So it's been an age since I have written anything.  In fact it is 6 months!  Despite the chronic hope that every year will be the year nothing goes wrong,  I've also learned that every year, something will perhaps not go according to plan.  Though not necessarily the same thing, I've come to appreciate that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. 

"The plan" this year was to try and maintain some fitness over the winter and have a strong spring/early summer in preparation for LEL.  I loved the ride in 2013 and wanted to return specifically because my previous self had loved it so much.  That plan has been challenged over and over this year.  Certainly lots of ups and downs. 

This past weekend, my original plan was to go to Wisconsin and ride my new Swiss Miss 400k (for those that don't know, I'm the Chicago RBA - long story).  The route is crazy scenic, hilly and maybe 10-11,000 ft of climbing - 1/4 of it is packed in 40 miles.  The weather forecast was absolutely grim - 11 hours of thunderstorms.  3 people were signed up.  My favorite 400k in Iowa was also offered. Weather only marginally better. Of course, on Monday, I was sick as a dog and had lightly strained a hamstring.

​There are tough decisions to be made in randonneuring.  It's a dangerous sport, let's face it.  I had to weigh a lot of things.  Running the ride in Wisconsin wasn't an issue.  Our treasurer could run it for me and we do almost everything electronically anyways.  Whether I drove the 6 hours to the start and did it myself was the question.  If I did the ride, I'd have no back out option at all and riding alone in thunderstorms at night wasn't really a great idea for someone like me.  It's never my desire to become the source of someone else's worry if I didn't know them well.  I have limits now that I have to respect.  This was not a good situation, given my current state. So Friday morning,  I officially backed out of riding my own 400k.  It might be okay for some, but not me.  I had to consider alternative options. 

I'm friends with Greg Courtney in Iowa.  I've ridden with him quite a bit over the last year and he is very familiar with my situation.  Iowa is about 3 hours closer too.  So as I got better on Friday and the forecast improved slightly, I decided to do the Iowa 400k.  The ride is NOT a walk in the park; it's quite hilly with about 9-10,000 ft of climbing.  There was a strong possibility of thunder in the afternoon, but not 11 hours of it.  And if anything went super wrong, both Greg and IronK would be relatively close.  

Only 2 people were on the 400k/600k in Iowa besides me.  In the new state of "me", riding is a much more solo activity.  While I like riding with other people, in a longer brevet, the idea of riding too late or being in a group I'm not familiar with is still challenging.  All of my decisions now rotate around getting sleep.  As a result, I'm quite a bit faster than I used to be; something that has come on slowly and subtly.  I've never been fast - I was the gasping kid who collapsed at the end of the 100 yard dash and my pathetic gym grade cost me being salutatorian in high school.  But a different brain has different ideas and sometimes given a blank slate, we change unexpectedly. 

So at the start, with only 2 others on the course, neither of whom were anywhere near my pace, I was rather in a state.  Should I even try this 400k?  Was I nuts after backing out of my own ride?  But I was feeling good and the wind wasn't supposed to be too bad. I'd have backup and I could take chances here.  This was my favorite 400k route, why shouldn't I embrace it totally solo?

The forecast was actually pretty ideal for the route.  No wind for several hours and then a cross headwind through the hilliest section between Redfield and Audubon.  I calculated that I should be able to have a small tail for most of the last 80 miles.  And I had new gear that needed breaking in - specifically new shoes.  

So at the start, I was looking at a still, very humid grey day.  There has been lots of rain this year and the grey against oceans of green was serene and oddly reminded me of being in Scotland years ago.  The first sections are relatively flat and I pulled into Polk City, the first control, at about 40 miles with plenty of time, but still focused on what I was doing.  The other 400k rider, Ahi, pulled up about 7 minutes after I did and we left together. After about 5 miles, he'd disappeared behind me and I was on my own for the rest of the ride. The heat was starting to build but it was more about humidity than actual heat. Having grown up in Cincinnati, humidity doesn't really bother me much.  There are humidity dragons that live there; there are humidity lizards here. 

This particular weekend was the Bacon Festival on the Raccoon River Trail. This generally means much partying, thousands of people and a lot of pork on one section.  I was pretty early and I actually took advantage of Bacon Fest to buy a new headband.  My hair currently looks like Dracula and hiding it is a priority.  I pulled into Redfield and about 11:15, ate a piece of gas station pizza and filled my bottles.  The next 50 miles had almost all the climbing focused in them.  Feeling a bit lonely, I clamped my phone onto the handlebars and played an Audiobook.  I don't use ear buds if I can avoid it.  No one was around but me so the extra noise would serve to chase off anything ahead.  

At Guthrie Center, it was getting hot so I stopped for a soda at a gas station.  This was the peak time for thunder and it was a little grey to the west. One of the patrons mentioned rain but that only showers were forecasted.  The nasty stuff had gone north.  I saw a red fox cross the road in front of me outside the town limits, a rare treat.  

The 25 miles to Audubon is a difficult ride, no question.  It's 20 miles of very long, steep and seemingly endless rollers.  To make matters worse, you are slowly gaining elevation so they just get nastier as time goes on.  The last time I'd done the ride, a spoke had popped on the Princess leaving me with 125 miles of woggle wheel.  This time, I was on the Jester which is a good climbing bike with my best wheels.  I made it to the halfway point at 3:15, a little over 9 hours as a 200k.  I thought about going to Subway, but the gas station was serving veggie pizza.  That just never happens so I was compelled to stay and eat pizza.  Bottles filled and my longest stop at 20 minutes, I took off for the second half of the ride. 

Audubon is a 10 mile out and back off the main loop and 5 miles outside, I waved to Paul, the 600k rider.  He said something about getting tired and I urged him on.  Just before the turn, I saw the other 400k rider, Ahi, who was pressing on.  I told him not to quit either.  You can only say so much at 15 mph. 

I turned north to Coon Rapids, still in very large rollers and one of my favorite roads. Big green hills surround you and there are some really stunning vistas. About 5 miles later, a fawn charged me.  Yes, a 2 ft deer jumped in the road and came at me full on.  Not wanting the poor thing to get hurt,  I slowed up, stopped the bike and herded it to woods.  Where mother deer was is anyone's guess.  Hopefully, Bambi is okay.  

There was a northwest wind blowing which slowed me slightly but as I angled up to Scranton, it gave me an occasional push too.  The Scranton Casey's is notorious for not having much in the way of food, but heck, there was some pizza.  So I had yet another piece along with some lemonade - a 10 minute stop at 164 miles.  From here, at 6:00 pm, the wind was at its peak from the west northwest and 90% of the rest of the ride was east or south. Yum.

The next 40 miles went by in 2 hours with the sun finally making an appearance at the very end of the day and flooding the sky with a huge rainbow. I pulled into Ogden at just on 8:30 pm with the sun shining.  Gee, there's pizza here too.  A couple pulled up and asked me how far I was going. "250 miles,"  I said,"you'd be surprised how far you can go on Casey's pizza".  

The Jester with Pizza!

