Sunday, April 19, 2015

So much to write, so little time!

I wanted to share a few of the long-ish training rides we've done along the way, but time has gotten away from me as other activities filled our life and so I will just cut to the chase and capture the two main rides we've completed recently:  the 300K through the desert and the 400K through the desert!

First, the 300K from 29 Palms to Las Vegas.  Wow.  If you were to try to design a ride that went from nowhere, to nowhere, through the middle of nowhere, you could not do better than this one. The route slip was deceptively simple.  Note the warnings here and there:  DO NOT MISS THIS TURN!  To do so would be to die, lost and out of water, I fear.

Thank God we had breakfast before beginning

For about the first 150 miles or so, from 29 Palms to the God forsaken little establishment of Primm on Interstate 15, there was not a place to eat or drink.  Well, practically.  There was life at the old Kelso Junction, and though the lunch counter was closed (looking for a new concessionaire) at least the gift shop had some chips for sale.  And there was water, and a restroom.  Not so much in Amboy, where Roy's - long an anticipated stop on the "mother road" of Route 66 - was shut despite the sign announcing "always open."  As a result, the ride organizer provided rolling sag of sorts, stopping here and there along the route to make sure we all had sufficient water to continue.
It did not look like it would be that difficult . . . but note the length of the ascending portions.  Tough on a tandem!
We began in a largish group, rolling slightly downhill so the tandem picked up speed and away we flew!  Roger asked if any of the group behind was with us.  No - they were maintaining their speed, riding their pace.
Sunrise as we left 20 Palms
And, when the road kicked up a bit and they came around us, he attempted to hang with them.  I did not help.  Remember, I told him - we are riding our pace and completing our 300.  I'm not going to help you try to ride their pace.  That took care of that!  We soon settled into our rhythm, and the first climb began.
Summit number one, then 20 miles down to Amboy
The thing about the desert is that you are likely to be able to see 10 or 15 miles down the road.  On these shallow grades of 3 to 5 percent (occasionally but not often slipping up to 7 or 8 for a few yards) that means that you can see about an hour down the road.  Ay yi yi! That gets dispiriting. We'd play that "how long until we get to that bluff?" game now and then, but really - it got old.

The first climb was about 5 miles, not really a stretch for us.  That ended with a nice (20 miles or so) descent into Amboy, at mile 65.  This was to be a hamburger stop, Roger had told me.  He'd even checked out Roy's on the Internet.  But alas!
Looks sort of like it's open, doesn't it?
Roger heads with purpose to Roy's
There was a little movie crew there, filming some horror movie, probably with a slasher inside.  We walked towards the door, where the sign clearly said, "Always Open."  But the guy with the camera said, "It's closed."  "But the sign says it's open."  "But it's not.  It's closed."  So I said, "So, it's Always Open, except when it's Not?"  That's about the size of it.
Always open, except when it's not
Well, I had packed some peanut butter sandwiches, and the organizer of the ride was there, refilling water bottles, so we had a little snack under a tree and headed out again.

Crew was not amused, and not even particularly gracious.  I assured them I would not sell the photo, thereby eliminating the need to gain their approval to be in it.
This time I think we had something like a 20 mile uphill.  It was interminable.  At one point, we sought shade under a creosote bush.  You know you're desperate when you look for shade under a creosote bush!

Shade is better earlier in the day, for sure!
Anyway, we passed a fascinating "chloride mine" (looked like they were mining salt from an old lake bed) and finally arrived at Kelso.  This is a super-cute restored old station, that used to have a wonderful lunch counter.  But no more.  So it was a couple of bars, the goop, some nuts and the last of our fruit.  At least the toilets flushed!
For years, I'd thought it would be fun to go out here and dine at the lunch counter.  Little did I know the counter had closed.
From here, about another 20+ miles of gradual climbing before we hit the summit and saw the sag wagon!  A welcome sight!  We beat the sun set, which was a good thing because the descent was an unholy stretch of pocked and ragged road.  We would not have wanted to do it in the dark.

Somewhere along the route, probably on the way to Kelso, we stopped for a moment and I took a set of pictures, capturing each aspect of the horizon.  You can see that it was beautiful, and quite desolate.  Few signs of mankind anywhere in the view finder.
Looking back down the road the way we came.
Off towards the right - nothing.
Back off towards the left - nothing.
Nothing here.

