On June 24, 2013, 74 bicyclists and I departed Davis, California and pedaled north on the Gold Rush Randonnee (GRR). The GRR is a 1200 kilometer (750 mile) event with a 90 hour time limit and 26,000 feet of climbing. To successfully complete the ride, most of the 90 hours would need to be spent riding, time at each of the 14 controls limited, and sleep minimized.
Along the way there would be staffed ‘controls’ where we could restock on food and water that we carry with us, eat hot food, and sometimes sleep on cots or even grab a quick shower. Where controls were far apart the organizers had set up staffed ‘water stops’ where we could refill our water bottles. Where the route had a shorter alternative there would be ‘info controls’ where we would be asked to look for and record a specific piece of information that could only be found by visiting that location. We would also have the opportunity to send three bags of gear ahead to three different controls with changes of clothes, special food, and anything else we thought we might need in the middle of the ride.
The GRR route crosses the Central Valley at night to avoid the worst of the summer heat. It then climbs into the Sierra Nevadas by way of the Feather River, goes up into the high desert of the Modoc Plateau, and further north to within a few miles of the Oregon border. Then it turns around and retraces itself back to Davis.
I spent the weeks leading up to the event planning my ride in intricate detail using numerous spreadsheets and maps. This would be my first 1200k after a previously aborted attempt in France when my bicycle frame sheared less than 300k into the ride. Planning my average speeds, sleep times, sleep controls, and various alternative plans helped me understand and prepare for many of the challenges. Visualizing the course and the ride convinced me that this undertaking was possible and gave me the confidence to commit to it.
Since it seemed inconceivable that anyone can set out to just ride 750 miles non-stop, I instead chose to approach this ride as a series of 14 shorter rides, and tackle them one at a time.
My plan was to front load the ride with both distance and climbing. I planned to do 500k the first day, followed by 300k, 250k and 150k on each subsequent day. I planned three five hour sleep stops, an on-bike speed of 12.4 mph, and no more than 40 minutes off-bike for every 100k we rode. I had prefigured arrival times at all of the controls. If we stayed on plan we would finish in 84 hours.
My secret weapon for this ride was my friend Mannie. We had ridden the SFR 400k and SFR 600k together and determined we were a very good match in both temperament and riding style. We committed to riding together up until the point either of us felt our own personal plans were at risk. As it was, we rode the entire ride together. I think we were both much better off for having the other along. I know I owe much of my success and enjoyment of the ride to Mannie.
1. Crossing the Central Valley
The ride started in the rain at 6 pm Monday evening. The start was situated on the northern limits of Davis and we immediately started on a wide detour into the boonies to add extra miles to the course to pad it out to a full 750 miles. A small number of riders jumped off the front while the rest of us formed a large clump that mostly stayed together for two or three hours. We had good tailwinds and, despite the rain, we made a steady 20 mph.
After the first nature stop the group splintered into smaller clumps, and Mannie and I eventually found ourselves riding most of the way to the Sutter water stop (mile 60) in a group of 20 riders. Mannie and I were in and out quickly and left in a much smaller group towards Oroville. We had planned to pace off of Kitty but lost her at this point.
The rain continued on and off to Oroville; more off than on and we hoped we might have missed the brunt of the rain.
As we rolled into Oroville we passed a squad car and ambulance. EMTs were loading a rider into the ambulance. We later found out that a visiting rider from Japan had touched wheels with his friend, gone down, and broken a hip.
We pulled into the Oroville control (mile 95) a bit past midnight and 2.5 hours ahead of our plan.
2. Oroville to Tobin
After a very quick 17 minute stop in Oroville we headed into the hills. The route out of Oroville heads up one of the longer climbs, ten miles up to Jarbo Gap. While not too steep, the cold rain, humidity, and heat generated from climbing caused us to stop many times to try to find the right combination of gear. This is often referred to as the Randonneurs’ Goldilocks Problem. We both felt that this climb took much longer than expected and we slowly watched our banked time start its inexorable retraction.
We had no problem with the wet, dark descent into the Feather River Canyon from Jarbo Gap. Once in the canyon the route starts a 2000 foot climb along the river. Though it was easy, sometimes barely perceptible climbing, it does eventually accumulate 2000 feet and our banked time continued to erode.
