No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne - Meditation 17
Anyone who has had a major injury understands that everything suddenly becomes a first again. Comparing the old you with the new you is, well, weird and doesn't always work. I still have that sense that I am milling around in the fog with the old me who is ever more distant.I never wrote about my old self's first 600k 7 years ago and I suppose I am not really qualified to now.So I get to write about this one.
Back in November-December, the idea of doing it was about as daunting as climbing Mt Everest or maybe that big thing on Mars. My neurologist at the Mayo told me I should be looking at this year being out of the sport. I trust him implicitly.He has not met either Deb Banks or Susan Gryder – I trust them too. Between the two of them, they convinced me that not only would I get back on my bike sooner, but that it was imperative that I do so. Susan pretty much hauled me to Florida to do a fleche in March, which at the time seemed even crazier. At the end of that ride, I got off her husband's bike and knew that this ride was possible.
Possible does not mean without some serious consideration. My speech and occupational therapists, Jennifer, Allison and Sheila had spent lots of time going over how to accommodate problems with fatigue, new limitations, visual disturbances, attention and a bit of halting speech.In a 600k, going too slow might mean no sleep – that was not going to be in the cards for my current brain. Of course, doing a full 400k to the sleep stop with somewhere around 11,000 ft of climbing when I hadn't climbed in 9 months was looking sort of "difficult" too.
So I started early with the accommodations. My ability to coordinate and multi-task is still not back on the bike.I am not certain enough to either eat or pull a bottle while riding. I have some nerve damage in my hands so they are very sensitive to pressure. So the Princess went to the shop and got a facelift with aerobars and a base bar replacing the traditional rams horn bars.Sure, it looks a bit odd, but I can also mount a 40oz sippy cup between the bars.With a straw, that gives me water both my hands stay on the handlebars. I can't read a cue sheet anymore though my neuro-optomotrist has adjusted for the double vision in distance. So I started using the RideWithGPS cell phone app on my iPhone to give me audio navigation – happily, I've found it works better than any GPS device I have ever found.Siri has a nice piano stinger when you go off course.
The climbing was another problem. My new manager, Ginny, and the rest of my team at JAMF Software hauled me up and down the stairs of our new building; that did a lot to help the cardio and leg strength. At the gym and the spin studio, everyone helped keep me positive even when I saw how much strength I had lost.I had plans to at least do the GLR 300k with about 9,000 feet of climbing. I completed my first 200k brevet since the accident in Iowa in early April.
Then disaster struck; I caught Influenza B from IronK who got it from work. For 2 weeks in April, I was laid out unable to get up the stairs. The coughing was so bad I stress fractured a rib. There was to be no 300k training ride; my confidence regarding the climbing was near zero. Then my friend, Dan, called from out of the blue and asked me to ride the inauguration of his latest permanent, the Smiling Elephant 200k on May 1, two weeks before this ride. The Smiling Elephant turned out to have almost 9,000 ft of climbing and surviving it on a windy day in just a touch under 12 hours gave me back hope.
IronK had decided that me riding out of town alone was a bad idea. So she took a bunch of vacation and drove me from Los Angeles to San Jose at the start and handled the overnight for me. I can't even think how lucky I am to have a spouse who would do so much just to give her partner the best chance possible for success. Kerin Huber helped me find a bike shop in LA to take care of putting my bike together. Vickie Backman reassured me that this was a doable ride.
The Sierras 600k cancelled due to snow and Lisa decided on this ride as a replacement. So I might have some company, though I realized very early that if I were to finish, I would have to ride my own pace at all times.I'd spent many years riding other people's paces sometimes losing sleep or being a bit overtired as a result. With a still cracked rib, climbing out of the saddle would not be an option.I would be spinning slowly up hills and using my strength to accelerate in the flats, rollers and descents. That was the exact opposite of Lisa's style. I had to give myself permission to ride as slow (or fast) as needed to ensure I had a good sleep stop.
So, IronK and I picked Lisa up at the Oxnard Transit Center on Friday afternoon after picking up the bike in Burbank and made the pretty trip up the 101. It's always nice to get reacquainted but I think she might have gotten worried when I lost my phone sitting in the front seat and couldn't find it for about 10 minutes.Oh well.
