April 9, 2007

History Repeats Itself - but hopefully not.

Week…. Oh, whatever.

Well, this week’s training has gone well, but MAN I’m SORE. This upper body stuff is for people with…. Well, upper bodies. Ugh. You know what’s also a good idea? Doing serious yard-work Saturday morning and giving the midsection another good lashing. I still can’t bend right. Ouch. It will pay off – that’s what I keep telling myself. Oddly, I’m already feeling SOME benefits in the saddle – which is encouraging: while climbing out of the saddle, it seems that I don’t tire out as quickly while trying to hold my body out of the saddle – arms are showing some definition, too. And that flailing around feeling is starting to become minimized. I suppose the reason I’ve always been a better seated-climber, as opposed to a stand-and-attack climber, was lack of core strength – and it’s becoming more apparent now that I AM getting some core strength. Yeah, I’m no Pantani – at least not yet. You can leave your drug references aside – I still look upon Pantani as one of the greats, and the media dealt him a raw card. Anyways – dopers suck: I just believe that Pantani was not one of them. Never proven. I still have the issue of VeloNews that paid tribute to him hanging on the wall, alongside my Mercatone Uno jersey. I digress…. I shave the head and sport the goatee because it looks good on me, but there are parallels there – to climb like he did would be sweet indeed.

Again with the digression! Back to real life, and training at the end of week – what, 12? 11? Who knows, and I don’t wanna look at the spreadsheet right now. Crap, I can’t help it…. (opens spreadsheet)… ok, week 12 is jus beginning. It’s a brevet week! Yippeee!!!!

I’m actually really excited about this 300K coming up – not only has it become one of my favorite routes, it’s also been two years since I’ve ridden it. Last year, medical reasons kept me from participating, which was the nail in the coffin for the subsequent 400K ride. It was a tumultuous year, 2006… now, fresh, ready, and paying attention to training like a good cyclist should (well, at least one interested in competing at some level), I feel ready and am more than willing to ride 186 miles this Saturday. Similar to a couple weeks ago, however, there are concerns again with the weather. It’s looking like a repeat of 2002’s horrid ride might be in the works – which is, as any of you that have read this for a while know – my worst day on the bike EVER. Someone was asking me about that recently, and it struck me that I’ve never chronicled that ride in these annals.
Once I get done rattling here, I will, tho.

So, once again we prepare for the epic haul north to Albany, Missouri. More than anything, the epic 60 mile haul from Stewartsville to Albany – and then back. That middle section of the ride always teaches me something. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes bad. Hopefully, with the amount of preparation I’ve undertaken, it will have only good lessons. One never knows what one will get up there, seriously.
In 2002, as I’ll get into later, it was simply horrible. In 2003, I brought vengeance on that fateful ride with a superb performance – but it was a complete opposite, and near 95ºF and blazingly sunny. 2004 was an “off” year. 2005’s ride was done on a single speed, and was my best ET to-date on that route – but was still a hard ride, but there were fewer hard lessons to be learned. 2006 didn’t happen… and now, here we are – history repeating itself, perhaps? It’s a perfect opportunity to see if the tests of the past have yielded any knowledge. Rain jacket is ready, and of good quality. Heck, I even have a 3”x3”x0.75” emergency space-blanket packed – simply because you NEVER know. Extra tubes? Yup. A REAL tire pump instead of inflators? Yup. GOOD tires? Yup. Extra layers? Yup. Food? Yup. I’m ready. Long sleeved wool jersey? Yup. You know I’m ready, boy. Fenders? Who in their right mind rides WITHOUT them???
We’re sooooo ready. Taking enough, but not too much, and ready for the worst. Heck in 2002 rain wasn’t even in the forecast – but this time it is. Mother Nature, not to be fooled with – she’s got a good memory, and she will test us again. Pity on those that don’t heed her call.

Only time will tell if everything comes together, but I am ready, willing, and itching to ride!

