I once asked one the Olsen brothers (the quiet one) what a good way to prepare for a 1200k was. The answer, "ride lots of miles". Truthfully, there is more to it than that. For my third 1200k, I picked the Gold Rush and did absolutely everything wrong and had nothing but disasters in the weeks before the ride.
First, Pecos Lara, who I had been training with for this ride for months, was hit by a wild boar on the Texas Rando Stampede and was laid up with a bad hip. What are the odds?
Second, my trusty Summer Knight custom steel rando bike flew off the car rack and hit the pavement at 50 mph (it was followed by my car running into the ditch and hitting a tree as I retrieved the pieces of the bike). I pulled all kinds of pieces out of the parts pile and quickly rebuilt the Princess, but not enough time to micro fit everything an no good handlebar bag option. Then to rub salt in the wounds, 3 days before I left for California, epic storms hit Minnesota and knocked out a quarter million peoples' electricity, including mine. I had to pack in the dark.
The ride forecast suddenly changed: an abnormal winter low was blowing in. Temperatures were forecasted to plummet, record rains were on tap in the mountains. I re-packed in the dark.
So I got to the start with John, who picked me up at SFO. I had met him at the Tombstone with Lara back in April and he had given up doing the Great Divide Ride to do the Gold Rush. We shared a room, 3 lbs of grapes, an entire watermelon and war stories before heading to the start at Tandem Properties in Davis.
|Road Pixie and John at the start, are we nuts? Thanks Deb Ford for taking this shot.|
There was some serious energy in the air. At about 58 degrees and grey skies, you didn't know if it was going to pour rain or not. Winds were from the south (an advantage). Testosterone was high too - it manifested as a giant pack of riders blasting out of the gates at 6:00 pm going about 25 mph. Normally, I NEVER go out that hard. This time, I must have been nuts. I flew along with the crowd at break neck speed - okay at least it was my definition of break neck speed. The forecast had improved somewhat and though the roads were wet in places, it did not rain for about 100 miles.
I stayed with John and I finally regained my senses about mile 53 and dropped off the crazy train with a guy named Alex, also doing his first 1200k. The three of us stuck together until Oroville, but the Sutter control at 100k would come first. Even having cut loses, I had set a personal best for 100k at 3:39 (gulp! that is so not what one wants to be doing at the beginning of a 1200k full of mountains). At Sutter, I came to appreciate the sponsorship by Hammer. Every control was loaded with bars, perpetual, sustained energy, and gel in ample quantities. The 4H club and other local clubs also provided cookies, soda and smiles to everyone.
Rolling out of Sutter, we had 5 riders and gradually met up with others. All these people would become constant companions on the ride. There was Lothar, the Korean RBA originally from Germany and living in Maryland. He was riding a rental bike he'd picked up the day of the ride. There was Stacey and Greg, a couple on their first 1200, Martin, Manny, Kevin, Alex and Charlie. We all made our way to Oroville quickly. It was there that we saw the first casualty.
In the middle of town on a dark street were parallel ruts in the road. I can only guess that these caught the wheel of one of the Japanese riders. Emergency crews were there. I found out later that he had broken a hip but was okay.
The Jarbo Gap
At Oroville, we stopped for food and rolled out quickly. Here the climbing would start and it was about midnight. Rollers out of the control for about 8 miles and then the ascent. I was having some knee soreness which was a puzzler so I stopped very briefly and stretched. Up, up, up.... Then the rain started. Pretty soon it was pouring; I had to take my glasses off to see a little better (I'm quite nearsighted so that is saying something). John had a flat behind me and I didn't hear in the rain. I stopped at the top and waiting, the rain pouring down. Finally, another rider named Charlie asked if I was okay and offered to guide me down since I couldn't see. I followed his light down, but about halfway he swerved and before I could do anything, I hit a huge rock sitting in the middle of road. Both tires hit, but did not flat. I was thankful that I had 28mm tires and only 60 lbs of pressure. Another rider hit was was probably the same rock with 23mm tires and double flatted.
At the bottom, Charlie and I spun the rear wheel and it seemed okay after adjusting the cheap fenders. He went ahead while I got my head back together. At this point, I was dutifully riding on the white line as the road was narrow along the canyon. That proved to be a bad idea in the pouring rain. First, I heard a roar, is that thunder? Then I felt pings on my helmet, is that hail? Then a rock the size of a basketball hit the ground inches from my crank, no this is a ROCKSLIDE! Another one hit my rear bag, bounced onto the rear wheel and I wobbled, but stayed up as it bounced off the fender. I started riding in the middle of the road, getting over for the occasional car.
