Friday, June 28, 2013

Hot enough for us

The sign on the barn across the street says it was built by Isaac S. Church 1895. The barn is weathering the scorching heat way better than the 2 cyclists.

We're huddled in someone's driveway under a few trees. The humans inside the air-conditioned house are not likely to emerge and chase us off their property. They're gonna stay right where they are.

For the last hour and a half we've been riding across Sierra Valley, in silence. A few yards up the road, just before reaching the crossroads that is Sattley, CA suddenly Bill says "do you need to stop for a few minutes in the shade?"

My thoughts have been more along the lines of no way am I putting a foot down in this hell of a valley. I'm getting through here as fast as possible. What actually comes out of my mouth is "if you are talking about it then we probably should do it". 

And we do. We stop in Sattley, which is named for a family that settled here. In fact the barn was built by Isaac Sattley Church. The thermometer on Bill's bike says 113 F. There's a little back and forth about how normally temperature is measured in the shade. But we aren't riding in the shade. Right.

Let's review the triumphs of yesterday. An unsupported 300K connecting the dots of three rural counties: Modoc, Lassen, and Plumas. A sit-down pizza dinner (still in bike clothes). Afterwards a shower, a motel bed. A decent breakfast in the lobby of the Gold Pan Lodge. All  courtesy of the benevolent universe.

While we ate, showered, slept, then ate again, the universe has been gathering a massive area of high pressure over the western US. In the works since the storm blew over on Tuesday, it has arrived. Lots and lots of air molecules pressing down on us from above. With wind and rain the National Weather Service is all over the map but with the timing and scale of this heat wave they're right on the money. It's a monster.

So it's already hot in the parking lot of the motel at the crack of 8:45. We wave at this traveler heading west on 70. He stops to chat for a few minutes.

From Virginia, he flew to San Diego to ride the Sierra Cascades route. Holy cow Batman, that's a lot of hills! Tonight he's going to Chester, near Westwood. Bill gives him the lowdown on the terrain.

Speaking of hills last night Stu assured us there wasn't much climbing between Quincy (elev. 3432) and Portola (elev. 4856). Our legs tell a different story as they climb the morning away on busy, hot, exposed Highway 70. There's a good shoulder so unlike Highway 89 it's plenty safe. But no cyclist would find it pleasant.

At Portola, another mini-mart to the rescue. Ice, Gatorade, salt pills, snacks. There's a rush of humans toward Lake Davis for the weekend. But we're not putting up our feet with a cold beverage next to a large body of water.... No, we're heading a few miles east to County Road A23, also known as Beckwourth Calpine Road. Then south across Sierra Valley, and over the big hills to Truckee. That's the idea.

Sierra Valley is an old lakebed that was formed the same way as Lake Tahoe. It filled up with two thousand vertical feet of silt. So now it looks like a meadow, a bare expansive meadow in the middle of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Another difference, Lake Tahoe sits at 6200 feet of elevation; we are just under 5000. When the Sierras got lifted up, something had to sink down! My strategy for this tour had been 'stay high' but apparently this is nowhere near high enough.

After 10 minutes and a few salt pills we quit the driveway. Sierraville, 3 miles away, is the lunch spot. There's a chair at the one restaurant with my name on it. At some point I realize Bill has exactly the same idea and that is a relief. We'll sit down for a real lunch and evaluate.

The fajita salad is delicious. Why more Mexican restaurants haven't figured out how to make salads like this, I don't know. Word among the locals is this place serves the best Mexican food for hundreds of miles.

Over lunch there isn't a lot of talk about what to do next, perhaps because we already know. We've both done plenty of double centuries. We're both mineral-sensitive, not evolved for heat. And what lies ahead is a dangerous, narrow, busy section of Highway 89. A big climb into the Tahoe basin. Hot, no shade. Bill is going to miss his bus connection in Truckee and he needs to get home.

The next hour unfolds like a plot sequence from a Coen brothers movie. It all makes sense in the moment but is kinda unbelievable when you look at it later. In this life-threatening heat Bill's shifting problem is back. Unbelievably, he has towing service for his bike (yes, there is such a thing). Ernie drives from Portola to pick us up. Pulling a trailer for the bikes.

For $50 he'll take me as well. Or, I can stay overnight here in Sierraville and start climbing at 6am and hope everything goes OK. It is not likely to cool down overnight. And that will cost more than $50. To only prolong the misery.

For the third time in my life, I get in the truck.
Ernie, the awesome tow truck driver.
We won't run the gauntlet with angry, daredevil cars on narrow Highway 89. We won't climb for 20 miles in the hottest part of the afternoon. In the cab of the truck both windows are down and we're going plenty fast. Almost air-conditioned.

Ernie tells us about working the business with his wife, in a rural territory. He used to live in Fresno where it's a lot easier to make money. His son is leaving the business for better money. So that vacation they planned is on hold. He built this truck by bolting a chassis over another truck. He's had good luck with vehicles except for that one that went up in flames on the side of the road over here. The hoses were all plastic and you know what happens when hot oil touches plastic. And right here is where he had to push a wreck off the road - there are the skid marks.

He gets us to Truckee with 30 minutes to spare. Under the gathering thunderstorms Bill makes his Amtrak bus to Sacramento and then his train home. I look at the sky, do the math with the weather forecast, and decide to get on the same bus. There is no point in touring the beautiful Sierras in triple-digit heat.

Just before midnight I get off BART and ride another 25 miles across the Dumbarton Bridge. At 2am it is still hot.

A week later, the heat breaks.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beverages of choice

Well, logging is still going on in the northern Sierras. They're using Highway 36 to get the logs to the mill at Chester. The mill has a corporate account at the Shell station in Westwood. The clerk tells us about all the paperwork that's involved when a trucker comes in. Something tells me it's worthwhile, though.

No petrol for us, just ice and snacks and a rest. Still plenty hot. On the menu is Red Bull, mesquite BBQ potato chips, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The sandwich has 150 miles on it today. It's been marinating all day in the back of my Camelbak and needs eating.

"There's a seating area out back" I tell Bill. "Really?" he says, starting toward the north side of the building. In reality it's an enormous, disorganized mountain of old tires. Presumably when the trucks are done with them they go back there to retire. Decent seating, but aesthetically it needs a little something. A little Martha Stewart action.

Between us we know pretty much nothing about the road from here to Quincy. Bill has the turns; that's important. I rode the east side of Lake Almanor once, fifteen years ago. All I remember is, shady and beautiful. No idea whether it's flat.

On the way to the lake we pass through old Westwood. A former mill town in the process of becoming a summer getaway. Westwood figured out how to reuse the mill site, then wrote down what they learned to help other towns do the same thing. Oddly, the local owner of the mill, the Red River Lumber Company bought the rights to the Paul Bunyan story and Westwood is embracing Paul Bunyan as its mascot, even as the town reinvents itself. The town centennial is next weekend, July 4. A pretty big deal!

We're reading the poster in the window of the store, which closed a few minutes ago. That's a problem because Bill's legs have decided to cramp mightily in protest of many hot miles. First aid needed right now. The store owner is still up front. Thank goodness she opens the door.

"Spicy Hot V-8?"? She waves to the shelf against the wall. I buy two; down the hatch.

