Sunday, April 01, 2007

3 Little Miles

Gentle Readers, I had to abandon the 600. This happened three miles outside of Tombstone, Arizona--and then about 30 miles to the Northwest--when it dawned on me I had been charging full-steam ahead back to the Elgin Controle and sleep stop--not on Hwy 82, but on Hwy 80.

Three miles out of the Circle K in Tombstone, I missed the left turn to go West, on Hwy 82. Instead I kept going on Hwy 80 heading northwest to Benson.

Everything about my ride was going right, and I was riding with confidence--and I knew I would finish. All I needed to do was get to the Tombstone Controle, turn around and get a few hours of sleep back in Elgin.

At the Tombstone Controle, just a few minutes past midnight, I was trying to get warm. It was quite a cold ride, my clothes were soaked with sweat and I needed to dry out a little. I bought a sandwich and water to get a receipt, and filled the camelbak. The clerk let me have a free cup of coffee.

So I charged out of the Circle K and quickly gained speed. Herein things didn't go my way. It was dark, and even with all my lights, I missed the left turn to go west on Hwy 82. Being pretty tired probably contributed to this error.

I was going on Hwy 80, as I said before, which also heads west for a time, like 82, but then it gradually heads northwest. In the dark, the roads seemed similar, and I was riding fast because now it was down hill. I can recall when I was climbing those last three agonizing miles into Tombstone I would gain some speed going back because it would be a quick descent.

So there I am with a nice down hill, a bit of a tailwind--riding very fast on the road with almost no traffic to slow me down.

Spinning down the road something didn't seem right. I should be seeing the lights at Mustang Corner--or something? Then I saw the sign, "Welcome to St. David" and right then and there I knew--I had missed the turn back in Tombstone.

Survival mode set in--I was growing tired and needed to figure out something pretty fast. It was cold and by chance if I saw a barn or someplace to sleep and get warm, I would stop. I was on the 252 Cochise Classic Course and it was familiar--I had ridden Cochise in 2005. Dave Glasgow had told me about the Benedictine Monastery in St. David--surely they would take in a stranded Randonneur--if I could find it. Benson wouldn't be far away--I'd find a hotel.

I came upon a woman outside washing down the sidewalk of the gleaming 24hr gas station and store she worked at. It was 2am. "Good morning," I said. "Might I come in your store and get warm? You see I'm on my way to Elgin--and well--I made a wrong turn and I've come down Hwy 80 when I should have been on Hwy 82..." The woman was quite cheerful and sympathetic--and not dumbfounded--like so many other times when Steve and I would mysteriously appear to some poor store clerk in the middle of the night.

We got out a map and I could tell I was well past Elgin in mileage. Riding back to Tombstone 30 miles, and then riding to the controle was beyond what I believed possible for me under the circumstances.

The woman insisted that I let her call her husband, and soon he arrived in his truck and we were on our way to Benson to find me a hotel. The man's name was Mike. He was about 50 years old. He'd recently retired from the Nat'l Guard--after three tours of Iraq. He had been in the first Gulf war, and after that did two tours in Baghdad. I told him about my wife being in Afghanistan since January. His younger brother has recently gone back to Baghdad for a second tour of his own.

Mike had been First Sgt of his Battalion--the NCO's run the Army, Gentle Readers--and he said that he pulled his guys out of some pretty sticky situations--getting them home after they got too drunk on leave, and who knows what else fighting in the streets of Baghdad. So making sure I was squared away was in his nature. I offered to give him all the money I had but he wouldn't take it.


RUSA President, Mark Thomas would be on the ride. As I waited in line for my brevet card, I spotted him, and a few other Seattle Randonneurs. My first impression—they seemed larger than life—all very fit, confident—and ready to go. I cut out of line to go find the restroom, and to move around because I was a little cold waiting. I met Mike Sturgill for the first time and that was cool. The man looked strong, and of course, he was very laid-back. I returned to Susan’s truck to stow my drop bag and sleeping bag, and said hi to Paul Layton. I’d see him at the Marana Controle a little later.