This segment was all climbing that doesn’t immediately pay back with a fast descent on the other side. We were not going to be averaging out our slow climb with a fast descent until Thursday when we returned back down the canyon. This is the point I realized my ride plan was flawed. Picking a 12.4 mph average speed for the whole ride made sense in calculating a finishing time but due to the unbalanced distribution of climbing the early controls would all fall farther and farther off plan. Lesson learned.
This stretch was one of the highlights of the ride for me. We had the road to ourselves, and we could just make out the canyon walls, the trees, the crashing river, the train noises on the canyon walls above. Definitely a high point despite the increasingly heavy rain.
We rolled into Tobin (mile 136) Tuesday at 4:30 am having now ridden 136 miles. Roughly a ten hour 200k.
3. Tobin to Taylorsville
The Tobin Resort was run by Tom and Bobbie, friends of mine from PBP. We were checked in by Jack ‘Conspicuity’ Holmgren from our own San Francisco Randonneurs. Jack is one of my unofficial mentors, so it was great to see him. Bobbie (literally) ran around making sure we all had food we needed. I sucked down some hot food (soup and bread I think) and we were out on the road again in 23 minutes.
We teamed up with other riders (as I write this, a week later, the names and faces are all a blur). During the morning and through the next day though we were in the constant presence of Roland Bevan, Martin Meyer, Lothar Hennighaesen, Craig Mosher, Clyde Butt, Ken Shoemaker, Bill Olsen, and Michele Brougher. These randonneurs and others would become our constant companions joining us for a few dozen miles here and there as our rides overlapped.
As the sun rose we headed into a steeper climb up out of the canyon and into the beautiful Indian Valley. The outbound route now made another detour, adding more miles, as we skirted the perimeter of Indian Valley. On the return we’d be cutting through the valley taking the shortest path. The two info controls for this ride were in two corners of the valley. Rain continued to fall heavily as we finally pulled into Taylorsville (mile 197) around 10:30 am on Tuesday morning.
4. Taylorsville to Susanville
We stayed a bit longer in Taylorsville than we had planned, but we were wet and tired and still had 45 minutes in the bank. I changed riding shorts into a dry pair I had sent ahead in anticipation that it would be raining up until this point. The control had a sweet vibe to it. The food was all homemade by locals and served by local kids. I grabbed a few rice balls and some more pocket food and we headed out after 45 minutes.
My new shorts were SOOO comfortable (at first). They were a pair I had purchased through an SFR group purchase. I had bought them for PBP two years ago but was nervous about the positioning of the stitching and had never worn them on anything longer than a 50 mile training ride. Since the next control and change of clothes was 60 miles away I knew I’d be OK if they proved uncomfortable. I wasn’t OK. And not for the reason I expected. I ended up with some nasty abrasions and blisters along every seam. The pain from these abrasions would be a constant companion for the rest of the ride.
A few years ago after dealing with a few nasty saddle sores I had asked my doctor for a prescription for 5% Lydocain cream. I had never needed it until now. I tried it and got wonderful instant relief. The pain really never went away for the rest of the ride but the Lydocain made it manageable. Score one for Lydocain, I’ll never ride without it again. (Caveat: It is a prescription drug - see your doctor before using it.)
After leaving Taylorsville we headed 30 miles up the biggest climbs to the Top of the GRR at 6340 feet. The climb comes in two stages. First up to Antelope Lake and a water stop at Boulder Creek, then a second steeper push to the top. We made the climb in steady rain which only started fading as we crested the top. Coming down Janesville grade with wet rims on a wet and bumpy road was quiet scary and unsafe. We had to slow down to 10-15 mph to safely negotiate the many turns. Once we reached the bottom we passed through a long series of unexpected rollers between Janesville and Susanville. Having come 250 miles at this point we were getting a bit tired but we knew we still had another 70 miles to go before our planned sleep stop in Adin. Unfortunately we had used up just about all of our banked time against our original 84 hour plan.
We arrived at the Susanville control (mile 256) around 5:30 pm Tuesday.
5. Susanville to Adin
Mannie and I cleaned up, ate, and decided to have a heart-to-heart discussion. Was it worth driving ourselves into the ground to stay on our 84 hour plan, or should we spend some of the 6 hour buffer on comfort? Comfort won. I donned eye shades and ear plugs (I had ‘trained’ with them for the previous week at home and found them to be quite comfortable) and got 30 minutes of deep REM sleep. I was gently awakened by a volunteer right on time.
