Today was hard. Only 105 miles, but over 6000 feet of climbing through the mountains of New Mexico. But oh, what a beautiful ride! Long straight gentle climbs through horse pastures into Lincoln County, home of Billy the Kid. A fast descent into lunch, then steeper climbs on winding roads into the Sierra Blanca mountains. Everyone’s legs were trashed.
Seattle Gary and Stig Man caught me on a fast downhill just before lunch. I tried to sit in the back like a slacker, but Gary waved me around and we all took turns rotating through an echelon. On the last few climbs into Ruidoso, Maitland Ian caught me and we rode together. Amazing how that guy can climb after training on 30 foot hills in Florida.
Also, a full day of climbing provide a great test for my platform pedals. I’m liking them a lot.
Long day today, 155 miles, perhaps the longest of the day. Lon thought it might be boring so he decided to make it a time trial. That’s 155 miles riding at lactate threshold for whoever is fool enough to tackle the challenge. Pactour has been doing this for the past several years. This year crowned a new record, Tucson Phil, age 67, with a time of 7 hr 44 min. For the math impaired, that’s an average speed of just over 20 mph, riding hills and a crosswind.
We’ve reached the point where everyone forgets what day it is, or how many days we’ve been riding. Just follow the routine: Wake, eat, ride, eat, sleep, repeat. Lawyers, tile layers, real estate moguls, doctors forget about work, just ride their bikes.
Riders said today was tough. I thought it was easy. Of course, I only rode 70 miles, they rode 120. One of the benefits of working crew is being able to cherry pick the sections I ride on the days I ride. I chose to skip the part where everyone else rode into headwinds on I 40 and a bunch of people got flats. Instead I rode mostly alone along long quiet stretches across the Arizona high plateau. With thirty miles to go, Spokane Bob caught me and we rode into Springerville together trading pulls.
Lon and his wife Susan run this tour. Lon was the first competitor to win Race Across America in 1982. I remember watching him on ABC Wide World of Sports thinking that guy must be crazy. Today he shared a story about that first race as we saw St. Johns in the distance. He said, “That’s the first place we stopped to sleep on the first Raam.
I asked, “How long did you sleep?”
How far had you ridden?
Six hundred miles, thirty six hours.
I thought, this guy must be crazy.
His wife Susan is no wimp either. She was the first female to win Raam. A couple years later, she and Lon set a transcontinental record on a tandem which has yet to be broken. Susan has decided to enjoy life and given up hard core cycling. She says we might see her riding downhill on a sunny day with a tailwind. Today she was cooking potatoes in a solar cooker she got from Captain Jack.
I’m thinking, this lady’s not Crazy.
Looks like SD Charlie has recovered from his desert ordeal. He looked happy riding off the front today. He stopped for a quick bite of lunch before heading down the road.
Spokane Bob rides a smooth wheel. We traded pulls coming into Springerville. Actually he did most of the pulling, even though he had already ridden 100 miles when he caught me. He’s also very gracious, saying as we rolled into Springerville, “Thanks for letting me ride with you.”
Another big climbing day, leaving Cottonwood, descending to the Verde River Valley, then climbing again to 7000 feet and riding the winding roads through pine forests of the Colorado Plateau. Same wind that blew us up Mingus Mountain yesterday became headwinds when we turned southwest. I remember this day fondly from when I rode this tour eleven years ago. This year I didn’t get to do the climb because it was my work day.
Instead I made Pop’s Macaroni Slop for lunch. I sort of invented this recipe fifteen years ago. I thought it tasted great but Martha informed me it really sucked. Then she taught me how to make it right. The riders love it and I get credit for it.
Waukegan John got to ride 15 bonus miles after he turned the wrong way at an intersection and rolled 7 1/2 miles downhill, had to turn around and come back into the wind. That gave him 132 miles for today.
I chatted with Indiana Chris at Lunch. Turns out the guy I thought was his brother is actually his dad. That means we have a father-son team, in addition to a brother-brother team, and three married couples on this trip. Unusual for Pactour.
Orlando Chris told me how he has never climbed hills like he has in the past couple days. I asked him how he trained, and he said the highest hill outside Orlando is 30 above sea level. He goes up a and down a lot.
Steilacoom Paul collapsed in the parking lot at lunch. He still doesn’t know I took his picture.
To start the day, we stopped at Walmart and bought fourteen bags of ice. The nice old lady who was standing guard at the door wouldn’t let me leave without seeing a receipt first. She said people try to rip them off regularly.
