The human condition dictates that we participate in the naming of things. We name our children (of course); give special names to each other; name our dogs, cats, rats, spiders, lizards, bunnies; we name our cars, boats and bikes; and anthropomorphize our machines and appliances with names (both printable and unprintable).
After 15 years, my old Ford station wagon (since departed) grew into a name. My current 13 year old Volvo wagon - well...still searching for its perfect name. My bikes develop their personalities and names a bit more quickly. The Blue Steed (stolen) was named after a year of riding. Zelda's (Raleigh 3 speed) name just popped into mind one day. Donkey Xote, my touring mt. bike, went through a real naming process and had it's moniker swiftly.
Not so with my Trek 2120 road bike. I've been pondering an appropriate name for nearly a year. Names came and went. Nothing fit. I'm from Illinois and had spent many happy summers in Northern Wisconsin surrounded by Native American names and words. The bike was created in Wisconsin so I sought a Native American name that might suggest my cycling experiences and goals.
To this end, I browsed Native American language dictionaries, focusing on those from the upper Midwest. The words and names with appealing meanings, I could neither pronounce nor easily spell. Recently, I wandered into my local book store to search the for Native American children's stories that might suggest a name. I recalled a favorite book from my own childhood: Paddle to the Sea. The gist of the story details the travels and travails of a hand-carved boy in a canoe, whittled by a young Indian lad, after it is launched into a small river in Canada. The young lad hopes his carved canoe (Paddle to the Sea) will find it's way through the Boundary Waters, through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Seaway and onward to the Atlantic Ocean. Which, after many detours and obstacles, it does. Although the name "Paddle" for a bike lacks everything that one might consider important in a name, it symbolized my cycling goals with this bike - long distance cycling with difficulties to hopefully overcome. "Paddle" was its name.
Unlike the earlier brevets of this series, it was nearly dawn at the 5 a.m. start. The group was smaller (71 riders) than the pack of 125 which began the 200k ride in March. Faces (if not names) and bikes were now more familiar.
Having done major rides of 100- 250 miles each of the past 5 weekends, the most recent of which was the 400k last weekend, I mounted my bike seriously contemplating my sanity -- or lack thereof. Each of the past 5 Sundays has been a day of painfully sore muscles, very light riding for the next two days, and an optimistic expectation that 2 days of studied laziness would provide enough "recovery" to successfully begin the process over again. This has led to a few completed rides and a few uncompleted rides that I then designated "training rides."
At 5:20 am the trail of red blinking tail lights strung out far in front of me like a broken ruby necklace. It took only twenty minutes before I was far off the back. Last. Again. But sooner this time.
Dawn was breaking - my favorite time of day, and I appreciated just being "out there." My legs weren't quite so sure. My muscles were screaming "not again!" I tried to ignore them.
The wind was relatively calm. The temperatures comfortable. The sky was mottled blue and white. It looked to be a superb day for cycling as our route wound through the agriculture valley of Davis (CA) ( I learned later, this valley is reputed to be the largest flattest valley in the world) into small rolling hills, and back to a flat route headed north towards the hills of Elk Creek and back to the north end of the valley for a turn-around at Red Bluff.
After two long hours, I found my cycling rhythm and settled down to enjoy the ride. A small late-starting group passed me and I stayed with them for a short while - I didn't have energy stores to draw on for short sprints to keep up.
It was beautiful. I never cease to smile at red-winged blackbirds - their spots of red are so "in your face." Snowy egrets worked the irrigation ditches, and ducks coasted about on the rice paddies. (At least I think it was rice under all of that water.) An enormous bullfrog hopped out of my way. He had great legs.
Through the easy rolling Dunnigan hills and back to the flatlands for another 40 miles up highway 99 and the flat lands. The last time I rode that highway, the winds were whipping, impeding forward progress and my cyclometer was in the med-high single digit mph range. Today, with calm winds (perhaps a very slight tailwind) it was in upper teens. A nice change!
The hills to the west looked painted, overlaid with a semi-opaque watercolor wash. The colors were subtle with a hint of summer. The sky to the northwest (our intended direction) was heavy and gray over the hills. Most of my rain gear was in the drop bag taken to the rest stop/time control at mile 131. The weather had been forecast to be sunny until Monday, with a possible change then. I believed them....
On either side of me, crop dusters worked. By looking straight ahead, I could see one out of each eye...stereoscopic vision at its most bizarre. I counted eight ag planes boring holes in sky over adjacent fields. I mused as to whether I, too, would soon be insect free.
We had two course monitor vans (Harvey and Lee), checking on all of the riders. Each turned around upon locating me, then drove forward to see how all the faster riders were doing. Last. Still.
Once we entered the hills toward Elk Creek (mile 93), the roads were abominable. My year old bike sounded like an old rattletrap station wagon. I felt that it would soon be an array of bolts and pieces scattered about me on the pavement. It was on this (mile 100), our major hill of the ride, that I gave up my position of "sweep" rider. A few others could now vie for that spot.
At mile 131, we reached the Elk Creek rest stop/control and, for the return through Elk Creek, the night stop. I was a couple of hours ahead of my time compared to the 400k route to this spot and was pleased by that. The Davis Bike Club knows how to feed hungry riders; food was plentiful!
To insure enough calories, as I found myself hungry at least hourly, I experimented earlier in the week with EnsurePlus, marketed primarily as a nutritional supplement for the elderly, but used successfully by endurance cyclists. (I wonder if the company knows that they have a marketing opportunity with athletes?) Three or four times during the day I slugged down a can. This in addition to a constant stream of Gatorade, handsful of gorp, numerous sport's bars, and of course, real food at the rest stops.