There was a time, however, when I had never done this before. There was a time when I felt like I was almost obligated to go – I was still not sure if I WANTED to ride this far. There was a time when a light, fast bicycle was all I wanted – fitness be damned, I would let the equipment make up for my shortcomings. There was a time when things like tiny seat-bags meant you were a racer, fast. Carrying more than one spare tube meant you were paranoid. Fenders were for sissies, and tires only came in one size – 700x23.
There was a time where Mother Nature followed MY schedule – and if there was a ride happening, then weather would just have to wait.

Until April 20th, 2002.

I thought I was prepared to some degree. I knew rain was a slight possibility, but honestly it wasn’t supposed to rain until Sunday. Still, being reasonably paranoid, I started out the day with a wind/rain jacket and rain pants stuffed into my center back pocket, underneath my small Camelbak. The day started in the mid 40’s, and wasn’t supposed to get much warmer than that. I had knee warmers, booties, a base layer and jersey, and my wind jacket – ready for the day, I thought. Despite all the preparations, I was nervous; today would mark my longest ride EVER. In 2002, my first brevet season, every distance mark was a new personal longest ride. It was scary.

My bicycle at the time was well outfitted, so I thought: my orange Schwinn Passage (7005 series aluminum) road bike, with Shimano RSX 8-speed, mini seat-bag, and Continental Ultra 2000 700x23c tires, and no fenders – was ready for the challenge.
The 200K, two weeks earlier, had gone pretty well, I suppose – but it was a struggle – a recent personal-best distance. I was still sore from that day as I lifted my leg over the top-tube and prepared for the day.

Food? I thought I was ready there, too – but there is something to be said for reading the fine print of a label. I had recently discovered, after getting an earful of advice from ultra-cyclist Byron – future RAAM 2-man winner, and UMCA’s Kansas cross-state record-holder – that Sustained Energy from Hammer Nutrition was the absolute BEST fuel for ultra-riding. I picked some up, and tried it. Today was the first ride of any length I was going to use it on, however. I was loaded to the gills with the stuff, carrying the spare powder in two Zefal Magnum bottles that I had mounted to a Profile Aqua-Rack behind the seat. The other two bottle cages on the bike were filled up with a slurry of SE and water designed to carry me multiple hours on the saddle. I’d drink one bottle per hour, as recommended… at least, as I’d read it was recommended. In the Camelbak was 50 oz. of Accellerade sports drink. I’d use that as my hydration, and the SE as my fuel – it seemed smart, especially since I’d run the 200K previously on Twinkies, trail mix, and Gatorade. Yeesh.

Feeling strong, we set out on the road. This was a ride of legends, and I was feeling inspired. Byron R. was there, Dan Jordan was there, and the Warbird was there, too. Strong riders all around; definitely an Ultra-Racer group, as opposed to a Randonnuering group, if that makes sense. Dan Jordon had already done RAAM, and Byron was on his way to his first solo effort that June. Resplendent and strong, he trudged the way on his yellow Titanflex bike, and it was hard not to try and latch on and follow. For those of you that ride these brevets today, this is not that long ago – but it seems like forever ago, because Plattsburg Road was not NEARLY as well paved than as it is now. Driving that point home was my 26 lbs. or harsh, straight-gauge 7005 aluminum transmitting the brunt of every ridge in the pavement directly into my body. Feeling good, though, I found myself running off the front of the pack – which in retrospect was just dumb. It’s not a race, but this is before Bob preached so loudly about that fact – we were just having fun!
As a group, we all hammered out the route, approaching 144th and Plattsburg, and the jog in the route east, then north. This was at approximately the one-hour mark, so I reached down and grabbed the bottle of Sustained Energy, and brought it to my lips.

Let’s bring you all up to speed – there is a portion of the Sustained Energy label that talks about simple sugars. Maltose, Dextrose, Sucrose, Fructose – or any derivative of simple, refined sugars should absolutely NOT EVER be mixed with Sustained Energy’s special maltodextrin mixture. Why? I’ll spare you all the glycemic index ratio and stomach emptying formulas in relation to hydration, etc – in short, DON’T DO IT.
This is clearly printed on the label. I didn’t notice it. I’m dumb. Having been sucking down Accellerade, a good hydration choice – BY ITSELF, for the first hour of the ride, I was happily “drinking enough” and just riding along. Isn’t that your FAVORITE way to start a bad story? “I was just riding along….”

