Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Because Betsy Told Me To ...

Betsy Graham was one of my journalism professors in college, and she taught me a lot about how to write (like saying "a lot" and not "alot"). She said that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You don't necessarily have to write it that way, but it has to seem that way to the reader when they go through the words.

Here's the 1000K the way Betsy would have wanted it. It has pictures, because that's the way that Stewart Schwartz (another professor) would have demanded it. It is chronological, because that's the way that George Greiff would have liked it.


Although I'd been busy for the past two months getting stuff ready for the event, things really started with a great mixer hosted by Gran Fondo (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in This and Any Other Universe that Theoretical Physicists Anywhere Might Ever Think Up). Vida and Lynn Greer opened up the shop to randonneurs throughout the day, so that they had a constant stream of cyclists with both minor and major issues to fix on their bikes.

I had to work that day, so it was after 5:30 when I finally rode my bike over. The shop was packed with folks -- old acquaintances rekindling, new relationships starting, and a lot of "yeah, I've seen your name on the list" conversations. I checked in with Lynn to see how it was going, and he was having a blast. "I just love having this many people around that get such a kick out of cycling," he said.

Although I had to spend most of the mixer transferring groceries and signs from one car to another, I did manage to chat with a few folks and have a glass of really good wine. Just after RandoGirl showed up, the 60 of us walked down the street to Finezza's for dinner. In spite of having to eat at the bar (only 50 had RSVP'd), and me running out in the middle of the meal to get some other last-minute supplies from Office Depot, we all had fun.

Back home, I started to put brevet cards, phone numbers, and pencils in individual ziplock bags. John Shelso, one of my volunteers from Memphis, arrived so I put him to work. We finished up just after 10 pm, and turned in. Three hours of sleep was going to have to do.


John and I were on the road by 1:30 am, just getting to the ride start at 2 am. There were already a few riders there, ready for check-in and inspection. Two other volunteers -- Marcia Swan and Kent Kersten -- showed up soon after us, and we got to work.

Pete Dusel (the reflective one) and Marcia

Things went relatively smoothly, thanks primarily to Tennessee RBA Jeff Sammons's excellent pre-ride communications to the riders. Everyone who had bothered to read these emails knew what to do, and the others quickly fell in line. Soon enough, everyone was inspected, their drop bags were dropped off, and all were ready to go. About 10 minutes before 4 am, I gave last-minute instructions, and then sent them off.

Kent (left) and John

In the now-emptier parking lot, we quickly loaded the drop bags into the correct vehicles. Marcia headed back to her hotel room, while John, Kent, and I went over to Bill and Sametta Glass's house for a nap. The RAAMinator was very heavily laden, thanks to the bags and groceries, and the hitch on the rear rack scraped on any bump. I left more than a little plastic on Bill and Sametta's driveway.

Grabbing the sofa, I was soon asleep. Of course, the cats decided that visitors were fun to play with. I guess they "kneaded" me to get off of their bed (sorry).

Hey! You're on my sofa!

After 7 am, we all got up (blearily) and started back to work. Kent, John, and I went out for a bagel and coffee, and then did the grocery shopping. The RAAMinator was very full when we got back, so we shifted some things to Marcia's station wagon. Alan Gosart had also arrived by then, and so we headed south once we had the load balanced.

Marcia and Kent rode down in Marcia's car, and John was in Jeff Sammons's truck. Alan and I stopped for gas, which put us well behind the other volunteers. We slowed down more when we came upon a German tourist, who gladly took us up on our offer of ice. Although it was only 11:30 am, he was also very happy to have one of our cold beers.

Grateful tourist and beer

We were almost to the state line when we began running across our riders. They were then 100 miles in, and the temperatures had climbed into the 90's. Just like the tourist, they were very appreciative of ice and any other drink we might have ... although relatively few were ready for a beer yet.

Our first batch of thirsty, hot riders

For the next 150 miles, Alan and I caught up to riders and offered them cold drinks and food. Rarely did any of them turn us down, and most were glad to stand in a shady spot by the side of the road and take a break. Many of the cyclists were suffering badly, and some of the strongest surprised us by abandoning on this day.