Tech Note Postscript
I’m beginning to hate WordPress. The layout of this page sucks. It looks right in edit mode, then is jacked up in display mode. I want to ditch WordPress and just write html and everything will be exactly where it’s supposed to be. No I’m too tired. Long day tomorrow.
Yesterday I was so busy driving the lunch rig, setting up for lunch, cooking dogs, tearing down, I had little chance to chat with other riders. Everyone enjoyed a strong tail wind pushing them west on US 60 toward Wickenburg. Nevertheless, three consecutive days with temps above 110 were taxing on everyone. I was exhausted after a day of lunch duty so I’m sure people who were riding felt worse.
I was starting to feel a bit antsy after a third day in a row not riding – more like an observer than a participant in this adventure. It’s easier to relate with riders like Captain Jack who know me from other trips where I actually rode my bike. Jack and I savored the experience riding Seattle to Boston last summer.
This morning I chatted with Eastside Matt, a guy I knew from another trip ten years ago. He sports a typical climber’s body, lean and wiry. First day of this trip I saw him flying up the mountain climb to Julian. Third day of this trip, I saw him sitting glassy eyed on a lunch bench in 116 degree heat with ice around his neck. He would get up, walk over to his bike, then walk back and sit down on the bench. He said he did this three or four times. Each time he looked at his bike, he just said, “No.”
Amazing what the desert heat will do to a strong guy. Eventually his buddy Rich accompanied him the final twelve miles into Blythe. I expect Matt enjoyed a much more pleasant ride today, climbing in cooler temps over Mingus Mountain to Jerome.
From what I could see, everyone was enjoying themselves today. We had a 30 mph tailwind pushing us up Mingus Mountain.
The unsung hero of today turned out to be my wife Martha. Arizona drivers are jerks. We know this because we live half the year in Arizona. Perhaps they had a jerk convention in Cottonwood today because there were a bunch speeding over Mingus. She was driving the van and wouldn’t let one obnoxious driver pass because she didn’t want him harassing the riders in front. Coming into Cottonwood, she was driving behind another group of riders when one of them crashed. She stopped her car behind them and threw on the flashers. A jerk driving a red Corvette behind her screamed at her that she was breaking the law by stopping in the middle of the road. She shrugged her shoulders. Martha does that sometimes.
Back to me – Martha and I borrowed the Pactour Van and drove to Scottsdale to pick up a replacement for the crank I broke the first day of the trip. The new crank is a Shimano Ultregra 8000, which replaces my older 6800. The spider on the new crank will not fit the 6800 chainrings. The new rings have the same teeth as my old ones – 50 x 34, but the crank arms are 172.5 mm, slightly longer than my old 170’s. I noticed a difference mainly when I was standing out of the saddle to climb – they provide a longer lever arm for rocking the bike. I might need to lower the saddle a couple mm to avoid any knee problems.
Climbing Mingus on platform pedals was no big deal. (Oh yeah, that’s right we had a tailwind.) I’m still thinking that for long tours, or possibly even most riding, the advantages of platform pedals might outweigh the disadvantages. More on that as the experiment continues…
Because today was one of my ride days, Susan said I could borrow her bike until I got mine fixed. I was just about ready to get it set up when she co-opted me to slice cantaloupe. By the time I was finished getting fruit ready, it was too late to start riding. No problem. I wasn’t all that thrilled on riding someone else’s bike, any bike for that matter, 103 flat miles through a desert oven.
It turned out Martha and I were needed for other duties anyway – shuttling back and forth between rest stops getting ice to suffering riders. Normally, Pactour sets up rest stops every 25 – 30 miles. Today it was every 10 – 15 miles. I saw several riders near the front of the group – Spokane Bob, Winchester John, SD Charlie were riding strong at the front.
I expected the second day to be easy: 88 miles, a long winding descent from Julian, then a brief roll across a nameless desert into the Imperial Valley and El Centro. Wrong. Rough road surface jarred the riders until their hands were numb. Temperatures climbed past 100 degrees and the dry hot air sucked precious water and salt from their cores.
I drove the lunch rig down the twisting hill, and the crew set up and served lunch under a tree by a lake. Hot dogs, cucumber salad, pickles, chips and soda. Water, salt and sugar.
First rider to arrive was SD Charlie. I figured he must be doing great after riding off the front all day. “How ya doin’, Charlie?”
“Bad. Heat is getting to me.”