Just out of view to the right there was a cell tower, I think - that was it!
At the base of that gnarly descent, we put our clear glasses, vests and lights on, and began another climb up to I 15.  This is when it got dark, but climbing in the dark is really not much of a problem for us.  Roger's arms were worn out from handling the bike on that rough descent, so we'd stop every couple of miles and I'd massage them for a bit.  However, all in all, we were feeling pretty good - although getting hungry.
Well, things had been long, and hot, and hard, but generally beautiful in that solitary, desert vista kind of way. So it was fun in a weird fashion.  But when we got to the freeway, the not-fun started.  Which is to say, descending on the shoulder while traffic roared by in the dark = not fun.  Pretty soon, the inevitable happened:  we hit some scrabble and flatted.  By this point, we were close enough to Primm to see the lights.  Additionally, there was a 400 mile off-road race going on in the desert, so the dust, lights and noise combined to create some horrific scene out of Max Mad Thunderdome.  Roger got the bike fixed but we flatted again before we even made it to Primm.  Three times.  At last we got there and were able to have a burger.  This was at mile 155 - only 30 to go and it was mostly slowly rising, then falling to the finish.  Of course, when you are compacting 185 miles on a profile, you lose a lot of the detail!

We were somewhere between Primm and when we would leave the freeway at Jean (about 20 miles to go) when Roger's headlight went out.  Obviously we should not have been using it while we changed all those flats.  So I gave him my headlamp (which was about to run out of batteries) and we kept on going.  At the exit, we found a gas station where we were able to buy batteries for the head lamp.  At least we were off the freeway!

The last section was not bad.  It was an alternate route straight to the strip, where our hotel awaited.  Oh wait - let's back up just a bit.  Somehow, in all the communication with the ride organizer, Roger had failed to get the details of the return home straightened out.  So we did not know until some time in the middle of the ride that everyone would be sleeping in Vegas, and returning in the morning.  Damn! That's what the sentence "everyone is responsible for their own reservations" on the ride description had meant! So when we got to Primm and into cell-service-land, we called and got a room in the hotel where we were finishing the ride.  Those little details are so important!

We were within sight of the casino when we got our fourth and final flat.  We had a tube left, but no air cartridges.  The shoulder was littered with stones and debris, and I just could not imagine Roger pumping up the tire only to have it flat again in 200 yards.  I checked with Google maps, who said we were 2 miles from the hotel (a 40 minute walk) and said, "we're walking it in.  We have plenty of time and I can't stand another flat."  Roger didn't think that was such a great idea, but honestly, I thought we'd do better than 20 minutes a mile and I was already walking.  He followed me with the bike.  Well, sure enough, it was 40 minutes, damn it!  We arrived in the parking lot just before 1:00 am (the cut-off was 2:00) and found the van.  The guy sleeping in the van put the tandem on the roof, and we retrieved our bag, and we headed into the casino to get our room.

Now since we had not understood that we'd be spending the night, we only had "riding home in the car clothes" with us, but a T shirt will do double duty as jammies and so we showered, brushed our teeth (I had brought a little travel tube of toothpaste and a brush with us just in case) and hit the sack.  What a fabulous bed!  Of course, it might have been awful.  How would we have known?  We were so tired we could have slept on stone.

No danger of that, though.  We actually had a suite on the top floor of the hotel.  I guess the clerk checking us in took pity on us.  It had a living room, kitchenette, huge bath, three TVs (including one in the bathroom.)  It's a pity we only spent 5 hours there before getting up, getting some breakfast and meeting the group in the parking lot for our ride home.

So there you have it.  Even with 70+ miles of uphill, four flats and virtually no food, we made it in time.  I suggested that it would be okay with me if we stopped our pursuit at this one.  Roger asked that we just wait a couple of days before making that decision, and so on Tuesday or Wednesday I agreed that we could register for the 400 K in Arizona.  This one, he said, would be more suited to the tandem - not such long climbs.  Well, we'll see.  So Friday found us driving to Phoenix for the next brevet.  More on that later!

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