Not long before nightfall, we arrived at French Camp, and our cabins at Camp of the Rising Son. Marcia and Kent had already arrived and unloaded most of the groceries, with John's help. When we got in, they quickly got the drop bags out of the RAAMinator and we finished setting up.

Food, drink, and medicine set up in dining hall

Summer Poche, the hospitality coordinator at the camp, was a flurry of activity and charm as she helped get us situated. Soon after our first riders began coming in, a couple that does the cooking for the camp arrived to start work on the next morning's breakfast. When they saw all of the hungry athletes, they went ahead and fixed breakfast for many right then. This hot meal got them back on the road, where they did the 80 miles to the turnaround and back to French Camp for a couple of hours sleep.

French Camp cooks extraordinaire

Hungry riders

Tired riders and volunteers enjoying breakfast

From left, Bill Glass, John, and Marcia


Most riders opted to sleep at French Camp before starting south, and in the morning they got up to enjoy another breakfast. I had managed to get almost four hours on a sofa in the lodge, and felt pretty good about this time.

Tennessee RBA Jeff Sammons ready to ride

The heat Thursday had taken a toll, and there were nine riders who would not be going on. Three were in French Camp, so I volunteered to ferry them up to the next overnight control at Tishomingo State Park, drop them off to man the control there, and then come back. This also gave me an opportunity to get a lot of the gear up there as well, which eased my worries about the RAAMinator scraping the road some more. It was, nonetheless, an exhausting 300-mile trip, and I did not get back to French Camp until just before 3 pm.

Alan and I quickly loaded up the rest of the gear when I got a call from Bill Glass. He was just rolling back into French Camp with a busted bottom bracket on his bike. We scooped him up, ate lunch at the small cafe there, and then headed south a little bit to ensure the last of the riders were okay. They all seemed happy to see us -- particularly since we had ice and cold soft drinks. We left them to soldier on as the lengthening shadows promised cooler temperatures.

Repeating the previous day's protocol, Alan and I slowly moved up the Trace, offering ice, drinks, and food to the riders as we encountered them. Once again, many were happy to see us. Most of the time, the riders would lean their bikes against the van, take a break with a cold Coke, and decompress a bit.

Night had fallen with Alan and I got back to Tishomingo. Marcia, Kent, John, and our "conscripted" volunteers had everything arranged. Anthony Watts had also arrived, and his freshness and energy was invaluable that night.

Cramped feeding station at Tishomingo

I was really bushed at that point, so I grabbed a sandwich and limped off to a cabin about 10 pm.


A fairly comfortable cot with a sleeping bag was just what I needed, and it took an effort of will to drag myself back out into the world at 2 am. It had started to rain, however, and riders were still trickling in. I could not ask more of the other volunteers than I was willing to give of myself, and so I headed out to relieve those still on duty.

John and Alan

I took my netbook into the RAAMinator and wrote a disjointed blog post while watching for riders. The sky turned to a leaden gray as dawn came, and riders started crawling out of cabins. I drove a number of them over to the big camp dining hall for a hot breakfast. While we were there, the rain started in earnest, punctuated by peals of thunder. This gave all of us a good reason for a second cup of coffee before returning to our work.

Eventually, the rain eased off again, and most of the randonneurs rolled forth. The last of the riders came in about this time, having grabbed naps at various opportunities on the road, and we fixed them sandwiches and got them set up as best we could.

Early morning departures at Tishomingo

Marcia and Kent had left at about 8 am to set up a water stop 40 miles from the finish at the Jackson Falls rest area. Anthony was not able to stay with us for the full day, and he soon headed home. This left John, Alan, and I to make sure that the cabins were empty and fairly clean, and then load the drop bags into the truck.  John then headed north with the truck, Alan and I loaded the remaining food and drink into the RAAMinator, I grabbed a quick shower, and we began the support cycle anew.

Last day ... but at least the rain has stopped

The front that had brought the rain had also brought cooler temperatures. Riders were still wanting ice and cold drinks, but their spirits were obviously brightened by the end of the oppressive heat and the prospective of finally finishing.