Another stroke of luck: it's a good descent to the lake, then gently rolling along the shore. Which is indeed shady and beautiful. Thanks to the Red Bull we make good time to Canyondam, a tiny community at the dam on the Feather River. Another descent to Greenville. Over 1500 feet of elevation lost since Westwood. Bill's legs get to recover. I am euphoric.

Greenville has a real store that is still open and has cold Gatorade. The clerk asks if we're part of that bike ride. Kind of, we say. We worked it in Alturas. On our way to Quincy tonight. Why are we doing this? Um, don't know why!

Then Bill asks how far it is to Quincy and collects 3 different answers: 29 miles, 27 miles, 21 miles. The road signs all seem to have a different opinion, too. If you're a local in a car it doesn't matter. My computer says 164-point-something and to us it matters a great deal. The sun is low and we're ready to be done. On goes the rear blinkie.

As we crest a little bump I begin to recognize this valley from a brevet 10 years ago; it's Indian Valley. Very beautiful. Here the GRR riders took a back road toward Taylorsville. We descend more and more into the Feather River Canyon. We're descending so much that Bill puts on the brakes and stops in a pull out. There's a cyclist heading up the canyon toward us. We flag him down to make sure this is right!

It's Stu, a former mountain bike racer from Quincy. On the way to his girlfriend's place in Taylorsville. He tells us we're on the right track, gives us the low-down on the road ahead, and some tips for tomorrow.

Would love to stay and chat but y'know, miles to go before we sleep.

A couple of miles down where Indian Creek meets the Feather River there is a chance to cross and head upriver to Quincy. That is what we do; a 10-mile climb that takes every bit of daylight. In the process we pass the Keddie Wye without even seeing it.

On the left, the Gold Pan Lodge in Quincy we definitely do see. And when it's not necessary to resort to Safeway for dinner because Pizza Factory on Main Street leaves the light on past closing (there are still customers eating, after all), we are so all over that.

With a half vegetarian, half BBQ chicken pizza, the day ends with a pint of Great Basin Ichthyosaur “Icky” IPA. An IPA for a 300K!

On the Bizz

An unpaved trail in the middle of a long unsupported ride.

It was in Alturas during dinner at El Agave Azul that I first heard this part of the plan. It sounded like folly. Who cares about avoiding Highway 36? It reminded me of a solo tour one November when, trying to stay off Highway 101 in Mendocino County, it turned into a massive project involving stream crossings, stray dogs, hills, slow progress, and no help of any kind for miles. When the dirt road finally dumped me back onto the highway I felt only relief.

Today, with heat reflecting off the pavement of Main Street in Susanville, cars and trucks filling the air with noise and exhaust, things are looking a bit different. A dirt alternate seems like the best idea anyone ever had.

It would be perfect, if we could just find the entrance to the trail....  Because there are two of us we divvy up tasks and keep on trying. Ask the locals (who are incredibly nice, by the way). Scan the landscape for an old railroad bed. Maybe, between North Railroad Ave. and South Railroad Ave? Use the 3G signal to bring up maps on smartphones.

View Larger Map
Oh it's just a gravel rail bed. Wow. Carefully we chunk over the metal rails still in place, using a wooden deck laid down for this purpose. My doubts come back. But the legs have momentum and keep spinning around. Until the mad fishtailing begins, I'm in.

The Bizz Johnson Trail follows the Susan River through a canyon. We've found the beautiful, cool part of Susanville! The surface is unpaved but graded and maintained. The gravel is packed and not deep. Very rideable.

Heading across several bridges we hear only rushing water and the happy squeals of bathers from below. It might be ten degrees cooler here. A reminder that heat radiates off asphalt and buildings but is absorbed by trees and soil. Even the modest amount of water in the river creates a buffer of cool air above it.

Better yet, a tunnel!

The year "1916" is stenciled into concrete at the top of the arch. Inside, the air is sweet and cool. You want to breathe, it feels that good. Bill stops and gets a flashlight out of his bag. He wants a closer look at the huge wooden beams that support the tunnel.

They're thick and dark, almost hard to see. All one piece. Definitely old growth. After all, the Fernley and Lassen railway hauled lumber out of the Sierras. In 1956 it stopped, probably when they ran out of trees to cut and haul. The right-of-way lay quiet until the trail was finished thirty years later.

These old railroad right-of-ways are hidden gems. Often they're the best route for through travelers like us. Is it because the railroads had their choice of routes? Or is it the gentle grade, lack of car traffic, close proximity of nature?

A sturdy red Department of Corrections truck with dark windows pulls out of a wide spot. Black, twisted metal cages protect the windows from breakage. Slowly and deliberately it trundles across a wooden bridge. It's a prison work crew, maintaining the trail.

Since the surface is less regular then pavement, my head is down most of the time, looking for obstacles and deeper patches of sand. Bill calls out for me to look around. The canyon reveals a beautiful lava formation, like a smaller version of Devil's Postpile. The rocks are rectangular chunks of dark basalt, some blasted away by the railroad crew.

After about 8 miles of feeling human we get back on Highway 36 to climb Fredonyer Pass. Our first Sierra pass. It's not the loveliest experience: hot, long, shared with semis. The right of way continues around the hill, 22 miles more, but that route is longer and we need to reach Quincy tonight. This morning Quincy seemed so close but it's not - it's another 75 miles of unknown terrain after Susanville.

It would have been the right thing to do, continue on the trail and turn ourselves into gluttons for a good thing. Maybe there will be a next time.

Meet me at the Cantina

Outside the grubby Beacon station a fellow cyclist is sitting on a bench in the shade. Eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Of course it is Bill!

Nine hours of silence definitely hit the spot. Riding solo has both sharpened the senses and restored my equilibrium. Still there's something to be said for sharing.

On the road to Susanville Bill was having some shifting problems which he traced to a fraying cable. The weak spot turned out to be near the lever. If a cable breaks at that point the orphaned end sometimes gets stuck. So you don't have gears but it also can't be fixed. It was touch and go until he got to the bike shop here in town.

Riding with other people is how you get better skills and instincts. You watch what they do, how they solve problems that come up. Turns out I could have watered up at the Grasshopper CDF Station. Hidden around back a GRR volunteer was still in place with water and Cokes. Not just any volunteer but Tim Houck from the 400K! Next time I won't give up hope so easily, not where water is concerned.

A few miles after passing me that Budget rental truck rolled down the window and gave Bill my position. At the time half an hour back. A gap that felt as wide as the Modoc Plateau, when in fact Bill and I would roll into town within a few minutes of each other.

Now we're both rested, refueled, repaired. Reunited. A good time to relax and take a break. Watch the parade of characters in and out of the gas station. My first encounter here was to get directions to Safeway and 90 minutes ago the locals seemed a little mean, menacing. When you're with another person and less vulnerable the same scene can be fun and edgy. Hey it's the Mos Eisley Cantina! Get the Star Wars movie folks out here....

They are not the only colorful ones. Bill was missing a critical piece of equipment, a sweatband. The bike shop had them. Well they had just one design, black with orange flames all over. For extra style points... Then he says I'm brave to be wearing a black wool jersey in the heat. At least my forehead doesn't look like the hood of a hot rod!