Even after having received accolades from Dan about finally discovering the right fuel, I didn’t know how badly I was about to have things. I brought the bottle to my lips, popped open the top with my teeth, and sucked down the ENTIRE bottle. One per hour, as directed. One down. (maybe they meant over the course of an hour?) It took about 10 minutes, maybe a little more, for the effects to hit the legs. Only a few miles later, the group hit the end of Plattsburg Road and made the turn north onto highway C (back when there was no traffic on it.). It was RIGHT then when it hit light someone had flipped a light switch. One second I was hammering along, in the big ring, and staying with the group – then next second, BANG, the engine stalled. Hard. Something felt “off”, and I started to lose my push and began descending thru the gears. Spin it out. Drink. And, so I drank, and drank, and kept wondering why things were getting worse. I slogged along, never realizing what was really happening inside my body. I kept stopping for pee-breaks, WAY more than usual. My gut felt weird. I couldn’t push the gears over. Up on a ridge, after a long steady climb, I just stopped and rested my head on the handlebars. The true rando-riders started catching up to me, and stopping to see if I was okay. Asking what I was eating, how I was feeling, etc., they tried to offer their help – but as I’ve discovered over the years, a true rando rider probably wouldn’t consider using SE – they, smartly, let the c-stores carry their fuel. As fool-hardy as my 200K fueling strategy had been a couple weeks earlier, I was actually on a better track there than I was at the 300K with my powdered miracle-fuel. Having never ridden this far, and not being experienced, I simply thought I was tired, overtrained maybe… anything but the fuel, because the OTHER riders that were using it were miles up the road from me, having a great ride! What’s wrong???

I soldiered on, knowing even then one of the primary rules of ultra-distance riding: keep moving, it will get better eventually. Most setbacks are short-lived. Keep riding. There is no team-car to retreat to. Keep riding. You can do this. Keep riding. Repeat. I made it to Stewartsville, got my card signed, and filled my Camelbak up with – yeesh – more Accellerade powder and water, and topped off my SE bottles for the long slog to Albany. Thankfully, there was a little town about halfway there, so I’d be able to stop again if I needed to. I slogged north on highway “N”, then “H” – I was the last one on the road, with the final rider checking on me, and then riding past me. At least the skies seemed to be clearing up a little, though! Gulp – more SE. Why do I feel so rotten??? The roads are bad, too, on top over everything else – my new Aqua-Rack's fixing-bolt pops loose, and thos whole thing starts flopping back and forth with my legs smacking into it. Thankfully, a spare hose clamp stashed in the seat bag fixes the problem. Weird, to this day, how i had *THAT* in my bag, but only two spare tubes.

You know things are going well for the lead rider when he passes you from the opposite direction, as he’s already on his way back south on the out-n-back route. Dan J. was FLYING southbound with a good tailwind and the polished efficiency of a solid and well-trained rider. I was still nearly 15 miles out of Albany when this happened, meaning that NOT including whatever time off the bike Dan had in Albany, he was 30 miles ahead of me. THIRTY MILES. Taking this into perspective, imagine riding your favorite 30-mile local Saturday ride, and the fastest rider has to finish the ride before you are even allowed to START. THAT is an insurmountable gap. Still pedaling, I reached the overpass on “A” highway over the Grand River, right about the time the Warbird and Byron R. come flying southbound. Warbird sees me, peels off the pace and we meet on the bridge’s north end. He’s having a fantastic day, feeling strong, soaking up the same Sustained Energy *I* was using. What the hell? I mumble something to the effect of I’m having a terrible day, and we talk it out together. Maybe SE just isn’t for me, and I should just STOP using it. Sounds good to me. I know the future, and I know that I’m having a terrible ride, so I ask ‘bird to drive the route backwards after he finishes, so I can get picked up. Agreed. I know now that I have SOMEONE looking for me on the road now. Being last on the brevet stinks. If something happens, no-one is coming to meet you. Encouraged that I have a bail-out plan, even though it is at least 6 hours away, I pedal on and the Warbird (successfully!) begins to bridge back up to Byron, who has to be at least 3 miles farther south by the time we finished talking. They would ride together strong until the end, as I later found out.

