Newsletter - 2012 Archive

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BIG SUR 1000..... But for that cup of tea!
by Gary Baker

One of my real joys on a bike is riding the big rides with Barry Chase. I thought we had just about seen it all on numerous 600, 1000 and 1200km brevets we started or finished together. Well not quite all, we were both to find out.

The Big Sur 1000 was for both of us to be the icing on a full season of rides. The first challenge was sorting out the logistics of getting to the start city, Salinas, CAL.,approx. 200km south of Berkeley and 1700km from Vancouver and back from Moorspark, CAL. ( a northern suburb of Los Angles), the finish point. Barry loves driving and at first insisted we do so. Then he did the Crater Lake/ Klamath Falls 1000 and absolutely loved the return trip from K.F. To Seattle by train, so we just had to take the train. Everyone knows and said, “ One can catch an Amtrak train from Vancouver.”. Not so in the non summer months when you have to take an Amtrak bus from Van to Seattle, a bus that doesn't carry bikes. &*^%(&^$^&(.....

Not to be deterred, we drove to Seattle, took a motel for the night, ditched Barry's car near Ron Himshoot's home and rode to the King Street Station in time to box our bikes and catch the early morning train going South. Three cheers for Amtrak bike boxes...absolutely wonderful. They are huge; just turn the handle bars, remove the pedals, roll youR bike in, tape the box closed, place the destination tag on the box, board the train and start drinking beer. Can it get any better!

The trip was approximately 25 hrs., and yes it arrived on time - lots of time to view the varied scenery, eat, drink, talk and just plain mellow out. I like my tea and decided to have a cup the morning of our arrival. I also like my tea to look somewhat white. I collected my tea bag, cup of hot water, some sugar and the small container of milk from the onboard cafe and headed back to my lounge car seat. After I drank the tea I decided to drink the remaining milk from the container. One whiff of the milk told it all; the milk had gone BAD. I no sooner poured it out when the cafe waiter made an announced on the PA that he had determined that a flat of milk delivered to the cafe was stale dated and had gone bad. Hell, what harm could a little 'bad' milk do? I was to find out!

Once in Salinas, the bikes were quickly reassembled, and we rode the 1.5 km to the motel ( which was also the designated ride start point), booked in and planned to go for a short ride . The latter was not to be as it stated to pour. With a 3AM start time, it was early to bed.

We were up at 2AM to enjoy a hearty breakfast and do the final ride prep. At 2:30 AM we met up with Matthew, the event organizer ( Mat was the only rider to finish this year's RM 1200 riding a recumbent) and the two other riders, Kerin and Peter. We were dutifully provided with last minute instructions and sent on our way into the darkness. Kerin, Barry and I quickly formed a riding group with Peter voluntarily riding at his pace behind ( For an gentleman of 74 who just started randonneuring, he was to prove to be the group 'hare' throughout the morning.). The first 50km of the ride was through the flat farm lands made famous by John Steinbeck as we worked our way north through Watsonville towards a spine of mountains separating San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Actually Barry, Kerin and I did 65km thanks to some dubious route sheet directions. What a start! Twice Peter was surprised to have us overhaul him as we sorted out the miscues and overtook him.

Those mountains were to be our challenge for the next 75+km. It started with a long sustained climb to the community of Summit to be followed by a relentless series of rollers along the ridge line. Barry said it reminded him of the 1000 he did in Virginia. Looking to one's right or left, the view was down. Not that we could actually enjoy it as we rode through heavy rain showers and THICK fog. I had no idea that Los Altos or Palo Alto, southern suburbs of San Francisco, were only 3km to our right and 2500' below us. Our descent to the coast was a 10km rush down a narrow, twisting road through the redwoods. What a thrill, ocean views, blue skies and temperatures now in the mid twenties (Cel.). On the climb to Summit, I felt good and was climbing well. I can't say the same on all those rollers, I was starting to feel strange!

Thankfully, once out of the mountains, the return ride back along the coast to the night control at Salinas was relatively flat, with a solid tailwind. It was a tough day for the three of us, so the plan was to get a decent sleep with a somewhat delayed start for stage two of the ride. As we prepared to leave, we were told by Matthew that Peter had withdrawn from the ride.

Much like the first day, the first couple of hours out of Salinas were on fairly flat terrain. Both Barry and Kerin were feeling particularly sleepy; I just felt listless. Collectively, it was decided to have a 15 minute power nap. Just as we were to mount the bikes the 600km brevet riders ( who started at 4AM) overtook us. They were fresh and moving at a pace way too fast for Barry and me. Kerin, seeing many of her riding buddies, shot off with them. Barry and I though that was likely to be the last we'd see of her on this ride. Let the climbing begin. Although the big climb did not have the vertical of the climb on day one, it was much, much steeper. At least the skies were blue, the views wonderful. The additional down side was it was cold....3C. Barry was having big problems with his rear shifting that prompted some colourful language that echoed across the valleys. I was also having shifting problems, but that was the least of my problems. I was feeling awful. I can usually out climb Barry but he was easily pulling away from me. Inclines I'd normally never think of walking had me pushing my bike up the the road. This was not good. When I finally reached the apex, I was met by Vicki ( the 600 organizer), Barry and Kerin. I was absolutely spent. The plan was to meet at a bakery at the bottom of the descent ( just to the east of Carmel). Kerin headed off; Barry and I followed a few minutes later. We went about 500m stopped and quickly put on all our warm clothes. At 60+kph the wind chill made for a very cold ride. Barry quickly rolled away from me. When I got to the bakery, Kerin and Barry were just finishing their meals. The thought of eating was both the highest and furthest thing on my mind. I did order and manage to eat a bowl of porridge. This actually made me feel a bit better. Kerin was keen to get rolling and headed off. Barry also wanted to roll on, saying he would do so slowly so I could catch up to him. I left a minute or two later, and although I could see him in front of me, and I did feel somewhat better (but not great) I just could not close the gap. I then lost sight of him. This was my fault as I missed a turn and wandered about for 15-20 minutes dodging one way and divided roadways before getting back on the designated route. I actually felt reasonably good and although I had resigned myself to riding the last 250km to the designated overnight control alone I felt confident it was doable within the control closing time.

