were back in flat terrain, in the southeastern part of Missouri. Very pretty riding, but as I said above I spent most of the afternoon staring at the white line. Tomorrow we have a long day, 142 miles, with a mix of easier rolling hills, flat terrain, and the Mississippi River. We’ll see if the terrain change leaves me less tired. Or maybe it will be the drugs.
Day 18. Poplar Bluff to Vienna, IL
That’s Vy-anna here in Illinois. Had a great day on the bike today, a beautiful ride of 142 miles, almost 6200 feet of climbing, through lots of varied terrain, and even including some tailwinds, our first tailwinds in almost a week. We started with more of the steep rolling hills of the last few days, then moved into some farmland, then hit Cape Girardeau and the Mississippi. Kind of dramatic to cross that river and come into Illinois, then turn north and pick up the blessed tailwinds. However, don’t think for a minute that we just stayed on the highway and rode the tailwinds all the way into Vienna (Vy-anna)–after all, this is PAC Tour. The afternoon detour was really worth it, though, beautiful quiet roads that got progressively smaller, reminding me again of rural France. All of the properties were very well maintained, the grasses mowed down to the roadside, small farms, a few cows, etc. We spent the last ten miles on a tiny one lane road that led into town.
Now, there must be a town, but I didn’t see it. We are staying at a motel at a freeway interchange, with Subway, McDonalds, Dairy Queen, and Jumbo’s family style restaurant the culinary choices. (It was a chopped sirloin at Jumbo’s, BTW, with mashed potatoes, corn and cole slaw, followed by an ice cream bar at Dairy Queen).
I felt the best today since the big windy day. I didn’t get so sleepy in the afternoon, I felt pretty strong all day, and I really enjoyed the day. I rode with the Meyers for about 60 miles or so, but at the end of the day I let them ride off with some other guys in the paceline, because I didn’t want to spend the concentration on being a responsible paceline partner. Instead, I noodled my way in the last 30 miles, just appreciating the beauty, breathing easily, and experiencing the simple freedom and pleasure of riding a bike.
Today, the simple child asked me a question. (I had heard from the wicked child and the stupid child earlier in the trip.) A guy was walking down the road as I was climbing by him, and he looked at me, bewildered, and, gesturing at the road and the bike, and said, “How do you do this?” Not why or wherefore. So I said, “Well, you just start riding your bike, you practice a lot, then you invest in training and equipment, and if you love it you’ll ride your bike anywhere.” “Oh, thanks,” and we went on our separate ways. It was the perfect question, and fit in with the simple beauty and pleasure of the day.
Tomorrow, we cross the Ohio–on a ferry. Cool. And I’ll be writing from Kentucky.
Day 19. Vienna to Madisonville, KY
This was a pretty ride today. Beautiful back roads, varied terrain including some steep climbing on Cotton Trail Road, and time spent on another competitor in the cool road category—Snake Hole Road. We had a ferry crossing of the Ohio River, a relatively short day with an early arrival, and really, I didn’t care. Today’s ride was like punching the clock. If I had done this ride from home, after a week’s work, and come out to do it, I would have been very enthusiastic about it–it really was a very nice route, but, as my 19th century in a row, it just lost its charm. There was a lot of climbing today, including some pretty steep pitches that reminded me of riding at home.
Mostly I am in the moment on these rides, what I’m experiencing, thinking, singing, breathing—but today, I actually had other things to think about. I had a visitor tonight, Connie Noyes, a friend from Rhythm & Motion who moved to Paducah, KY, about 75 miles from here, so this broke the routine. I actually had a reason to get in early, because I wanted to do my laundry before she came. So instead of staying in the moment, I wanted to ride to be over so I could take care of tonight’s stuff. Of course, that doesn’t work—I still finished when I finished, didn’t have time to do my laundry anyway. Ram Dass was right.
Actually, the laundry is an issue, because most of these hotels have one washer and dryer and many cyclists wanting to use them. So you either get in early or spend time waiting in line at the laundry room. I’ve returned to doing my laundry in the sink, because it’s too much of a hassle to do anything else.
