As regular readers of this blog know, last year I began suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder -- aka, "multiple personalities." One of the cycling sides of me was RandoBoy, who liked to ramble long distances on a bike, seeing as much of the world as he could in a variety of good and bad weather, with regular periods of night when all he could see was a cone of light on grey pavement. The other side was Max Watzz, the bike racer, who just wanted to go very fast for a reasonable distance, driving his muscles to the limit.
One of the treatments of Dissociative Identity Disorder is to "reconnect the identities of disparate alters into a single functioning identity" ... basically, merge the personalities into something that can work in the real world. I think that may be what happened this past weekend.
Back in the fall, when middle Tennessee Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) Jeff Sammons got permission to add the old, abandoned north Florida 400K route to our schedule, I knew that I had to go. We would be starting from less than an hour's drive from my house near the beach, and it would be good to get down to a warmer climate in mid-March. A flat route like that should also make for an easy 400K, helping me get over that hurdle in my preparations for Paris-Brest-Paris.
Driving down Friday afternoon with Jeff and John Hickman, the weather was incredible. The forecast was for a high in the mid-80's with very light winds and no chance of rain. For once, the forecast was pretty close to being right.
Nine of us rolled out at 5 am from the Tivoli Inn in Bonifay. The route was a series of two loops -- the first one 300 kilometers long, followed by a 100K loop. Four riders were just doing the 300K, while the rest of us would go back out to finish the last 64 miles in the dark. This made it simpler in some ways, since you could go with minimal night-riding gear for the first loop, and grab provisions when you returned to the hotel.
Although the first 90 minutes were ridden in the dark, seven of us made good time on the quiet roads, arriving at the Ebro control 35 miles in around 7 am.
In spite of the early hour, the gas station was crowded. Locals were telling us to watch out for the crazy kids down for spring break. Crazy kids were just trying to fill up their gas tanks. I saw a small Toyota with four large teenage boys wearing Oklahoma sweat shirts, and they looked as if they had driven through the night. I vowed to myself to keep the lights on and stay well on the edge of the shoulder for the rest of this ride.
I moved quickly through the control, topping bottles, grabbing a candy bar, and removing my jacket. I was starting to chill down, but everyone else seemed willing to linger, so I told them that I would see them in a few miles and continued alone.
I stayed more or less alone for the next 100 miles.
Rolling down Hwy 20, I was doing the reverse of a route that I've done a few times from the beach house. I hunkered down and worked -- at first in an attempt to warm up, but then just because it felt good. The route soon turned southwest on quiet SR 81, and I bombed this stretch as well.
I went up busy Hwy 331 to Freeport, where I stopped at one of the stores there for another bottle, frantically watching out the window for the other riders to come by. I was sure that they would catch me as I continued west on Hwy 20, and then north on the quiet road through the Air Force base. When I got back on Hwy 331, with RVs passing me inches from my shoulder at 70 mph, I was glad that the other riders had not caught up with me, since more cyclists would not have changed the driving behaviors of these thoughtless schmucks.
After eight miles of Hwy 331, I pulled into the next control in DeFuniak Springs -- another Subway. I wasn't hungry for a sandwich, so I just bought a bottle of water and got my card signed. As I was leaving, six of the riders pulled in. At first, I was going to wait with them, but when they decided to eat another breakfast I just rolled down to Walgreen's, bought a couple of candy bars and a spare drink, and headed back out.
Bob Sikes Road headed west again, but was nice and quiet. We were still on the fringed of the Air Force base, and the smell of a recent controlled burn gave the air a not-quite-unpleasant tang. The road was slightly rolling, with a decent surface, and my legs felt great. I had originally thought to just soft-pedal until everyone else caught up, but soon found myself in the drops doing 20 mph. It felt good to ride hard and fast, in Max Watzz style.
After 17 miles of this quiet road, I turned north on Hwy 285. The pavement was a little better, and traffic was not too bad, but the winds had come up out of the north a little more than forecasted. Again, I could have soft-pedaled and waited for more riders, but I was enjoying the hard work and the solo effort. Also, I knew that there was a state line just before the next control in Florala, AL, and that getting there first assured me of the sprint.
Just before Florala, the bike computer rolled over to 124 miles -- or 200K. I had done the first 200K in less than eight hours. Here's a picture that I tried to take showing my watch and the computer.
Yeah, it's hard to read it, but the watch says 12:45 and the computer says 124. Trust me.
I was still alone when I came to the sign pointing to the highest point in Florida. I pulled over and took a quick picture of the bike at the intersection.
By the time I got to Florala, I was hungry. Really hungry. The kind of hunger that a few candy bars would not quell. Fortunately, the control was another Subway, and I ordered a sandwich. While they were fixing it, Tom Gee walked in, having ridden away from the rest of the pack a few miles back.