Up in San Jose, Vickie did our bike inspections and it was really great to see her again. The weather had turned stellar – with tailwinds and no rain in the forecast.Things were finally coming together. I put the finishing touches on the bike and filled up the sippy cup and the refill bottles. I suppose at least one side benefit of the injury is that ever since, I tend to fall asleep very quickly and sleep like coma victim.
I woke up and made short work of a calorie rich breakfast of stuff that had no flavor at all. Which is okay since I really don't have a sense of taste at all. Since I couldn't eat on the bike and I really didn't want to stop all the time, cramming down about 1,000 calories was really important. Boost Very High Calorie is really good for that by the way.
Most rando rides start with a bunch of people milling around in the dark wearing reflective gear like a bunch of moon men in search of Venus – the part of Venus in being played by no less than 6 women, a record female turnout.How cool is that?
Right on time, we all left and I very quickly tried to let everyone else go ahead. Things that come up on me from behind are still a bit disturbing and I had no intention of letting the accident resurrect itself in my brain. Outside town, another woman named Ann lost a reflective band and stopped to pick it up. Though she quickly sped off with another fast rider, I was to see her quite a bit on this day.
Dawn in California at this time of year is a strange thing. Low clouds hang out for most of the morning, a phenomena called May Grey or June Gloom by the locals. The dawn came on so imperceptibly that I suddenly realized it was now light and we had quickly exited polite society in San Jose for the wilder, or more farmed, areas of California. The road was rolling and Lisa and I chatted briefly. I find it much harder now to talk on the bike without considerably slowing down.Ahead, 2 riders were on the side of the road, Ann and the other man who had a flat. His pump was malfunctioning and I loaned him mine. Always nice to help another, but I was itching to continue on.Every minute lost was time lost for sleeping!
The next few miles were pleasant enough with a gentle climb up to a reservoir, a quick visit with Bob Lockwood (who I finished the Gold Rush with) and a gentle downhill to Gilroy.After a few minutes, I realized that both Lisa and Ann had fallen off behind me, a situation to be often repeated. I reasoned this was a good thing. It would give me opportunities to stop my bike and drink out of my bottles, filled with sports drink.The sippy cup can be a bit spilly so I don't like to put anything but water in it. They would also likely climb faster so I reasoned getting ahead would just make us that much closer to being together at the top of the very big climb to the Pinnacles, about 40 miles down the road.
At Hollister, we stopped at Starbucks at a control and I sucked down one of those high calorie drinks that I would otherwise never touch along with some very nice strudel that Lisa had made. I hadn't brought much in the way of bike food.It was just too hard to eat and without taste and smell to warn of spoilage or badness, I'm nervous about carrying fresh food around.
The miles from Hollister to the Pinnacles were some of my favorite.I rode mainly alone but I had a sense of freedom that you can only really have out in the middle of nowhere having gotten there on your own power. I had confidence I should be doing this ride.
About ¾ of the way up the climb, Lisa and Ann caught up as expected.Lisa stopped at the top and I took off my arm and knee warmers. The grey had evaporated into brilliant sunshine.The next miles were really fun with rolling hills that my slow climb had left plenty of energy for. Maybe aerobars might help with that too….
Vickie has a reputation for taking care of riders and that appeared just down the road as two volunteers with food and water. It was still 30 miles to the lunch stop at Peachtree Lane. I finally got to experience the ride along the Pinnacles.I'd done in during the 3CR at night and it was nice to actually see it this time, especially on a beautiful day with a big tailwind. Ann and I sailed along at speeds up around 26 miles per hour, finally stopping to let Lisa catch up.She can climb better, but in the wind, a rider from the Great Plains has some advantages.
The lunch stop was also wonderful.I had my own personalized subway sandwich courtesy of Vickie and a bunch of potato chips (a personal favorite with lots of potassium). That made the next half hour of rollers a definite digestion ride with Ann delayed going back for a bottle. Fields of grain, vegetables and other random stuff lined the road and the big ridges on either side in the distance were truly worth seeing.