Lori, another of my favorite friends from PBP, had to help us decide what to eat. After two large bowls of spaghetti and assorted other foods, Mannie and I headed out into diminishing drizzle.
Before the event I had read all the GRR ride reports I could find before I did this ride. So did Mannie. What’s up with no one mentioning the four climbs on this next 70 mile stretch? The next stretch, in both directions, was one big unexpected time sink for us.
The first climb was just long and hard with 10-12 miles of 5-7% unrelenting gradient. We were not mentally prepared for this climb at this stage of our ride. All the other riders in our group were shocked too. We handled Janesville Grade well both inbound and outbound but not these four climbs. Most riders arriving at Grasshopper water stop were tired, low in spirit, and all seemed to be spending longer there than planned. On the inbound we were mentally prepared for these climbs and felt much better climbing them but they still took an hour longer than on the way out.
After the second climb we hit the desolate water stop at Grasshopper. I had a hot soup and some Mountain Dew, and we headed back out. The guys running this stop deserve special kudos for hanging out so long in such a remote wilderness.
The last long long descent into Adin freaked me out knowing we had to climb it on the way back. All my planning had somehow glossed over the fact that 70 miles with four sizable climbs was going to cost real time and effort.
The 34 mile section from the Grasshopper water stop to the Adin control was my lowest point on the GRR. Each new descent sent me deeper into depression as I thought about climbing it on the return. I was tired and wet and hungry and now nauseous. My stomach issues, which I had studiously ignored all evening, refused to be denied any longer. As the final descent into Adin flattened out I stayed on the edge of vomiting without ever really committing to the process. I quit rondonneuring at this point, or at least any ride longer than 300k. I dwelled guiltily on the impact my riding has had on my family. I thought about all the things I could do with the extra time. I obsessed about never having to feel this way again.
Mannie was my rock. He kept pedaling. He kept me moving. He reminded me this feeling would pass. He told me to hold off on serious decisions until later. And he didn’t ride away in disgust at what I’m sure must have been endless grumbling on my part. Sorry Mannie.
We rolled into Adin (mile 324) a little after 1 am Wednesday morning having ridden 31 straight hours. We decided on the spot we would not roll out until 5:30 am. In retrospect, this was probably one of the better decisions we made on the whole ride.
6. Adin to Alturas
At Jack Holmgren’s urging Alex Plumb and I had reserved one of the few hotel rooms in Adin months before we even signed up for the GRR. I quickly grabbed my drop bag of gear that I was able to send ahead to this stop and rode back the three blocks to my hotel. Mannie decided to stay at the control to sleep. Alex wasn’t in yet, but I spoke with Jason Pierce who was just leaving the hotel as I arrived. My stomach was still in shut-down mode but I had a pre-mixed bottle of recovery drink with 600 calories in it that I forced down.
I took a quick shower, medicated my abrasions, and dove into bed just as Alex arrived.
I was dead to the world when my alarm awakened me three hours later. I felt strong and refreshed. No aches or pains other than the aforementioned abrasions. Unfortunately I was still very nauseous. Not good. After a long sleep I was in calorie deficit and needed fuel. I would quickly have to end my ride if I could not eat and keep it down.
I rode over to the control and met up with Mannie. He was about ready to go. I cruised the food table. The sight of the savory breakfast items did nothing to help my stomach. Taking a deep breath I decided I had to force something down or DNF so I started with a piece of dry toast, then a hard boiled egg which I ate in a single bite, a cup of yogurt, and a bowl of lukewarm oatmeal, all washed down with Mountain Dew (fulfills the three C’s - calories, carbonation, caffeine). The volunteer here was wonderful, searching for bland food and keeping up a steady offer of suggestions and concern.
Mannie and I then rolled on out a bit after 0530 having been at the Adin control for four and a half hours.
I continued forcing food down on the bike. Fig Newtons, a Clif Bar, water. My nausea slowly receded and after an hour completely dissipated. I have no idea why it happened or why it went away. Post ride I now suspect I let my electrolytes run low and my stomach was shut down for a while. But the lessons learned here are 1) everything bad eventually passes and 2) no matter how bad you feel keep taking in calories.