Tomorrow is another long day . We’ll see how it goes.
Day 20. Madisonville to Lebanon, TN Entered Easter Time Zone
This was a good day on the bike. It’s really interesting how things can change so much from one day to the next. Yesterday, we rode 106 miles and climbed 5280 feet. Today we rode 138 miles and climbed 5000 feet. Which is the harder day? There is no absolute measure to it, because so many different factors go into determining to course of the day–how you slept, how you ate and drank, the terrain, who you rode with, how your shorts feel that day. . . . .
Anyway, it was a good day. Not painful, the climbs were much gentler than yesterday, and at various times during the day I rode strongly with strong riders. I rode from the second stop into lunch with Brad and Reed, trading pulls in a 21 mph paceline, until we slammed on the brakes at the Tennessee state line, eliciting a rousing chorus of . . . . .do you have to guess what came out of me? Yes, that’s right boys and girls, ‘Tennessee Jed.’ Then, after lunch I rode with the whole group, including Jim and the Dennis & Karen tandem, at speeds approaching 24 mph on the flats–Jim and the tandem trade pulls on that one, and I just hang on to the back for dear life. The route took us through Gallantin, TN, a busy town with no shoulders on the road–definitely the most uncomfortable traffic situation of the trip to date. Well, at least the giant tow truck towing the burned out city bus was courteous. We really held people up ’cause there was nowhere to go except the traffic lane, and no where to pull off.
From the last rest stop I started out with the Jon & Tonya tandem, continuing on my own when they dropped off for a bathroom stop, but soon got picked up by the Franz & Elanor tandem, so all in all I didn’t have to work too hard. This is differentiated from yesterday, where, even if you did ride with a group, the terrain was such that you really couldn’t do much drafting for too much of the time. Tomorrow is supposed to be more of that–like yesterday rather than today. We’ll see.
But, speaking of music, I do need to comment on how surrounded by American roots music I’ve been feeling since the third day in Kansas, when we passed through ‘a county called Gray.’ Then riding through the Ozarks for three days, and coming into Tennessee today, and riding through Muhlenberg County, ‘down by the Green River where Paradise lay.’ The music oozes out of the earth. You can understand Woody’s inspiration, because the hardscrabble life of people here is palpable. Tomorrow we’ll be in Cumberland County, and we may ‘get down to the Cumberland mine.’ This is the land that put the folk in folk music.
This leads me to our political commentary for the day. We live in our wealthy coastal cities, with our precious liberal attitudes, but a lot of our concerns are obviously irrelevant here. It really is apparent that this is a different America. The church matters so much because it is the glue of the community. People are very spread out, the smaller towns have no services, but we see church after church (a lot with Head Start Centers). We Democrats see the political landscape as a battleground of ideas, but out here you can feel the visceral reality of day to day life–the church, the land, the cemeteries–it’s not about ideas, but about taking care of yourself and your neighbors. This is the core of what the Right understood and has been working toward for these 30 years, and what the Left has ignored to its chagrin. It also explains why Clinton got elected, because people here could relate to him as an individual.
All that from a bike ride.