The week before, on a late Friday afternoon, I was just about to leave work on a cold and rainy afternoon—when my cell phone rang. It was Paul. “Bruce can you come pick me up?” “Well sure—Dude, where are you?” “I’m at the Roadrunner Market—Houghton and Sahuarita.” I knew it, but it took me a few minutes to go over in my mind how to get there from my office. “I’m on my way.” I told Paul. I couldn’t believe that he was out there. I’d sent him an e-mail asking him when he would be riding, as I knew he’d be supporting the brevet. He never replied—but riding today? It was the coldest wettest day in Tucson that I can remember for some time. He must have faced wind, rain, and cold. Traffic was horrible of course, and it took me well over an hour to drive 30 miles to fetch him. I cranked up the heater in the car as I got near the Market. Then there he was, looking a bit pale but cheering up when he saw me… Here’s the account of his ride on his blog…

I still had a few things to tend to as the group pulled out of the start. I needed to give Susan some water cans, and her RUSA banner left over from the 400. Shock had brought them to my office and I promised I’d deliver them at the start of the 600.

Mike Enfield had not left with the group, as he was tending to last minute things as well. He wasn’t too worried, and I knew he’d be riding straight thru on this one. He noticed that Steve was not by my side. “Steve’s sitting this one out.” I said. “See you on the Road.” And he wished me well, and I wished him the same.

I gave Susan the gear left over from the 400, and asked her if John Moeny was at the start. He had been, so I picked up the pace to find him and we would ride together. He had ridden strong in the 400, so I needed to keep moving and possibly meet him at the Marana Controle.

John had stopped near the Picacho Peak DQ and I had ridden past him. I saw a rider about a mile in front of me—it was Jim Clark on his trike—but I didn’t know it at the time. John gradually caught me and we rode on to the Marana Controle.

John was having some mechanical difficulties and said he would abandon at the Marana Controle. So he drafted for me and I was glad about this, and to have someone to talk to because the first 45 miles to Marana were a bit depressing. I toyed with just giving in, but at the Controle, Paul Layton cheered me up and I made the decision to just keep going.

As I was pulling out, Paul told me to be sure and ride past Helmet Peak Road, and then he said to watch out for The Wolf. As I headed out and then down and through Saguaro Nat’l Park, I really didn’t give it a second thought—until I saw him riding toward me in the Park. There he was, The Wolf—I snapped a picture of him last year which I will add below.

The word around Tucson is that The Wolf is a lost soul—a spirit—who’s destiny, for some reason—is to ride Saguaro Nat’l Park for Eternity.

This was part of the 400 and this time it was a bit easier. I’m happy to report I felt strong and in good spirits. I stopped in the McD’s to have a bit to eat because I had really pushed it going through Saguaro—I wanted to re-fuel. Mission was coming up and it’s always a tough road—and it was starting to get hot.

I pulled off the course to go to the Mission real quick. I figured I would need all the help I could get—prayers were answered as I had a slight tail-wind going down mission and up to Helmet Peak Road. On down to Duval Mine Road where I got some good speed—but the road was very rough and full of pot-holes, but I wanted to go fast. Some jerks in a truck came up behind me, probably going about 60mph and just passed me by inches—and I was going about 27mph myself, and they quickly cut in front of me. It was a nice expensive truck and it shuddered on the rough road. To drive like that on such a bad road—to drive that fast really tears up trucks. But they’re probably too stupid to know that.

I got to the familiar Chevron station at I-19 and Continental Road. That’s where I met up with Jim Clark. He was out—his trike had taken a beating on Duval Mine Road. I probably should have taken it a bit more easy myself. Jim was wearing the jersey of the Cambridge England cycling club—or was it Oxford? I can’t remember—but he gave me some cold water and some packs of GU, which I really appreciated and used later to climb to Sonoita… Thanks Jim.

I called Steve to let him know I was okay and where I was. This part of the course was a bit less familiar to me, so I wanted to be careful and not make any mistakes.

After about 11 miles or so, I found myself at the Roadrunner Market. This is where I had picked up Paul Layton a week earlier. Here I met several riders that were doing PAC Tour's 300 Km Brevet. They figured I was on the 600 as they saw the hub light on my front wheel. They had come back from Tombstone and reported that a group was just starting the climb to Sonoita.

I was actually looking forward to that climb, as I knew that would be the hardest part of the day. I was nervous because the first year I rode this 600, all of us ran out of water about two thirds up. I filled my water bottles and bought two bottles of Gatoraide just in case.