Most of the cyclists were back in Alabama or beyond by the time we caught up with them. We fixed a few sandwiches with the last of the sliced turkey. Chips and cookies were more popular this day than they had been previously.

Crossing into Tennessee, we stopped in Collinwood to find a number of riders at the store control. Alan and I bought more ice, and a pizza to take up to the Jackson Falls water stop. One of the riders had a sticky headset, but I was unable to do much with it. Since it still worked, he was able to finish.

Jackson Falls water stop

There were a lot of riders hanging out at Jackson Falls, and the pizza went quickly. Marcia and Kent had run out of food, but a church group having a picnic there had given them bags of chips and pretzels. We replenished their supply of junk food and ice, and told them how many riders were still back. Marcia would continue to man the stop through most of the night as the last riders came through. She was a real trooper!

Kent, Alan, and Marcia by Marcia's heavily laden wagon

A rider goes cross-country back to the Trace from Jackson Falls

With just enough cold drinks and ice for the remaining riders north of us, Kent, Alan, and I headed north. The riders we passed here were still well-stocked from Jackson Falls. They were also smelling the barn and trying to get to the finish before nightfall.

We arrived at the finish about 6 pm, where most of the riders were enjoying a relaxing break on Bill and Sametta's carport. Pizza and cold drinks were in abundance, the weather was perfect, and everyone was happy. I had originally planned to get the overnight control volunteers back to the finish by 3 pm, so I barely had time to talk to a few folks about their ride as we quickly unloaded the last of the food and drinks. John needed to drive back to Memphis, and his car was still at my house. We loaded George Hiscox and his bike onto the back of the RAAMinator, drove him back to his car at the start, and headed home. I slept 10 hours that night.

A number of riders commented to me that we volunteers were probably working harder than they were, but we both knew that this was an exaggeration. Although it is trying work -- particularly running as lean as we were -- it was more exhausting mentally than physically. I saw a lot of fried riders over the weekend, who were sore in almost every place and brain-weary. They needed us to shepherd them along, and we were glad to do it.

Finishing a ride like this is a personal victory. You trained for it, tweaking your bicycle and supplies for months, losing weight and gaining endurance while you pored over the route and came up with a strategy that you stuck to while you could, and then improvised around when you had to.

Supporting a ride like this is a community victory. There's a lot of thinking and planning, and then communicating with the other volunteers to work together on a good plan. You try to identify everything that you may possibly need, and where and when you will need it, and then figure a way to get it there. You have to consider the requirements of both your fastest and slowest riders, and how you can help those who are struggling to make it home while still helping those looking for a personal best to get there fast.

When it's all over, whether riding or supporting, you are pretty tired. You're really happy to see that finish control, and ready to party. And you know that you've done something that is very, very special.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Pretty Good Shepherd

Tishomingo State Park, September 25, 3:32 am

I'm sitting in the RAAMinator, listening to the low clicking hum of crickets, cicadae, or some other form of insectoid life, punctuated by infrequent raindrops that meander down from the laden leaves of the trees above, to clunk hollowly upon the roof. It is a rare calm at the eye of a randonneuring maelstrom.

I am waiting for the next batch of riders to come in to this overnight control. About 25 cyclists are enjoying fitful snorey sleep in the cabins around me. Maybe half a dozen - the fastest and least sleep-dependent of them - have moved on up the road, seeking the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway and the final control beyond. Some may already be there ... their 1000K ride complete.

But here, in the damp pre-dawn hum outside of Tishomingo State Park, only I am truly awake and on duty. I am RandoBoy ... and I rule the night.

Even the other volunteers are asleep. They are exhausted -- we all are. They, like I, have been shepherding these riders along on this 650-mile journey. It has been hot for the past two days, with 90+ degrees and headwinds most of the way south. Winds that died about the time most riders reached the bottom and began working their way back. Winds that will return from the north in the morning, as these cyclists return to the hills of Tennessee, past Hohenwald and Leiper's Fork, to their reward in Nashville.

