Foggy Four Hundred and other things that go snort in the night

This past Saturday was the Apple Valley 400k.  The 400k is my very favorite distance and this ride in particular was my first brevet ever.  This year was a re-route to cut a little climbing and add some scenic sections so I was quite happy to be able to ride.  Also, Rick from the fleche earlier this year was riding and it's always nice to have friendly faces.  The weather was predicted to be excellent.  What else could I possibly ask for?  This really did turn out to be a great ride, though not quite the one I was expecting.  But I will always remember it for the night ride and our encounter with the strange, snorting "possum".

It started from the AmericInn in Apple Valley at 6:00am on a VERY foggy morning.  Rob gave all his announcements standing on the bed of his pickup in the fog.  I remember thinking at the time that it was sort of like a surreal kind of randonneuring revival with him waving his cue sheets in the air, "let there be no detouring on highway 52 or suffer the wrath of the RBA!"  Maybe you had to be there.

So we started off.  The prediction was that the fog would clear around 9 or 10 am so I was quite happy to pedal off.  As we rode out of Apple Valley, I couldn't help but noticed that large groups of riders were staying together.  In fact, about a dozen of us were together for the first 30 miles to the first control in Cannon Falls.  I couldn't really say who they were or exactly how many there were because I really couldn't see more than out 10 feet in front of me.  This had everything to do with the thick fog and some to do with the fact that I had to take my glasses off due to water accumulation and without them, I can only see about 10 feet.

At Randolph, Rick and I were the only ones to make the turn and wound up leading for the 5 miles into Cannon Falls (at least there were no turns and the blind really can lead the blind at times).  I wondered about the irony of so many missing a turn that the two people with really bad vision made.  I have been on this section before so I know that it is very pretty and quaint with lots of farms. Of course, they were hiding.

The fog rolled in - can you see the bike ahead?

At Cannon Falls, we ran into Rob, who told us that he couldn't even see every one's lit tail lights.  I turned my amped up Dinotte on after that.  IronK bought it for me because it really can be seen from orbit.  I picked up water and ate a Clif Bar.  The humidity was about 95% and it was starting to get hot.  It was at this point that I realized that we were going quite fast for a 400k.  My average speed was 17.5 MPH!  Several people commented that we would be tuning it down soon since no one wanted to burn out early.

We then said goodbye to Rob and pedaled off to Goodhue, 23 miles away.  Here it got fun.  The fog continued to obscure everything in sight.  About 7 miles down the road, Rob had warned us about a road that had some packed gravel.  It turned out that today, it was being paved.  At least 10 trucks were lined up on the road and about 20 of us waited at a flagman to pass.  He had a long discussion with his counterpart on the other end about "low boys", "hot bellies" and some other things I didn't quite catch.  He then waved us through, though I thought he had sent us just about the time the other guy was sending something up the road.  If you have never descended on a bicycle through the fog and realized that a 10 ton truck full of tar was headed straight for you, you are really missing out on some of the great fun of the sport.  Indeed, as we descended the hill on REALLY fresh pavement, here came a tar truck and some really big flatbeds.  We rolled with it and it was a little like playing Indy 500 for Atari.

About 5 miles out of Goodhue, I realized that I was still averaging about 17 miles per hour.  I dropped off the end realizing that either my hamstring would burn out on a hill or my blood sugar would crash at about 10:00 pm that night.  As it was, I'd ridden too hot for too long already.  It isn't often that I do a 3 hour half century on a 400k.  I arrived 60 seconds behind everyone else and felt a bit less tired.  I then tried to compensate by eating fig newtons, a Naked drink, a V8 and another Clif bar.  Others were marveling at how quickly we were going.  By this time it was closing on 10:00 and still the fog was as thick as ever.  I really started wishing that I could see, but fortunately I knew this part of the route and my GPS beeped if I got off track.

Rick at Goodhue - He has really cool hammered fenders
The next section, between Goodhue and Plainview, is one of the hillier parts of the route.  4 of us, Rick, Andre, myself, and a very interesting guy from Madison, hereafter known as Dreadlock Guy,  started off together and toned down the pace to 15-16 mph.  We chatted for the next 10 miles and I wound up giving Andre my backup map.  It turns out that he had brought the 200k cue sheet and Rob had also accidentally given him yet another copy of the wrong cue sheet.  I had mine laminated in double sided sections.  It's a habit I picked up after my last 400k and it really is nice to not have to worry about wet or crumbling cue sheets.  $1 at Office Max and you are set to go with an indestructible cue sheet that doesn't flap in the breeze.