Another pretty fast stop and only 28 miles to Madrid. I climbed out of the Des Moines River valley still in the light (a first). The gentle wind was still a bit of a friend and curiously wasn't dying as it usually does at night. I headed southeast and crossed the High Trestle Trail at about 10 pm. The High Trestle Trail is a long, high bridge over the Des Moines River. It has a series of rotated psychotic blue squares on it making it a favorite place for teenagers to experience their first trip. I usually get through quickly but as it turns out half of Ames was on the bridge - I almost had to walk the bike the quarter mile or so across. There were families, toddlers, dogs and everyone else (along with the stoned teenagers).

I got to the Flat Tire Lounge (a cycling bar) before 10:30 to get my card signed as the last control. A super quick stop, I poured some more water in the Jester's hat and noticed that suddenly, the wind was raging about about 25 mph. I was thinking a storm was coming in but stars were still out in the sky. Fortunately, this appeared to be westerly, making it a tail wind all the way to Slater. A 30 mph tail is nothing to sneeze at even if it is only for 7 miles. And only about 20 miles to go...

So at the end of 7 miles, it was a cross wind for 8 miles into Ames proper. It could have been much worse, I usually do that section at about 22 mph but was down to about 15 as gusts buffeted me sideways. I made it through Ames fairly well, negotiating some construction and no train at the RR crossing to block me.

Quality Inn finish - this time, it's just me

​I cruised into the Quality Inn at 12:15.  For me, it was a personal record in the 400k by over an hour - 18:15 total time - and my first solo 400k ever. Not sure, but looking back I suppose that this was a "fast ride".  I had a great time simply watching the countryside go by.  It's odd to me that this is the second personal record I've set in the last month; I had a personal record soloing the 300k at 13:03 a couple weeks ago.  For someone with a chronic battle against their immune system, that's a huge thing.  On a sad note, both Ahi and Paul did not finish.  

In the last year, I've come to recognize that the rider I was pre-accident had a very different style.  There is good and bad that comes along with that. Good because I got plenty of sleep after the 400k and was able to meet Greg the next day and do 70 miles of hills and wind easily.  Bad because it's a much more solitary existence.  I seem to be subconsciously avoid riding with others, something to consider in the long term.  Had I a been on a 600k, I'd have probably PR'd that too.  But a 600k wasn't what I needed for LEL.  I needed to do a challenging ride, recover my confidence, and follow up on the next day with another one that I could again push my limits on.  It's a slow build to a major event, carefully adding one little block at a time until hopefully, I'm solid at the start of LEL.

I've never considered myself in the least bit fast.  One of the fast GLR recently wrote to me that he thought I would have to slow down to ride at his 17 mph pace.  Even this ride, at my peak, left my computer saying the moving average was 15.  But perhaps there is more to being fast than meets the eye.

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2016 - The year I was a butterfly

2016 - The year I was a butterfly
Farewell 2017 from Wickenberg, AZ

In this blog, I normally confine things to my rides.  But this year was a different one than I think anyone dreamed it would be.  It's just not possible to separate riding this year from everything else.  This was a year of massive change for the better and despite the fact that it saw the passing of the first woman I ever thought was hot (Carrie Fisher) and the first that introduced me to the concept of being gay (George Michael), it will always rank as the one where everything just came together and the world became brighter ever day... almost like magic.

Anyone that has ever read my blog knows that the last 16 months have been a constant journey back from the darkness of TBI. Today, it's become a part of my life instead of a detractor, though there are still things that I wish would heal. I particularly miss my senses of taste and smell. As time has passed, I've started forgetting what things used to taste like.  Chocolate is sort of like biting into a piece of wax; ice cream is a bland, cold sludge in the mouth; coffee is like a slightly bitter hot water. I still can't see well out of my right eye.

Team Ouroboros - my flèche in Florida with Lisa, Susan and Steve

But there are some bright spots too!  Some recent tinkering by my ENT, Dr Phil, has restored some of the hearing in my right ear (which nicely matches my now limited right eye). Stereo has been an interesting challenge for my brain - I never realized that coordinating sound from both sides of my head is yet another job that I took for granted.

I welcomed many new friends in 2016. Now as many people know this incarnation of me as probably knew the previous. 

I'm much more guarded about my time now - it's the only denominator that really has any meaning in life and I am more careful about how I spend it. My days are now spent in an awesome job full of people who are interested in life and learning new things. IronK and I are going to celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2017.

Greg and I at the end of a special Super Randonneur series and my fastest 300k ever

And there is a ride here ...

I started this year in Arizona so it seemed appropriate that I finish it here. I can still recall the feelings of sheer terror that I had when I pulled out of Dad's driveway last January. The Bone Dry 200k is one that I always appreciate for being so scenic that I generally forget I'm going uphill for 40 miles into a headwind. The solitude and spectacle of the desert is so awesome that I never tire of it. Shane used to live in Tucson - "say hi to a cactus while you are there - I miss them," he said before I left.

My first days in Arizona were all about ... rain! It poured rain for 2 days straight which is unusual for area despite a long drought. But slowly the clouds cleared and the weather forecast improved. I had brought the Jester with me from Minnesota along with a very different approach to riding.

Since the accident, I've tended to ride very conservatively around others. Large groups of riders seem to un-nerve me now which I suppose most can understand. So those that have ridden alongside have been those I trusted and know well. I've actually preferred riding solo since the accident.

Looks shallow but it is actually about 4 inches deep!

Now days, I like to maximize both daylight and sleep, so I fixed to leave at dawn - 7:30 AM in the winter. Dad was there to take a movie of me leaving which he immediately immortalized on Facebook. I have always wondered if possibly it's better to be immortalized after the ride rather than before, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.

The first fun thing to run into was a flooded road. Arizona has all sorts of low points called washes. This wash was still washing and even though it seemed benign, I waited for a car to pass so that I could make sure it wasn't secretly 10 feet deep.

​The first part of the ride through the fields and town of Buckeye is not particularly scenic. It reminds me in some ways of the Grapes of Wrath. But it's flat as a pancake too and I pulled into Tonopah well before 10 at about 33 miles. The wind was a light breeze from the north (hey, a headwind) and the sun was finally warming things up.

​After a quick bite to eat and a fill of all my bottles (40 miles of NOTHING to the next control), I was off again. The 40 miles is all uphill, a nearly imperceptible false flat to Vulture Peak. Along the way is some of the nicest Saguaro desert this side of I10 and the old Vulture Mine where I can still envision gold and silver miners slaving away in the sun.

Vulture Mine Road - the highlight of the Bone Dry 200k

Most of the time, I'm focused on this section and the uphill is a bit tedious. The minor headwind wasn't going to help that out so I figured that this was my opportunity to take special time to enjoy the scenery and wave hi to the cacti for Shane. The rain has odd effects on the desert. Things seem to soak up the water and bloom like there is no tomorrow. I especially like those cacti with the fuzzy yellow (no clue what they are).

I must have gotten off my bike a dozen times in this section.  One of the things about Arizona is that everything always seems to be so far away.You can ride for 10 miles and still be looking at the same things.  This time, things seemed distinctly green.

The headwind and my putz approach also made me happy I had some nut bars with me and I munched and sipped my way all the way up Vulture Peak to the descent into Wickenberg.

