What people normally give you when you tell them you are going to ride 204 miles in near 100 degree heat is a blank stare that screams simply, why, for the love of god why? Of course I have no answer. I’ve done it before, in 2010 I believe. I was terrified as I had never done anything like it before. I remembered knowing I had not trained hard enough or long enough to finish 204 miles. Not sure having it done it before and being successful was helpful this time around or if it makes it worse. I remember it being fun for 100 miles, terrible for the next 50 and the last 50 were spent mumbling like a crazy person to just keep pedaling and ignore that my body is slowing dying. This time I actually feel like I am stronger, however I think Rena was where I was last time. Wondering if she could really do it, wondering if she had trained hard enough for long enough.
The prep this time around was much more involved. I had years to obtain all the things that were needed for the trip. Rena had months. Accessories for the bike, lights, computer, bottles etc. We had to get Rena completely geared up. Then of course there is the nutrition part. Apparently riding 204 miles in the heat requires special consideration. My body is not accustomed to such extreme situations and it requires extra STUFF not to die. We settled on electrolyte pills which seemed easier to swallow (pun intended) than the tabs that you put in your water which give you the chemicals you need to live but also have the added benefit of making your water taste like stale salinated duck pond water. We also would have a mix of a thick liquid which has the purpose of giving your muscles all the things they need like protein, things, other things and yet more things. It’s creamsicle flavor which I am not sure is meant to be funny or not as it tastes less like creamsicle and more like Satan’s armpits on a hot summer Thursday afternoon. I was told that mixing the armpit drink at 6 times the amount used in an hour gives you a thick pancake batter like sludge that you can take a pull off of every 30 minutes instead of a full bottle an hour. It’s a trade off, what’s worse, 20 oz of nastiness per hour or 2 oz of sludge every half hour? We chose sludge out of mere convenience.
With supplies obtained and loaded into the motorhome, water, energy bars (both with and sans gluten), other food stuffs etc. We have coerced Adam and my favorite sons girlfriend Bri into driving the sag wagon. I’ve been calling it shag wagon but I believe I may have been confusing its purpose. They are to follow us and stop at predetermined locations so that we might supply up and try to eat. As a side note, our bodies have this really cool mechanism that works like this. When it thinks you are dying because you are riding 204 miles in volcano like heat, and in spite of the fact you need truckloads of calories to live, it decides that anything you put in your mouth will make you sick. Your body creates a punch in the gut like feeling with every bite you take. SUPER!
It’s been decided that we must “roll” at 3am, but the week before I start checking the weather forecast and because Jesus hates cyclists, we start to watch the weather prediction climb with each advancing day. Ten days out, it says 65 degrees and overcast and dry with a large smiley face that says “I LOVE YOU CARY”. Then each day thereafter the smiley fades and what appears in its place is a giant middle finger with the temperatures climbing into the hell-o-sphere, which is awesome. It’s determined that 3am will not work with the updated temperature forecast so it’s decided that we will roll at 2am. Swirl that delicious statement around in your mouth awhile. Mmmmm…. 2 A M. YUMMY. The alarm goes off at 11:30pm the night before to give us time to regret having to eat a giant breakfast, which is also required for this ride. Someday go to bed at 3pm and set your alarm for 11:30pm, get up, eat a giant breakfast of things you don’t normally eat, just to see how well your body responds to it. Spoiler alert, it’s screams “KEEP IT UP MISTER AND I AM GOING TO PUKE THIS RIGHT BACK UP!”
We leave the house after loading up the truck with everything we will need for the first 100 miles as that is the first place we will meet Adam and the sag wagon. We are to meet at the Husky Stadium parking lot, which we do. There is lots of nervous anticipation and I feel a little sick. After quite a bit of getting everything loaded in our jerseys and bikes, a group picture is taken and we are off. Of course it’s dark and there are very few people on the road other than the partiers ending their nights. It takes all of about 100 yards for me to drop a chain and put my derailleur into my spokes due to an error in shifting. It’s early and I am not making good decisions. We get it straightened out but it winds up not working right for the rest of the day. I have recently upgraded all my components on my bike to good stuff, really good stuff which I have never had. When I had my crappy old components, one handy benefit was them shifting themselves all the time. When I got my new stuff, I was so happy to have components that shifted properly and not by themselves. When I screwed up my new stuff right off the bat, the result is that it now constantly shifted by itself. The irony was not lost on me, even at 3:00am.
The first 100 miles are uneventful except for Rena entertaining us all at a potty stop with not getting her feet unclipped in time and doing the slow fall that has happened to every person that has ever used clipless pedals (for the record, clip in pedals are called, obviously… clipless pedals) has done many times. Also we experience a brief moment of absolute terror. One of the risks of drafting when cycling is that your wheel can overlap the wheel in front of you. It’s not an issue if you happen to be leaning to the side that allows your tire to come off theirs. If you are leaning to the side that pushes your tire harder into theirs, hang on, you are going down and probably everyone right behind you too. I don’t remember what the exact circumstance was but I overlap the wheel in front of me, and I am going down, I hit the brakes which is a 6 of one, half a dozen of another situation as hitting your brakes is going to cause the rider behind you to overlap your wheel and then they are in the same spot you were in .005 seconds before. I really didn’t mean to hit the brakes, it’s just reflex. In .007th of a second, I have overlapped the wheel, screamed, hit the brakes, Dean screams and in some rare miracle we don’t crash. It does cause all of us to go into cardiac arrest though. If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience that for yourself, you can’t understand how terrifying this situation is. From there, Rena and I wind up slightly ahead of the group as we get to Centralia which is at the 100 mile mark. We arrive at the motorhome with Adam and Bri waiting for us. Up to this point, it has not been hot. We’ve really lucked out, the first 7 hours went like the first time I did this. They were fairly easy and Rena tells me that I was right, that it really was easier than she anticipated. But as we roll up on the motorhome it’s like someone turned up the heat and I knew, this is where the work was really going to begin. After force feeding ourselves and making more sludge, we roll.