So there I was close to 5 pm. The climb was before me and I must say mes amis I was ready. As stated before, Steve, Rich Combs, Mike Allen and myself started a pace line up, and one by one we all spread out and marched what was like an eternity up the moutain. It was close to 90 degrees that year, 2005 I think--in April, and it finished us all off one by one. By the time we got to the Tombstone controle I had a bad case of the runs--which I could never shake off--and I had to abandon. I also recall how un-friendly the motorists were to us that day--people speeding like 80 mph, getting as close as they could to us to run us off the road, red-necks shouting profanity at us.

I am happy to report that I felt strong, and made the climb and to the top by about 6:45--as the sun was starting to go down. It was quite a beautiful site to behold--red and orange mountains and copper sun. I reflected on how much more of a rider I was compared to a few years ago. Instead of pain and cramps and insecurity--I felt confident and driven. My legs crapped up a little so I dismounted and walked a few hundred yards. I also wanted to take in the sunset, and go over the cue sheet--it would be getting dark soon. Some people stopped and asked if I was okay and if I needed a ride. I knew the downhill would follow so I thanked them and said I was alright. Other than the one truck that stopped, there was no other traffic.

From here on out, I was pushing it to make it to Elgin. There I would get a quick bite to eat, leave some of my gear to lighten my bike, get to Tombstone--and then come back for the sleep stop. It was just a bit confusing because from the cue sheet, it seemed the Elgin Controle would be closer. In fact it was quite sometime before I got close, and it seemed there was some climbing--and it was very very dark. But I had to trust my bike computer and the cue sheet. I had taped a small mag-light into one of the vents of my helmet. It worked quite well. It was just that I was fearing I had passed the road. Finally it appeared, but still not there yet?

I arrived at the base of the hill and the Elgin clubhouse was at the top. I was pretty tired and thought to myself how hard that had been. A van came down the drive as I started up. It was Bryan Gibbon and his wife. Bryan having a stomach problem--I know how that can be--and he was calling it a day. We shook hands and he wished me good luck. Time to get inside and get warm.

Inside, some of the guys were sleeping. A few had just arrived back from the controle in Tombstone. Jim Clark, who had to leave the course, was there and he helped me get some food--that saved me time and the food was just what I needed. Craig, another support person also helped me out. I took some of the heavy extra stuff I wouldn't need for an out and back to Tombstone and stashed it in my drop bag.

I saw Mike Enfield once more in the controle. And a few other guys--we had to be kind of quiet as other riders were sleeping. They were off to head back to Casa Grande. I still had 70 miles to ride. That would be to Tombstone and back. I wanted to stay and eat more and just sleep--but time to go.

As I was climbing out of the controle, which was difficult because I wanted to go faster, I could see riders' lights coming down the road into the canyon I was riding out of. It was a dark cold night and crystal clear. As I got onto Hwy 82, a group of riders pasted me. "Is that Bruce?" a voice shouted out. It was Gerry Goode. I said, "Yes! Hello Gerry!" and so it felt good to know that someone knew I was out there. The road ahead was long--it was very cold and very dark.

As I got on the road and got some speed, I saw lights coming my way, and just about the entire trip other riders passed me by shouting encouragement. So really I wasn't so terribly far behind. This gave me a morale boost and I rode even harder. I made, to the best of my abilitly, all the mental notes I could about the terrain. It was very dark, and I want to sure that I didn't miss the turn to take me back to Elgin.

Well, now you know the rest of the story. I got to Tombstone about ten minutes after Midnight. I was tired, and I had pushed hard to make it there. Leaving the controle, and speeding down the road--I missed the turn to go west and back to Elgin and instead to Benson.

I took a shower and went to bed. It was about 3am. At 5:30 am my cell phone rang and it was Steve and I recounted my mistake. But I didn't feel so bad really because I knew I had ridden strong. It was my lack of experience that caused my missed turn.

Come back later as I'm still editing the 600

1 comment:

Red Bacchetta said...

Great write up Bruce! Great job on making it to Tombstone too! That is a bummer about the wrong turn. Sometimes that happens. Glad people were friendlier on the Sonoita hill this year too.