The ridge on the left I had worse feelings about a few miles later as we climbed the 17% grade.One of the things I have noticed since the accident is that occasionally, I just skip pedal strokes for no good reason especially when I am really going hard.T his isn't really an issue during spin class, but it could be here in the middle of nowhere. I took a conservative approach and just walked up the first few yards that were steep, no sense in missing a pedal stroke and falling over. Lisa was up at the top, though she did admit to having walked the last few steep feet.
20 miles of downhill followed and I again just let my legs do as they wished. There was another rider that had been intermittently passing and it made me nervous to have someone I didn't know behind .Rather than worry, I turned up the pace and got ahead. The pavement was smooth and the wind behind me. My knee had been intermittently causing some pain so I avoided stressing it on the occasional roller. I assumed Lisa would catch up and she did on a particularly bad stretch of pavement going into San Miguel. I was thankful for my aerobars – they really helped avoid the pain from nerve pressure, especially buzz from rough pavement.
We rolled into San Miguel with Ann on our heels.I went inside the tiny grocery store and bought some pasta salad and water to share.In retrospect, I should have eaten more; an ice cream bar or chocolate milk would have helped a few miles down the road.
The next big town was Paso Robles, though I didn't know it at the time. We paused briefly for something and just as we were about to leave, I felt a whooshing behind me. Every nerve in my entire body pretty much fired on the spot; every muscle tensed and I just about bit my tongue off.I could almost hear the crunching of metal and feel the bike start to lurch.Then it passed – a red truck with an obnoxious driver.He's swerved close and then backed off at the last minute.I think Lisa might have said something, but I was too panicked to really hear. The adrenaline rush was something I hope to never feel again.
We had a big climb outside Paso Robles. Lisa got ahead and I crashed out of the adrenalin rush like a stone. The accident kept replaying in my head over and over. The sun was starting to set and I had a sudden fear that I should not be there, that this was dangerous, I wasn't ready, I'd be hurt – again. At the top, I pulled over and just sat down holding back tears. Lisa had been waiting and watched the sunset as I struggled to get the accident out of my head.I pulled out some gummy bears – likely I'd blown most of the sugar right out of my liver in panic. I thought of IronK and my parents who saw me through the darkest days, of all the people who had helped me get to where I was. I counted backwards from 100 by 3s (a habit I got from speech therapy) and started putting warmer back on - that at least helped restore a bit of focus. Some time, maybe 1 minute or 15 minutes, later – things started to clear.I was not going to quit now.
So I got up, put on reflective gear, and got back on the bike.It was up and down on a busier road for a few miles before we turned off onto Creek Road for quieter times. I wished desperately that I had more food and the darkness continued to be unsettling all the way to Morro Bay. A few miles from the control, the exhaustion set in and I rolled into the control and flopped onto the pavement into a catatonic nap. I always have to ask later, but this one was about half an hour and I woke up covered by a jersey and an emergency blanket that Lisa had spread to avoid having me get too cold on the pavement. I bought 2 large hot chocolates from McDonalds and drained them, a thousand calories right there.That certainly put some gas in the proverbial tank!
From Morro Bay, we had a descent and then some climbing to San Luis Obispo, the rider from the previous afternoon had a flashing red light that gave me a headache. I pedaled way too hard to catch up enough to get the light out of my eyes also having to stop to drink the remainder of my hot chocolate. Ann and Lisa caught up in SLO at the traffic lights and all three of us rode together to Pismo Beach. It was about 12:45 AM. We made a short stop of the control and I drank even more hot chocolate and bought some gummy worms for a reserve - 20 miles to Santa Maria and the overnight.
We rolled into Santa Maria at about 2:15 and I grabbed a big dish of macaroni and cheese and made a beeline for the room – unhappily on the second floor. There, I threw the mac and cheese in the microwave, toweled off my body, set the alarm clock, ate and was dead asleep – all in about 5 minutes. 2½ hours plus my half hour nap making the minimum of sleep I thought was necessary to finish.