The turnaround control at Red Bluff (mile 186) was at the Motel 6, providing napping space and located near restaurants. I checked in at 8:25 pm, and gave myself until 9 pm before I needed to be on the road for the 55 miles back to Elk Creek (assuming five hours of riding time in the dark). I passed up rest stop food and ordered restaurant pasta. It was good to sit down to a prepared meal. Faster riders have time to do this at each meal if they wish. Not so if you are bringing up the rear.
The five and one-half hours of riding back to Elk Creek were horrific. I truly dislike riding at night, totally alone, on rough, poorly traveled, hilly country roads without edge stripes or obvious centerlines. My light system (NiteRider 5-D cell battery pack with an old VistaLight 420 headlamp with a 6W bulb; backup was an AXA-HR generator system; paranoid-driven backup was a Petzl helmet light - very useful actually) worked well, but I wanted something brighter so as not to feel as if I were riding in my own small moving cocoon of light.
The clear night sky was magnificent! A blanket of stars covered me. A shooting star blazed down the sky, enormous and full of color. Never before had I seen colors from a shooting star. I stood astride my bike and pondered the expansiveness of it all. It's beyond my comprehension.
Stopping along the road to quaff calories a sheriff's patrol car whizzed by and returned to check on me. We chatted briefly about the ride, and I asked if it were safe out there alone. He assured me that I had nothing to fear. While I wasn't thinking "lions and tigers and bears" I WAS thinking "mountain lions and javelinas and drunk teens." Although, as I passed through this same route during the early evening (this was an out-and-back course), I noted that there were far too many range cattle and horses for mt. lions to be a likely problem.
After what seemed like a very long time, I arrived back at Elk Creek (mile 240), ready to sleep my two and a half hours until the 5 am general wake up. I collapsed on the gym floor, my ThermoRest under me, my favorite down bag over me, bothered not by the snorers and sneezers sharing the gym.
The rolling hills out of Elk Creek (mile 241) had me in my granny gear. I balked at the idea of my granny, and my legs balked at pedaling at all. We compromised. After all, a granny gear is meant to be used.
I was told that RAAM riders occasionally have difficulty getting started after sleep. They fuss with this and they fix that, avoiding the saddle for as long as possible. I was cycling soon after arising, but found myself stopping at any provocation: to remove my jacket; to fix my gloves; to eat something; to put the jacket back on; to remove my tights; to put the leg warmers on; a stop at a store; a stop at a porta potty. For two hours I did this before just settling in for the long ride toward home.
The skies seemed a bit darker towards the valley, the temperature was a bit warmer and the air more humid. A south wind blew in. That would be a head wind for the 70 miles through the valley. I could think of more preferable conditions! To the far south, the sky was pale blue. The watercolor hills of yesterday morning were in silhouette against today's darker afternoon sky. A mini front was passing through, with those leaden skies and a few drops of rain. Enough drips that Rufus went into his plastic bag raincoat. A wet bear is a heavy bear! Today I stowed all of my rain gear with me on the bike.
During a ride of this length, all manner of physical infirmities become apparent. A knee twinge here. A sore hand there. For me, my right calf began knotting up early Saturday evening. Every pedal stroke was painful.
As I pulled into the noon rest stop (mile 298), my bike was taken from me and valet-parked, food was presented to me, and a custom-designed sandwich magically appeared in my hand ("Turkey, with everything, please."). Such personal service was the advantage of arriving at rest stops not as part of a pack of riders. Someone observed the changing wind. As the front moved through, the wind shifted from south to west. Although we had a few miles to travel due west, the bulk of the remaining miles were to the south and east.
In the late afternoon, we were on the homeward stretch with only flat miles to crank out. At mile 325 my beloved Brooks saddle began to be uncomfortable. Every bump in the road was very painful. I had ridden through the calf pain; I doubted that I could ride through this. Fatigue set in and my mental state took a drop from cycling joy to whimpering self-pity. "What's the point of all of this? As a slower rider than most, I can't stop to socialize, can't take the time to eat meals in restaurants, and don't have much time to sleep." I wallowed as I rode.
With about fifteen miles to go, Paul, a Davis cyclist out for a training ride was curious about our ride. Although a strong rider on a Litespeed bike, he paced me - 10mph with the cross wind/17mph with the tail wind - chatting the whole way. It was a terrific morale boost to have a cyclist to talk with.
At 7pm, exactly 38hr 00 min. from the start, Paddle reached the "sea."
This completes, for me, this year's set of Paris-Brest-Paris qualifying brevets. Although at no time during the ride did I ever consider not finishing, post-ride, I didn't want to contemplate the idea of ever doing anything as long as 375 miles within 40 hours again - primarily due to the night riding. In the sunny light of day, with a full night's sleep, I'm looking for ways to effectively train so that I have more time to enjoy the people on the ride, and participate in those activities which make a ride memorable.
(Beware...this is going to read like an Oscar Awards ceremony....) I couldn't have completed this without incredible help and moral support from my family, dear friends, and the Davis Bike Club. Daryn (brevet organizer) who printed in the info sheet, "Please be aware that everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, goes through periods of highs and lows, whether mental and/or physical, in a ride of this length" got me through some of the low periods; my friend on the east coast who, knowing my touring mentality, emailed me with this phrase at the end of each paragraph, "Relax and Enjoy the TOUR"; Lee, who with his generosity and love of helping cyclists, monitored me through two make-up rides so that I could keep the PBP option open; Harvey, a course monitor on this ride - always with cheerful upbeat words of encouragement. And, of course, all of the incredible volunteers of the Davis Bike Club who shared their time to give us successful rides.
Judy & Rufus (the touring teddy)
Copyright Judith J. Colwell, 1998. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: May 27, 1998