So here we are, all done up in reflective triangles and not-from-here energy in a baking-hot prison town, deciding where to go next.

Bicycle bananas

The cashier pulls out the empty Aquafina bottle, looks at me and asks, this yours? I nod. What happened to it?

I just had to drink it. Ran out of water about 12 miles out of town. It tasted good.

The guy in line gives me a look and so does the cashier. He blips the empty bottle over the bar code reader. They're amused; probably they know each other. At this point no use pretending to be sorry. It was the right thing to do.

Besides the empty bottle he rings up another tall bottle of water, a big cold can of coconut water, two hummus snack cups with pretzel chips and two Greek yogurts. And a banana.

Walking that store for what felt like an hour, it's what I came up with. After 112 miles, hummus, pretzels, and yogurt will have to do. That's Safeway. You know they'll have something. It will be decent and it will be safe but odds are it won't be an aesthetic experience.

Collecting my stuff I ask which way to Lake Almanor. Don't really want to buy a map. Out the door, turn left. Lots of water there, says the guy in line, with a wink.

In the hot air outside, I park my carcass at a table with umbrella. Slurp the coconut water, alternating with regular water. Scoop hummus with pretzel chips, and then with my finger when the chips run out. The label says each cup is 380 calories...not bad! Almost worthy of lunch.

I should check my phone. No service in Alturas. Probably none here but might as well go through the motions. It takes a minute to find the cell tower but lo and behold, 3 bars here at Safeway in Susanville. Open the text messages to get Bill's number. At least I'll let him know what happened. Should have known this crazy scheme would not work out.

There's a new text waiting - it's from Bill.

Hi. Had a near disaster
cable problem. Am in
Susanville at Bicycle
Bananas (702 Main Street)
getting new cable.

The timestamp is three minutes ago.

The hilly part of the course

Big Valley, near Adin CA. Photo by Rene Magritte Deb Ford.
From the turn at Canby, 22 miles to Adin. The road is long and mostly empty. Lots of time to think.

Turns out there's a good-sized hill! Maybe no one mentions it because in the scheme of a 1200K, no big deal. About 800 feet of climbing. Not huge but somehow front and center this morning. Must be tired...

Adin is the only place with services until Susanville. So it's the first potential spot to intersect with Bill. The real store, Adin Supply Company, opens at 7am and the minimart opens at 6:30. Bill's done his research; last night we compared notes.

It's 7:35 when I roll into town and park the bike on the porch of Adin Supply. No sign of Bill.

Inside they sell gifts as well as grocery items. For one panicked moment I wonder if they might not have coffee. No fear - Judy (who used to live in the Bay Area) helps me locate the air pot. Unlike in the dark motel lobby, her coffee is hot and fresh. In the donut case the apple fritters look righteous (if a little  on the small side). The porch makes a handy platform for inhaling caffeine and sugar and carbs.

It's also an ideal vantage point for the goings-on in town. A couple of trucks pull up with locals who tumble out and head inside for coffee. No one stops for long but friendly banter goes back and forth. One woman yells "bye Judes!" as she sails back out to the truck. This is a familiar routine...

Judy mentioned the GRR but not Bill. Which is telling; he didn't cross the social trip-wire at Adin Supply. I imagine him cruising into town before 7 when the minimart was the only option. Damn. As soon as the coffee is gone I head out of town, taking the fork toward Susanville. It shaping up to be a warm, beautiful day. Not sure how long 70 miles should take but by that time I'm pretty sure I'll feel like having company. To make that happen, better pick it up a notch.

Don't remember much about this stretch, just riding inside myself. The scenery is a sparse pine forest, still around 5000 feet, and it's not as flat as I want it to be. Suddenly the Camelbak feels light. Ah, forgot to fill it with ice at the motel. It started out with less water too, so the ice would fit. That's a pretty big mistake. Bill said the GRR had two water stops on this leg. So water is scarce. Hmmm.

Another thing, there seems to be only one banana. Must have put the other down, maybe in the motel lobby. Bet it's still there. The surviving banana plus four roasted potatoes from the control make a second breakfast. The potatoes are bite-sized and taste heavenly. They're salty little potassium bombs. At least I didn't forget them!

Unbelievably, about 5 miles on is a campground with facilities and water. How timely... I take a long drink, then fill the Camelbak and water bottle up to the very top.

And climb another hill. Think about the GRR riders, doing this section with more than 400 miles on their legs.

Twelve miles outside of Susanville, despite all efforts I am totally out of water. Just before the last hill of the morning. Which is very warm indeed. A Budget rental van passes near Eagle Lake and it's clearly associated with the ride and inside I'm screaming 'stop! ask me if I need anything!' It slows down and passes with lots of room, but no one sticks their head out.

Never had to fantasize about water before. Can't remember the last time I ran out. Even going 30 mph downhill all my thoughts are about getting water. When, how. What it will taste like. My mouth feels like cotton. Lightheaded, it takes effort to keep the bike on the road. Improvisation might be good for the brain but dehydration is not.

In town a wrong turn uphill, far enough to determine that Susanville is a tough, ugly town. The main drag is very main indeed, with semi trucks rumbling through, lots of stoplights and no shoulder. Wherever I'm staying tonight thank goodness it's not here. A digital sign says 96 degrees. Directions at a Beacon gas station from a guy buying a bottle hidden in a paper bag. Then 2 miles back downhill to Safeway. Through the busy parking lot, feeling very much behind schedule.

In reality it is 12:45. Lunch time.

No sign of Bill.

Road of many names

Solitude is the place of purification.
- Martin Buber

Yesterday before dinner we packed up and coaxed the deadbolt through the heavy wooden doors of the Elks Lodge. The control environment was intense, task-driven, social. A hive. It's a relief to be simple again, piloting my own ship. Still dark. The clock on Main Street says 4:35 as I head out of the motel for points south.

The feeling of relief is short-lived. First, the route. Let's just say that finding and reading street signs is complicated by darkness. There are other challenges. The backlight on my speedo is on strike, my trusty headlamp sits in the garage at home, and the GRR cue sheet with the turn-by-turn is on my phone. Stowed away in a pocket. I'm poking around cautiously, tentatively, looking for the turn.

Even in broad daylight Centerville Road has many names. It's County Road 60 on the map. It's West Street in town. The names swirl around in my head. When the chips are down I prefer instinct. It is simpler, more trustworthy. It says the intersection coming up is the right distance from the last turn. The road heads in the right direction, has a stop sign and a white sign saying "Truck Route". So it goes through. No other clues. This must be it.

It's quiet. A still, empty quiet that we don't have at home. Ever.

Hard to believe more than 50 riders passed this way, twice. The last of them 12 hours ago. Or that a fellow worker, Bill Monsen, is in theory riding a few miles ahead. His intent was to leave Alturas around 3; I needed sleep. It would be great to meet at some point and continue on together.

Last night that plan seemed optimistic. Now it's looking downright unlikely. To close a gap of ninety minutes, or sixty, you want to be moving pretty fast. Not sinking those watts into a hub generator...