I continued north into a steady breeze, and building clouds, smiling a little more knowing that the turnaround, food, and rest were just up the road. After an eternity, I arrived, JUST as the last rider that was ahead of me was leaving for the southbound portion. Wow. I’m WAY behind. Bean burrito, some cashews, and water. I’m freaking hungry now – about 30 minutes after my last sip of Sustained Energy, and things are beginning to come back online again. In reality, I should have stopped the Accellerade, but either way at least I wasn’t MIXING them anymore. I rested for at least 30 minutes, maybe more. It was not a good, fast, card-signed and go checkpoint. I pulled up some sidewalk and just SAT there.

After my rest, I started doing the math in my head. If I managed to maintain the same limping pace that I’d been performing northbound, I would still be able to make it an official finish. Time to GO! I had a tailwind, and I had seemingly figured out my fueling issues. Let’s roll!

Finally, a tailwind! Feeling better after the rest, and ready to try and no-longer be the last person on the road by catching the last guy I saw, I was pedaling along again in my big gear, feeling strong for the first time since about 7:30AM. About the time I got back to the overpass where Warbird and I conversed earlier, I knew that the rest of the ride was going to be the ultimate test of patience, endurance and tolerance. A drop of moisture. At first I thought it was sweat, but then there was another one, directly on my head. Big, fat drops. Then there were a dozen, then three dozen. Then I lost count. Right about then, there was a gust of wind – not much, but it was definitely out of the WRONG direction. What the??? It wasn’t supposed to be raining?! I pulled the rain/wind jacket out of the Camelbak’s external pocket, and pulled it on. Then, I decided to get the rain-pants on as well. At least it was warm… but there was a whiff of coolness to the next couple of wind gusts from the southeast. Uh, oh. The smart money would have been to turn around and ride back to Albany, but I was committed. Despite these new developments, I was feeling strong still, and pedaled on. It seemed every 20 minutes or so, the rain was getting harder, and the wind stiffer. And, the thick clouds and advection were beginning to steal degrees back, and soon the rain jacket was not just for rain protection, but for insulation – for which it didn’t offer much.

About that time, a little trickle floated down one side of my body – an icy cold trickle of water passing thru a seam in the jacket’s side. Before I really had time to recognize what was happening, it began to happen everywhere – and soon, my sleeves were soaked, my back was beginning to wick water, and my chest was wet. So much for water-resistance. About then, I felt it – thunk, thunk, thunk…. The vague feeling that something underneath me was not quite right, I looked down to confirm that the back tire was soft. Ugh. Here we go!

Getting a little frustrated with the clothing situation, I squished and gooshed around and finally pulled free a spare tube from the seatbag, and one of my inflators. Fancy things, these – I’ll be on the road in no-time. I ran a finger through the tire’s inside, and didn’t find anything poking through, so I mounted it, pumped it up to whatever PSI the cartridge was allowing, and mounted back up. Better. Carry on. One tube left, and two more inflators – no problems!