NOTE: As I write this a week after the ride I see there is a climb in this segment. I can’t for the life of me remember it. I don’t actually remember this stretch from either direction. Rides are funny like that sometimes.
By the time I was fully awake and back to 100% it was 9 am on Wednesday, and we had arrived in Alturas (mile 367).
7. Alturas to Davis Creek
Rolling in to the Alturas control was like coming home. The control was being run by San Francisco Randonneurs (Mannie’s and my home club). We were surrounded by familiar faces. Bruce Berg checked us in, RBA Rob Hawks was on hand and greeting everyone by first name. I can’t tell you how much seeing all those familiar faces in such a comfortable environment helped cheer us up.
I was riding a high by this point anyway. I felt recharged with sleep and relief that my nausea was gone. Mannie and I had always said that if we could make it through the first day of our plan that we’d have the rest of the ride in the bag. We now realized we had almost half of the ride done in one long day and still had two and a half days to finish the rest, much of which was back down hill. My euphoria pretty much stayed with me for the rest of the ride.
We took our time in the control and ate some lukewarm spaghetti. We dumped a bunch of gear that we would not need on the final 40 mile trip out to the turn around and back. We drank more Mountain Dew.
We finally headed out 35 minutes after arriving.
The ride to the Davis Creek turnaround was fast, 19 to 20 mph fast. We had very strong tail winds. We paused a moment for a quick fist bump at mile 375 to celebrate the completion of half the ride. 375 miles / 600k. That was the farthest Mannie and I had ever ridden. Now we were about to do it again. We started teaming up with Craig, Lothar, Ken, and Bill as we gathered them along this section.
We flew into the remote desolate turn around control at a lonely general store in Davis Creek (mile 387) a little before 11 am on Wednesday.
8. Davis Creek to Alturas
We only stayed in Davis Creek for twenty minutes. We were charged up from the fast ride out and chomping at the bit to get going. We did however take the time to eat made-to-order chicken breast sandwiches lovingly created by two of the most delightful and caring women volunteers.
In high spirits and ready for the trip home we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back south. And… hit… a… solid… wall.
That wonderful tailwind that had pushed us up to Davis Creek was now a solid mass preventing our return. Craig, Bill, and Ken were now riding with us so we organized a pace line with two minute pulls. This worked quite effectively and we were able to make fairly good time into the wind. Our overall average speed back down hill to Alturas was 11.5 mph in a pace line compared to 16 mph uphill riding alone.
We arrived back at Alturas (mile 407) a bit worn but still in high spirits a bit before 1 pm on Wednesday.
9. Alturas to Adin
Again, the welcome vibe of our own club sucked us into a longer rest. More lukewarm spaghetti washed down with yet another Mountain Dew. (Lukewarm by request BTW. It’s calories, not food.) I asked Bruce Berg if he’d be willing to take a bag back with him for pick up later. He agreed and four of us dumped all our cold weather gear and wet weather gear into the bag to send home with Bruce.
Much lighter we headed out for Adin 35 minutes after arriving. The headwinds persisted until sunset but were a bit less onerous in this stretch. With the addition of a few new riders in our pace line we were never able to get the rhythm going that we had had before and the group soon broke into smaller pieces. After a while it was down to Craig, Mannie, and me.
Again, I remember very little of this stretch neither good nor bad. I suspect I was so deep in conversation (i.e. talking in a non-stop monologue as I do when I get out on a long ride) that I was probably not paying any attention to my surroundings. Please pity the poor fools who ride with me.
Somewhere around Canby I remember seeing a sign that said ‘Shakes.’ I started obsessing hard on having a vanilla milkshake. As we rolled into Adin I spotted a local burger joint with a milkshake sign. Detour. Mediocre shake. Obsession resolved.
We checked into the Adin control (mile 450) a little before 6 pm on Wednesday.
10. Adin to Susanville
Once again as we had approached Adin my stomach started to go south on me. I continued to force feed it anyway and it never got as bad as the night before.
We spent more than 40 minutes in the control. I have no idea how we spent that time as I wasn’t eating much. I probably spent it staring at food, cleaning up, and medicating.
Eventually we did roll out with Craig and head up the first of the four climbs between Adin and Susanville. I have mixed feelings about this stretch. It seemed to go on and on and on. The climbs, while very tame, just keep coming.
