Monday, October 1, 2007

The Flying Lebowski

Paul Whitney and I spent quite a few hours chugging 23 miles up Elk Pass on Friday night. We were moving very slow and that made the pass so much longer. It was wet and cold and we stopped from time to time to adjust our clothing and to eat and drink. We were having quite the all-night randonneur party alright! The roadway was wet and in danger of freezing and it was getting colder too. By the time we got to the top of the pass we could see from the full moon that occasionally poked through the clouds, the road side and the forest were blanketed with cold white snow.

We met Joe at the top of the pass where Joe and his son were monitoring conditions just in case the wet roadway turned to ice. We learned for the first time that Thai was behind us. Eventually, after filling water and eating some chips we started down Elk Pass. It suddenly got even colder with the air temperature near freezing and our speed near 25 miles an hour, our wind chill was near 20 degrees.

We stopped several times on the way down because we discovered the cold and fatigue were causing us to either fall asleep or to blank out (loose consciousness). It would hit us very rapidly without warning. Somehow I had lost track of my chewing gum, a remedy that I picked up from Jason on the fleche team this spring. We noticed we did not have a problem with drowsiness when we were climbing so we were thankfull for some climbing to break up the Elk Pass decent.

When we got to the Northwoods control, Paul and Shelia Johnson took our bikes and helped us into a Randonneur's emergency paradise complete with warming bonfire, hot chocolate, coffee, soda, cup of noodles, PB&J sandwiches and skiing toe/finger warming packs. Paul and Sheila fixed us up really good and got us back on the road after an hour in front of the fire.

The next pass, Old Man pass, was only about 13 miles long and only about 3.5 miles of it, on Curley Creek Road, were very steep. Thai joined us and we did very well going up Old Man pass because of Paul and Sheila's fantastic support.

We had the same problem of blanking out coming down Old Man pass. The decent is about 6 miles long and it was still really cold. I remember hearing Paul say something like, "John Wake Up" and the next thing I knew I was pulling back on my rear ceramic break and watching calmly as I drifted closer and closer to the edge of the roadway. I noticed the ditch was steep and about 3 feet deep but there were no rocks or other obstructions. I rolled off of the pavement where my bike stopped suddenly in the deep dirt and I continued forward like a Big Lebowski on a magic carpet ride, over the top of my bike.

The crash might have hurt too except I landed on my head so little damage was done. I remember thinking as I came to a stop: dirt->soft, helmet->good, knee->hurt, bike->Ok? It was a good time to be wearing a heavy duty mountain biking helmet. I was shaken a little bit as I got up and collected my water bottle which had continued it's forward trajectory with me into the ditch. I walked back to my bike and thought "Well, that is a fine how-do-you-do!" I hoped my bike was alright. It's was a very long walk into Carson.

But my bike was in good shape. My Soma break-away fenders were disconnected but it was easy to reattach the fender supports. Paul gave me some light as I put everything back in order. I noticed my knee hurt but I considered it a low priority. I noticed many hours before, riding up Elk Pass, that stopping for more than a minute or two would cause the shivering to start.

We probably stopped two or three times again after my crash to try and wake up. Thai caught up to us at one point and dropped behind again as we pressed forward. We reached the outskirts of Carson around 04hr:30m. Suddenly Paul veered to the right in front of me. I pulled my breaks just in time as Paul darted accross the road in a perfect perpendicular line for the cement curb. Paul woke up just in time. That would have been a 911 call had Paul not stopped when he did.

Our main focus of reaching the control became an even higher priority as we were clearly a hazard to ourselves and to each other. We reached the control at 05h where the only thing heard by my dirt encrusted head was an arch angel offering bowls of chili and rice and another cherub leading me to a cabin where there was a bed. We had reached the overnight control a full one hour and eighteen minutes before the closing time. I programmed my alarm for 45 minutes and crawled under the quilt.

We were real lucky to make it through in one piece. But that sort of thing is two-thirds of why I signed up for this crazy randonnee. What was the other third? Well, maybe we'll just leave that for another story.