That’s about how it felt for me to ride the first 200 miles of the Stagecoach 400 this year.
A long bike ride is a good thing. No matter what.
I’d been making plans to *not ride* the Stagecoach 400 this year. An uneasy feeling, but I’d been giving higher priority to work & family life than training on the bike. The 400 mile route had taken a back seat and I figured nobody’d notice if I quietly tiptoed away from the starting line this year.
Injury struck about a month ago during an easygoing ride in May Valley with Cedar of Marin Bikes… a contusion on the quadricep & bone bruise left me hobbling around and off the bike. At the time, I was secretly relieved. I wasn’t focused on the ride and didn’t have fitness; the injury let me off the hook. (so was my thinking anyhow) I loaned out my best bivy sack, and the fancy prototype Revelate Designs bags I’d received.
A Big Week.
Mary and I had been doing some serious parenting leading up to the event. The kiddo was sick. High fever- he doesn’t do well with fever, I’ll leave it at that- a sore throat, spots in the mouth, and a bumpy rash on parts of his body that’d led us to believe he could have Chicken Pox. A visit to the medical clinic told us it wasn’t Chicken Pox, but some other viral infection.
We were mid-pack in the race of living life- starting to make plans for Mary’s second pregnancy, and making plans for a new, bigger, awesome-er Hub Cyclery shop location. (you heard it here first, folks). The shop has been busy and, heck, things have been moving right along.
Then Stagecoach 400 Riders Started Showing Up.
First Eddie O’Dea arrived. Fresh with a rental car and an Atlanta accent. And utterly clueless in regards to the nuances and local flavor of the Stagecoach 400 route. I felt compelled to share all the knowledge I could with a map and highlighter. I did what I could, which wasn’t much. (spoiler alert: Eddie crushed the ever-loving bejeebus out of the course record)
Then other folks arrived. High fives were exchanged, hugs were given. The shop was abuzz with Stagecoach 400 vibes.
And it was hot outside.
Something clicked. I’d decided I
wanted NEEDED to get out and race, if just for the brain chemistry alone. Nothing sounded better than a good, hard ride. The mere thought of spending 5 hours in Fish Creek gave me the giggles. Nothing short of big miles would be acceptable. I consulted Mary, who advised I go ride, but warned: “If you get bumps on your tongue & throat, stop riding. It won’t get better.”
I promptly discarded her warning and set to preparing my single speed for big miles.
Off-the-couch and on the bike: certainly not advice I’d give to many folks. In my case I felt I had both the route familiarity & muscle memory to attempt it.
That night, we gave the pre-ride meeting at the shop, and did the best we could to scare the wits out everyone regarding the heat and sand that surely awaited in the desert. I retired early from festivities to pack my gear.
The Desert. Hot, Soft, and Glorious.
My ride down Coyote Canyon was uneventful. (some weren’t so lucky)
The lower part of the canyon was soft, but I managed to get through to Christmas Circle right at the 5 hour mark, which is about average for me. I made a quick pit stop in Borrego Springs and had no telephone drama this year. (no telephone at all, even) I set out onto the blacktop in the heat of the day- 97 degrees- cruising along at 11-13mph on my single speed. Some riders caught and passed me like I was sitting still. I longed for geared drivetrain, but hey, you’ve gotta run what you brung, right?
Frustrated, I’d occasionally push a higher rpm but when I did so found myself stopped on the side of the road in the shade of a Smoke tree. (which ain’t much shade)
I adopted a personal mantra to get across the hot pavement: “Nothing dictates my pace but me” I’d say. The hills would rise, and my pace would mellow. Geared folks would pass, and I’d keep going slow and steady.
Tracey Petervary joined me on the last stretch of Split Mountain Road. We turned into the Fish Creek Wash and I explained to her that the next desert section was my most favorite stretch of the entire route. Coming from Idaho, I believe it was one of her first dirt rides of the year. Certainly the hottest. We decided to ride together up the wash.
Conditions were quite poor. The worst I’d seen in the 10ish times I’ve ridden Fish Creek. For the first time ever, I had to hunt off the sides of main Jeep tracks to find firm terrain. I focused on the positive and remarked about the shade we’d hopefully find coming through Split Mountain. We collected Tyrel Beede, huddled under a Smoke tree. We rode a gentle pace, and stopped frequently.
At some point I settled in a groove and pressed on ahead, solo. I caught Jeff Fischer, rode a while with him… and pressed on solo again. I caught Erik- several times- who in turn pressed harder to stay ahead each time I arrived. The sun was coming down… my pace was steady, but wow(!) the sand was soft. SOFT.
I decided to stop a while and prepare for night riding. I shined my light down canyon to see if I could raise a friend, and saw a flicker of light return. Jeff Fischer.
Jeff and I rode on into the night. Riding became more difficult, which was predictable given the lack of ambient light, and the fact the wash *always* gets harder the higher up you get. We did a lot of walking. And talking.
We talked about parenting (another parent on route! wow!) and we talked about who the heck knows what else. I can’t remember, but it was good.
The fat, full moon rose.
As we pressed on, steady. Temps cooled, wind rested, and time slowed. A moment came when I realized I’d found what I was looking for, right there in the desert. That present state of mind, that slow time feeling… body soreness in a good way. Jeff and I were both very low on water, on Hapaha Flat. We were far, far behind my typical 5 hour pace to cross Fish Creek. I knew we had a lot of work to do before we’d get through to Highway S-22 but I felt fine about it.
We took a break at a prominent boulder on the flat. I showed Jeff to the metates on the backside, and we promptly laid back in the sand, stargazing. I layered up and couldn’t have been happier.
Some time later, Tyrel and Tracey arrived. We celebrated, and motivated: “another hour and a half to the highway” I fibbed… We pressed into the rollers. The hike-a-bike turned out to be but one of many this year.