The rain was fierce – not letting up at all. In fact, it was nearly raining sideways because the wind was picking up, too. My fingers felt a little raw from changing out the rear tube, and I was really wishing for full-fingered gloves right about then. The temperature that had topped out about 62 degrees was now hovering in the lower 50’s, and seemingly dropping still. I pulled the sleeves on my “rain” jacket longer and tucked my hands inside – but it wasn’t really helping much. Ugh. At least the rainpants were working, I thought – which is about when I felt a cold trickle down the inside of my right leg. Oh, seriously…what is THAT? These pants were supposed to be waterproof, too, as I’d spent the extra money on Performance.com for the seam-taped version. But this was coming from the middle of the leg, not a seam.
I stopped pedaling long enough to see a series of holes right on the inside of my right thigh, near the nose of the saddle…. The saddle? Oh, geez…. Over the past couple of mile I’d noticed a snapping or clicking sound, but I wasn’t about to diagnose a bike noise in the rain. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really a bike noise so much as a pants noise – under the nose of my Selle Italia Pro-Link saddle was a plastic trim cap that served no other purpose than to cover up the saddle rail’s forward ends under the seat. The back corners of this plastic piece were catching the loose rain pants on every downstroke and upstroke, slowly pricking pinholes into the fabric. On the left leg, but not as bad, were more tiny holes – and it wasn’t long before I felt a cold trickle of water running down my legs on the left as well. Perfect.
Cursing and annoyed, I stopped, dug a screwdriver from the seat bag, and removed the offending piece of trim plastic, hurling it into an adjacent field in disgust. It’s probably still there, somewhere along highway “Z” between Berlin and no-where. Oh, yeah – Berlin has *NO* services of any kind - that's the little town I thought I'd stop at on the way OUT. Yeah, nothing there. NOTHING.

Rolling onward, one by one my defenses against the rain were failing. My headcover was soaked through, my jacket saturated, my rain pants were holey, and my booties were soaked and also letting icy water into my shoes. This was also before I’d discovered wool socks, so there was no respite even for my tired feet. Cold, wet, annoyed, and losing morale, I pedaled on – simply because there was nothing else to do, no-where to seek shelter, and no-one to call. The Warbird would be coming. Eventually. He was at least 4 hours away; even if he’d already finished, which was entirely possible, it was a two hour drive to get up here from Liberty. Slowly, I ticked by the miles southbound as the rain torrented down around me, and my fenderless tires threw gallons of it all over my backside. My shorts, too, were now a soppy burden, and I could feel saddle sores forming as my skin began to over-soften from the friction of pedaling.

I had nearly forgotten about the fueling issues of earlier, as this new suite of woes was quickly overshadowing anything that had happened earlier in the day. Thunk, thunk, thunk…..ssssssssssss….. oh, crap. Another one. What had been excellent tires in the dry were proving to be puncture magnets in the wet, and it was time to fix flat #2. Pulling aside the roadway, I pulled my second – and last- tube out of the seatbag. My fingers could barely feel the rubber between them, and were taking on a purple-ish cast as I worked to get the flattened tire free of the rim… again.
Another finger check, another new tube installed in the rain. Ok, no problem – I have one more inflator, and a patch kit – I’m good. Eventually I’ll get to a gas station and I get top it off if I need to. Maybe they sell spare tubes? Doubtful.
Wet, and beginning to shiver from being off the bike again, I started up again, tucking the fingers behind my “rain” jacket sleeves again, and not even bothering to shift. A CHURCH!!!

I pulled up into the gravel driveway of a little white church off the side of the highway – tomorrow is Sunday, SURELY there is some inside that would let me in so I could get shelter! No dice. No lights, no-one thru the windows, and no answer at the door. Instead, I prop the bike up against the entrance sign, taillight flashing up the road in case the Warbird happened by, and I ducked behind the church itself – out of the wind. Maybe I could just wait here?

My fingers now were an eerie purple-grey color – I removed the soaked half-finger racing gloves I had been so proud of, and simply left them on the rear stoop behind the building. They weren’t doing me ANY good. Maybe the circulation will help?

After a few minutes, I started doing the math again – you know, the more you ride, the closer to Stewartsville you’ll get… I decided to just man-up and get back in the saddle – and I walked around the front of the church to get the bike, which had been blown over by the wind. The handlebars were a little off, and the Aqua-rack seatpost bottle holder was again broken despite the hose-clamp fix from earlier. I mounted up and started off again, with the rack clanging and clunking behind me with each pedal stroke. Great – THAT won’t get annoying.