The road descends to a wide plain covered in thick white fog. A waning gibbous moon hangs  overhead, casting a dim light over the plateau. Scattered around are dark, silent lumps of cows left in pasture overnight. I enter the fog; there is no other choice.

I'm swept into a painting by Magritte. Fenceposts and the road and its markings, the visible world. The occasional shape of a driveway or a structure poking through. Muted greys and blacks and browns, all swathed in blurry white. Suddenly the air is colder. I wonder if the cows are cold, or if they're used to it. The sense of being in a dream is taking hold, heavy like cement. It's even stronger being far from home, not fully awake.

As in a dream, the only way out is through.

The fog does have an edge, which is reassuring. A few minutes riding in the soft light of dawn and a second layer of fog comes. With each transition I'm a little more awake.

As it fills with light the sky seems huge, out of all proportion, like from an airplane. Where you look out the window and the perspective is totally off. You don't recognize a thing, as expected. No one does. We all get where we're going, eventually.

By the time the sun is really up, warming the earth, it's a different world.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On the flip side

Tuesday and Wednesday there were 7 of us working the Elks Lodge in Alturas. It was our stop on the Gold Rush Randonnee, a local 1200K modeled after Paris-Brest-Paris. The course is an out-and-back, like PBP. Alturas is the closest stop to the turnaround. Mile 367 on the way out, mile 407 on the way back.

That's a long way on a bike.

The rain I had been able to dodge fell heavily on our riders in the Feather River Canyon in the middle of the night. A tough start to a 4-day ride. Here is one report of how it went. And here is another.

We cooked, made coffee, cleaned up, and fixed bikes. Raided our own supplies of ibuprofen, butt cream, floor pumps, and in one case, a headlight. Signed the riders in and out, faxed progress reports back to Davis, set up cots and woke people up from naps. Most of us slept ~4 hours in two days.

Helping is the reward. Having been a rider at PBP, knowing how to help. Putting aside ego, just thinking of what the riders need. Things are not how they look or how you want them to be but how they are. It's a discipline; discipline is underrated.

On the outbound journey what we'd say is "see you on the flip side". As in, when we meet again it will be better. Things will be looking up.

Despite adverse conditions many riders were in good cheer. Unfailingly polite. Michelle Brougher, exhausted, grateful for a shoulder massage. She thought to lighten up and shed some things for the trip to the turnaround. Charlie Fournier, waffle fan from Tobin, rewarded at last with waffles at Alturas. Minutes later, quietly asking for Advil for a sore hip. Carl Anderson, leaving his motel room door open so a later rider might use it for a shower and nap. Drew Carlson, weary and discouraged, back on the bike anyway toward Davis (he made it). And many more examples...

On the darker days of this journey, I'll think of their courage.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Long day into night

Four miles slightly downhill with a tailwind to Highway 139. Canby to the right, 27 miles. Alturas 45. So says the sign.

I do not backtrack and head uphill into the wind to Tionesta. To that sweet little place with the cabins and store. That would have been the right thing. Instead I'm strangely committed to reaching Alturas. It just seems like what I have to do at this point. As if the National Weather Service has a perfect track record on the timing and severity of storms. As if this were some kind of organized cycling event. And as if I knew the way.

Canby is where we tack east and take advantage of the wind. That much I remember from the map. The road to Alturas looks like a bent arm, with Canby at the elbow. Another 27 miles of struggle.

On this stretch I learn a few things:
  • The highway looks flat on a map. Yet for 10 miles it rolls over the top of every little hill. Damn.
  • 13 mph is not fast enough.
  • Six years later, the scene of a huge wildfire still looks clear-cut.
  • Semis use this road to get to Susanville.
  • Hay is a mainstay of the local economy.
  • At dusk in late June a whole lot of small insects are going crazy. It's Burning Man for bugs...
  • You can breathe through your nose for only so long.
  • It gets dark at Canby, where nothing is open at this hour. 
  • Correction: the Canby Hotel looks like it might be a brothel.
  • Highway 299 has a nice shoulder, then halfway to Alturas the shoulder disappears.
  • Semis use Highway 299 as well. About every 90 seconds, a vehicle passes.
  • A reflective triangle, Solas blinkie, and Edelux lamp make you plenty visible. The cars and trucks leave plenty of room as they pass.
  • Bring at least one reflective leg band on a bike tour, even if you don't plan to be out after dark. A leg band can always fit somewhere.
  • Three miles with no shoulder in the dark can make you question everything.

I was so proud of making all my turns today. It would have been time well-spent though, to check the course of the GRR. There's no need to take 299 from Canby. County Road 60, Centerville Road, is the smart alternate.

The Super8 in Alturas leaves the light on for me. Which in a community with a rampant meth problem, is saying a lot. The night clerk is a burly guy with a laptop.

If I had stayed in Tionesta and finished the ride Monday morning, I would have missed a late-night chat with the clerk at the Shell station. The only food in town after, say 9pm. Dinner is a homemade chicken wrap with ranch dressing. An apple, a Coke, and the last of the Fritos from lunch. Totally respectable for mini-mart fare. Close encounters with jerky, lurching, itchy meth users, free of charge. This is where they congregate.

These last 45 miles were a lesson in decision making; loss aversion, ordering, reference points, framing. It's all there.

The odometer reads 173.3 miles. Feeling a little silly for pushing this far, I take a bath and sleep very well. The rain that was supposed to arrive at 11pm, the storm on the way - it holds off until 10 the next morning.

Lava country

After 18 miles on State Line Road there's my right turn south on Hill Road. Or, allegedly Hill Road. The brown Lava Beds National Monument sign is the only clue. Again no street sign. So a map wouldn't help. At the intersection is a little store, Westside Grocery. Note to self for next time: it has a deli.

This is the second important turn of the day. It avoids the highway in favor of a scenic alternate through lava country. Recommended by the Forest Service guy I talked to. Much prettier than the highway, he said. I didn't get his name but it turns out to be great advice.

It's a little uncomfortable without a map, that's for sure. My old self planned things out to the nth degree. Yet trying new things involves a certain measure of unpredictability. Risk. That is kind of the point, after all. So I'm navigating by nose and rough memory of Google Maps. Good for the brain.

Even if there had been time to hit AAA for maps, on longer rides those maps are less useful than they seem. Their scale and features are designed for cars. Essential details for cycling (terrain, alternate routes, prevailing wind direction, availability of food, water, lodging) are missing. Recently AAA also began removing the locations of railroad lines (good landmarks) and adding casinos. You won't find many hungry cyclists at the casino buffet.

Krebs Maps, made by and for cyclists, have all the right information. No Krebs Map for rural Siskyou, Lassen and Modoc Counties though. When you get out here you understand. This part of California is remote and lightly trafficked. The road surfaces are smooth. With natural beauty all around, it's great for cycling.

On Hill Road, the "hill" is a 150-foot escarpment to my right, basically just a long wrinkle in the earth. Looks and feels a bit like Owl Canyon on Route 66.

In Owl Canyon we had a massive tailwind. Here  (as forecast) it's a howling headwind from the southeast. The long, low wrinkle of a hill does nothing to buffer it. And Tule Lake to my left is whipping it into a chaotic frenzy. It's going to be a long, slow afternoon.