The “bitchin’ fast descent” I described to the group turned out to be off-the-charts soft & arduous. Forward downhill progress was sometimes halted to a stop in deep sand. We happened upon a motorcycle rider stopped next to a sand pit, napping… his greeting comment rang out in the dark like the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Wonderland. Apparently he was waiting for Ty Hathaway.
We recollected at the Stagecoach RV park. Tracey and I made plans for a 2 hour nap, to press on up Oriflamme Canyon.
Back Into The Mountains.
Three hours passed from the time we hit the hay. Tracey, the consummate racer, tiptoed out of camp. I deflated my high tech Therm-a-rest, which is lined with Mylar or some other such NASA material, and made enough noise to raise the dead. I accidentally woke everyone in camp.
Josh Spice told me he’d be pulling out. His Alaska blood was not acclimated to the high heat & soft sand. I felt bad for him, but also suspected he’d have plenty of company at the RV park before too long.
On the highway, we pedaled about 1/4 mile before pulling off the road to reconnoiter. My right ankle was swollen, and very tender. My throat was sore. I consulted Tracey about both ailments; she suggested I try hardening up. I dosed heavily with Arnica and Ibuprofen and pressed on. Whippersnappers passed us on the highway.
Oriflamme Canyon- not a bad run. I pushed much more of it than ever before, but the swelling reduced and I was in a great headspace. We could feel the heat chasing us up the canyon as the new day rose. We joined up with Keith Richards-Dinger, also on a single speed and riding very strong. I enjoyed the crew; Tracey for her attitude, Keith for his attitude too, and his strong riding. The pavement stretch to the start of the Noble Canyon trail was a single speed grind. I came to realize the single speed was actually a blessing out there; not a curse. I believe it helped moderate my output in the heat the day before. With gears, I could’ve more easily let the race dog in me chase down several rabbits… but instead the SS managed to flatline the output, and I felt great because of it.
My throat was sore. I asked Keith to look in my mouth and report if he’d see any of Mary’s forewarned bumps. Affirmative. But I felt injured, not sick.
I kept dosing the Ibuprofen & Arnica. I was envious of Keith’s strong riding. I felt great in the head, and found myself charging up hills I should’ve been pacing. I couldn’t wait to get to Veronica’s Cafe in Descanso. Paradise awaited.
And paradise came in the form of Coca-Cola Icee’s. Four of them, to be precise.
I got a ziplock bag full of ice and applied it to my ankle. My stomach was uneasy, which I attributed to the day’s heat, and figured I could overcome through hydration and good decisions. We left Descanso behind schedule, I was the anchor of group. I figured the huge descent into Alpine would put me right.
The John Deere
My ankle was screaming, despite all the self-medicaiton I could muster. My limitation on the bike wasn’t so much a matter of exertion or pressure as a function of RPM. It meant I could pedal about 10mph on the pavement comfortably… pretty slow.
After Alpine, Tracey broke the news: she needed to press on at her own pace. I was bummed, but certainly would expect no different. I would’ve done the same, or likely wouldn’t have waited so long to so if the shoe were on the other foot. I bid her farewell, good luck… and told her that if I felt better I’d make every attempt to catch, pass, and return the favor. 😉
I made an assessment, felt I had some remaining dignity, and decided I’d call my ride in San Diego with the sore ankle. Keith and I made plans to stay in a hotel in Little Italy, get pizza at Landini’s, and live the good life. We rode on and discussed parenthood. (yet another parent!)
Entering the start of the single track after Par 4, Ty Hathaway joined us. I knew the trail pretty well and blazed on with what I thought was a fast pace going into nightfall. The steep hike-up sections were very difficult, with the ankle transcending pain and moving into the realm of other-ness.
Ty pressed on solo.
We stopped at the Sweetwater Reservoir overlook and made some phone calls to arrange our lodging. Then it got weird.
I felt a chill, added a layer. Then felt a bigger chill, and added every piece of clothing I had.
Within 10 minutes I’d fallen to a very strong flu-like fever. A delirious, almost frighteningly strong fever. What happened next is somewhat spotty in my mind. I made a judgement call that I needed to get off course as fast as possible to whatever definitive care I could find. We left the GPS route, convinced there was a faster way to civilization (Bonita) and ended up on the wrong side of a locked electric power substation. We arrived at a ranch house, greeted by a landowner who was more than a little suspicious of our intentions. At some point a Sheriff deputy stopped by… I told him I needed help, and remember him promptly leaving.
We ended up getting to a motel in Chula Vista with the aid of the ranch owner. I fevered out at the motel and woke up feeling significantly better, albeit without the full symptoms developed yet. Keith was incredibly helpful, despite what must’ve been an epic bait & switch for him: Making reservations in Little Italy only to be diverted to Chula Vista for Denny’s. 😉
Keith, I owe you pizza & beer… at the least.
We returned to Idyllwild the next day thanks to Kevin Hinton’s pickup. We ended up retrieving Ty Hathaway as well, at the I-15 crossing in Escondido with a broken frame. Back in Idyllwild, we exchanged stories, and I did my best not to infect anyone. As of this writing, Keith dodged the bullet.
Two doctor visits later, the best guess anyone has is I’d caught a case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth. It’s not common in adults, and my case seems to have been exacerbated by the hard (off the couch) riding. Go big or go home, I say.
I still haven’t solved the ongoing ankle problem, though I believe Eddie O’Dea has unlocked a bit of the mystery for me.
I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I’m still working with better brain chemistry, a week and a half later. The memories I made in the wash that night- and in the mountains the next day- will stick with me for a long while. I love the rabbit hole; can’t stay away from it for too long. I might be an off-the-couch racer for several years to come, and that’s good by me.