About 20km south of Carmel, along that beautiful Big Sur coast the abdominal cramping began, and in short order got worse and continuous. Ahead of me I could see the first big climb on this section of the route. I started up, albeit very slowly. About a third of the way up, it was very clear what was about to happen. Just as I stopped on the gravel shoulder Matthew pulled up behind me. As he exited his car I started violently barfing my guts out. It was quite the show, one that Matthew respectfully decided not to watch. I've had some very unpleasant experiences on these big rides but nothing like this. I just sat on the side of the road for what seemed like an eternity. Matthew and I discussed my options. He volunteered to, if he could, find me some meds. I decided to continue resting and then push on as best I could. I still had considerable time in the bank.

The next 20km to the resort community of Big Sur was one slow slog. I had to eat; I bought a half pint of ice cream that took me 45 minutes to eat. I was to learn later that Barry and Kerin had stopped for nearly an hour to eat; also with the hope that I'd catch up to them. It's my best guess that they left Big Sur only 10-15 minutes before I arrived there.

Rested and with some food in me, I started up the biggest climb along this section of the coast. It was endless, at least in my physical and mental state. Part way up the pedals just stopped turning. I couldn't believe I was walking on a hill like this. I climbed back on the bike, went about 200m and was off the bike again. I had an argument with myself, “ Should I go on, should I call it quits.”. I was done. I'd finished this ride with a nice coast back into Big Sur.

Big Sur proved to be a lousy place to end a ride. I called Matthew and the control host ( Vicki) at San Los Obispo to say I was out. I tried to hitch hike north back to Carmel and south to SLO; I even approached folks stopped at BS with pickup trucks or bike racks on their cars for a ride to no avail. All the accommodations were booked solid and the only restaurant was closed for a private function. As darkness was setting in, I layered up ( was it ever cooling down) and was about to get my space blanket out and claim a bench as mine for the night. I'd hoped I'd feel better in the morning, have a good breakfast and ride north to Carmel and back to Salinas via the low lands, where I could book into a motel and catch our return train on the following Monday.

No sooner had I hatched this plan than Matthew came to my rescue. It was a long dark drive south to SLO. We had to detour around a traffic accident, in the process bypassing Barry and Kerin. They were endearing their own problems. Once at SLO I managed to eat some pasta soup and a drink a coke. We estimated that Barry and Kerin would be at the control sometime after 11pm. I showered and waited up to midnight but no Barry. With the help of Vicki, I booked a train from SLO to Oxnard ( the closest Amtrak station to the finish control). I had a wonderful 7 ½ hours of sleep and felt almost normal again. I learned from Vicki that Barry and Kerin arrived about 3AM and that Barry left about 6AM for the 300km leg to Moorspark. Kerin suffering from Achilles tendinitis had decided to end her ride at SLO. For Barry the ride to Moorspark along the coast to and through Santa Barbara was a wonderful way to finish this epic ride. The train ride, which follows the coast line more so than the highway was sublime. It was beautiful, although a hot day ( high thirties C). At Oxnard I rode to the finish control of the 600 where the control captain, Mel kindly said the room was booked for the evening and I was welcome to stay there. He left me lots of food, which I ravenously consumed. I went out and bought two pints of beer, one for me and one for Barry. Checking with the folks at Moorspark, I was told they would drive Barry to Oxnard when he finished. Barry finished the ride ( 10ish), and Mathew drove him to the Oxnard motel. They arrived about midnight ( I was in bed). I was glad to see him, and he was equally glad that there was a cold beer waiting for him in the refrigerator.

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast at the motel, rode to the station, packed up our bikes and thoroughly enjoyed the 30hr train ride back to Seattle.

I was profoundly disappointed to end this ride when, where, and for reasons that were completely out of my hands. I have never returned from a ride with so many, ”What ifs”. What if I'd tried to induce vomiting as soon as I discovered I had consumed tainted milk? What if I'd tried harder to catch up to Barry or Barry had waited that minute or two for me to ride with him? What if I had been with Kerin and could have taped her Achilles (I have had basic sport injury taping training and carry KT tape on the bike for such emergencies.)? You get the picture. My dear wife says this sport is 10% riding and 90% talking about it after. This ride has the makings to provide more than its share to talk about.

I had a scheduled appointment with my family doctor on the afternoon of my return to Chilliwack. I told him what happened during the ride. I also spoke with my daughter-in-law, who is an emergency room doctor. They both responded by saying, “ It sure sounds like you had food poisoning alright.”.
Oh, yes I did write a letter to the CEO of Amtrak stating how silly an old guy in lycra must feel bent over a bike spoiling the view of passing sightseers as he vomits his guts out and then collapses in a heap at the side of the highway.

This is not the story I had hoped to tell, that said, it was still grand adventure.

October 27, 2012