Day 21. Lebanon to Dayton
This was a bear of a day–for me, the hardest day personally of the entire trip. 128 miles, 8200 feet of climbing, but it was like two different days. 78 miles in the morning with 4400 feet of rollers, which I’ve told you before are hard for me–each little uphill takes a little more out of me. By the time lunch rolled around, I was tired, but I had high hopes for the afternoon, rumor being that there were three sustained climbs, which I am much more comfortable with. So I took off after a pretty long lunch break on a 55 mile ride with 4000 feet of climbing (Alpine Dam loop, for example), something I do a lot at home. The first two climbs went well, even though there were more of those pesky rollers. After the last rest stop, though, I started going backwards–there was nothing left in the tank, and I felt queasy, headachy, and weak. I crawled the last 30 miles, coasting every downhill, riding every uphill in my granny gear. If it hadn’t been for a generous helping of descents, I might still be out there. I think what happened to me was dehydration. It was cool this morning, and I drank less than usual on the bike and less at the stops. So that, combined with the difficulty of the day, really knocked me out. Even with the climbing, 9 hours in the saddle to ride this distance is sloooow for me. I was alone most of the day, as well. I was able to hang with the same group as yesterday to the first rest stop, but then the rollers got steeper and I was damned to my own little piece of suffering. I tried to ride with Peter, David & Simone for a while, but I couldn’t match their rhythm–they’d hit the bottoms of the hills faster than me. If the hill was long enough, I’d catch up, but too often they’d get over the top before I could get up to them, and then I’ve have to chase back on, and then I’d be cooked when we hit the next hill–altogether an untenable situation for me, so I dropped off and rode my own pace until the blessed Myers caught me with about 5 miles left to lunch and I rolled in on their wheel. After lunch I was pretty happy until I blew up (that’s what it’s called in bike lingo).
“Paul, look at the rhythm, he’s totally blown! He can barely turn the pedals, even with that saucer sized cog! He’s going backwards . . . .fast!”
“You’re right, Phil, you can lose a lot of time the mountains, and Gunther will be lucky to make the time cut tonight!” Fortunately, it’s not a race, and I did not have to get into the f-ing van.
Tennessee is not the Ozarks. Yesterday, we were riding by these McMansions being built in rural Nashville (we were about 20 miles from there). Although there still are plenty of trailers and smaller places, there also are more larger houses and farms. There is more commerce on the roads, and the roads are generally of better quality. We’ve passed a lot of horse farms, tobacco drying barns, and recording studios. More visual evidence of a more diverse economy. I’d comment more, except that, per the above, I spent the last few hours of today in a decidedly non-observant mode. I can report, however, that the white lines on the edge of road in Tennessee display a remarkable consistency, and can be relied to keep tired riders out of the ditch.
So I’m going to go elevate my legs and try to get a lot of sleep tonight. Only 4 days left to go. Tomorrow we get to the high point of the Eastern Mountains, so I hope it’s more my cup of tea than today. I’ll let you know then!
Day 22. Dayton to Dahlonega, GA
Another day, another 140 miles and 8000 feet. Today, though , was an easier day for me than yesterday. Which was nice, because it was a very nice route today. Today’s terrain was more like a mountain day, with the climbs being longer, so I could get into a rhythm. The first 60 miles were pretty flat, and at the end of that we had an absolutely gorgeous stretch along the Ocoee River, a big whitewater recreation area and site of the ‘96 Olympics kayaking competition. We also were in the TVA zone, and we passed several dams and historical markers that were part of that effort. We then had three big climbs, punctuated with more rollers, but tolerable. We entered Georgia at some point along there.
There was a different tone to the whole day today, maybe because it started with breakfast in a restaurant rather than the parking lot (or maybe because I had no place to go but up after yesterday). On Pac Tour you become attuned to things that you wouldn’t accept in real life, so sitting down, being served, seemed like a special experience. Actually, that was OJ, eggs, potatoes, toast and pancakes, followed by a bowl of granola at the trailer.
The day ended with a long descent into Dahlonega (that’s Dah-LON-ih-guh), the center of Lumpkin County. I was riding with Jon & Tonya at that point, and Jon & I got started talking about the little known Lumpkin rebellion, an almost forgotten piece of Georgia history, which had its roots in a battle over rights to mine the rich lodes of Lumpkinite that are present around here–but I won’t bore you with the details. As this is PAC Tour, it all happened in the saddle, anyway, there was no time to be able to visit the Lumpkin County Historical Society for a fuller appreciation of it.
You may notice that I am no longer talking about the surroundings, the last couple of days. That’s because I am barely seeing them. Life is reduced to a series of cascading moments that move solely to the rhythm of the pedal stroke. Spin, push, shift, stand, sit, spin. Stop. Eat. Fill the bottles. Sit. Spin. Stand. Sit. Oh, nice Lake. Spin. Stand. Drink. Pretty countryside. Spin.
