July 9, 2014

Reprise: A Last Chance Story (feat. Mark Jilka)

By Karen Winterhalter; 
The Last Chance at 1,200 & 1,000 kilometers
  We left at 3:00 am in the only rain Denver had seen for 2 months. I was very cautious of the white painted stripes on the road; they attract oil, and can be very slick. My goal was to get out of town without getting lost. The rain continued off and on all day for the first 250 miles. At the first checkpoint (70 miles), we were already losing people. Having a support car is not always a good thing.  See car, get in car, quit.
The front group of riders had 6 in it, and of them 4 already quit. Leaving the checkpoint, my feet were cold even with produce bags on them. I lost my balance and fell in the driveway. With blood running down my leg, I rode on knowing the rain would wash it away.
The car pulling the trailer with our drop bags in it was at the next checkpoint. I quickly got my rain pants out of my drop bag and put them on. The volunteers even made hot chocolate for us. Many of the riders bought gloves at the store. I put a grocery sack on over my new wool KC Randonneur jersey, then my rain coat and reflective vest. Ralph Rognstad and Dan Pfaff from
Springfield, Missouri arrived at the store as I was leaving. After this many hours in the rain, it felt really cold. People were getting flats from thorns, and then I got one. After a bit of a struggle, suddenly Mark Jilka rode up with a better pump. This act of kindness would be repaid later on. Marty from LA, Mark J., and I rode on in the darkness to the motel in Atwood, Kansas.
Sleep break ended up being too short.  The staff woke me up an hour earlier than I'd asked. There must have been some confusion on whether we were using mountain or central time. Anyway, I got less sleep than I wanted.
A cold predawn start, up hill, of course. Soon we were stopping in Oberlin, Ks for breakfast. I rode off with Marty and Gary from Vancouver to my turn-around point in Phillipsburg, Ks. The others were riding 1,200 km., so they rode an additional 128 miles!  I rode back to Oberlin just after dark. My light's battery started going dead and I had to keep stopping to adjust the beam. The beam is off centered, which makes it is very hard to ride in a straight line. Then the fast guy comes up behind me. Again the Randonneur riding friendship takes place. I am sure Tom had noticed my difficulty staying awake after riding 420 miles. We arrived together at the motel early in the night, 10:30 pm. Then I make a fateful mistake, eating a good sized bag of crystalized dried fruit.  Use your imagination.
The third day of riding was tough: my Achilles tendon was sore and my neck was getting stiff. I discovered, after the ride, that my handlebars had slipped downward. People had more flat tires, and some stores closed before we got there. At the start of darkness, I think I am seeing toilet paper floating across the road like the ribbons in rhythmic gymnastics. I repeat this at the closed store where half of the riders are.  Mark screams, "Karen needs a blanket and sleep!" Some volunteer support people were kind enough to buy food for all of us, and even make sandwiches. Ralph and Dan were kind enough to wait for my half hour nap to end. Then we rode off into the dark together. The shoulders of the road out by Last Chance, Colorado are wide. This is to accommodate the delivery and service of the many wind turbines which have been erected in the area.
I realized my neck had become increasingly sore, and I could not lift my head up high enough to see more than 15 ft ahead. After stopping about 5 times on some long fast downhills. I called Ralph on the phone, who was just ahead of me, and told him and Dan to go on without me. The road had no traffic on it, and my ride to the finish was going to be slow. It turned out slower than I thought it would be with many stops to stretch my neck, and I had to slow down on the long down hills. Then the wind decided to make my ride to the finish more challenging: a strong headwind picked up: no big deal. Ralph called at 3:45 am to make sure I was okay. Things then got a bit more hectic as my neck got worse and I became dangerously sleepy. At this point, eating 3 caffeine gel packs in a row did nothing to keep me awake. 45 minutes before my time limit for the ride was up, I panicked. There was a split in the highway around the finishing town, and I was not sure if I was going the right way. I called Ralph again, and he assured me that I would make it in time.  I did!  Ralph, Dan, and myself all finished our 1,000km ride ending in Byers, Colorado. The other riders had another 110 miles to ride the next day.
Mark Jilka finished his first 1,200km ride. The toughest part was the first day in the rain. The Last Chance Ride this year had a 50% dropout rate. 15 riders finished. 100% of the Kansas City Brevet riders finished. We represented one forth of the finishers. Way to go KC! 
A week later, I am in the amnesia period: which is the time it takes after the ride to think you had a good time on it.
Karen Winterhalter
(For Mark)

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