For the cyclists, these have been long hot days. Sweat-soaked shorts on hard bicycle seats over ragged chip-seal pavement. Bottles of tepid gatorade that sours in the stomach, so you can't eat so much as an energy gel without wanting to vomit by the roadside. Steamy gritty roadside humidity.

It is balanced by the sheer beauty of a road that was old before Columbus "discovered" the continent, although not much of the original game trail remains. It is now a manicured ribbon of pavement, gently tumbling over the tired foothills rolling towards the Tennessee River, bumbling over pseudo-hillocks through dark woods and lazy bogs, to dissipate exhaustedly almost within sight of the mighty mighty Mississippi.

A rider comes in. I see his headlight, and he is past me before I can get out of the car. It is Dion Dyer from San Diego, CA. He is making an invictorious lap around the loop of cabins, trying to determine where he needs to be. I guide him to the main volunteer cabin, log him in, sign his card, and offer him food and drink; he declines both. He had a major bonk earlier, and ate a hamburger 45 miles back in Tupelo. Birthplace of Elvis Aron Presley. The King.

Thank you very much.

Dion tells me about a long conversation he had with a Park Ranger at Pharr Mounds, nearly 20 miles south. He wasn't sure if the ranger was worried about him, or was just bored and wanted to talk. They discussed bicycling, but Dion was in a hurry and wanted to get moving. You can't waste a lot of time on a brevet, since it costs you sleep, or means you will need to ride much harder later to make up for it. As with life, we race through it, trying to enjoy the view while we work much too hard.

Eventually, I get Dion into a cabin where he can take a shower and try to sleep. It will be a heavy, restless sleep. Your legs continue to turn ghost pedals, since that is what they have been doing for the past two days. You jerk back to semi-consciousness from your sleep ride as you think that you are about to doze off and crash. It is strange that you should have nightmares about sleeping. But it is so.

This episode with Dion is pretty much what the past two days have been like for me. Encounter a rider. Offer him/her help. Usually, they accept. Often, on the road, they just need ice ... a colder drink to lower that core body temperature back to tolerable levels, so that they can restore basic bodily functions again and return to pushing the edge of their endurance. Things rarely shut down completely, but they do stutter. For most, it's just an upset stomach. Nausea, and maybe diarrhea. For others, they dehydrate and stop sweating. Their skin is slightly red, with goose pimples. All of the riders by now have eyes that are bloodshot, bleary, and puffy. Their shoulders sag. Feet shuffle. On the bike, a once-perfect stroke develops a hitch, or a twitch to the knee, or an ass cocked cattywonkus on the saddle to relieve a spot that just gets worse and worse and worse with every turn of the crank.

Out on the road Coke is popular, of course. Cold blessed sugary fizz that cuts the grit of protein-packed powdered drink mix, hitting the back of the throat with a glorious banging chill on the hard palate, eventually putting that last unprohibited performance-enhancer, caffeine, into the blood to get things moving in the right direction again. Or any direction at all.

Sometimes riders just need to talk. They need to vent about the heat, or the hills, or the traffic. The RV that came too close. The deer that ran right out in front of them on a fast descent -- the rider's lives flashing before their eyes like a bouncy white tail, perky, fluffy, and creepily erect.

For some riders, when you offer them things from your car, they just wave and grin. Don't bother me. I'm getting there on my own steam. I will do this.

At controls, the word comes into play over and over: Shepherd. Tap them on the fanny with your crooked stick, keeping them going towards food, or bed, or a shower. Ultimately, we urge them back to the bike. Once dressed again to ride, with bottles full of cold water and jersey pockets stuffed with food and papers and electrolyte tablets, they walk their bikes to the road. They check their tires, and think of something else that they might need, returning to the control. They get whatever it was that they wanted, and then they move things around -- from bike bag to pocket, or back. They put on a jacket, and remove it. They don't want to go, but they do want to go. They must go. This is when the job of the volunteer is hardest, because we have to nudge them on, like reluctant kindergartners. Bye-bye, now. Bon route.

Be careful out there.