Occasionally you talk to one of the other riders who you connect with for a while. The same rhythm continues at the Hotel. Stop. Eat. Drink. Clean Bike. Get suitcase, take both to the room. Wash out the shorts and whatever other clothes I need. Shower. Apply Brave Soldier. Dress. Go eat (usually something barely acceptable). Come back. Write. Sleep.
Gee, sounds pretty bleak. It doesn’t feel bleak, but you do have to move steadily from one thing to the next to get yourself to sleep in time. Remember, this whole effort truly is a Great Enterprise, Shared with Others in Common Purpose, united in both Glory and Suffering.
Tomorrow we head to South Carolina, our last state. Will I care?? Spin. Shift. Stand. Sit…….
Day 23. Dahlonega to Greenwood, SC
Yeah, well, it wasn’t a big revelation, but there was a moment of excitement when I entered South Carolina. The last state! I was riding with the Turtles at the time, and they rode on, but I stopped and got my obligatory picture. Today in general happened in sort of a fog. It seemed ridiculous that we had another 140 mile day today, but that’s what it took to leave us 220 miles from the ocean, with 2 days to ride.
Today was fairly unremarkable. I approached it with a workmanlike attitude, not pushing too hard, using my granny gear on all the hills (about 5K ft. worth). I had two good segments, two so so segments, and one bad segment today. I liked the town of Due West, South Carolina, home of Erskine College, and we had a nice lunch stop by Lake Hartwell, GA., but the general theme of the day was getting it over with. I pretty much stayed at the back of the pack today, which gave me the opportunity to talk at greater length with Anne Marie McSweeney (aka Mrs. Turtle), a former high tech worker who recently made a big change in her life to get more balance, more time to ride, and change her life.
This morning, it still seemed like the end of the tour was pretty far away. Tonight, it seems like it will be finished, but I still can’t get too excited about it. Two days is still two days, the pedals need to be turned, the route to be followed, the body to be maintained. The way you get through this is by staying in the moment as much as possible. If you think about the event as a whole, its way too much to swallow. I’m going to ride the tandem with Anny the next two days, so that will be a change.
Today’s commentary: Riding really provides a baseline for those of us who are in this somewhat rarefied world of long distance cycling, and lives get shaped in order to allow time for this. Anne Marie left her busy and successful career. Anny gave up clinical nursing for nighttime teaching of nursing so she could have the days and summer to ride. The capacity to do this provides a sane, self-controlled place in the heart, a center of competence and calm confidence.
But you don’t have to be this kind of nutty to get benefits from cycling. Riding around the park twice a week works wonders as well. Try it!
Anne sent me the Erev Rosh Hashanah service, and I read/prayed/chanted it tonight, and I really liked feeling connected again. I look forward to coming home. Shana Tovah, everyone.
Day 24. Greenwood to Orangeburg
Well, it’s almost over, but today was just another day on PAC Tour. You had to pay attention, but I did have Anny today on her beautiful and excellent bike. A short day today, only 118 miles, but it had its own challenges, particularly in the afternoon when the winds picked up and pushed us hard. It’s harder to manage a tandem in a high wind, because of the amount of surface presented to the wind–you have to wrestle the bike a lot more than on a single. The first part of the day was pretty easy, and we rode along at an easy pace, chatting along. The watchword was, easy spin, no pain. Later in the morning we had a strange mechanical, where the chain went over the edge of the big chainring and got wrapped around the crankarm and trapped behind a pickup peg. It took a few minutes to work that out, and by then we were firmly in the back of the group. We danced with the Turtles for much of the day, but both of us were pretty tired when we got in. Everyone was riding well, though, and the whole group got into the hotel in good time. Dinner was a seven dollar buffet in the hotel ballroom. I had spaghetti, macaroni, steak, fried chicken, beans, corn, mashed potatoes, salad and cake. Then I had cake & ice cream at the ice cream party Susan offered tonight. Fuel. We all eat like that. I am really looking forward to some good food! Anyway, tomorrow is the last day, so I’ll wrap it up tonight and write again on the flight home.