He sat on a bench, slumped with his head down for ten minutes before touching the ice water I gave him.
Riders continued to arrive in small groups over the next three hours. Most but not all looked wasted. Spokane Bob, Big John from Kennett Square dripped sweat but looked strong.
Other riders slumped on benches, with ice socks draped over their necks. Ma Nancy had to force the smile that had come naturally the day before. She rode off shepherding two other dudes – MI Broh and one other guy.
A rider to remain nameless shared a story unlike any I’ve heard before. Feeling wasted, he stopped and sat against the shady side of a telephone pole. Then he felt the irrepressible urge to relieve himself. Number Two. He dropped his shorts, squatted behind a rock, started feeling dizzy and fell over sideways.
Three intrepid riders were last to leave the lunch stop. Xenia Brent, Albuquerque Karen and Alamo Ted. I was impressed with their character. They may have been the slowest riders this particular day, but they never whined or whimpered. After chatting amiably while recovering at lunch, they rode the final stretch to El Centro together. That’s what I call style!
Group departed San Diego at 6:30 AM and climbed 77 miles, 8000 feet to Julian, an old gold mining town turned tourist trap in the mountains east of San Diego. Shortly after the miners arrived in the 19th century, some dude planted apple trees and they thrived. Now Julian is famous for apple pies. I didn’t try any. There was a long line of people waiting outside Mom’s Apple Pie Shop, and I would have been surprised to find them as tasty as Martha’s creations.
My experiment riding platform pedals was a failure, not because they were inefficient to ride, but rather because the right pedal came loose from the crank arm, stripped the threads and ruined my crank arm. Upon arriving at Julian, we pulled the crank from the bottom bracket. Now I’m looking for a replacement.
Tomorrow is our day to work. I get to drive the lunch truck, and Martha, Debbie and I get to make lunch. Susan told me I’m cooking hot dogs. Guess that’s the man job.
I want to write more stories about the other riders in the group, and I’m pondering how to do that while preserving their privacy in this age of electronic trolls and goblins.
Old friends, new friends arriving from all over the U.S., and other continents. Some people I recognize immediately. Others, we stare at each other for maybe 15 seconds. “I know you.”
“Yeah – was it the 2012 Northern?”
“No, I wasn’t on that one”. Then we figure it was something like the 2008 Ridge Ride. Some people I haven’t seen for over ten years rekindle fond memories. Pactour people generally never keep in touch. We just show up for these events, then pick up from where we left off.
I can’t help but notice some physiques. Two types in particular stand out. Riders with broad chests and shoulders, muscular arms are the triathletes. Perhaps they did a couple iron man competitions this year. The skinny ones bordering on the brink of emaciation are the climbers. I sort of looked like that last year.
Lots of stories to share – events of the past year, injuries and more. Broken pelvis, ruptured achilles, broken ribs from falling off a trainer. Other transcontinental rides from years I missed.
This morning at 6:15 am, a group of maybe 15 early arrivals left for a short warmup ride to Dog Beach on Pacific Ocean, where some of the newbies dipped their rear wheel in the surf.
Martha just told me I’m riding tomorrow – most of the crew doesn’t want to do the climb. I’m planning to give it a whirl in my Keene sandals and platform pedals – 77 miles, 8000 feet. We’ll see how that works out…
After spending the summer on Bainbridge Island, WA, Martha and I arrived here at our Arizona home Wednesday afternoon. It feels more like a motel. In three hours we depart for San Diego to begin a new Adventure. Pac Tour Southern 2017, 28 days, 2900 odd miles, bike tour San Diego to Savannah. We’re working crew, which means I get to ride alternate days. I’m nowhere near fit enough to ride every inch every day, having spent much of the summer hunched over a computer writing C# to create data maps of lightning strikes.
Last year I rode 300+ mile weeks to prepare for the Pac Tour Northern, riding from Seattle to Boston. Most weeks this past summer I was riding less then 100. Right now I’m at least 5 pounds heavier than when I started the Northern. Probably more. What would be the point of hopping on the scale anyway? I anticipate feeling weird seeing my old PacTour buddies in top form when I’m soft and flabby. So be it, we sow, we reap, we weep.
Martha and I are both looking forward to the journey – rolling out of motel beds in the wee hours each morning to help with breakfast, discovering new places together, preparing and serving lunch to old friends and new ones. I’m hoping to “ride into” the trip, hopefully being in reasonable shape by the time we hit the Talamina Parkway in Arkansas. We’ll see how well that works…