The Camelbak feels a bit light. Relieved for an excuse to stop, I turn into the Visitor's Center.  After mistaking it for the one at Lava Beds National Monument, the volunteer quickly points out this is Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge 10 miles to the north. The Google map shows nothing here. Google definitely makes mistakes.

The sign back at the junction with East West Road (no kidding) says "Tulelake 4 miles". An alternate plan was to stop here instead of Klamath Falls, spending the night in tiny Tulelake. It was the bail-out option. At mile 92 the Camelbak is full and legs are still strong. Don't need to bail out. Let the second ride begin...

Ahead lie 10 miles to the north entrance of the monument, then 10 miles to the other Visitor's Center, then 10+ miles back out to the highway. The wind is full-on now, raging in the late afternoon as the front moves to the east. This is the project. At this rate, it will take 3 hours :(

It's ample time to look around and notice the well-designed exhibits and waypoints. The volcanic domes have fabulous names like The Castles, Bearpaw and Hippo Butte, Fleener Chimneys. Most of the black rocks along the road came from inside Fleener Chimneys about 10,000 years ago.

An occasional strong gust of wind makes me laugh out loud. As violent and inhospitable as the wind is today, it's nothing compared to hot rocks spewing out of the earth.

Along the road (which is NOT flat) there are caves and trailheads begging to be explored. A campground, too. I start plotting to return another day, perhaps a day where the wind is blowing out of the northwest. The Meetup group would bring tents and sleeping bags and stoves; they would stop at all the waypoints and love it here.

The Visitor's Center is at the top of a hill. Outside are several WiFi Vultures, a new species found in national parks and monuments (only at Visitor's Centers). The woman is checking the weather on her phone; the storm coming in means tomorrow won't include kayaking on a lake.

The two guys turn out to be grad students in Planetary Geology at University of North Carolina. One of them tells me about his thesis; he's mapping lava flows in the caves here so they can be compared to other volcanic flows in our solar system. He's trying to understand what factors affect their shape and other characteristics. He's been here for a month. He looks happy.

I use the WiFi to text Danny and let him know I made it here, give a time point.

At the bottom of a nice descent, I barely catch this Road Closed sign out of the corner of my eye.  The way out of here was closed last weekend! Oh, it would be some tailwind on the way back to Tulelake...

Tionesta has a sweet little rustic resort that looks very, very tempting. A place with cabins and a store in a gorgeous setting. The sun is sinking low and part of me is definitely ready to call it a day.

Reminder: that would mean a 50-mile ride in the rain to Alturas tomorrow. There's a tailwind on this segment and I press on toward the highway.

Postcards from Highway 161

California 161 is also known as State Line Road. That's because it roughly parallels the border between Oregon and California.

View Larger Map
The border is more than just a symbolic division. Traveling west to east, on the right California has a natural, wild look. As you might expect from a National Wildlife Refuge. On the left in Oregon, marshes are being irrigated and turned into hay and alfalfa.

The smooth pavement is a nice surprise; even though it's beautiful this road doesn't carry much traffic.
This California parcel is for sale; it's described as "Lakefront Property".

Many happy birds just out of sight, beyond the reeds.

Those poor old Oregon dirt farmers...
Just off 161 on Hill Road, a Japanese American internment camp. A total surprise...

Water for hay and potatoes

Keno (pop. 510) has a Mormon church at one end of town and a little store at the other. Between them lie a school, a little strip mall, and a Quonset hut that houses a gas station/taqueria. This little tour of Keno takes about 90 seconds. Everything is on the main road, Oregon Route 66.

On Sunday the church lot is full of cars. But it's the store that draws me in. Mile 58, time to refuel.

Before leaving Ashland I googled Keno and verified the presence of a store. Thanks to whoever made a community web site listing all the businesses in town. The message is clear; you can spend your dollars here. The much larger town of Klamath Falls must be where people shop, by default. In these rural areas running a business is tough and stores go out of business all the time. As it happens the  Keno Store is still in business and yes! open Sundays; my luck is holding.

You can't really overstate the importance of food and water at this point. It means bypassing Klamath Falls, an extra 11 miles to the east. Cutting off two sides of the triangle and proceeding toward the California border.

The inventory seems to consist mostly of snacks, every kind of snack imaginable. Types I've never seen before, like chile-lime flavored sunflower seeds. A whole display of multi-colored sugary things in plastic bags. They also stock fishing supplies, lures and flies and nightcrawlers in a little fridge in back. Inside are stacks of little white styrofoam containers.

In contrast, the deli menu looks promising! Though I'll pass on the corn dogs and potato wedges and fried chicken parts. Heat lamp deli food, a most bizarre species, ... What is their purpose, exactly? How many actually get eaten? The locals go for the Klamath River Sub sandwich and I follow their lead. Augmented by huge bag of Fritos. And water. No need to live on snacks and beg water from farmers. At least not in the next 50 miles.

Behind the register, a hand-lettered sign: We No Longer Accept Checks from Klamath Falls And Outlying Areas. If you're from Klamath Falls, bring cash. Leave those rubber checks at home.

I eat half the sandwich, stuff the remainder into the Camelbak and head south on Keno-Worden Road. The lush pine forests of the Cascades are replaced with sagebrush in a semi-arid climate.

Immediately it becomes clear that while the Klamath Basin is flat, it is a hospitable place for wind. Lots and lots of wind, with no natural barriers. It's definitely blowing in my face, making invisible hills out of flat and rolling terrain. Fortunately the landscape is beautiful and distracting.

Where it's not sagebrush there are farms and irrigation equipment, horse and cattle ranches. Rounding a bend a large handmade sign sits at a driveway: Stop the Klamath Dam Scams! There's not enough water for everyone, it seems. Back in Keno I was ecstatic over a quart of Aquafina. These folks demand a share of the river, forever. Vague memories of a court battle a decade ago over the Klamath River water. Wasn't that decided? The signs look pretty new.

There will be multiple signs like this, each sincerely proclaiming their angry truth. It's the language of entitlement. We're entitled to as much Klamath River water as we need. To determine what we need, just ask us! There's no shortage of irony when you contemplate the political winds of this area. This is Fox news, Ron Paul for President territory. Yet the farmers and ranchers are basically demanding a share of a public resource, one they do not own. Technically, welfare. Hmm.

Honestly it's obvious what the farmers are doing with the water. They're growing hay and alfalfa for their cattle and horses. They're growing potatoes in a high desert ecosystem.
Irrigated field vs. non-irrigated field, Keno Worden Road
Downstream the Klamath tribes would like the river to have some salmon in it. More than 10% of traditional levels. Sorry but you don't need a PhD to figure out where the balance is. Of course, feel free to disagree. You can attend tomorrow's rally!

Good thing I didn't have to knock on doors to get water along this stretch. After 4 miles on US 97, a major north-south truck route, the next sign is a welcome one.

Has a quiet dignity, don't you think?

You are here

What's heavy and yellow and doesn't roll up small?

My real rain jacket. So, how about the lighter jacket? Much more stylish. Less waterproof, less warm but definitely smaller. Traveling light. Isn't that a perk of doing big miles? The weather has forced  my hand and the route for Day 1 consists of...Day 1 and Day 2. No fooling.