Tishomingo State Park. Saturday morning, 4:40. The sun will turn the sky gun-metal gray in about an hour. The rain has stopped, and two of the 600K riders roll out. I get their names, so I can update our lists. We need to know who is out there, and maybe where. Ultimately, though, they are on their own.

This is a brevet, and so it is self-supported. But if that is so, then why am I here?

Because I am RandoBoy. And I rule the night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Day to Remember

For the past two weeks, I had been working and re-working my plan for this year's Ten Gaps, also known as Bundrick's Revenge. It was a masterful plan, and far different from the plans that I have used the last two times I have done this beastly 200K with over 15,000 feet of climbing in the north Georgia mountains. It was the perfect plan due to its formlessness, since the plan was not to have a plan.

Yes, I am a freaking genius.

This was my third time doing this ride. The first time, my plan was painful. The second time, my plan was conservative. Saturday, the non-plan worked about as well as either of the first two. There was not as much pain as the first time. I was faster than the first time, but slower than the second. And, unlike every other time, I did not have to walk any of Brasstown Bald.


Again this year I drove down to Dahlonega, GA, Friday evening with friends. Last year it was Jeff Bauer, Alan Gosart, Vida Greer, and Peter Lee. This year, it was Jeff again, and we were joined by Larry Lewis.

Saturday morning we rolled out of the WalMart parking lot as the sun was coming up, just after 7. We were soon climbing the first of the 10 gaps, Woody's, where I stayed up front until Joseph Fritz and Julie Gazmararian rode up. We chatted for a bit -- Joe lives down near our Florida house, and Julie teaches at my alma mater, Emory University. When a couple of cars came along I went back to the front and sped up a bit. I wanted at least one KOM victory, and managed to be the first rider over that gap. I stopped then to use the facilities there as half a dozen other riders started down ahead of me.

I rode easier through Suches and on towards Wolfpen Gap, mostly listening to my iPod and enjoying the scenery. Robert Newcomer rode up with me as we started the climb, and we went over Wolfpen mostly together and then enjoyed the snakey descent.

At the first control, Robert and I caught up with the lead riders. I took my time enjoying a Diet Coke and a fried apple pie, then topped off my bottles. Jeff came in, quickly cleared the control, and I rode out with him. He had decided early to do the ride at his own pace, and so I did not try to ride with him up Hogpen Gap.

Joe passed us, followed by a large group of other riders, as we came to the base of the climb. We saw more cyclists than motorcyclists all day, as many riders were preparing for the Six Gap Century in two weeks. We would often ride along with these folks, who you could easily tell from the randonneurs by their minimalist carbon fiber rigs.

I started Hogpen hard, but soon backed off, knowing that it was still very early in this 200K. Larry passed me, looking strong for such a new randonneur.

Watching Larry climb, I remembered the last time that I had gone up this mountain. Jeff and Peter were ahead of me last year, and I was working hard to catch up with them before the top (I failed). It made me think of Peter, who was in the midst of his own struggle back in Nashville.

Regular readers of this blog know Peter as a good friend and strong rider. He came to cycling over five years ago. He had just survived cancer, and was trying to get fit again following the debilitating cure for that insidious disease. He got healthy and strong -- probably beyond even his own expectations -- and found a passion that got him through Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 and the Gold Rush Randonnee in 2009.

Peter was very strong last fall when he did Bundrick's Revenge. He and Jeff rode a tandem at Crazy George's Ride to the Sky -- a century in Cookeville, TN -- and were the first 100-mile riders to finish. Near the end of the year, though, he started to feel ill. By spring, he got the diagnosis: His cancer was back.

In April, Peter went through some very difficult surgery where they removed one of his kidneys. He was in the Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt for a month, lost a lot of weight, and was still having trouble when they sent him home. They were not able to get all of the cancer, and he is now going through chemotherapy.

Thinking of Peter on this tough climb Saturday reminded me just what a thin line we all walk. My legs hurt, but I reveled in the pain, knowing that I was living life to its fullest right then, climbing a beautiful mountain on an almost-perfect morning. I also though about the fact that it was 9/11, and what that meant to me as an American. At that moment, it meant that I was free enough to go where I wanted to, and thus climb this mountain. It meant that I was lucky enough to live in a country where I could have a job that allowed me to pay for such an expensive bicycle. It meant that I did not need to be afraid of being harassed by anybody else while I climbed this mountain, just because I was of a particular ethnicity or worshiped any religion.