I decided at this point that I deserved a nice meal.  The descent through Wickenberg on AZ60 is right through the middle of town but never has much on the right side and in the afternoon who really wants to cross 4 lanes of busy traffic...but I was in for a treat.

Holy cow, a brand spanking new 76 Station on MY RIGHT!  So I pulled in right away.  Here I would find not only a very nice deli but friendly folks who thought it was great that I was so far from home.   I had a really nice hamburger and fries made right on the spot.  Okay, I can't taste but just look at these fries....

They were supremely tasty and I had a few texts with Shane.  Alas all must end at some point.

Despite the fact that it took around 6 hours to do the first 75 miles uphill normally I pick up a ton of time by going downhill with a tailwind for the rest of the ride.  Not so today, as I had meandered uphill the wind had shifted with me and was now from the east - another headwind!

So instead of a whizzing 20 mph, I settled for about 16-17 mph.  But I made up for it by continuing to stop for pictures.... I made my way to the final control in Surprise at about 4:30, just in time for rush hour! The area Dad lives in has only one 2 lane road serving about 10,000 people. It's busy and has no shoulder. I moved with extreme caution as a result.

There is a poem from a series called the Last Rune that I have always liked. I have no clue if it is quoted from someone else, but I suppose not. This year, I think of it often. 

I finally rolled into Basha's at about 5:50 pm past the last gasp of Christmas lights. The end of 125 miles in a day, over 7,000 km in a year and my 7th R12 completed, I ended where I began.

We live our lives a circle ,
We wander where we can,
And after fire and wonder 
We end where we began.

I have traveled southward.
And in the south I wept.
Then I journeyed northward,
And laughter there I kept.

Then for a time I lingered,
In eastern lands of light,
Until I moved on westward,
Alone in shadowed night.

I was born of springtime,
In summer I grew strong,
But autumn dimmed my eyes,
To sleep the winer long.

We live our lives a circle,
And wander where we can,
Then after fire and wonder,
We end where we began.

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A Pixie, a Chicken, and a Jester meet on the road to a Cracker Swamp

A Pixie, a Chicken, and a Jester meet on the road to a Cracker Swamp
The Jester
Chicky - A Gift from the Mysterious Lady of the East

​This story begins, as all good stories do, at a crossroads.  Said the Pixie to the Jester, "should I go through this Cracker Swamp?  For I have a dent in my head and many think it too great a challenge.  My Summer Knight is destroyed and Chicky and I have no one to lead us through".

"Ah," said the Jester, in a superior voice, "it is true the swamp is full of perils, but I am just the companion for you.  I am light and witty and my hat holds much water. You will need those to pass through.  The Cracker Swamp is full of creatures both dead and not quite dead. It can be hotter than hot and the Mad Monster Matthew has recently trounced through. It is a long 767 miles through as well".

"Why Jester, Chicky and I will gladly accept your help.  Chicky was given to me as a companion by the Mysterious Lady Susan of the East. Chicky also has local knowledge and is good with maps".

"QUACK", said Chicky.

"Pixie", said the Jester in a most serious tone, "I feel it necessary to point out that Chicky is a duck".

"Tis true," replied the Pixie, "but I have a dent in my head and named her in the topsy turvy times and she reminds me that I must be vigilant in protecting myself even from my own thoughts".

"Well then, Chicky and I will both see you through the Swamp.  But I think it best if you leave the big decisions to us.  We are both excellent judges of character. And before you go to the Cracker Swamp, you must consult a Blue Wizard of Rheumatology.  They are experts in fending off the Brothers Itis who I see are walking in your shadow.  Keeping them away will be important. And we must take care to avoid the Black Witch of the Swamp for she appears in the wee hours of night and will put you under a sleeping spell".

And the many travelers prepare to depart Castle Tavares

"There are so many things to keep track of", the Pixie wrinkled her brow, "and there will be others in the Cracker Swamp that may be allies or foes.  I promise to follow your instructions at all costs Jester for I see that you are a noble companion and will never leave me".

And so the Pixie, Chicky and the Jester came to Castle Tavares, home of the Swamp King and his court, at the very edge of the Cracker Swamp. There they met a large number of others preparing for the journey. "You must follow all the rules of the Swamp King while you are in the Cracker Swamp," said the Jester, "he is a good king, but very strict in his laws. His castle shall appear to us 4 times on this journey for the Cracker Swamp is a loopy place. Each time, you must present him with magic coins you will collect on the route as a tribute to the laws". 

"Well I am a lawful pixie so that should be no problem. And I am good at collecting things, though I like to travel very lightly. There are many here that I think I know from other journeys too.  Like that sleek Panther who travels with her tiny dog, Deep. Or the Armadillo - she has traveled many, many roads and her shell looks very tough. And there are many here, but with a dent in my head and my eyes so bad, I can't seem to tell them apart".  

And with that, the Giraffe came forth and greeted the Pixie merrily.  "Do not fret over the dent in your head, Pixie, for I also have a dent in my head and I am healing my strong legs too. So for now I serve the Swamp King and will aid you as I can here at the Castle as will all the King's many servants. All are wished well on the long journey through the Cracker Swamp - the fast and the slow."

The Owl and the 2 Geese pass the mounds left by the Mad Monster Matthew

And so the Pixie prepared for the long journey and decided that though so many would be on the road at the same time, she would listen to the Jester's wise counsel and be very steady. "Your confidence is lacking," said the Jester, "so we will build and build on the journey and be steady in our ways - then you will be as safe as possible. But there will be many Rabbits as we start out and they are very focused, so hang to the back and let them go their ways for Rabbits are too busy sometimes to recognize others in their path".

And so the long journey across the vast Cracker Swamp started at the strike of 4 on the morrow and the Pixie found herself quite alone for a long while until she came upon the Panther, 2 Geese, and an Owl.

"Greetings Pixie", said the Owl", we have traveled these woods before and it is good to see you again. These 2 Geese and I are traveling together for now and you are welcome among us. It is a beautiful morning and we may see the remnants of the Mad Monster Matthew today. It is really quite amazing that the Swamp has recovered quickly and we were spared from the largest of his wrath".

And so the small group set together and the Panther had to stop for a time but the others continued on. The Jester was indeed a light traveling companion and was largely silent until suddenly, they all came to a stop. 

"We have accidentally left the path!", said the Geese, "we must return whence we left". 

And the Pixie was confused, for the way was indeed complex and she found herself suddenly alone as the others sped off. "Chicky, where shall we go, for the Jester is ready to run and you are best with maps". 

"QUACK," said Chicky.

"Ah so you say left? I am puzzled but I will follow you and Jester because of your local knowledge". And a big wind came up behind them and they wobbled and continued on. "I must be vigilant," thought the Pixie, "for it is easy to get lost in the Cracker Swamp and sometimes following others blindly is not a good thing".

And so they carried on until they once again rejoined their friends and came to hamlet of Oak Hill where a Fox was waiting with a bag of Magic Coins. "Ah Pixie, you have missed the group of 60 that were here not so long ago, but I see that was your plan all along. Here is a magic coin as tribute to the Swamp King. I will be watching you and you are only just a little behind the Armadillo, the Geese and the Owl. You can catch them if you try". 