Near the summit of Dead Indian Memorial Road, it starts to rain. Last night while debating the jacket, a key piece of information was missing. I should have realized the road goes to 5200 feet. That's what happens when you don't look at a map. When you don't have a map. People who have maps and look at them quickly realize this ridge is the southern edge of the Cascade Mountain Range. Left and right signs warn of snow, direct to the Sno-Park, mark ski trails. Even a warm front from Hawaii can be cold up here.

There's also a pretty good view of the front moving in from the Pacific. This thing is not blowing over. I've never been on this road before and it's pretty deserted. A pang of fear.

I take off the Camelbak, unroll the yellow jacket and put it on. At least I'm wearing the right stuff.

The descent to a high meadow is comfortable. By some quirk of fate I'm not quivering with cold while fashionably dressed. Being warm enough helps with everything else, including navigation.

The next turn is key and thanks to a sign that was wonderfully paid for with our federal tax dollars, we know the road is the first turn after the lake. Keno Road, that's it.

Jacket, check. You are here, check! Love it. Two things going right and the day is young.

A dry winter has turned the "lake" into more of a grassy meadow. Hard to tell where it ends. I keep looking for some kind of transition into forest. There are a lot of Forest Service roads up here (well, really logging roads) but most are unpaved. Just before an uptick in the road there's an intersection off to the right. I turn there.

A map would have been no help. The road isn't signed. No sign, no sense at all whether this is Keno Road. I turn at least partly because after climbing 18 miles to the ridge, my legs are voting members of Parliament. They're avoiding further hills. And the road has a gate across it, with a sign saying No Snow Removal. The gate is open.

Turning over the pedals, I think It has to be a paved road because they don't plow any other kind. Also, It's in the right place. And, signs and gates cost money. It has to be the kind of road people are tempted to take. It leads somewhere.

I keep pedaling. After 10 miles, another sign gives the confidence to keep going. I'm warm, with plenty of food and water and a bike that's working fine.

It's 15 miles before a car passes, a white truck towing a closed storage trailer. In the next 30 miles, 3 cars total. A strange road.

After a while I realize it's following the top of the ridge. It must have also been a logging road. If gates and signs are pricey, long roads take serious cash. They don't get built for bikes. There must have been a mill down there near the town of Keno. This road must have been for hauling logs out of the forests above the Klamath River. No logging trucks now.

Somewhere on a descent on the east side of the ridge it stops raining. Eight miles later turning east on Oregon 66, Green Springs Highway takes me to the bottom of the hill, where the river reveals itself.

If today were not a long day, if there were a choice I would have to stop right here.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Weather freakout

Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.- Mark Twain
We're in a very nice restaurant in Ashland, Coquina. White tablecloth. A table on the back patio. It's a clear, warm evening, the beginning of the high season. The summer solstice, in fact.

The subject of conversation is weather. Specifically, how to avoid the front that is approaching the Pacific Coast. Not typical for this area, rain in summer. It wasn't part of the plan. Start in Ashland, ride to Klamath Falls on Day 1, ride to Alturas on Day 2.

Two fronts are on the way. There's a gap but just how big no one seems to know. The forecast keeps changing. Looks like rain the morning of Day 1, tomorrow. Showers in the afternoon. Maybe thunderstorms. A bigger, wetter system on Day 2, with strong gusty winds. Am due in Alturas Tuesday morning. That's a hard requirement.

Much research ensues.

It's actually only 100K to Klamath Falls. Could ride further than that on Day 1, while the weather is good. It would help to know where water and food and motels are available. We're talking about remote Siskyou and Modoc Counties here. Never been here before, not even in a car. It's the far northeastern corner of California. Towns are few and far between.

On his way home Danny could drop me off in Weed. He says, wouldn't save any mileage. That turns out to be right.

Day 1 and Day 2 could be collapsed into one long day. Leave first thing tomorrow. This would work if it's not raining, if they're wrong about when the rain starts.Otherwise I could leave after breakfast, catch thunderstorms in the afternoon, and ride all day Monday in the rain. Hmmm.

There are two kinds of conditions where I refuse to ride: ice on the roads and thunderstorms. Neither is any fun. Out there to the east is a high plateau, no shelter. Want to avoid lightning, even torrential rain and hail. This is what I'm thinking while getting gear together. Lying in bed, thoughts racing.

I wake up at 5:15, before the alarm. Grey clouds but no rain yet. It's taking its time. Streets are empty and quiet on Sunday morning, on the way out to Dead Indian Memorial Road. That's the real name! It was an optional climb before the official start of last year's SuperTour. Even though the weather was fine and perfect that day we opted for a brewery in town for lunch.

Having climbed the lower pass along this ridge, Green Springs Highway, the Dead Indian climb has to be at least 18 miles.

And we'll see what it's like in the rain.
View of Ashland from Dead Indian Memorial Road.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tending the drivetrain

In cycling, as in other areas, the wise traveler tends to her drivetrain.

Besides tires, the chain, cassette, and chain rings allow you to move forward. With lots of miles, these things do wear out. March and April were light mileage but between May 4th and June 8th about 2000 miles were piled on.

Thursday night with Danny's help I replaced the Waterford's cassette and chain. The cassette was original, with over 7000 miles since the beginning of this blog. It has served well... We put on a smaller cassette, to ease shifting issues. The chain is probably the third chain.

From tired and done to new and smooth! That will help with the tour from Ashland to Alturas, where I'll help support the Gold Rush Randonnee.

 In another 23,000 miles it will be time to replace the middle chainring...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lucky me

Monday evening I visited the pit of despair. The reason was transient; it's not important unless you're Dr. L. and need your last-ditch pet theory disproved.

Gotta be careful who gets my attention these days. For one thing in this culture, people are very focused on age. Especially if you happen to be female. It's a topic that comes up again and again, in casual conversation with strangers and dinner talk with sisters. In every doctor's office except one (Dr. H.). In every neuropsych's office, except one (the King of Hearts).

Even in the outside world people look at me (soon to be 48) and notice a not-new-infant and the conversation tacks away from what the future might hold and toward the aging process. As if it is the same for everybody. As if it is the main thing going on. It's about time for all of us to just give up. Thank goodness we don't have to try any more. It's biology!

I find it shocking. Even if these conversations were not serving as a substitute for medical care, and just a substitute for compassion, it would still be shocking. Inappropriate. Inhumane.

We are in love with the idea of decay and helplessness. Aging as a metaphor for all that. We take our despair and try to drown others with it.
Danny came in to see if I was OK (he could tell I was not). I felt surrounded by people who are ready to throw me away. Who are close enough to comment but not invested in helping. This is like my own reality TV show. Sometimes I can't absorb any more.

What was the point of surviving a hearing loss, bullying, an early student loan debacle. Four older siblings. Being ostracized because I was smart. Many menial jobs. Eighteen years in a marginalized role, buried with work. It feels like wasted effort. Lots of struggle with no chance to express myself, make real choices, live a life. It's a cruel joke.

Danny listened and comforted. May there always be someone in your life who holds on at the exact moment you want to give up.

The next day a few brighter spots. Salad for lunch. Good rhythms in Spin class (the music could have been louder). A small, quiet table at the Dojo. Hi from two humans on the way in.