I was lucky to be alive, healthy, and an American. In spite of how much my knees ached, I was truly blessed.

Randy McKinnon, Tom Trinidad, and I crested Hogpen together more or less, and stayed grouped on the fast descent. We picked up Larry along the way to the Robertson control, where I topped off my bottles again. I also filled my Camelback as Jeff rolled in, and we then left together again. We stayed together over Unicoi and Jack's Gaps to the base of Brasstown Bald, where I turned on the iPod again and started climbing.

Staying in my lowest gear, it seemed easier this year. I spun fairly easily up to The Wall, and then stood for this short, steep section. Then it was done, and I was rolling easily up the last bit and in to the parking lot.

As I pulled into the lot, however, a cramp hit my right abductor, so I coasted down to the awning where the control was and rested. Bethany Davidson and Gregory Somerville were there, taking care of the riders coming in. Greg even helped Larry change what turned out to be the first of many flats.

Bethany fixed me a sandwich, which I thoroughly enjoyed with a couple of Diet Dr. Peppers. We had met years ago when I rode her Caesar's Head/Rosman Loop permanent the day before the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and we laughed at how stupid I had been to put those two back-to-back.

Jeff came in, ate his sandwich, and rolled out. I bade him farewell, but forgot to mention my earlier cramp. As I ate my sandwich, I decided that it would be best to ride the next two gaps easier to (hopefully) avoid any recurring issues. I should have given Jeff the keys to the van, since he would end up finishing over an hour ahead of me.

Feeling refreshed, I started back down Brasstown Bald. If you've never done this, it requires constant vigilance, scrubbing speed using your brakes, while trying to keep your tire rims from overheating. It is not the most fun descent, but I know of at least one cyclist who has let his speed get too high and paid the ultimate sacrifice as a result.

At the bottom, I found that my rear brake was now rubbing as a result of the constant contraction, so I opened it up and headed on. The descent on Jack's is always fun, and soon I was turning towards Helen to start the climb back over Unicoi. I continued to take it easy on this busy stretch, and got passed by a group of riders as we went over the top.

Soon after cresting, it began to rain. This, of course, ruined what is normally a fun downhill, as we braked through ever turn and avoided every painted line. When we finally got to the bottom, we kept the pace high on the level stretch, riding out of the rain just before the Robertson control.

Here, I was able to effect a plan that had formed on the top of Brasstown. I purchased what I consider the perfect cramp-recovery meal:

The Gatorade is critical because it tastes good, and you need to rehydrate the depleted cells. The roll of Tums (in front) replaces the calcium and potassium that you've probably leached. But it's the pickle juice that is really important, as I had found earlier this year on the 300K in Kentucky. The New York Times even says it.

So, I drank all of the juice from the jar of dill pickles, and a few of the other riders at the control ate a few of the pickles. They had also suffered some cramping, and so we consumed the entire roll of Tums. I refilled my Camelback and bottles, and we rolled out.

As I had planned, I started up Hogpen very conservatively. Many riders passed me on this stretch, including Tom and and Larry, and it started to rain. I just turned on the iPod again and spun as easily as I could up this last, tough climb.

Lightning had begun by the time I reached the top, and I was a little nervous up there with all of that exposed rock.

As I reached the top, I looked over at the small covered display in the parking lot, and there was Larry fixing another flat. He was having trouble, so I helped him try to determine what was puncturing his inner tubes. We couldn't find anything in the heavy rain, however, so he put his last fresh tube in and we pumped the tire up well, thinking maybe he was pinch-flatting. It was still raining as we started down, ruining what is normally a roaring descent.

As usual, the valley was dry, and I was soon at the control. I drank another Diet Coke and topped off my bottles before Larry rolled in, stating that his tire was going flat again. This time, we were able to inflate his punctured tube and find where the hole was, and then found where a small piece of glass was embedded in his tire. I gave him one of my tubes, and we inserted a makeshift boot from a candy bar wrapper (just in case we had not gotten all of the glass). Tom was at the control and was also out of spare tubes, so I loaned him one to carry. Having all of that gear may make for a heavier bike, but it also makes me feel a little safer.