The big hills started at this point and I let the others go on since I still have to climb slowly from my lame hamstring.  At Millville, I stopped to see if I could help Mark O and Mike A.  Mike's hub had caved in and he and Mark were attempting to come up with some kind of on the spot repair.  Mark has ridden enough brevets to encircle the planet at least 4-5 times and is the only one besides myself who has an one-the-go chain whip in his bag (called a hypercracker).  They were able to get Mike at least to Plainview (the next control) where his wife brought him a new wheel (ah, the joy of being a rando spouse).  I talked to Mark briefly before letting him continue climbing at his own pace instead of my wimpy one.

When I got to Plainview a bit after noon, Rick was at the control.  We chatted and I bought a bunch of food.  We then both headed for Subway where others were waiting.  I decided at this point that I was in a more social mood so I took my food with me.  Sometimes, it's really nice to not be totally anal about rushing controls.  Bob, who I rode with last month in the 600k, was there along with Dreadlock Guy who had broken his cleat, and some others.  We ate and discussed the various ways to make his foot stick to the pedal - duct tape, super glue, etc.  In the end, he decided to rough it out on the broken cleat instead.  I amused, at least temporarily, by reading the nutritional info off my Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie (see previous blog entry for details); this is my new favorite rando food dubbed by the group as "The Calorie Bomb".  I'm sure many would possibly give us an F in time efficiency, but it's quite late in the season and I don't think any of us were riding for a new record.  I always appreciate a good laugh.

So we all powered back up slowly for the 30 miles from Plainview to Stockton.  At this point, the fog finally lifted and the steaming hot sun made its first appearance.  The next section had some hills through Whitewater State forest and I again dropped back to enjoy the climb on my own.  Mark O and Mike F caught up to me and we rode on and off for a few miles until some shouted "Secret Control!"

First, there wasn't a secret control, but at least 5 bikes were pulled over next to a really odd looking metal scaffold and a guy carrying a big leather harness (no, not that kind of leather harness).  It turned out the owner was offering free zip line rides.  I don't know how many go by his setup since it's on a country road in the middle of nowhere, but wonders never cease.  As soon as he found out it wasn't a secret control, Mark O was gone like a shot.  I stopped long enough to take this picture.
Randonneurs ready for zipping
Okay, I considered my options briefly, but I was having to climb slowly and I decided that if I broke my neck on a brevet while not riding, it might qualify me for a Darwin award or something worse.  I opted out and Mike F and I attempted to catch up to Mark, who remained tantalizingly close but never caught.

Mike and I had a nice ride through rollers and down a screaming hill to Rollingstone, which is a very quaint little town with several bars and lots of big houses with porches.  Then we hit what may have been the hardest part of the ride: the hill out of Rollingstone.

This hill isn't that steep, or even that long.  But the slight wind was behind us and there was no shade.  The sun wailed down like a heat gun and at one point I considered walking, but realized that the bottom of my shoe might melt  if it touched the pavement.  Sweat ran off me like a river, and that doesn't happen very often.  About halfway up, a man and his wife were pulled over on the side of the road loading rocks from the cut of the hill into their truck.  I wonder if that is really legal, but I didn't stop to ask.  Mike was stopped at the top of the hill but I rode past since my brain was close to melting and I was nearly out of water.  He caught up to me about 3 miles later and we proceeded down another screaming hill to the control.
The descent is just along the side of this hill, it looks so benign in this picture
Mark was at the control already and we marveled at the hot conditions.  I drank a V8, a chocolate milk and a blue slurpee, which made my entire mouth blue for the next 40 miles.  Everyone else showed up about 15 minutes later with stories of the zip line.  Fortunately, no broken bones - maybe I'll try it next time.  By this time, it was about 4:00 pm.  Time to get going home, we were halfway there.

Mike F and Mark O climbing out of Stockton
The climb out of Stockton is really very pretty, not as steep as some, but it's long and is followed by lots of rollers.  Several people passed me on the climb and I had a nice talk with Andre about first bikes and being an adolescent cyclist.  At this point, we turned north and discovered that, indeed, there was wind on this day.  Andre went ahead and I rode with Rick and Price, from Iowa.  Price is just the type of guy I really like to happen across in a headwind: he has a big frame and can pull for a long time.  Chivalry is not dead.