And so the Pixie thought it over and consulted with Chicky and the Jester and they decided that was a good idea. And the wind was at their backs and they moved swiftly. They came upon the Armadillo first.

The travelers help each other around the aftermath of the Mad Monster Matthew
The Armadillo (from Texas) - rode on experience instead of mileage

"Why hello Pixie!", said the Armadillo, "I am glad to see you this fine morning. So far this Cracker Swamp has been quite a fun time and I am focusing on my many experiences to get me through the difficult times ahead - as you can see, I am a tough nut!  But I am much shorter than you and so you will gain little in the wind from riding with me, but we are good companions so I look forward to seeing you from time to time." 

And so the Pixie rejoined with the small party and they all enjoyed the nice morning. There were many mounds left by the Mad Monster Matthew, but the road was smooth and pleasant and very flat. There were many birds, but no gators to be seen in the Swamp and they past the large machinery that sometimes goes to the stars and back. This was Merritt Island, home of NASA, though it seemed quite deserted at the time. They even saw a fierce wild pig that ran across the road and disappeared into the forest. "Take care Pixie", said the Jester, "for wild pigs are very dangerous." 

They climbed an enormous bridge returning from the Island and the scenery changed to one of many settlements and many machines. After some winding, they came to a long road full of others. "We must take advantage of the wind at our backs," said the Jester, "now is the time to stretch your legs".

And so the Pixie stretched out her legs and down the road they went pulling the others behind them. After a time, it was only her and a new companion, the Oklahoma Coyote. "Tis also my first trip to the Cracker Swamp and my first long journey", said the Coyote. "Let us ride together for a time and enjoy this fine day".  And so they made their way along the Indian River which was lovely and the sun was shining.  They crossed over another large bridge and felt the strong wind, glad that it was not ahead of them. And up ahead, there was the Fox once more with a smile on his face. There were many others with him this time.

"Ahoy," said the Fox, "your journey goes very well and I have for you another magic coin. Do have something to eat before you leave."  And so the Pixie foraged around and found some very nice milk and pizza and filled the Jester's hat with water once more.  "I am not ready to depart," said the Coyote, "but I will see you down the road". 

And the Pixie departed for she knew that with Chicky and the Jester, she would never really be alone. They traveled along to be joined by several of the Rabbits and along they went passing many corners and the machines were somewhat fierce at times. "This is a well traveled spot of the Swamp, we must tread carefully!"

All hail the Swamp King and his feasts!

So by and by 128 miles, they came to the last place along the water at Indiatlantic and there was the Swamp King himself with a great feast and all his courtiers! 

"WELCOME ALL!" said the Swamp King with a big smile. Tis' not often that I leave Castle Tavares but today is such a fine day that I would see travelers on my roads. Come and enjoy my feast. For I have arranged that you have 80 miles of winds at your backs on this fine day" 

And so the Swamp King himself gave the Pixie a magic coin and she availed herself of the many treats and delicacies. But the clock was ticking and though many sat down enjoying the feast, the Jester beckoned.  "Do not dilly-dally Pixie!  For otherwise we may encounter the Black Witch in the Wee Hours". 

And so the Pixie departed with the two Rabbits and the Geese and they made their way inland and away from the sea. This was a long road and though the shoulder was fine, soon the heat was much greater.  Finally, the Rabbit behind her said, "alas Pixie, I must go much slower, for with my fine fur coat, I am not so good in the heat as you". And so the Pixie continued on alone stopping once to refill the Jester's hat.

The Hedgehog - hails from California but originally from England
The Badger from Wisconsin

It was to be many hours later before they would see another.  At the hamlet of Randolph, they were stopped in a long line of machines and became confused, needing to backtrack for a very small distance.  At the corner, they saw a Badger in a bright orange hat.

"Why hello Pixie," said the Badger, "we have ridden on many of the same roads but have never actually met and so I am glad to finally run into you. This way is long and the machines are fierce, let us ride the path together for a time". 

And so they did through the old roads of the Cracker Swamp passing many sights along the way.  They stopped for a time to pick up sandwiches and another magic coin and were joined by a Hedgehog.  The three of them road along through the woods and into the first hills of the Cracker Swamp. 

Finally, Castle Tavares appeared on the road.  The clock had not yet struck midnight and all three of them were relieved that the Black Witch had not caught them unawares on the trail.

"Here we must stop," said the Badger, "and your company was a pleasure. If you like, I will meet you at 5 on the morrow".

And so the Pixie returned to her room in Castle Tavares, ate a good meal and fell into a deep sleep.  At 5 on the morrow, she appeared to meet the Badger only to find the Armadillo outside the Castle.

"Why hello Pixie," said the Armadillo.  "You are looking well this day.  I am waiting for an Antelope from the Far West but she has not appeared".   And with that the Badger leaned his head out of the window and told the Pixie to go on, for he was not yet quite ready.  And so the Armadillo and the Pixie left following in the wake of a mass of Rabbits.

"Today will be another fine day in the forest but not so flat," said the Armadillo, "I am riding on experience here and it is good to be cautious".  And it was true that the Pixie did not feel quite as well the day before and agreed. 

The next miles were very hard ones, for there were many machines on the road in the dark and sometimes Chicky would cry out warnings. Finally they came to quieter roads and the Armadillo was ahead with a Falcon. The Falcon looked a bit on the sad side as his wing was quite sore and so they went off together and finally the sun came up and the Pixie was hungry and hoped that relief was soon. And so it was.

There were many parts of the Cracker Swamp that were beautiful in the morning, even if the road was sometimes rough indeed
Chicky had to forgive early morning fried chicken, but it was for a good cause

They came upon the Pack & Sack sometime past 7 and the Jester once again advised caution.  Inside, the merchant advised that fried chicken was nearly done and so the Pixie ordered some with salt and coconut water thinking that might help perk her up.  "Clearly Pixie, your lack of ability to taste or smell is an advantage in the Cracker Swamp".  And though Chicky had to turn the other way, the fried chicken was indeed very filling and went down easily with coconut water and a very nice nut bar that the Pixie had made herself.  

And so they left the Pack and Sack much happier and the hills were more numerous as they passed through the very pretty forest in the early morning fog.  Some very nice twin Eagles swooped by with a group of Rabbits and waved hello.  The Armadillo, who was very charismatic, chatted with them for a time and the Pixie enjoyed the cool air.

Finally, the forest ended and an long rough road began.  Alone once more, the Pixie had a hard time here and finally stopped on a bridge to gaze into the water. She rejoined friends briefly but came to Western Palatka alone.  There were many turns and she squinted and was careful for the way was a challenge through many houses in the woods.  Many were out cleaning after the Mad Monster Matthew, she supposed.  While the Pixie felt for their plight, she also didn't like that many of them would point and whistle at her legs and other body parts as she passed. "Those are Rednecks," explained the Jester. "They are only really interested in one of your body parts so getting complements on more than one is an honor".