I stayed with Larry on the climb up Wolfpen to make sure that his tire was holding. We descended the mostly dry road towards Suches, and I then took my pace up. It was going to take some work to finish the ride by 7 pm, and my legs were now feeling fine. I zipped over the last gap, Woody's, and had a blast on the final downhill towards Dahlonega. As I rolled into the parking lot, the clock rolled over to 7:02.

Larry came in soon afterwards, and he, Jeff, and I quickly got into dry street clothes, loaded up, and headed over to Moe's Southwest Grill for dinner. Just after 8 pm, we were on the road towards home. The tire-pressure warning light came on in the RAAMinator, however, so we had to stop to put air in a leaking tire. (The tire would eventually go completely flat on I-24, forcing us to change it and limp home on the spare.) We were further held up when Hwy 52 was closed for an hour for an accident, although this gave me a chance to call RandoGirl.

She told me about the ride she had done that day, the Hope on Wheels 100. They had wind and heat, but no rain. She, too, had been thinking about Peter. Since the HOW 100 is a charity ride for cancer research, she and many of the members of the Harpeth Bike Club had done it for Peter and a lady named Monica Summers. This is the sign that RandoGirl wore on her back.

We finally reached Dalton and the interstate about 11 pm when Jeff's phone rang. It was Peter, calling to see how the ride had gone. We all called out "Heys" to him. Jeff asked how his weight was doing, finding that Peter was down another five pounds. He kept suggesting things that Peter could eat to get his weight back up.

Then Peter told us that his doctors had given him the results from another test this week, and that the chemotherapy seems to be having an effect. There were fewer cancer cells in his body in this last test -- a very hopeful sign.

In the last few minutes of 9/11/2010, Peter gave all of us another thing to rejoice about, and another reason to remember this special day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Max and Maxine Watzz Do Clarkesville

I thought he was gone.

I really did. After Chattanooga last weekend I thought, "Well, racing season is over. Max Watzz can hibernate for a few months. He may start nagging me to go lift weights in December, but at least I won't have to hear him second guess me every time I eat a candy bar."

And he was gone, too. I went out on the tandem with RandoGirl on the club's Tuesday and Thursday night rides, and never heard Max's whiney voice telling me to go harder up a hill or chase somebody down. Instead, I just heard RandoGirl saying, "Hey, this is fun! Look at all of these people we're pulling! Let's go a little faster!" And then the people behind us would say, "Ugh! No! Please!" Or, I think that's what they were saying. Their voices sounded funny, like they were fading away, and when I looked back there was nobody there.

And RandoGirl would laugh then ... a strange, cruel laugh that I had never heard before.

I should have seen the signs then, but can you blame me for ignoring them? For trying not to see someone that I had loved for so many years take on a cruel bent – a sadistic, self-centered worldview that I had only seen on one other loathesome creature before. The monster we know as Max Watzz.

So I pretended it was nothing. I avoided the problem ... until it was too late.

Saturday morning, we loaded the tandem onto the back of Fredia Barry’s car, and RandoGirl and I went up to Clarkesville, TN, with Fredia and Jeff Bauer. Our plan was to do the very flat Clarkesville century, swapping off pulls with Jeff and Fredia on Jeff’s tandem, and try to finish in less than five hours.

Now, for my non-cyclist readers out there (Hi, Mom!), the “sub-five-hour century” is kind of a rite of passage for your fast recreational rider. It’s obviously not easy – I mean, do the math. You have to average over 20 mph for the four hours and whatever minutes it takes. If you need to stop for anything during the ride – refill water bottles, grab some food, rest your legs, or even to pee – then you’d better plan on averaging at least 22 mph. If you’ve never averaged 22 mph before on a bicycle for any length of time, let me give you a revelation: It’s hard work.