Mannie and I rode in silence for a while listening to all the sounds of dusk, the wind, birds, insects. I love doing this on rides and its one of the reasons I don’t mind those times when I find myself riding alone.
After the second climb, a little before 11 pm Wednesday, we passed uneventfully through the Grasshopper water stop. We spent 30 minutes resting, sucked down ramen noodles and yet more Mountain Dew, and then moved on.
As we traversed the final valley to our last climb the hallucinations started for many of us. One rider kept riding over to the left lane as he was seeing the centerline turn into a vertical wall along the road. Other riders were seeing chunks of the road rise up vertically to become pianos, furniture, and other shapes their minds were picking out of the cracks in the road. I didn’t have any hallucinations (though I did start to see snakes that were not there) and neither did Mannie but it was spooky watching other’s. I’d been there myself on the Furnace Creek 508 one year and knew that they were in little danger (well other than the one rider’s insistence on riding on the wrong side of the road.)
I nursed a natural high along this part. We were in the middle of nowhere. I could see multiple mountain ranges in every direction from our spot in the middle of a very wide valley entirely lit by moonlight. And nowhere, in any direction, was a single artificial light. The Milky Way was a solid band of clouds across the sky. All the stars that had been removed from the skies over the Bay Area had been transported to the sky over this valley.
We eventually reached the very long descent into Susanville. It seemed much longer in this direction. Everything seemed longer in this direction.
We arrived back in Susanville (mile 517) at 2:25 am on Thursday.
11. Susanville to Taylorsville
Before we rolled into Susanville Mannie and I discussed our options. I felt strongly that I’d get my best sleep in a hotel. Mannie was happy sleeping in the control and would gain the extra time lost going to and from the hotel. We agreed to meet up again at 0550 for a 0600 departure.
I hopped off my bike only long enough to grab my drop bag and immediately headed down the road to where I thought I remembered seeing a hotel. Sure enough, less than 200 yards away there was a hotel… with a No Vacancy sign. Seeming to remember a second hotel a block away I kept going. It was there, they had rooms, and within six minutes of leaving the control I was in my room.
Again I downed 600 calories of recovery fuel, prepped my gear for departure, laid out my fresh clean clothes, and repacked my drop bag. Then I had to decide whether to change into another another pair of shorts similar to the evil ones or try to wash and dry my dirty shorts and continue on with them to Oroville. After a few second’s realization that this could be a fateful decision I washed my shorts, twisted them dry, and draped them over the air conditioner.
At 0300 I set my alarm for 0515, dropped into bed, and was immediately out cold.
Deep asleep I realized something was wrong. I thought about it a long long time. The thought hovered at the edge of my consciousness. I had to do something but I wasn’t sure what. I ran through many different scenarios. I applied my best pattern matching skills and after a long time came to the conclusion that the alarm was going off. And had been. For half an hour. And that Mannie would be expecting me at the control in five minutes.
Ten minutes later I sprinted into the control. Mannie was ready to go. I hadn’t eaten. I dashed in to get food. Lori was still there, happy to see me and ready to chat. I hope I acknowledged her existence, but I think I might not have. I had a singular focus: calories as fast as possible. Only later did I realize I had completely dissed her. I apologized later after the ride, and she laughed about my almost robotic behavior as I worked through the problem of acquiring food.
One of the driving factors for getting many calories fast was the knowledge that the biggest and steepest climb of the ride was just down the road. Janesville Grade is notorious on the GRR. Mannie says it is the same length and grade as the back side of Mount Hamilton. I found it to be steeper and longer than Joy Road or like two or three miles at the same steepness as the top ramp up to the parking lot on Mount Diablo.
Mannie was all hero. He ground up that climb without ever wavering, pausing, or walking. I don’t even think he zigzagged. Me? I added an extra 0.4 miles just by zigzagging, and I walked a good 20 minutes. I eventually caught up with Mannie, and we both crested together in about an hour and 20 minutes.
(A note for future riders. We departed Susanville at 0606. Sunrise was at 0551. From our post-ride analysis Mannie and I decided that the last possible moment one should depart Susanville and still be able climb the mountain and not be clobbered by direct sun is 0530 or a bit before sunrise in Susanville. Keep that in mind when planning your own ride.)