The River St John was a serious obstacle to the travelers

And so the Pixie finally came out of the western part of the town and crossed the huge bridge across the River St John. Here she stopped along with two Rabbits.  This is a Scottish Diner, said the Rabbits, there are many tasty treats.  And look there are two other travelers here as well. 

And so the Pixie went inside and ordered something she supposed to be quick for the Jester was impatient.  Outside there was one of two Gazelles.  "We have lingered too long and my legs are ready to fly as soon as my friend returns."  And with that the other Gazelle appeared and the three of them left.  "I have no hope of keeping up with you Gazelles, but it will be safer in the intersection with three of us".   And sure enough, the Gazelles took off.  Then Chicky began quacky loudly.

"Oh we must turn here? Thank you for pointing that out Chicky - truly your local knowledge is unparalleled".  The Pixie cried after the Gazelles but they were too far down the road. Alas, they would need to turn around and return later.

So the Pixie finally came upon Cracker Swamp Road and a short distance later came to collect another magic coin and rejoined with the Armadillo, who was ahead. The two of them rejoined the Gazelles but soon found themselves alone again as they exited the big town through some mad traffic.

It was here that Pixie was to encounter two Lightening Bugs flashing along together.  As she road behind, their flashing lights suddenly made her dizzy. 

"Ah Pixie, it is the dent in your head", said the Jester.  "You must not look at the bright flashing lights or it will be doom, but the Swamp King has forbidden flashing lights so if you ask in a polite way, I'm sure that they will change to steady".  But alas, the Lightening Bugs were unimpressed by the plight. "It is our nature to be flashing, we would feel odd any other way". And so the Pixie tried to move with her eyes closed or ride too fast, neither of which worked well. Finally, she resolved to slow down and let them go ahead and hope that they would remain far down the road.

Sunset at the Cracker Swamp, where is Castle Tavares?

And so the Pixie, the Jester, Chicky and the Armadillo made their way along until the sun began to set and they stopped to prepare for the night. "I cannot see so well in the dark," said the Pixie, "for I have a dent in my head and my eyes do not focus so well". 

"Alas, I cannot see well myself but I have a magic guide that will tell us where to go," said the Armadillo. 

And so they made their way along and the night was pleasant and fun.  Soon Castle Tavares was once more on the horizon at Mile 452.  The clock struck 30 past the hour of 8 and the Pixie was happy for the Black Witch was thwarted once more.  "Let us partake of the magnificent feast of the Swamp King and meet at the stroke of 4 on the morrow, said the Armadillo, "for tomorrow has many hills and will surely be a most challenging day".

"That is an excellent time", said the Pixie, "I will sleep for 5 hours tonight and that will help me".  

And so at the stroke of 4, they started out once more.  The first miles were quite flat but soon the hills began.  The Jester was quite serious on this day.  "Do not exhaust yourself for there are many hills ahead and we must do those at our own pace.  We must collect a coin at the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain and then we can see where we are, but it will be dark for quite some time".  

And so they started up the Sugarloaf Mountain and soon they were joined by all the others who also wanted the largest of the hills to be done. And though it was not long it was steep and required concentration. 


And in the darkness up came the blazing lights of the Lightening Bugs. 

"Cover your eyes Pixie," they shouted.  But that was not a good idea while climbing a steep hill.  And the Pixie became quite dizzy at the bright, scintillating lights in the total darkness and they burned into her eyes.  At the very top, she stopped to retrieve her coin and the blazing lights were too much. She fell into a deep and aimless sleep and tumbled from the Jester to the ground. 

"Oh Pixie", cried the Jester, "alas Chicky and I have let you down".  And now all are staring and I see that the dent in your head is pulsing.  You must not quit.  Reach into my pocket for I have a special magic mushroom that will help you.  But we must only ride alone once you eat it and we must go much slower for a time lest the mushroom make you sicker". 

And so the Pixie was shaken but did not give up.  They rode slowly still trying to stay away from the Lightening Bugs and finally the sun crept over the hills and the day was to be warm and sunny.  The Pixie did not feel so well and at the next stopping place instead of a nice sandwich with her magic coin, she gave away some her food.  She dutifully filled the Jester's hat and off they went once more. "The next stop you must eat much more," said the Jester, "for you look a little pale to me".

The Pixie and Chicky gave away their food at Lake Lindsey, but a nice courtier still took a picture of them

And so they rode along up and down the hills to tiny village of San Antonio.  Here was a public house with many treats and every one was there to lunch as it was noon.  And the Pixie ordered some soda and a grilled cheese, for she thought they would be easy to eat.  Many came to say hello including the Carolina Parakeets who had known the Pixie for a long time.  

"Tis good to see you, but our day has been a sad one so far and we are hot and tired". 

And the Pixie tried to smile, but was hungry and it had been a long wait for the cheese. Finally it came and it tasted of chalk and the lateness of the hour was upon them and everyone was gone.  And so with heavy hearts and still empty stomachs, they journeyed on.  And in the tiny hamlet of Trilby, they came upon a small shop.  Here the Pixie found some more food and some very tasty coconut water with bits of coconut in it.  And the merchants gave many words of encouragement and this brightened things greatly.

The glory of the Cracker Swamp. Chicky says some of those are Cypress Trees
The beautiful trail from Trilby

And so they continued on and the hills became a little less for a time as they came across a trail that was very pretty with swamps and flowers and all manner of plants. Along the way, they passed the Armadillo, who was chatting with friends and several others enjoying the beauty of the Cracker Swamp. 

And so they came to a special spot and the Parakeets, the Eagles and 2 Rabbits were there. "You must come here and put your name upon the paper and I will send it to the Swamp King for this is a special place, " said one of the Parakeets.  "Then you should go quickly for though the day is fine, the wind will be against you and there are many hills."  And the Pixie realized that the Rabbits were not Rabbits, but were in fact Hares. 

"There is a big difference between a Rabbit and a Hare," said one of Hares.

The Pixie promised to remember this difference and smiled.  And after a short stop to fill the Jester's hat, she continued alone.  Do not fear the wind in our faces, said the Jester, for I am happy in the face of the Wind. He is not such a foe and will keep you cool on this hot day". 

And so they continued on until a big group with the Parakeets, the Hares and the Eagles came up upon them and invited them to ride alongside, and the Pixie did so for a time, but was nervous and not certain that the pace was good for her.  "Chicky says this is a bit too quick," said the Jester. "Let them pass and we shall be fine ourselves on this beautiful day".

They continued on over hill and down dale and the day was indeed fine and many sights created them including a beautiful snake.  "Stay back from that," said the Jester, "for the yellow and red are warnings that the snake is poison to you and will summon the Black Witch even into the day".  So they passed the snake and continued on and finally the Pixie had to stop to prepare for the sun to drop below the hills.  And as they prepared to leave once more, the Armadillo came upon them. 

"Ah Pixie, let us ride into the dark together for there is safety in numbers where the Black Witch is concerned and the Swamp King demands one more magic coin for this day."  And so they made there way the last few miles going up and down the big rolling hills and the Pixie marveled at the Jester's bright eyes that could see even in the dark.  The way seemed particularly long on the fine evening even though the clock had only just struck 8 bells, the Pixie could still feel the effects of the the magic mushroom.  Once again, Castle Tavares appeared and they were greeted by yet another feast and the Mysterious Lady of the East herself appeared and aided the now quite tired Pixie.