Dean’s mate Lori, one of our foursome has decided that 100 miles is enough. She was feeling pain from old injuries which was making life miserable for her, so we roll from Centralia as a threesome. From the second we roll I feel terrible. No energy, it’s hot as hell and I know I am in for a rough second 100 miles. After 5 miles of flat hot farmland we get to a monster hill. It looks like the Bataan death march. Unlike the first 100, there is no talking, no happy excited faces. All the groups that flew by us in the first 100 are experiencing the same hell as everyone else. It was a REALLY REALLY hot and long grind. You can taste misery in the air. Rena had to stop to breathe in the middle of it but as I rolled to the top of the hill, Rena had made up ground and was right behind me. The top of the hill looked like a battle zone. Riders everywhere dumping water on their heads and drinking. Water bottles are being refilled at the park luckily located at the top of the hill. We finally roll from there. It gets no better and no cooler. Quite the opposite. It starts getting hot. No shade, sun beating down on black asphalt hot. Overheating engine in the middle of Death Valley in August hot.
We make it to Vader and it’s getting unbearable. There are a couple hundred people making the small store owners very happy as they sell every available drink in the small store. I watch the lady bring out the last case of water. I buy 4 bottles, two for each of us to drink and two to dump over our jerseys. We leave our bit of shade sitting at the store for a few short minutes and have to deal with a hill right from the start. It’s a good climb to where you have to turn right and Rena is hurting. Someone rolls by me and they tell me, they think my partner has stopped for a break. I wait at the top of the hill in the sun. I think to myself, I’m being cooked. Slow roasted, self basting with a salty stinky liquid. I am going to be delicious soon. Rena rolls up, I tell her she is going to get a short break as we have a downhill section. We settle into a grind. Rena and I are not breaking speed records and Dean gets ahead of us. I pull, Rena has her head down pedaling. There is no talking, only heavy breathing. At exactly this place, 5.5 miles since we left our shade and drinks, the worst thing happens. In the space of about 1 second, I hear the tell tale horrific sound of Rena’s tire overlap mine and almost immediately hear a scream that means she is going down. Rena is new at riding, I know in the space of that second, that she doesn’t have the experience that is going to get her out of this unscathed. I am unclipping my pedals even as I am realizing what has happened. I am completely stopped within feet and turn around to see her crumpled on the ground, bike on top of her. Someone else has already gotten stopped and is telling her to lay still. It’s a horrible helpless feeling but I know instantly our day is over. She isn’t going to shake this one off. I’m scared inside, I want to throw up. Rena is the nurse and knows what to do at times like this. I am comedic relief, I don’t do trauma. Rena has had the wind knocked out of her and she is in a bit of shock. She has hit the guardrail and hurts everywhere and it’s determined immediately that we are headed to the nearest hospital. Luckily for us, Adam is fairly close and I am able to call him to come get us. We are being helped by one of the Honda Goldwing group that rides the route and offers help to people that need it. I sadly load up the bikes. I didn’t want the day to end like this. It was really hot and I am unsure if we would have made it, but it will be hard to not ever know. Adam drives us to the hospital and Dean decides to finish on his own. Rena has avoided serious injury, just lots of bruises. We leave the hospital after a couple hours and drive to Portland to meet Dean. It’s a long disappointing ride. When we get to Portland it’s 100 degrees and we go to the park where the riders complete the ride. It’s a giant party and I feel like I have a sign on my head that says “DID NOT FINISH”. Everywhere people are celebrating their accomplishment. We are just grateful Rena is in one piece but it’s still disappointing. After a while we decide we should go line up to watch for Dean. The race organizers have set up an impressive finish line for the riders to ride through as they finish. They are announcing every rider as they finish, the loud speaker blasts “204 MILES YOU HAVE DONE IT!!!” I look over at Rena, she has tears in her eyes. She worked really hard to accomplish this, and yet it was not to be. She thanked me for not finishing without her. I tell her this was always an “I go we go” (her favorite saying). I said well maybe next year. Of course that is like telling a mom minutes after giving birth, hey lets have another one soon! You need time for the pain and horribleness of this one to fade. I told her by next February, you will start thinking, “yeah, that really wasn’t all that bad, lets try again!” At 9:45pm Dean rolled through the finish line. It was his slowest time ever. We walked up to him and my first thought was that we probably need to take him to the hospital. He looked terrible, pale and wet. He wasn’t making much sense. After some time and a coke injection of sugar he was back to normal. He said that this was the hardest one he has ever done and he has done many. It was an adventure for sure. I just wished we could have finished the race either at 204 miles or sooner on our own terms. Maybe next year.