Price, the pulling machine
We rode into Elba, which has a really beautiful old style church, to the sound of head banger rock'n roll coming from a log cabin.  No town festival, just some guy having some kind of time.  I separated from the group as we climbed out of Elba alone for sometime.  Somehow, I managed to pass Price and I caught up to Rick just outside Plainview.  We ran into Andre who suggested a departure from gas station food and Subway: a real chinese buffet.  Again, the anal randos might call us fools, but Price, Andre, myself, Rick, Richard and Dan all had a really nice Chinese meal full of rice and salt (everything a growing rando needs).  I ate 2 plates of fried rice, especially after realizing that I had a crusty salt layer on my face from the heat.  It was great.  Sure we blew an hour, but it wasn't like we were going to do anything else more fun if we go in an hour earlier. 

Knowing there was climbing coming, I took off a bit before the others.  Turns out that even fried rice needs digestion time and I was pretty slow for a few miles.  Some others passed me in a line, but I was having a little cramp and decided to let them go ahead.  Mark O and Mike F passed me, but I caught up to them at Millville, just as the sun went down.  Mark assured me that Millville to Hammond was a beautiful section.  I was glad we saw it because he was right.  At dusk, my picture didn't come out well but here it is.

Along the Zumbro River
We reached Highway 63 and paused as Rick and Price caught up to us.  The 5 of us wound up being together for just about the rest of the ride.  By this time, it was very dark and it's always a good idea to bunch up for night riding.

Just outside Mazeppa, Rick had a flat and all of us stopped to provide lights to fix it.  It was here that we had "the encounter".  I decided that while Rick change the flat, I would avail myself of the very nice patch of cornfield.  So I stepped off the side of the road and ambled into the dark for some illusory privacy (how private can it really be with 4 men standing 20 feet away).  As I paused with my shorts in a somewhat compromising position, something snorted quite loudly behind me.  Understandably, this was a startling event causing me to draw the attention of those 4 men standing 20 feet away; sometimes you just can't get the kind of solitude you really want in a cornfield in the dead of night.  As we finished the tire, whatever it was continued snorting at us from some unseen position.  Being a city dweller, I have no idea what it was.   Someone said it could be a possum.  Really are possums that big?  Whatever it was, it was getting distinctly more snorty until we finally rode off into the night.  Several have postulated everything from deer to coyotes to wild pigs.

The section from Mazeppa to Zumbrota had a few hills and we nearly missed a turn on a hill which I was just as glad not to miss (thank you Mark and GPS).  We rolled into Zumbrota at about 10:30 after being lost for awhile after an old arrow detoured us.  One of the riders that I knew was at the control looking somewhat sickly.  I asked and he said he thought he have passed a kidney stone.  Normally, I wouldn't mention a detail like this, but really this is the pinnacle of the randonneuring spirit: how many men can say that they would ride on even with a kidney stone.  That is dedication at its finest.

So 6 of us left the Zumbrota control and rode the final 60 miles back.  The major hills were all behind us and the last 30 miles back to Cannon Falls were gentle rollers.  The nearly full moon was a real treat as well and, sure enough, the road crew had completely finished paving the road that we had ridden through earlier in the day, not a hot belly in sight.

At Cannon Falls, we paused briefly but by this time, it was 1:30 am and I was ready to be done.  I always buy something at controls but this time, I was in such a rush I got into line with nothing.  Not wanting to break a habit, I grabbed the only thing close by: a blow pop.   Bob, Rick and I left Mark, Mike and Price and headed out.  We had put on some night gear at Zumbrota, it was getting a bit chilly in the low spots.  Unhappily, the fog had returned by this time.  I had to take my glasses off once again and it's really quite hard to be in the dark and nearsighted.

There is a bar outside Randolph and we got there just at bar close.  Several rather drunk people milling along the side of the road asked if they could borrow our bikes.  I have never had that happen before for sure.  About 5 miles later, a car was pulled over on the side of the road for yet another scene (really, they should have a soap opera about these people in Randolph).  A couple was having some kind of domestic dispute and the girl had gotten out of the car, run to the other side of the highway, and was yelling at the boyfriend, still in the car, that he was, in fact, an ass and some other things.  Really, the human drama that you find on a brevet in the dead of night is not to be missed.

About 5 minutes later, the other 3 caught up to us and we finished the last 15 miles together in the fog.  Nothing else really happened except I nearly turned wrong about 4 times due to inability to read and Mark boldly led us, incorrectly, around a traffic circle to dead end in a parking lot.  At least we were only a few feet off course.

Sign in at the AmericInn was bittersweet, the end of a brevet is always a sad/glad thing for me.  Let's face it, by the time you complete 250 miles, you are darn tired and at this point it was 3:50 am.  We all said our goodbye's somewhat quickly.

I will have the pleasure of riding with Bob at least one more time this year at the Apple Valley 600k in September.  Hopefully, Rick and some others will make it as well.  Still 3 brevets to go here in Minnesota.
To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question
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