I rolled into Tobin at about 4:30 to hot food and many riders trying to dry out. I saw Stacey and Greg and they took my picture.
|Tobin Control with Greg and Stacey|
I left with Charlie as dawn was coming and there was a lot of climbing ahead.
The Big Climb
The next 100 miles are almost all uphill. But as I climbed alone along the feather river in the gentle rain, I was astounded how beautiful it could be. The rain was at least a little lighter so clouds floated serenely above the greenery. Trains run along the river and it was like being in my toy train set, only bigger!
After the turn to Greenville away from the river, I ran into Kevin and Manny. I had to thank Kevin, whose artful cue sheet I was using. I wound up on the same pace as them for about the next 100k. At Greenville, I waved to Paul, the volunteer control worker whose wife, Ronaele, was also on the ride. Small world again. I find Ronaele to be incredibly inspiring - I think of her often when I have down moments. One more info control and we rolled into Taylorsville, an Elks Lodge in a small town nestled in the high valley. Here, I found myself abnormally un-tired and I had a sandwich, chips and as much as I could stuff in served by smiling 4Hers. We pulled out and started the big climb up to Antelope Lake.
This was a beautiful climb, long, but the rain had kept temperatures down in the 70s instead of upwards of 90 which was more normal. At the top, a forest fire had been through some years earlier and the barren landscape was crawling with new plants getting a start. Manny proved to be king of rollers and the rolling hills on the top went quickly. We hit the Boulder Creek Water stop, filled bottles and took off for the Janesville Grade with Roland, who I knew from the Cascades 2 years earlier. We had a great time, even with the climbing. Pretty soon we were at 6,400 feet, the top of the Gold Rush. Then a few more rollers and the rain started back up. Just in time for the descent down the other side of the grade.
IronK always makes me do grip exercises because she is worried I won't be able to hold the brakes. I've always found that silly, until now. Going down a double percentage, twisting hill in the rain for 7 miles with sand and bad pavement requires a lot of brakes. I had no problems holding my brakes tight for about 15 minutes.
At the bottom, I met Patrick who had lost his cue sheet. I gave him my spare (I always carry a spare). He was to be a good friend on this ride.
Susanville, Decision Time
The rain paused coming into Susanville and I ate, changed my shorts and had a bit of a nap. The recommendation had been that it was a better strategy to push on to Adin. Which I did - but it was going to be about 2:00 am when I got there. That's a lot considering I had already been awake for 36 hours.
I started up antelope pass with the guys, a double rainbow floated above Susanville. The clouds were finally parting. About 24 hours after it rolled in, the big storm was starting to roll out.
At the top of Antelope, it was getting cold and I blasted down the other side. The next climb was long and I was feeling great so I skipped up to the top. Kevin came up behind me, "I'm going to tell your RBA what a killer climber you are!" he joked. "He won't believe you," was my response. My asthmatic lungs must have really liked that spaghetti back in Susanville. But I was about bonked at the top and Patrick loaned me some food. We rolled into the Grasshopper control and I had some noodles to warm up. The night was quite cold; the clouds were parting and the moon was coming out.
Patrick and I rode together as both of us were having trouble staying awake. We talked incessantly about nothing, chewed gum, did caffeine and he eventually watched me nap for 5 minutes as we cruised down seemingly endless hills to Adin. As expected, about 2 am in Susanville. I decided to sleep until 5:30. Another Elks Lodge, I had a sleeping bag and I pulled up some concrete.
The Turn Around
Since I decided to sleep until 5:30, cleats on concrete woke me up at about 4. I decided that I might as well be riding, ate some custom food cooked by the many volunteers and left on my own for Alturas. Not a soul was in sight all the way up Adin Pass and at the top I had a sudden sense of loneliness. On cue, Deb Ford, on sag support stopped and gave me a pep talk and some cliff shots. Both made me feel better and I made a beeline for Alturas. This was a lovely, flatish section with some rather nasty expansion joints.
But I rolled into Alturas to be greeted by Rob Hawkes, who I remember from the Winters 200k. Alturas was great and I had waffles, syrup and other fun things to eat. I knew a big wind was coming so I was anxious to get to the turnaround, only about 20 miles away. My shoulder was unexpectedly hurting, I had picked up a camelback at Alturas and it wasn't feeling right. Someone gave me a massage that made it feel much better. It's a little uphill but pretty flat to Davis Creek and the tailwind was disturbing. I could sit up, hold my hand up like a sail and go about 25 mph. It also felt as though I had water in my rear wheel. I wondered if perhaps there was water in my frame from the storm.
I jumped off the bike at Davis Creek, took a picture, used the bathroom, drank a coke and turned my bike upside down. A little water came out, but not a ton. Puzzling, why did my bike feel so wobbly?