At 3 minutes to 5, I woke up without the alarm and clambered into the bathroom to start eating.I had a bunch of coconut milk, powders, Boost, greek yogurt, as much as I could keep down.It was a lot of climbing to Buellton about 40 miles away.
The first few miles are flat and we passed the site on Foxen Canyon where Matthew Oneil had died on 3CR.It's sobering to ride past a site like that, particularly in my present state.How many inches separate us from a close call and the end?
Foxen Canyon went on and on – it was drizzling, not enough to really call rain but enough to make it hard to see.The last half mile is the only really steep part and then it was steep up and down to Buellton.
We got to Buellton with plenty of time in the bank and while others went for either pancakes or burritos, Lisa and I headed for Solvang, as the mist finally yielded into gray. According to the pictures, we had two really big climbs left.
A couple of miles later, we hit the first on Alisal Road. Lisa said her Garmin just went to zero informing us that we had no business even riding on a grade that steep. Even with a 34x36, it was a pretty tough climb.The bonus was that the road had zero traffic and was beautiful with big trees draping Spanish moss over my head. The pavement wasn't really all that hot but going 4 miles an hour, who cares?
Of course the descent on that pavement wasn't so fun and my new base bar protects my hands very well so it was much easier to just avoid the cracks and holes. The turn onto Old Coast Highway greeted us with another super steep climb. Same thing only there was a water drop at the top and a few minutes left before descending on the 101.
I have to confess looking at my cue sheet twice - 25 miles on the 101? At least there was an excellent shoulder.But as we started the crazy descent with me in the front, I had a big problem. The descent passed exit and entrance ramps on my right. My right eye doesn't move right anymore so I can't look over my right shoulder. With an entrance ramp on the right at 30 mph, there was no way I could safely navigate. Only one thing to do – stop the bike in the middle of the 101, get off and cross the entrance ramp – with other riders possibly blasting past. Not really that fun, but it turned out okay and once more we were on the miles long descent at 30 mph.
We got to the bottom of the long descent with another 18 miles on the 101. I think this section really bothered Lisa, but with limited hearing in my left ear and an ear bud in my right, the traffic really didn't bother me. So I pedaled in front hoping she would at least be able to draft. The shoulder was very large and I could settle in my aerobars and pedal pretty easily. While not a tailwind, it was at least a tail/cross so not so bad.
We finally exited at Goleta with both of us hungry. For some silly reason, Chipotle seemed like a good idea.The key word being "seemed" – I got the most digestible looking tacos I could and still couldn't really digest. Alas, they are everywhere too.
After a half hour stop, we returned to find Ann and Jack riding together. They were doing a somewhat slower pace and I was on a mission to get to the bike trails and off the road so we continued on into a headwind to Goleta Beach. A few photos later and we were on bike paths pretty much all the way to Santa Barbara. The control there was a major pain, to avoid traffic we picked stores on our side of the street. I went to get receipts only to find out that I had purchased a bunch of stuff for nothing since the receipt had 11:40 AM as a time listed and it was actually about 3. Lisa patiently waited for what seemed like an eternity for carrot juice and yet more receipts. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that the urban jungle might have us riding in the dark again and I wasn't so sure about a second go at dusk. Then it was downhill to the beach.
I'd never been to the beach at Santa Barbara – but it seems like everyone there must be a multi-millionaire.The ride along the ritzy was really quite nice and we passed an-oh-so-attractive house up on the bluff that I later read was a mere 22 million: very historic too.
Lisa and I were not to see any other riders until the finish and we finally relaxed enough in the last few miles to have a little conversation. It's always surprising how much you want a ride to end and not to end at the same time.I think hunger won out and it seemed like we hit every red light in Oxnard until we rolled up to the Best Western. Some milling around in the parking lot and we finally found the pizza at the end of the rainbow. IronK was waiting there with a big smile on her face. Though we don't ride quite the same now, Lisa and I once again found a way to make it work. I hope to see her again this summer. Though I suspect she will always notice the subtle difference between old me and new, the new me is just as much her friend.
No matter whether people do or don't think that this is a solo sport, it is a fact that I would never have finished this ride without about 2 dozen people playing various roles at different times. No man is an island.