"Alas Pixie", said the Mysterious Lady of the East.  "You are lucky for the breath of the Black Witch is upon you and to stay out longer would be folly".  And she brought her a plate of food.  "You must rest well tonight for tomorrow is your last day to finish your journey." "Yes," said the Swamp King, "I am impressed by your strength and your companions, Pixie.  I see that you have honored my laws well and though you only have 130 miles remaining on the journey, you have almost 26 hours to complete the journey.  I recommend that you spend a quiet and safe evening in the castle where you may heal from the trials of the day for tomorrow is to be very beautiful here in my swamp."  And so the Pixie did so and slept soundly for the entire night. But Chicky was up just on 5 on the morrow. 

The Badger reappears with one of the Eagles


"Ah," said the Pixie, "you are right Chicky. We should leave at an odd time so that we stay clear of the Lightening Bugs.  Let us depart shortly, for I see there is a cockroach doing laps on the wall here and I find that rather disturbing anyway".  So the merry party left for their last day in the Cracker Swamp.  The air was still cool and the sky dark, but that was fine as they traveled out through a few more hills.  "We shall have a nice day together on our final day of the journey," said the Jester.

And they wound round the hills together seeing only a very few on the journey for it was still a little early and many were still asleep at the castle.  As the golden light came up, they stopped briefly to tighten the Jester's belt which had come loose on the journey and the two Eagles offered to help.  "Only a tiny thing," said the Pixie, "but I am glad to see others on this fine day.

Nonetheless, it was lunchtime when they arrived at a place to stop and found the Eagles again eating a snack with vigor.  There was a nice conversation and they left together to be joined by the Badger and the 2 Hares, but the Pixie was still nervous at the number and decided to let them fly together and instead talk to the Wind.

The trees sometimes made the Pixie feel as though she were in a long tunnel

"Why Wind," said the Pixie, "I see you are back to once again keep me cool and fresh on this warm and fine day".

"Why yes Pixie", it will be hot this afternoon and better that I cool you and keep water from dripping in your eyes. I see you are well provisioned and that the Jester and Chicky are keeping you company. Together we will have a fine time". 

Along the way, the party met with 2 Minks who were very sleek indeed and kind and helped them navigate a particularly treacherous corner with many machines. "Those Minks are very strong," said the Jester, "for I heard that they have helped others on the journey by carrying their bags when they were left behind".

And so they traveled together and the wind, while very strong, was still more help than hurt for the Pixie liked the Wind and found him a jolly sort. Finally, they came to the last stop for magic coins.  "Amazing Jester! It is but 3 in the afternoon and here we are nearly at the end of the Cracker Swamp."  And with that, a small group of Rabbits appeared looking rather tired for they perhaps did not like the Wind so much as the Pixie did.  They sat drinking root beer and vegetable juice. 

"Surely they will catch us soon," said the Pixie to the Wind.  "But indeed you are quite strong and I am glad that I see you as a friend and not a foe".  And so the last 16 miles went quickly and across a great lake they passed and Castle Tavares appeared for the final time.  "See Pixie," cried the Jester, "we have led you safely through the Cracker Swamp". 

And indeed they came into Castle Tavares to cheers of the Swamp King and his courtiers. "Congratulations Pixie!" said the Swamp King, "you have been most extraordinary and I must say that when I saw you 4 days ago you were the last on the path, but got stronger and stronger and here you are nearly 6 hours early at my court". 

"Why thank you good King," said the Pixie, "I was true to myself and my companions and that made me a success this day.  My great thanks to you and alll your courtiers who worked so hard to help me succeed and regain my confidence for it was deep within the Swamp and hard to find". 

The Pixie, Chicky and her friend, the Mysterious Lady of the East

And the Mysterious Lady of the East came also to congratulate the Pixie and the two of them then started yet another adventure to aid the last of the Travelers, including the Lynx and the Antelope, but that is another story for another time....


Cast of Characters

The Swamp King - Paul Rozelle

The Mysterious Lady of the East - Susan Gryder

The Giraffe - Don Gramling

The Armadillo - Vickie Tyer

The Geese - Allen and Victoria Abbate

The Fox - Charles Fournier

The Parakeets - Melanie Ashby and Wayne Phelps

The Eagles - Art and Dan Fuoco

The Panther - Vicky Backman

The Minks - Jackie and John Schlitter

The Badger - Greg Smith

The Owl - Dick Felton

The Gazelles - Callista Phillips and friend

The Antelope - Ann Klein

The Lightening Bugs - Luann Brink and Larry Grabiak

The Hedgehog - Terry Hutt

The Falcon - Jerry Christianson

And many other fine riders and volunteers that make this a great sport

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My First 600k

My First 600k

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

The recently redone Princess - sort of like a tri-bike/rando hybrid

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.

The Start

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.  

Day 2

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.

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The Ride that Facebook Built

The Ride that Facebook Built

Back in January,  I was trying out using my new iPhone to help avoid forgetting to do all the mundane stuff that I used to do automatically.  I had timers and reminders for almost everything.  I'd never been a big Facebook person but I dutifully installed the app along with a bunch of brain building logic games.  Let me tell you, it's a lot easier to do logic puzzles than Facebook.Somehow I had managed to accrue over 100 friends, some of whom, I still can't say I exactly know.Brain injury or social media norm?  You be the judge.

Due to my new found social blundering on the internet I did reconnect with Susan Gryder from Florida.  I will always remember Susan from the Sunshine 1200k last year as she rocketed by me on a tri-bike, hit a rumble strip and decimated those parts that shall not be named.  Somehow she managed to be patient enough with me as I stumbled around Facebook messenger and a tiny keyboard.  "How about we do a fleche in Florida this spring?"  At the time, I hadn't been on a bike in months, had lots of panic attacks and was focused on teaching myself how to walk and drink a soda at the same time.  I recall my friend Kerrin saying something about randonneurs just not being all that smart."Sure that is a great idea, we just need one other person".

Team Identity Crisis

For those unaware of the obscure art of randonneuring, a fleche is a team ride of at least 360k (about 220 miles) that must be done in 24 hours.  Unlike brevets, controls in fleches are untimed with the only requirements being that you have to ride at least 25k in the last 2 hours and you can't stop for more than 2 hours in any given place (though you can stop as often as you like) AND you have to stay with your team members.  I started thinking about it and it seemed like this actually might be a good idea.  After all, that distance had historically been my favorite, no real time pressure from intermediate controls, everyone must stay together and Florida was not going to hand me a hill festival.I could tackle the challenge of actually staying cogent for 24 hours first.  We just needed 1 more person.

Tackling my first 200k in Arizona came next and at that point Lisa was also having her own version of a meltdown.  What a great idea to have her join as well?  So I gave her a plane ticket to Florida for her birthday.  I feel that sounded much better than just inviting her to go out at truck stops in the middle of the night with a brain injured friend and a total stranger for Easter weekend 3,000 miles from home.