That evening I forced myself to recall every person who has ever been any kind of friend. A sort of virtual gathering. Short-term, long-term, constant, fickle, doesn't matter. Whatever happened to the friendship, doesn't matter. A busload of exchange students, all singing You've Got a Friend while hurtling through the Australian desert. Not that we were all that close. But we agreed it was important.

Roberta, a roommate who picked up college at 52. She didn't give up on herself. Other women heading back to school in their forties and fifties. Trainer Matt, who always treats me like a human, no caveats. Elisa, Roger, Deb, same. Michelle, planning her 50th birthday at a Tuscan villa. My dad, going strong with support and love, at 85.

Today this is where I'm going.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pastry Radar

"Is it talking about the kings yet?" Danny wants to know.

No kings yet. It's talking about what was going on ~the year 1500. The starting point of this book. Denmark and its Baltic neighbors supplying most of the food and raw materials for the rest of Europe. A strategic role, but not without dangers. At that time Denmark's role was similar to say, that of north Africa or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait today. Other countries wanted access to what came out of Denmark.

One of those things was wheat. The English and Dutch loaded up their ships with it, and thus did not starve.

Danny says "Wheat... that must be how they came up with the Danish pastries!" In the entire world, there is no one with better Pastry Radar. No one.

Denmark is a surprisingly big country, with many clues that it was bigger long ago. The wind blows out of the south; you don't need a book to figure that out. A couple of days on a bike will do it. But that's a story for another day.

We had not been in Denmark for 30 minutes before Danny honed in on a bakery. By smell or something, I don't know. We had been on a ferry all night and were waking up on the bikes. Riding on the main street of a town, the name of which we could not even pronounce. On the left, an ATM machine serving Danish krone. On the right, pastries on display. In small Danish towns exactly one kind of place is open on Sunday morning...the right kind of place!

Danny leaped off his bike, leaving me to do the parking. Came out with half a loaf of something that smelled of cinnamon and some other mysterious spice. All swirls and apple and buttery dough.

Clearly this operation had been in the works for some time. For months we'd been planning, buying tickets, studying maps, riding through Norway. I'd completely missed a key aspect of the trip... that danishes can be had in Denmark. Danish, Denmark. Those two words don't even sound like each other!

Luckily we did not know that Danish pastries came from somewhere else. That might have triggered a discussion.

Instead, whatever its name we buried our faces in it. There was reverence. No talking for a while.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


After the hot DART and T-Rex Barbecue and a lift home from Danny, checked my Inbox this morning. And lo, there was something there...

This mail is for you if you have ...
1) Made a preregistration for Super Brevet Scandinavia 2013. Unfortunately we have had to put you on the waitinglist.
2) Registered to do the S-B-S WITHOUT the support-parcel offered by the organizers.
We have some cancellations to places WITH support-parcel. So we writes to you and all others who might still want to do the S-B-S with support. If you can't come in case that we can offer you a place, we should like to know that.
The organizers wants to fill all places with support, so we have decided that we from now on offers any vacant place with support to the participants on the waitinglist who order them first. So it is: first come, first served.
When we have another opening, we will write you again and everybody else on the waitinglist and offer you the place. If somebody answer before you, you have to wait for the next opening.
As said in the beginning, this also applies for the few daring randonneurs who have decided to do the S-B-S without the support. We e-mail them and offers vacant places with support, so they get the possibility to change their original registration to one with support.
Med venlig hilsen / Best wishes
Karsten Christensen
Audax Randonneurs Danemark

No need to be a daring randonneur - I'm officially in!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sweat the small stuff

I think it's important for girls to be confident. Believe in yourself and... everybody's hot.
Paris Hilton 

A gorgeous morning along the Sacramento River. The temperature outside feels like mid 70's. Only one problem: it's 5:30am.

Under normal circumstances no one in their right mind would go for a ride today. But it's the San Francisco Randonneurs DART event, a team ride from Sacramento to Berkeley (200K). Each team has a different route but all routes lead to T-Rex Barbeque in Berkeley. They're expecting us for dinner. We said we'd be there.

We have our route, conditioning and equipment, and four experienced riders.

In other words, everything in our favor except weather. Today in Sacramento it's supposed to reach 108 degrees. We signed up for one kind of ride and that got switched out for something completely different.

A trainer at my gym asked pointedly "is it safe to be riding out there in 110-degree heat?" That was yesterday.

Fair question. As long as you know what you're doing, it can be safe. Enjoyable, probably not. But safe, yeah. There are things you can do to survive heat like this. I've got them all lined up.

After the accident I started having a lot of random trouble with electrolytes. My feet would swell up and not just on hot days. Muscles would cramp. This year it seems to be better.

The body works nonstop on balancing your Na, K, Mg. When it's working well you don't feel a thing. When it's not working well, there are little tiny signs then suddenly you can't go on. It seems to be a crap shoot. No margin for error.

So what's a committed randonneur to do? For the core temperature, a Camelbak. The sleeve spent last night in Deb's freezer and became a giant ice cube! During the ride it will melt, for ice-cold water at key moments.

For front-loading electrolytes, the beverage of choice is Spicy Hot V-8. How do you know if you need to front-load? In a mini-mart at 8am, if the bottle looks appealing you should probably indulge. 975 Mg potassium, 720 Mg sodium. The stuff works like an IV. Pills can do the job, but slower. They're in my back pocket too.

After 30 miles on the flats, still feeling good. Ten miles up the road are 40 miles of hills and heat. Everyone is thinking about that. After the hills we point the bikes toward the bay. Near the Delta it should be cooler. How much cooler? Well the high in Berkeley today is 69 degrees. That's right, 69. We're riding towards cool.

Now if we can just get there...

When it's damn hot you can still feel a hot spot, a local place where it's even hotter. There's one of those near Lake Solano, still in the flats. Everyone feels it. The Waterford is radiating heat. We stop at the county park and everyone puts their head under the hose. This is not the time to focus on average speed or other vanities! Slightly refreshed, up we go toward Monticello Dam and the hill known as Cardiac.

It's almost the solstice and the sun is high over the hills. Maybe hours ago the road was in the shade but it's not now. Some of the pitches feel OK while others are roasting. What happens is the sides of the hills facing south act as reflectors, sending heat back toward the road. There's a tailwind, too, which normally would be welcome. It means we climb faster but without a cooling breeze.

At Moskowite services consist of a water spigot in front of the community church. The store has been closed for over 2 years; we use the building for shade. Everyone fills bottles, then dunks their head again. Peg is quiet; she's the one with the thermometer. She asks where's the next stop, the next store? 20 miles and one more climb: Wildcat Grade. As it turns out the hill is not too steep and mostly shaded by oaks. Halle-freaking-lujia!

There's the turn to Wooden Valley, the one we've been waiting for. South toward the Delta, downhill and in theory, cooler. Deb thinks it will be a blast furnace and she is right on.

Time to leverage all we've got and hammer toward Rockville. Fast we go into a giant hair dryer on High. Sometimes you don't want to but you do it anyway.

We're in search of something locals call the Delta Breeze. And lo, a mile outside Rockville the air has a little whiff of cool. Hopefully there will be more to come!