Still, the rain came sideways, and the wind was relentless – 15 MPH solid from the SE, and driving rain directly into my face. By now, my Camelbak was now saturated through, and felt like a big ice block against my back. The temperature had now dropped enough that I was starting to see my breath while I climbed hills on the lee side of the gale. The downhills became a cold, wet chore. Soaked to the bone, I began to shiver – not like getting a chill after taking a shower on a cold day, but a deep shiver from the INSIDE. The handlebars shuddered under me as I rode.
Dammit, Warbird – hurry up, man… ugh… I looked for someone to blame, but there was no-body up there but me. There was no-one behind me. I started to feel very alone. MY PHONE!

Being a technological hold-out, I had just recently gotten a cell phone as a just-in-case on these rides. Thankfully it was in a plastic bag to protect it from sweat – novel idea on a day like today. I took it out – dead. Stone dead. I tried to power it up, and it blinked – only to power down again. There was NO service up here anyways, and when those older phones go into “looking for service” mode, the battery gets sucked down awfully fast. Probably out of the coverage area since Stewartsville proper, the phone had been searching for service in my back pocket for who-know-how-long, and it was of no help to me now. That feeling of aloneness sunk in a little further. Keep pedaling – you can’t freeze if you are still WORKING. GO. GO. GO. Don’t think – just ride. Warbird is coming.

About this time the shivering was getting bad enough to make it hard to control the bike on the road, and I began riding in the middle of the highway to avoid tossing myself off into the deep ditch to the right. Besides, I hadn’t seen a car for at least an hour, maybe more. I started to think that if I DID see one, I’d want them to stop anyways, or at least just hit me and get it over with.

SSssssssssss, thunk, thunk, thunk. I wanted to cry. In less than 12 miles, this was flat number three. And it was down to my last inflator and my patch kit. I was going to have to find the hole in the rain and growing darkness, with numb fingers and the shivers? Fun. I dismounted, and opened the seatbag again. Inflator, check… and there’s the little patch kit. Whew… That was about the time I popped the patch kit open, and promptly fumbled the contents into a puddle underneath me. If the kit had still been closed perhaps it would have been okay, but the patches unfolded nicely in the cold murky water so I could see that they were ALL affected. I fished them out, and checked. Yup. Not sticky ANYMORE. Good gawd. Ok, NOW this is really starting to suck. Not knowing what else to do, I remounted the tire and tube and pushed the air from the inflator into it. Hmmm…. No noise… RIDE, NOW! I hopped on, and just as I should have expected the tire was flat again in less than a mile. In retrospect, I could have tied the tube into a knot around the hole, and THEN pumped it up – which would have held air, but would have had the small consequence of a bump in its rotation. Beats walking!! Regardless, magic inflator boy was fresh out of air now. Just DUMB – but I’d never had more than one flat on a ride of ANY length in the past. Why should the 300K be any different, right?

Well, I certainly know better NOW, don’t I?

Frustrated, alone, cold, and shivering, I did the only thing I knew to do – walk. Taillight still flashing into the murk, I walked alongside my bicycle, southbound. Someone HAD to come along eventually… but it was going on two hours without a single car to be seen in either direction. Seriously – there was NO-ONE up here.
It was getting late, too – as the trials of the past 30 miles had taken up about 3 hours, it was going to be getting dark in only another two hours or so, and I was still not any closer to Stewartsville. In fact, I was still at least 15 miles away from the gas station there, and it was going to be closing. Holy crap. This is NOT good, man. WALK FASTER. So I did… I even had an escort for a while, a big husky looking dog that began to follow me. In fact, he was leading me for a while, which was odd. It was just me, the rain, and this dog – and to this day it was kinda of surreal, and I’m not 100% sure that dog was REALLY there. I walked, and walked, and WALKED, generator headlight slowly flickering along as I ticked by mile after mile, burning my Look cleats to nothing along the way.

After the 5th mile, I finally arrived at the intersection of highway “H” and State Route 6. This highway was REALLY busy earlier – SURELY someone will be coming along to flag down. I propped my disabled bicycle up against the 4”x4” signpost, and waited – trying to shield my body from the gale and STILL driving rain by leaning on the upwind side of the post. It was little help – but it was something. I started to feel VERY tired, still shivering, and my nose was getting numb – which matched my fingers and toes. It had to be getting close to 40 degrees now, as my breath was clearly visible. I don’t know how cold it got, but it wasn’t cozy. I took a long look at the ditch alongside the road, and thought about a nap. This was not good.