There was one rider at the turnaround and I offered to work with him in the wind. His name was Todd. We took turns in the wind, 1 mile each. I think we might have picked up others at one point. Todd was fading a bit and at one point I turned around to see him gone. I slowed and finally rejoined him a bit further down the road. We got back to Altruas before noon. A group including Manny, Kevin and Bill Olsen were heading out. I got a suggestion for stretching to help my shoulder. Curious, my right butt was killing me and my left shoulder hurt. Also my left hand was hurting. Seems like a diagonal...
So I left with them, but my sore butt was really killing me on the expansion joints. I dropped off and did more stretching and massaged a little. Roland came up, with sore feet and both of us walked up a bit of Adin Pass. A wise person knows when NOT to jeopardize a 1200k.
|Climbing Adin Pass|
I finished the Adin climb and cruised back to Adin. I had no more clothes so I ate more food an prepared for the ride back to Susanville, remembering that long descent that was going to be an ascent. Right outside was John, who I had hardly seen since Jarbo Gap. We decided to join back up and I availed myself of the time by eating more.
John and I left together and had a pleasant ride up to Joe Goldrush summit. My asthma acted up just a bit and I used my inhaler. We summited at dusk and with cold coming on, we suited up for dark at the top. I had some tylenol for my shoulder. The moon was high and the night clear. No sign of the clouds. After a long descent and a climb, we got back to Grasshooper almost exactly 24 hours after I first got there. More noodle soup and both John and I were tired. We decided to have a sleep in the Budget truck and laid down for 45 minutes. I should have realized that after all the pollen, laying down near someone else was a bad idea. I coughed until everything came up. But I slept too. I had to apologize to John for the racket.
We continued, just the two of us along a lake reflecting the moon. Gorgeous, but cold. We cruised along and finally reached the Antelope Pass summit. It seemed quite a bit warmer on the other side and we were spared an expected cold descent. I also noticed again a disturbing wobble in my bike. At the control, Dan, the RBA, took a look and noticed the rear wheel was off true. I discarded the fenders fearing they would start rubbing. I filled up my drop sack with as much as I could and took a nap. I also strapped a pair of tennis shoes to my bike. Neither John, nor I had plans to ride up Janesville Grade. The steepness and length had me too worried about my hamstring which ripped on a steep climb in the Cascades a couple years ago.
The Easy Bake Day
John and I got started at a bit after 6, eager to get to the top of the grade. I immediately wished I had been able to leave more things at Susanville. As we approached, the rear wheel wobble was a bit worse. Happily, no climb for it and the top of the Janesville Grade was the last big hill. We loaded our bikes with water, it was already heating like crazy and the Grade faced the sun.
The hike up to the top was fine, in tennis shoes, I could walk nearly as fast as I could ride. The best part was that I got to turn around and take pictures of the incredible views that I would never have seen had I ridden it. I also actually saw how bad my wheel was getting.
At the top, John and I had some food and decided that removing as much weight as possible from the bike was a good idea. I rode conservatively to Boulder and dropped everything except my reflective gear and things to change tires. It was hot by this time. But the big descents were before us. So was a headwind!
We quickly went down, down and about 8 miles from Taylorsville, John seemed to clip out of his left pedal unexpectedly. It was actually his left crank cracked in half. He tried vainly to continue with one crank but we pulled over in front of the closed Genesee Store.
Fortunately, in not 2 minutes, a sag vehicle started by and I waved them down. In it was Tim Sullivan, who had DNF'd due to bronchitis on Day 1. After half an hour of fiddling, we pulled out with John on Tim's bike wearing Tim's shoes. So neither of us had exactly the bike we'd started with.
We got to Taylorsville mid afternoon with heat guns going. A quick stop for food and we were anxious to get to Tobin.
The next 2.5 hours were gorgeous and downhill. If it hadn't been for that headwind and 105 degree temps, I'd have been singing. I had to settle with humming. A volunteer came by with leftover ice. I had him dump it down my jersey. We quickly ran out of water and for several miles, things were rather grim. Then more volunteers showed up with ice and we made ice socks from my arm warmers. John perked up and we continued on to a small store 12 miles from Tobin for cokes. Nice break here, John was still trying to catch up on sleep and the people in the store were super nice and didn't mind 2 tired looking cyclists laying around their patio. I took a picture of an old fashioned safe with a gold painted rock on it; at last, we found the gold. Another 45 minutes put us into Tobin.