And so was born, Team Ouroboros because Team Identity Crisis just seemed way to over the top.  Leveraging my new found Facebook skills, I created a Facebook group for it and the 3 of us used that to plan this whole adventure. Susan would do the route, I would do the paperwork, and Lisa would do the food and get us custom jerseys. Late in the game, we picked up a 4th member, Steve McCarthy, who I had also met in the Sunshine. 

Which Bike?

Over the winter, Vincent finally got the Summer Knight out of the box to assess its health.  Rear chainstays are bent, the top tube has a bad dent and it has a lot of blood stains.  Ugh, not going to use that one.  I decided to ship my 35 year old single speed ahead of time.  But to tell the truth, the idea of getting a bike there and back was almost as stressful as comprehending doing 400k.  A week and a half before, Susan suggested I ride her husband's bike.  Over a long chain of 50 messages on Facebook with pictures of rulers next to bikes, we came to the conclusion that indeed, I'm just not that much different from her husband, at least in the important ways.  Of course, this was an all carbon Cervelo P2 triathalon bike.  I've never ridden anything even close to a bike like this.What a great idea!  I'll just send my saddle and pedals in the mail.I think there must be lasting good from the injury; previous incarnations of me were way too wedded to the classic steel Constructeur.

Me in the airport - thanks Delta

Getting there….

Since the first words out of one's mouth on a new job are not generally about taking vacation, I booked my flights to fly to Florida on Friday night and returned on Sunday PM.Kind of quick for a 3 hour flight but it is what it is.  I managed a really cheap upgrade to first class, took a Benedryl before getting on the plane and arrived in Florida looking like I'd been packed in a box for 3 hours.  Susan, her husband Robert, their close friend Bryan and Lisa picked me up at the Tampa airport.  Susan hosted and I had some food before passing out in their son's ninja turtle inspired room at around midnight.Between the brain injury, the Benedryl and the décor, I really had some funky dreams.

The Ride

So we piled into the SUV at 5:30 in the morning and headed to the start at Nick's Diner.  Unfortunately, someone had the misfortune of wrapping their car around a phone pole and taking out the power.  Alas, we had wait a bit for breakfast and so wound up starting half an hour late.  I got on the bike for the first time in the parking lot had some seat issues and we took off down the street starting 245 miles of adventure.  The bike was a tri-bike and I had not ridden anything like it before.I had no computer and no cue sheet (I can't read in my new distance glasses anyway) so I was relying on my teammates for everything navigation wise.  I really just hoped not to let them down by suddenly having brain issues or otherwise falling apart in the next 24 hours.  Other curiosities of this ride: I had a sippy cup between the aero bars of the bike instead of bottles.  I am still a little off on coordination so I can't drink or eat and ride at the same time.While it took some getting used to, the sippy cup was kind of nice. We had lots of controls early in the ride so I figured this would not be a big deal.

Susan doing her "I will get all these bikes onto this tiny rack" trick

It did occur to me as I got on the bike for the first time that the start of a 250 mile ride might not be the optimal time to sort out equipment.  I'd sent measurements, but the geometry of the Cervelo was so much different that the seat needed adjustment anyway.It turned out the only weakness of this bike was that the seat refused to stay level.

It's all in my head

There is a powerful psychological aspect to randonneuring not to be underestimated.  I've always said that after you can ride 100 miles, it becomes less and less about your legs and fitness and more about your head and stomach.

Pedaling out along George Rd as the lights rose on a somewhat grey morning, I tried not to think about how long the ride was or to worry that something would go wrong.  I tried to think of it as spending the day with friends I only see on occasion.  This was also spring break in Florida and it gave me a chance to reminisce on my younger years.

As we pedaled over Tampa Bay and crossed over onto the key that houses Clearwater, I was really quite strong.I was not totally sure if the bike or my legs were responsible, but I charged up one of the steep causeway bridges only feeling like I was on the 4th floor.  Our second control was a donut shop (formerly Starbucks) and how can anyone resist donuts when riding?

My latest selfie attempts are still lacking. Where is the color?

For those who have never ridden a tribike, it's a different kind of ride.  This one had a very long stem to make the position a bit less aggressive.  The curling rams-horns handlebars were replaced by a base bar and aero bars – with everything pointed forward it was like jousting.  I dubbed the bike "King Arthur" because history is littered with knights and their pointy things.  I'm amazed to say this bike was one of the best I've ever ridden.  A big thank you to Robert for letting me use it.

It was spring break in Florida and we had put the coast on the route because, well, it's Florida and how can you not go to the beach?  With a late start and stops we were not exactly putting time in the bank, but we still stopped for pictures along the way and Steve suffered our only flat of the day.  There is something about the combination of sun and kitsch in Florida that always seems to be comforting.  I used to vacation there with grandparents as a child.I also fell in love for the first time on the beach in Clearwater – how's that for reminiscence?

At about 30 miles, I also noticed a curious sense of being outside myself.  Our average pace was somewhere around 15 mphs.That is actually quite fast as an average.  We climbed a large bridge off the key, the biggest climb of the day and one of the best views of the ocean.  Being in a 39x53 crankset for the first time in 10 years, I dutifully ploughed my way up, visualizing the floors of the stairs going by.  Curiously, I got to the top just as Lisa caught up to me; she typically is a MUCH better climber.  On the other side we paused briefly to regroup, it was now sunny and hot and I had a distinct awareness of differences in myself since the injury.  Those come and go sometimes, as though I am milling around in the fog with a second me.

A better selfie, thank good this dolphin knew where I was

The next 30 miles or so were largely on a long bike path heading north through northern Tampa.  Steve rode ahead to a bike shop to use a better pump and Lisa, Susan and I toddled along taking pictures.  So far, overhead clouds had kept temperatures down to a very comfortable 75 or so, but the weather was a bit stickier than I was used to – I actively laugh at Minnesotans who think that we ever have "humid" weather.  We got a very nice history lesson from Steve on the area which included a natural spring that had made it a popular spot for centuries.  The area still reclaims water as it flows.  So we stopped at the reclamation plant to refill and use the bathroom.  Lisa wasn't looking well and I was hungry, availing myself of a ham sandwich she had graciously given me that morning.

King Arthur with pastries in Tarpon Springs

We pulled into the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs and hit the Hellas Bakery as our control and a rest spot.  I had brought enough electrolyte tablets to create an ocean so I went with an ice cream cone and some rice cakes instead of a beefier lunch.  The area was crowded with tourists.

After Tarpon Springs, we had another 30 miles or so to Odessa and Susan and I chatted for some time.  Being the master of this route, she knew every corner and there is nothing that beats local knowledge.  It's nice to get to know other riders on a ride.  I also chatted with Steve a bit as we made our way east.  This was the hottest part of the day with temperatures in the 80s and a sticky sun.I was relieved when we pulled into the Starbucks at Odessa.

Aside from eating down my bag, I had a chocolate milk and a LARGE mocha frappuccino.  The frappuccino is one of those things that has so many calories, I wouldn't think of ordering one, but today I figured I wasn't going to worry about calories though I was somewhat shocked at how LARGE large actually is.I was even more amazed 5 minutes later when it was gone…. Three cheers for my digestive system.  The brain was relieved to be a bit cooler too.