By the time I finished my sandwich, the rest of the riders who were with me at the first control had come in. We all ate, filled bottles, rested a bit, and then rolled out together back towards Florida in a fast paceline. I came up to the front in the rotation soon after we turned onto SR-85, and so took the state line "sprint" again as we left Alabama. I was two-for-two ... just the way Max likes it.
The roads here were fairly rolling, and we were soon down to a pack of five, including me, Tom, Ian Flitcroft, Robert MacLeod, and Bob Hess. Here's a picture I took over my shoulder that caught Ian and Robert.
The next control was only 25 miles from the finish for the 300K riders. We stopped at the quiet store and topped off bottles, getting a bag of ice to share as well. The thermometer on the front porch read 92 degrees, so we sat in the shade for a few minutes and waited for John and Jeff to come in. When they did, we offered to finish with them. They said that they wanted a longer break, so we rolled on.
Soon after getting back on the road, Bob said out loud that if we finished by 5 pm we would have done the 300K in 12 hours. We all started working hard then, taking long fast pulls on the rolling roads. The wind was behind us for most of this section, and my legs felt really good. This was a kind of fast randonneuring that I've only rarely done before ... not quite racing, but definitely not a gentle touring pace. I was not RandoBoy, then, nor was I quite Max Watzz. Maybe RandoWatzz ... or Max Boy?
We almost made the 12-hour mark, getting to the hotel control at 5:03 pm. I thought that everyone else in the group was only doing the 300K, so I went to my room and took a shower, planning to rest until Jeff and John came in. Then Ian came by and told me that he was doing the 400K as well, and was ready to roll.
I was pretty toasted after the fast finish, but the prospect of finishing the 400K in less than 18 hours was tempting. I quickly re-dressed, got my night-riding stuff together, scarfed one of the bagels with peanut butter that I had brought for breakfast that morning, and followed Ian out into the late afternoon.
Bonifay was hosting a rodeo, and things were just getting going there was we went past. Soon we were on quieter roads, however, and quickly covered the 20 miles to the control before dark. We put on reflective gear, turned on our lights, and headed back out.
Ian was doing a lot of the work here. My stomach was a little bothered from the earlier effort and the day's heat, and my hip was starting to throb again. It has never really recovered from smacking it in January, and the "click" that it has had since starts to turn to a "clunk" after 150 miles. I was able to ignore it in the heat of the "sub-12 300K" effort, but not any more.
As we rolled along, Ian did a great job of trying to converse with me, but I was a less than stellar conversationalist on this stretch. I needed this ride to be over with, and his efforts at distracting me from my various pains didn't work. I had reverted to the speed of RandoBoy, with the "whining" of Max Watzz.
We stopped for a few minutes at the penultimate control on very busy (and a little scary) US 231. I drank a Diet Coke (ah, blessed caffeine), which helped quiet my stomach a bit. We then rolled south for a couple more miles down US 231, with spring break kids yelling undecipherable things as they whizzed past, before getting onto quieter CR 280.
Ian and I probably averaged 13 mph here as we headed back west on a series of calm dark roads. My stomach felt a little better, but the hip was worse. At one point, a pit bull came out of one of the dark yards we were passing and scampered around our bikes, more racing us than trying to bite us. Later, we turned off our lights for a bit to ride by the light of the very full, very large moon. My conversational skills had come back somewhat, and we talked about kids in college, the challenges of cycling in traffic, and the upcoming PBP (which will be Ian's fourth). It was an easier pace ... but I don't think either of us was having what we would call "fun."
The route hit Hwy 79 again for a few miles, and more spring break kids zoomed past us here in the dark. We crossed under I-10, went by the busy McDonald's, and pulled back into the hotel parking lot. It was 10:35 pm when the manager signed our brevet cards ... 17:35 for a 400K ... my fastest ever by almost four hours.
But it took a toll. Ian and I shook hands, thanked each other, and briefly discussed plans for the next day. Then I collapsed back into my hotel room. I had to lay on the bed for a couple of minutes before I could remove my helmet, shoes, and then night-riding gear. Another couple of minutes and I was able to get up and remove the rest of my dirty cycling clothes and take a shower. I shambled next door to McDonald's to get a hamburger and fries, and then went back to the hotel and ate half of it before calling RandoGirl. She was glad to hear that I had finished okay, but said later that I sounded exhausted.
Sunday was beautiful. John and Jeff had finished just over an hour later, and thus gotten some decent sleep. We loaded up the bikes and went to the beach to drop a spare bicycle at my house there, and then ate a great breakfast in Seaside. You couldn't see the Gulf of Mexico for the thick fog, but you could hear it.
As we started north, other than my throbbing hip (gotta get that checked out) I felt pretty good. I had set some tough goals, and met them. In my heart, I felt the contentment that comes when I ride a pleasant route as RandoBoy, and the satisfaction that comes when I do well in a race as Max Watzz.
I think this new hybrid me is going to be all right.
(Special thanks to John Hickman for a couple of these pictures.)