The Final Summit
At Tobin, we ran into Ken K from our Tombstone 600k - that makes 3 of the 4 riders all from the same 600k. The heat has taken its toll and we decided on a 2 hour snooze; pointless to fight the heat. A volunteer took us to a room in the resort after really tasty pasta; this was a great control. I handed over my shorts to the volunteer to lay in the sun. I couldn't change them, no drop sack, but at least the sun could kill anything and dry them out. I switched out for a hand towel and slept with my feet up on a couch. Extreme temperatures changes aggravate vasculitis and I could feel the itching beginning under my socks. Having the feet up helps. I was up early and availed myself of a hand towel to go and find my shorts. Okay, that was a little weird, but I ran into Stacey who had a big smile. "You saved my ride". I was somewhat stunned, I hadn't seen her since night one. "I was going to DNF at the turnaround", she went on,"then I saw you pulling those guys through the wind with a big smile on your face. I couldn't quit after that and here I am!". It's the nicest thing anyone has ever told me on a ride. What a pick me up. I guess you sometimes never know; so it is always nice to say thanks.
Ken and others had also had a look at my wheel. They had attempted to true it with no success. Several spokes had apparently stretched that wheel had simply detensioned. But we figured it could get to the end. We left around 7:30 with Bob Lockwood, an SF Randonneur. The three of us stuck it out basically until the end.
Forecasted temps for the Central Valley were about 120 degrees for the following morning so getting there was a priority. The climb back up Jarbo Gap was beautiful with the setting sun; though I eventually had to open my rear brake all the way. The woggling was just something to live with; at least only one more descent.
Okay, descending with a bad wheel at 35 mph in the dark with no rear brake is a little disconcerting. I was happy when it was done. Back we were in Oroville almost exactly 3 days after leaving. I had some hand made quesadillas, more food and a nap along with John and our trio pulled out around 11:30 for the last 100miles. It was still hot from the previous day, at least in the 80s. Hydration would continue to be important. We would also have to ride through the zombie hours. Ugh.
The Central Valley Square Dance
The next miles were boxes over and over. Hence the nickname. With the flat lands, the fog rolling in and the bugs, it was certainly a lesson in agriculture. Huge fields were everywhere. The monolithic nature of the ag business was impossible to miss even in the dark.
The next few miles were long and we stopped for drinks at a service station. The previous rain had really soaked the valley and the Mosquitos were having a field day. The second to last control, a small gas station, had porta potty for visitors. I rode over to be assaulted by biting ants all over the ground. That gets a girl going! Several riders were there and made navigational errors here; happily, we did not. 25 miles to the final control. Humidity soared on the straight, flat Reclamation Road. I thought it would never end in the misty, hot fog. We laid down once and John walked his bike briefly to stay awake. Kevin, Manny, and Martin were behind us and we finally rolled into the outdoor stand around 4:30. I really wanted food, but was assaulted by Mosquitos. The buzzing and biting on my swollen ankles. It drove me nuts quickly and several of us cut the break short, literally driven back to the road. It turned out the big rains had also opened a sinkhole that swallowed CA110 so we had a detour and bonus K along a canal. I was alone just as the sun came up and finally realized I wanted to ride back in with John and Bob. The sun was just cresting and my knees were freezing so I sat down along the canal and watched the sun come up and warmed my knees. I ate the small amount of food I had left. Several riders passed me.
John and Bob came by and we were off to Knight's landing, 17 miles from the end. We stopped for fluids and the bathroom. This was envigorating, must have been the electrolytes in the coconut water. we pulled out and hammered our way to the finish at 20 plus miles and hour. Just in time to avoid the heat rolling in. We had photos and a drink at the finish. "As strong as you were at the end, you must feel pretty good about LEL, one month away." And I did.
|The big finish: John, Road Pixie, and Bob - may we ride together again someday..|
We did have to pedal back to the La Quinta Inn in rapidly ascending temperatures. John took his truck and went back for the bags. I checked in and sat in the tub with my legs covered in ice. Boy, did that feel good. A quick nap and we were off to the victory lunch. Huge social hour and I got to say thank you to the constant companions I had had on the ride. I also bummed some Advil to get rid of the expanding vasculitis (thanks again Deb). I got my finisher's jersey; you only get a jersey in the Gold Rush if you finish the ride. So it's one that will always be extra special.
This is a truly epic ride. With 30,000 ft of climbing scrunched into about 400 miles, it is in a league of its own. Strategy and riding your own ride were critical. I've found that it is unique in a 1200k that you can do a ton of 600ks and still have to change the whole approach to the ride to have fun on a 1200. That is, I think, their strength. They are the reward for a thousand hours of training and a thousand personal examinations of how you are feeling at any given time. Those were skills that I would certainly use again as I mentally mapped out LEL.