I started to think of my options. I started to think of my kids. I started to think of my wife. And, to this day – and I hope this is the only time – this is the only time these thoughts had crossed my mind; but as I went down the checklist of my alternatives, my options, my escape routes and backup plans, I was coming up dry. For the first time in my adult life, I honestly thought that I was not going to make it home from this. Hypothermia was evident, my phone was dead, I STILL had not seen a car, there were no houses around, no gas stations, I had no map, had no clue what I was or wasn’t close to – but I knew I was still 12 miles from Stewartsville at this intersection. There were no pay phones, I had no emergency provisions, no shelter, the sun was going down, it was at least as cold as 40ºF and dropping, the rain was not letting up, everything on my body was soaked with cold water, and I was getting sleepy – but I wasn’t TIRED.
This was looking like “it”, and I was beginning to reside myself to the fact that I might not get outta this one. I was not taking it well.

About then, I heard it --- tires – four of them, slapping against wet pavement.

A minivan, headed south on highway “H”, with an Iowa tag. I stepped right in front of them, in the middle of the highway, using the last of my strength to flag them down, waving wildly. Thankfully, they stopped.

The exchange that ensued I’m sure looked rather odd to these travelers. The warmth from their heater wafted out the window and smacked me in the face just long enough to keep my words intelligible. My story was legit, there was my bike, there I was – I just needed a phone call. I borrowed their phone, and made the call.
FORTY minutes later, I was sitting in a tow truck with all of its heater vents blasting me with hot air. I was still shivering. I don’t know where my bike was.
The driver, over from Maryville about 10 miles to the east, drove me to Stewartsville’s gas station, and I stumbled inside. I got my card signed – well outside the control closing time – but dammit, I got it signed.
I started buying food, and drinking hot coffee. I was still shivering when the Warbird stopped in to get gas to continue his search for me, and we bumped into each other. Apparently, I looked so ragged that he almost wasn’t sure it was me.

A few minutes later I was getting blasted with heat again from the strong old-school heater of Warbird's Ford Crown Vic. Awesome. As I ate and drank whatever, the Warbird drove back to Liberty. As I sat there, watching the darkness and rain fly by, it was clear that EVEN if the flat tires wouldn’t have happened there was NO WAY I’d have made it back. After passing through Plattsburg, on highway “C”, and then onto Plattsburg Road, the rain and darkness were so intense, we couldn’t see ANYTHING – much less a cyclist on the road, had there been one there. Either way, I would have been in BAD shape if I’d have been able to finish at all. It rained all the way back to Overland Park.

I learned so many lessons that day, I can’t even list them, but I’m a much better rider and much more prepared than I’ve ever been. If you look at my bicycle, every accessory, every choice of gear; tires, bags, jacket, lights – nearly all of it goes back to that day, the worst that I’ve EVER had it. Those of you with skinny tires, no fenders, and minimalist packing habits – you can roll the dice all you like. You may scoff at those with saddlebags and frame-pumps, but it’s only because you’ve not had YOUR day yet. Hopefully, you won’t get served the way I did – hopefully you’ve read this and have said, maybe I should get “_____”. But if you are looking at brevets, and think “nah, that’ll never happen,” please think again. It’s amazing how close to civilization you can be, and yet how alone we really are out there on these rides. Be safe, be smart, and be prepared. You’ll make it back every time.

Hopefully April 14th, 2007 won’t be a repeat of April 20th, 2002, for me or anyone!
There’s rain in the forecast, folks – take heed!!!!
Seriously, bon chance to all this weekend, wherever you may be riding!

Looks for THIS year's 300K report next week!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it was not such a stellar finish for me that day. only a rain jacket and nothing on my legs or hands. only thing that kept me going was the fact that i knew i'd need to go back and find you.