Another 30 miles to the next control, also mainly on bike paths.  Cypress trees and swamps dotted the landscape with gentle rollers (Florida style hills).  I got to chat even more with Susan whose company I will look for in the upcoming Cracker Swamp 1200k.  As we exited the trails and made our way to the 7 Eleven, ominous clouds swept to our east.Not such a great thing considering the otherwise perfection of the weather.

Mid ride Facebook update!

At the control, we were horrified to discover we had left the control cards back at Starbucks!  Fortunately Bryan would come to our rescue.  Our route was quite close to him and we called to find out that someone had turned in the cards.  He would pick them up and bring them to us at the next control point.  At this point, Lisa was not feeling well.  We spent some time puzzling things out and finally figured she hadn't gotten quite enough salt for the Florida experience.  Scratch Rescue mix, pickles, a B vitamin and a bit of rest perked her up and we stayed long enough to reclaim the cards and happily allow the storms to the east to pass.

The next 30 miles down Cortez Road were lots of fun with a big shoulder and very smooth pavement.  I was actually amazed at how nice the pavement was – certainly no threat of frost heaves in Florida.

At Tarrytown, the night was just starting and we had a truck stop dinner.  Perhaps one of the advantages of a shredded olfactory nerve is that lack of taste and smell can be an advantage when dining out at mini-marts.  The last of the storm clouds seemed to be disappearing south.  Lights and reflective gear went on as we finished our final miles on Cortez Road and turned onto the Van Fleet Trail.

Though Susan might disagree, I loved the trail.It had a super spooky quality with Spanish moss dangling down in the dark, a light fog from the previous rain, and trees that arched overhead like so many crone's fingers.  I kept thinking that the vampire Lestat was probably out on his Pinerello somewhere in the dark.  The only problem was that the earlier storms had blown all sorts of debris onto the trail.  My visual processing speed still isn't the greatest and on a new bike, I slowed considerably to avoid hitting things – I was on 23mm tires instead of 30s so I felt every one I failed to miss.  I also had a large bug fly down my throat and experience death throws in my trachea.That was also enough to merit a short stop.

Storms receding to the south in Tarrytown
Rando truck stop dinner - it just doesn't get any better than this. Especially without a sense of taste.

We experienced our first gently rain on the trail.  Not even enough to really bother but as we exited onto Commonwealth Road, it got progressively harder and it was pouring by the time we hit Shell in Polk City. The warm temps made it quite comfortable, but the air conditioning in the control was way too much.  I ate some more food from my bag and we cleared out quickly.  2 more controls to go!  We had made it almost 300k!  Lisa and I finally got to chat during the next few miles.The rain came to and end and things dried out quickly.  About 15 miles in, she mentioned being tired and whether I was just suggestible or whether my line had run out, I suddenly realized I was excruciatingly tired!

Catatonic Napping is my Super Power

Hey I just saw Deadpool and though he looks cooler in lycra and will likely make more money, but I can rejuvenate almost as well.

It turns out that the brain injury has a side effect of reducing the amount of warning you get from fatigue down to a very short time.  I asked to stop and the 4 of us made an unscheduled halt into a Marathon station.  I got off the bike, flopped on the pavement and was instantly and deeply asleep.  I came to 20 minutes later with no concept of how long I had been out feeling much refreshed and we continued on.

Posh Digs at the Flying J

The second to last control was at a truck stop near an interstate.  Very careful attention to hydration made it a very welcome sight for all of us.  Most of the time a gas station is just a gas station.  This one had lots of accouterments including recliners and a full screen TV playing Spider Man.  There were even big massage chairs although I thought that if I sat in one, I might go into a coma.Remembering truck stop chicken of brevets past, I snagged the last few pieces.  Without a sense of taste, it's hard to be sure but they might have been horrible.  I tossed the last 2 in my pocket where they remained for the rest of the ride.  Did I mention there were actually a bunch of people milling around too?  Hey 2 AM is just when things get going.

Gay Pride in Yber City 

Like birds of a feather, Susan and I have similar opinions on routing through things that are interesting at the cost of speed.  It turns out that Easter weekend was also Gay Pride and Yber City is a hip party central even without a holiday and a festival going on.  Despite it being 3:00AM, it was as crowed as Miami at rush hour.People poured in and out of bars (the hookah bar was quite busy).  Traffic was thick.I would not have been surprised to see streakers.  Twinkle lights were overhead and rainbow confetti was underfoot as we snaked our way through the traffic.  Ever been annoyed by a single car with the music turned up to 11?  How about if EVERY car was doing that? It felt a little like my heart might go into tachycardia at any moment.But what a party it was.

We disengaged and avoided a wrong turn that would have led us through the projects instead making our way along Channelside and through Tampa.  Unlike the people-intense Yber City, the late hour in Tampa had emptied the streets.We went by all sort of million dollar yachts and stately mansions as we wound along Bayside Road.

Susan and Lisa at the 22 hour control, Tampa

The last control…

We finally arrived at our 22 hour control almost an hour early.  I'd like to say I spent a bunch of time chatting and congratulating everyone, but the reality is that I ate an ice cream bar and feel back asleep for 40 minutes.  Lisa and Susan got a chance to talk and I started thinking about how I would write about this ride.Pictures were going to be limited since I dare not try and take them while riding yet.  I bemoaned the fact that I never had pictures of my naps or any of the other odd moments.  "Oh contraire", said Susan, "that last nap of yours has been on Facebook for hours".  You can always count on your friends to post your finest moments I guess.  By the next day, that picture was the most liked picture of me that has ever been on Facebook, fame.

The last few miles through St Petersburg were lots of fun and we had enough time to see some more of the waterfront including the new Salvador Dali Museum (I have a thing for surrealists).

We managed to get lost in the last 1 mile and finished the ride by hoofing the bikes across someone's front yard.  Paul Rozelle has a beautiful home by the water and was busy cooking up breakfast for one or two other teams as we got there.I even had a shower.

Needless to say, photos of all sorts went up on Facebook and though it was likely a drop in the ocean for a real social networking butterfly, I got a chance to see how many people wished me happy thoughts and, whether they know it or not, are part of continuing recovery that seems to finally be in high gear.

The big finish! Note our carefully coordinated Team Ouroboros jerseys by Lisa.


I went into this riding thinking that I would be hanging on for dear life.  It turned out not to be so.  In fact, the biggest thing I discovered on this ride was how much I liked riding a tai-bike.  I finished this ride with NO numbness anywhere, no stiff neck, no soreness.  Who would ever have thought that?

So many thanks go to those that spent a weekend with me and were such a part of an amazing ride.  Susan, her husband Robert and their friend Bryan were all so welcoming to someone from out of state.  Many thanks to Lisa, who made a truckload of food and is always a welcome sight on the road.  And I hope to meet up with Steve again someday as well.I had such a wonderful experience.  It makes me even more thrilled to be coming to the Cracker Swamp 1200k, only 6 months away.

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