Last year, RandoGirl and I did our fastest tandem century in October, finishing the Sequatchie Valley Century in 5:38. We worked hard, and that was a pretty good finishing time. Although Clarkesville is a little flatter than the new Sequatchie course, we knew that we were in for five hours of pain.

Everything went very well as we got the tandem out, loaded up, and headed to the starting line. The official ride starts at 7 am, but the folks who run the ride have allowed an "elite peloton" of racers go off for the past few years at 6:45. These are the guys that are trying to finish the century in less than four hours -- a truly prodigious feat. The record for the elite peloton is 3:44:55.

Once the racers rolled out, the officials had arranged to let a bunch of tandems roll out early. They set us loose at 6:55 am, which allowed us to get down the road before the single bikes. This is very helpful. Not that I have anything against singles, mind you! Some of them know how to ride with tandems ... but most don't. So, when you get a bunch of singles in a peloton of tandems, they tend to get between the tandems and throw off the rhythm and generally make a mess of it.

Unencumbered by a flock of wheel-sucking Freds, the tandem group started pretty hot. Somehow, RandoGirl and I were at the front of it, pushing the pace for the first few miles. We were doing over 25 mph for one very long pull ... much faster than we needed, but for some reason I could not ease off and slow down. It was if some other force was pushing my legs, making me dig deeper, as the first 10 miles flew by.

The pace was too hot for most of the other tandems, and it was soon down to just Jeff, Fredia, RandoGirl, and me. Fortunately, Jeff and I have ridden together so much that we anticipate one another's moves and can sense when we need to pull through, so we were working very well together. I tried to back the speed down to 22 mph or so, but again some force was still driving me to spin harder.

This is when I first began to suspect that demonic possession was at work.

About mile 30, we turned into a tough headwind, and I tried again to back the speed off.  I moved deeper in the drops and downshifted, and the speed on the bike computer fell below 20 for the first time that day. Then, suddenly, our cadence increased and the speed came back up. I thought to myself, "Max? Are you there?"

No reply ... but we did not slow down.

After 60 miles we stopped for the first time that ride to get some water and take a nature break. We pulled right up to the Pora-Potty at the rest stop, and RandoGirl was back on the bike in less than two minutes. I was tired from almost three hours of incessant spinning, and I tried to stretch out my aching quadriceps and hamstrings. We rode over to the table of food, where a bunch of volunteers were pushing sustenance on the riders. I wanted to eat something ... maybe sit down. Sleep.

"Let's get going!" RandoGirl yelled, climbing back on the bike.

Suddenly, I realized what had been going on. It was not just Max Watzz inside of me pushing us onward, harder than I really wanted to ride. Somehow, all of the training this year, all of the time that I had allowed Max to control me, had transformed my loving, peaceful wife into ...

The Bride of Max Watzz!

I won't bore you (at least, no more than usual) with the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that, about mile 80, my legs were cooked. Pounded into flank steak, soaked in a marinade for three days, and baked, dipped in tempura batter, flash-fried, and coated with confectioner's sugar. About mile 90 they were eaten by the ravenous hell-hounds that had been let slip by the mad demoness ... Maxine Watzz.

Were it up to me, we would have crawled to an ignoble stop and fallen over, like a two-headed Artie Johnson.

But the other head was not done. Maxine kept turning the cranks over, refusing to let my weakness ruin her sub-five-hour century. We slowed, yes (but not by much), and spent a lot of time getting pulled by Jeff and Fredia. But Maxine would not let the pace fall by much, and so -- four hours and 46 minutes after we started -- we finished.

I managed to lean the bike against something before I lay down in the parking lot. My legs had never been more sore, and they remained so for the next two days. But we met our goal, and RandoGirl now has a sub-five-hour century.

She's been RandoGirl ever since, by the way, just as sweet as ever. There are no obvious leftover effects of her demonic possession, although at times I still think I see a glint of fire deep in her eyes, a strange set to the jaw, and a quiver in her quadriceps whenever another cyclist rides by.

Once it has tasted freedom, the beast will forever more prowl in its cage, sniffing the bars for weakness and searching the corners for an escape. It will hunt -- and it will feed -- again.