From here on the ride really was almost all downhill. We spent the next few hours hammering down the mountain. I don’t mean hammering as in riding fast though. Every 100 feet there were five to six inch wide cracks running the full width of the road. Riding down the mountain for 30 miles was a continuous series of Blam! Blam! Blam! We didn’t get any pinch flats but it was a close thing I’m sure.
Mannie had his first puncture flat. A SAG vehicle showed up with a floor pump just as we were starting to pump up the tire with a small hand pump. Thanks Mike!
We stopped long enough in the Boulder Creek water stop to have a cold beer with Ken. Yum. Who knew beer was such a great breakfast food.
We continued on and on and on down the mountain. There were many rollers but we were generally losing altitude and gaining in temperature the whole way down. By the time we reached Taylorsville we had gained a lot of time back on our plan. We were also experiencing temperatures approaching 100 degrees.
We arrived in Taylorsville (mile 577) at 1 pm on Thursday.
12. Taylorsville to Tobin
We spent 45 minutes in the Taylorsville control eating, cleaning, cooling, and enjoying the 4-H Club Norman Rockwell vibe. Dozens of 11-year-old girls were serving homemade food. Moms hovered in the back ground. Friends sat at tables sharing stories. Who’d ever want to leave that?
I applied lots of medicine, butt butter, and made the decision that the recycled shorts were working well enough that I’d use them through to the end. I ditched even more gear into my drop bag. I made Mannie and myself ice socks to wear from two pairs of clean socks in my drop bag (Socks filled with ice and tied together and draped over our shoulders. Heavenly cooling as they melt, drip, and evaporate). Only later did I realize that arm warmers would have make even better ice socks.
We left the control into blast furnace heat and onto the stretch of road I had looked forward to all trip, the Feather River Gorge by daylight.
Bzzzt! Thank you for playing. What was idilic and peaceful at night became a deadly game of cat and mouse stuck between logging trucks on the left and no shoulder on the right.
The ubiquitous SAG vehicles occasionally supplied us with more ice and more Mountain Dew (really, I never drink the stuff but I couldn’t get enough of it on this ride.)
Mannie had his second flat and once again a SAG vehicle happened along to help us with a good pump.
A few miles further down the road I lost concentration and let my front wheel drop six inches off the edge of the road into loose gravel. The wheel turned 90 degrees, the bike stopped, and I kept going. Moments later I was getting up with only a small scratch on one elbow and a bit of dirt on a knee. I’m not sure how I landed or why I avoided injury. A SAG vehicle showed up as if by magic and blocked traffic while I got up and recovered my bike. The handlebars had to be readjusted since they had twisted 45 degrees out of true.
Mannie was obviously concerned for the next few miles and offered to slow the pace for me to recover. I on the other hand hadn’t even suffered an adrenaline surge. I was a bit angry at myself for losing concentration but otherwise ready to get on with the ride.
We continued on with traffic and a stiff 100 degree headwind ruining any chance to enjoy the scenery.
We arrived at Tobin Resort (mile 614) a bit past 5 pm on Thursday, beat, hot, and hungry but more and more excited to be all that much closer to the end.
13. Tobin to Oroville
Bobbie and Tom were still running around the control taking meticulous care of every rider. Tim Mason from North Carolina who we had ridden with on and off for two days was reclining outside under a canopy eating a bowl of pasta. I went on inside where Bobbie fixed me a huge bowl of pasta that I washed down with, well, you know. Ken Shoemaker was asleep on a couch inside so I sat there eating while watching him snooze.
We took our time knowing we were on schedule and were almost assured of finishing. We left after 37 minutes with Lothar and Tim, headed for the very last climb of the ride up to Jarbo Gap.
I had been dreading yet another climb but, oddly enough, my climbing legs had seemed to be getting stronger and stronger all day. I floated up the climb. It was probably one of the most fun climbs for me on the whole ride. I felt strong and powerful. In fact all day I had felt like I was getting stronger. The fatigue that I feel after the 400k wasn’t there. I had once heard that day three of a 1200k was easier than day 2, and I was experiencing it for myself.
We crested in waning daylight and then started into the longest descent of the ride. It seemed to take a long time to descend the 2000 feet in 10 miles. It looked much higher, steeper, and longer than it had slogging up in the rain two nights before.