In the Valley Cafe the waitress sets down glasses of ice water and says "you can just feel the heat coming off you guys!" Don't know what she's talking about... According to Peg it was 112 degrees back there.

Deb has a cold beer, Peg has a cold turkey sandwich, Kitty has breakfast, I have a salad with chicken. The ordering goes something like this: Do you have a walk-in freezer here? Could you put that Cold Turkey Sandwich in the freezer for a few minutes? How much ICE is in the Iced Tea?

While the food is disappearing another DART team rolls into town. Chaos ensues... Deb and Kitty go meet and greet. Meanwhile I introduce myself to a border collie named Miss Pearl, then  hit Tower Market along with Peg for ice and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

For reasons I do not fully understand Deb takes this opportunity to paint Ken's toes blue!

Full and happy, this is pretty much what Rockville has to offer. The team regroups and hits the road.

We are close to the Delta but not there yet. No big hills but still some toasty rollers. Another stop for shade. Another dunk in the sprinklers. More electrolytes.

Then, on the Benicia Bridge, over a large body of
water with a strong breeze. Cool! Mile 90.

So, no need to break out the ice socks. We can save that last trick for another day.

By some miracle at the Subway in Martinez everyone is still cracking jokes. Kitty and I are sharing a sandwich. While it's being made Kitty has to keep saying "with extra salt. With more salt. More salt, please..." The sandwich maker doesn't believe us.

You know what? That sandwich tastes completely normal. Normal and delicious.

At the top of the last climb in Tilden Park, it's freezing and foggy and blowing.

We're totally OK with that...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Visit-based medicine

Monday after Eastern Sierra, a reminder from Valley Medical on the voicemail. 9:30 Tuesday morning. Too late to cancel.

They make the appointments automatically. Blue Shield - well, the house is full of pieces of paper from Blue Shield saying they don't have to pay for an MRI of my neck. Those people are shameless. Meanwhile if my travel pillow and I spend a night apart, the pain returns. Yeah everyone has that.

The doctor that sees me first is another doctor-in-training from Stanford. The fourth one so far. I'm training an entire graduating class for free. This guy is Mr. Fixit. He acts like we should do pain medication or warm water therapy or physical therapy. I've already been there. I'm doing stuff on my own that's better than that. TRX and yoga and cycling. Costco sells the big bottle of Advil, no Rx needed.

He keeps pushing. Maybe I need a medication patch. Maybe I need the pain-reducing effects of certain anti-depressants (that apparently work on the pain centers of the brain). Can't make this shit up. I tell him I'm only interested in root cause and maybe he should work on Blue Shield instead. He gets mad and I get mad.

He brings in Dr. L., the supervisor. They sit there together, looking at me, two against one. We talk about how dysfunctional insurance companies are and how it's been that way for 10 years. Then he shrugs and washes his hands of it, as if doctors are not complicit. Good to be him.

What are the possible causes of the pain in my neck? I want to know if medical science has any real help or if this is just jumping through hoops. He says he needs the imaging to take a guess. I don't believe that but let it go. Both of them have asked what I would like them to do today.

Well, Valley Medical made the appointment. My role is to say how I'm doing. As far as what you can do, that's the part you fill in. Otherwise I wouldn't need to come here.

This seems like basic logic to me but Dr. L. doesn't seem to like the response. Because, of course, this is how they make money. Next he asks if I have a GP, maybe I need an OB/GYN. He's suggesting the reason I'm pissing him off is menopause. In your 40's that's what doctors say to get you out of the office. And to make sure you don't come back.

I laugh pretty hard at them both and point out it's the wrong part of the body. I should ask what evidence he's working from. But I don't really care. He's shown his cards, there's nothing there.

I drive home and think, you are SO FIRED.

Later it dawns on me that people with brain injuries are directed to Valley Medical not because Valley Medical really knows how to help them. For the moderate and severe cases, people have no insurance. They lose their jobs, they have no money, their families fall apart. They have no choice but the county hospital. And the staff expects patients who can't push back, even though they have almost nothing to offer. That's part of the deal. It's a Dickens orphanage.

I wish this were a joke. Honestly, it's great to be free of those cretins.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Miracles for realists

In order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.
- David Ben-Gurion
Riding a bike is good for working on problems, or puzzles.

This was printed inside the cap of my HonestTea. We were sitting at a picnic table in the sun at the Whoa Nellie Deli. The best lunch in Lee Vining can be found at the Mobil station.

Deb read it and said "WHAT does THAT mean?" A lot of skepticism there. Drew said nothing. It is sort of a Taoist idea, a thing and its opposite can't exist without each other. Kinda out of place here in the middle of the Wild West. Bodie, a famous ghost town, is 15 miles that-a-way.

Bodie was a classic boom town, gold and silver. It was huge, then in the blink of an eye it was nothing Now people go to gaze at the ruin. They go now to connect with something. Their own mortality? The past? Don't know what.

It's a kind of fantastical realism on display. This is what happens when you just follow your nose.

People who do events like 1200K bike rides and the Eastern Sierra Double Century, we tend to view ourselves as realists. We're pragmatic, down-to-earth, sometimes cynical. Here we are. Stuff will happen. If something happens, better fix it. Do the project anyway.

On the other hand it takes a fair amount of heart and soul and whatever to put yourself in these situations and persevere.

I thought of Michaelangelo, who did a bunch of stuff that was both pragmatic and beautiful. While painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel he supported his entire family. Among other things he was a sculptor. What is it like, to look at an ugly block of marble and see the soft, living thing it needs to become?

You can't take crushed rock and reassemble it into the Pieta. But if you begin with a vision of something to create with your life energy, you can work at it and make it real.

Lately I've been spending so much time packing and traveling and riding my bike that it feels like I'm avoiding working on whatever comes next.

Could be time to get going on that.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My favorite things

Eastern Sierra Double 2013

One of my favorite things about a double century is silence. I mean, from time to time there is chatting with fellow riders. But mostly it's a day filled with silence.

And in the case of the Eastern Sierra, the scenery does the talking. The landscape is full of stories, long complicated ones. 

The things that went wrong, went wrong early. It's so dry on this side of the mountains that you don't even feel yourself sweat. Dehydration at mile 60. Hot foot. Cramping and spasms in major muscle groups in the back of the legs. Very painful. Lots of electrolyte tabs. 3 small V-8s. Wow.

Also, turns out the ride goes up to 8400 feet. On a hot day. Tough for a flatlander to breathe!

A sweet moment at the Chevron station in Lee Vining. It has one of those soda machines with the ice hopper. Stick the Camelbak underneath and fill 'er up. The sign says 'cup of ice, 25 cents'. At the counter I say 'a cup of ice, hold the cup' and lay a quarter on the counter. A 2-hour climb with ice cold water, one quarter.

It was worth it to finally go east on Highway 120, over Sagehen Summit. Get hollered at and called 'hot' by a 30-year-old guy (while passing, of course). Twice.

Have always wanted to get to Benton Hot Springs, which is way the heck out there. Give away a Zantac that was ported for 165 miles. Listen to the rest stop worker say that any ride over 6 hours is just not building fitness...

That may be true but it does build hunger for Texas BBQ in Bishop!