Day 25. Orangeburg to Charleston
Seems unreal, but the last day is finally here. Yesterday was a sort of a grind, seemed like it should be over already, but despite that, people were beginning to take a retrospective look at the ride. I was, surprisingly, superstitious -I’ve gotten through the past 24 days by staying in the moment as much as possible, and didn’t want to think about the meaning of this accomplishment or if it met my expectations–there still is 225 miles to ride. But when you only have 100 to go, and no ride the next day, you can begin to leave the moment a bit. Paradoxically, though, that isn’t what happened. Instead, we (still on the tandem with Anny) rode the first 85 miles to lunch like there was a fire under out butt, averaging over 19 mph. That still put us in the middle of the group, as everyone wanted to get to the beach. We left early, at 7:00, even though it was a bit darker than usual. I drove that bike at a hard pace, we spent about 2 minutes in each of the first rest stops.
I’d never seen pretty much the whole group at lunch before, but it’s amazing what a group of strong, motivated riders can do. The fast guys were just leaving as the Turtles rolled in a group of about 20. Even Woody was there. Anny & I left then, and, after stopping for photos at the “Welcome to Charleston” sign, we rolled at a stately 15 mph through the suburban streets. And it started, finally, after 24 pretty benign days, to rain. We rode through the beginnings of tropical storm Tammy, feeling no pain, squinting against the warm rain and holding the bike steady against the wind. The planned regroup of the whole party and the group ride in together didn’t happen because of the weather, but it still was an amazing thing to come around the last corner and see the Atlantic Ocean sitting out there, waiting for us. The fast guys were in the water, frolicking. Some of the other early finishers were on the beach, some with bikes, some not. After a few bear hugs and some earnest handshakes, I took off my shoes, left the boardwalk for the moment, and walked down to beach, wading into the Atlantic. The weather didn’t matter, but the warm glow of a job well done suffused the rest of the day. After we all got a bunch of photos on the beach, I went back up to the boardwalk and took pictures of people as they came in, with huge smiles on their faces.
After hanging around for about an hour it was back to work. John’s family came to meet him, s they had a room and although John was a great roomie, very relaxed, and we got into a nice, mutually supportive routine, I enjoyed having my own room for the night. The rest of the afternoon was involved with schlepping all my stuff up to the room, a task requiring 4 trips to get my bike box, stuff and my parts from the tandem, stash box, bike, and suitcase up there. I then got to open the window (John always had the A/C on in our room), take off my clothes and air out, unpack and repack everything for the flight home, break down my bike and pack it up, then finally shower and plotz for a while until the final banquet–another buffet dinner, but good enough food and plenty of it. I sat with John and his family, then wandered from table to table talking with people–I realized that I had ridden with almost everyone in the group, and it was a nice feeling to know that we all had taken care of each other at various points along the way.
After the meal, Susan presented each rider, individually, with a plaque that had their photo from photo day and an inscription denoting the accomplishment. She had something very nice to say about everyone, whether they had been a star or a shlepper. I was commended for my singing and sunny personality, which felt good–I always tried to contribute to the general atmosphere of any group I was in. Particularly honored were the tandems–they had never had 4 tandems on one trip before, and if the Slacks and Anny’s bike were on the road, there were 6 tandems out. The teams never seemed to carp at each other, rode very strongly, and all achieved EFI. Also, those riders who finished their 10,000th and 20,000th PAC tour miles were honored, and the map board was auctioned off for charity. All in all, just the right amount of schmaltz to end the tour on a good note.
I stumbled upstairs, but stayed up until midnight anyway, just because I could–didn’t have to write (I’m doing that on the plane), didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning (but of course I did anyway), and now I’m on my way home. I don’t how long it will take to turn this month into a neatly packaged experience, but I think it will be hard to talk about for a while, while all is still so new.