The profile looks like it is all downhill from there to Oroville, but the rollers picked up at the bottom and things got a bit bogged down for a while. I’ve ridden with Mannie long enough to know when he’s pre-bonking. He gets quiet and in a matter of minutes his speed drops in half but he doesn’t notice it. I pointed it out to him, he ate, and all was well again.
After what seemed like a long time we finally arrived at the Oroville Sports Club control (mile 655) a little past 9 pm on Thursday.
We had less than 100 miles to go.
14. Oroville to Davis
My original plan had us staying five hours in Oroville for another long sleep. But that assumed an arrival at 4 pm. The idea had been to sleep through the heat and head off into the cool night. In our case we were five hours later, the peak heat was past, and we were smelling the barn. We decided to spend an hour or so resting and then head off across the central valley to finish.
I wandered off to the showers while Mannie ate. I washed my shorts again, tried to dry them with a hair dryer, and ended up wearing them wet. When I came back out Mannie was fast asleep with a wake up call scheduled for 45 minutes. I used the time to eat and prep for the final leg. I did lie down for 30 minutes but couldn’t sleep. I got up and ate more. No nausea.
Mannie eventually got up and hit the showers too. When we eventually rolled out there was a pretty big group of us including Clyde, Lothar, Martin, Drew, and a few others.
I quickly realized I’d forgot both of my water bottles but didn’t want to go back, so I stopped at Taco Bell drive thru and bought a pile of bottled water.
My close up night vision and my head lamp were both failing so I could no longer read the route sheet. Mannie could only see close up or far away depending on which glasses he had on so he could see the route sheet or street signs but not both. Martin didn’t know the route. The arrows marking the route were so faint that they were really only effective for confirming a turn you had already found. They were not noticeable enough that one would grab your attention while riding along. So we worked out a routine where Martin would shine his light at a street sign, I’d read the sign and relay it to Mannie who would then check the route sheet. It sort of worked though we did do a few donuts in intersections looking for arrows or street signs to be sure we were on course.
Hours and hours went by as we slogged along. We’d occasionally meet up with, pass, and later be passed by another group of riders going roughly our pace. Our spirits were high but the miles seemed to pass more and more slowly.
We reached the receipt control in at a gas station in Sutter where the mosquitoes were as horrible as promised. We each made purchases and stashed our receipts to prove what time we had passed through this unmanned control. I slammed down a too hot microwave burrito. Others made fun of it but I wish I had bought two more for the road. Dense solid calories that tasted fine.
Again we headed out across the fields. We arrived in the Kirksville control (716 miles) a little past 5 am. We only stayed three minutes because the mosquitos were so thick. We also learned that CA-113 had been closed because a sink hole had swallowed the road. (Mother Nature’s fourth swing at us after rain, wind, and heat?) We were rerouted along the delta levee. A horribly rough road given our current conditions and sore bottoms. At one point we lost Martin, who I later learned was so tired he couldn’t ride straight any more. We kept going.
We were very close to the end, but I was fading fast. I think Mannie was too. He had withdrawn into some place I couldn’t reach. He was now just a machine churning the pedals at 15 mph mile after mile. I started having micro sleeps on the bike. Very oddly I could no longer spin the pedals in low easy gears but I could stand and pedal comfortably in my biggest ring for 30 minutes at a time without tiring. I spent most of the next 30 miles standing.
At very long last we were in the final few miles. Mother nature threw her last feeble attempts to stop us. A Seagull dive bombed Mannie. A rattlesnake glared at us from the roadside.
But Mother Nature lost this round. At 07:51 Friday morning, 85 hours and 51 minutes after leaving, Mannie and I crossed the finish line (mile 750). Deb Ford welcomed us with a beer. We sat around stunned for a bit. And then we each wandered off to our cars, our hotel, and our homes.
We had finished our first Grand Randonnee.
The Davis Bike Club did an incredible job running this event. It was very organized and well staffed. The materials sent out in advance by Dan were most helpful in planning our successful ride. The volunteers all along the route were with out an exception helpful, friendly, and caring. Completing a ride like this would be next to impossible without that kind of help.
We started with 75 experienced veterans of long distance riding. The weather, crashes, fatigue, and other challenges convinced 20 of those riders to stop their rides before they had finished. Ken Bonner, who has ridden every previous running of this event said he thought this year’s event was definitely the hardest year.
A big thumbs up to everyone who started whether they completed or not.