Sunday, June 24, 2018

Art of Survival

When I restarted cycling after my move to California, I set a couple of goals for fun rides. In the first place, I had my eye on some of the shorter rides organized by local randonneuring clubs. In the second place, I hoped to attend the 2018 running of Eroica California, a celebration of classic bikes, the perfect place to show off my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima. A few months ago, I posted that I had learned how hard that ride actually was and cancelled my plans to attend. What made that most disappointing was that I would miss riding with one of my old friends from the Modesto Roadmen, Roger. Roger did attend and sent me glowing reports. I would have been overwhelmed with regret, except that, as things turned out, there was no way I could have gone. In early March, I developed "walking pneumonia." I discovered that any attempts to ride, even on days I was feeling well, inevitably made the pneumonia worse, so took a month off the bike to recover, and Eroica fell right in the middle of that month. At the end of April, Roger suggested another ride we could do together, "The Art of Survival", a relatively easy metric century near where he lives in far northern California. I had just restarted cycling after the pneumonia, I only had a month to prepare, so it was a stretch, but the thought of missing another ride with Roger was too much to bear, so I signed up.

Back in 2012 through 2015, when I was still thinking about 200km brevets, one thought I had was that the very deliberate preparation I had done for my past brevets, the standard recommendation of all the experts, was not the best for me. The long, slow ramp up in distance, 10% a week, resulted in a lot of riding that left me fit but very tired. I noticed that, in contrast to the advice of the experts, many actual randonneurs ramp up much more quickly, often by a factor of two, resulting in a lot less miles of training, which promised less exhaustion. If I was to prepare for the Art of Suffering, my lack of time left me no choice but to try such a plan. My standard ride is 23 miles. Conventional wisdom said I needed to work up to a ride of at least 41 miles to prepare for a 62 mile metric century, though randonneurs might consider a training ride of 31 miles to be adequate. With only three weeks to prepare (leaving a recovery week before the ride), I ended up doing long rides of 28, 34 and 47 miles. Because this came right on top of my post-pneumonia restart, these rides left me very tired. This was such a unique experience, coming off the pneumonia, having so little time, riding with a much stronger rider (see below), that it is hard for me to evaluate how well this new plan worked, but I think I would definitely try it again.

California is a big state. Back in Texas, we used to say "The sun has riz, the sun has set, and here we is, in Texas yet." California is almost as big as Texas, and in fact, due to its shape, is much longer in its longest dimension, so it was a seven hour drive from my home in "Northern" California, to the northeast corner of California where Roger lives. I arrived for dinner on Friday evening and we got up at an obscenely early hour on Saturday morning to drive to the ride. Despite having grown up in California, this part of California has a geography different from anything I had seen. As I was approaching his house, I noticed steam rising from some of the fields, and wondered what that might be. Roger told me it was volcanic, there are hot springs all through the area, and evidence of volcanism was a central feature of the ride.

The Art of Survival was a fairly typical supported group ride. There were multiple routes, varying between 29 and 113 miles, rest stops featuring a delightful selection of snacks (including freshly cooked pancakes at one), and a lunch at the end. The Tule Lake region, where the ride was held, is a big potato growing region, so potatoes were heavily featured at the lunch, and one of the prizes we got was a five pound bag of potatoes. I purchased the ride jersey, which is attractive and of high quality; I am currently using it as my every day riding jersey. In short, this was a great ride and I would recommend it to anyone. Yes, it is very far off the beaten track, but if you have time to explore this delightful and largely unknown part of California, you will not be disappointed.

Tule Lake is both a lake and a town near that lake, the start and finish of the ride was in that town. This is a very rural part of California with low and declining population, and Tule Lake, though one of the larger towns in the region, is a small town. The region around the town is flat, but a few miles from town is the Lava Beds National Monument which is hilly. The 45 mile ride makes a big loop around the town and lake and is relatively flat. The metric century we did is essentially the same ride except that it adds an out and back extension into the hills of the National Monument, turning around at its visitor center.  Essentially all of the 1,400 feet of climbing is in that out and back section. Lava flows and the resulting caves is a central feature of this monument. One of the scenic lookouts overlooked a lava flow a mere 1,000 years old; vegetation has made only the barest beginnings in its return to the area. History is also a big attraction in this region. Native Americans live in this region, and there are many stories of the clash between these tribes and the colonizing Europeans. Tule Lake is also the site of one of the detention camps where Japanese Americans were held during World War II; one of the rest stops was as the site of this camp. Finally, the "Emigrant Trail", the route that wagon trains took in the middle of the 19th century to get to California, goes through the region, and there are lots of historically interesting sites from that time.

At the start, the ride was very cold, in the 40s. I ended up wearing all of my cold weather cycling gear. By the end, it was much warmer so I ended up removing layers at each rest stop. Roger is a much stronger rider than I am, so I realized in the first few minutes I was in trouble. I know that if I start out a long ride too fast, I will blow up. However, if I was to stay with Roger, I had no choice, and blow up I did, at about the halfway point. Roger was very kind, but by the end, in a moment of frustration, accused me of being a "whiner", and I cannot deny that I was whining big time. I was fairly delirious at that point, so my memories are vague, but I do remember giving Roger instructions for the burial of my body.

The ride by itself fully justified the trip, but even so, the best part of the trip was not the ride but rather getting to know Roger and his wife Janet. I had known Roger quite well in High School as he was very active in the Modesto Roadmen. He and I bicycled from Modesto to Atascadero to the 1969 Great Western Bike Rally and I did not see him again until the Modesto Roadmen reunion in 2016, so this was only the second time I had seen Roger in over 45 years. Janet was a student at the same High School as Roger and I, and in the same class as Roger, two years behind me. Janet's brother David was in my class, and is now one of Roger's favorite riding companions. Originally, I wrote that I had gotten to know Roger and Janet "again", but in fact most of becoming who they are happened in the 45 years we went our separate ways, so it was more like getting to know new friends than reconnecting with old ones.

Roger works for the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, and has developed a deep knowledge of the geography and history of the region. Besides history and bicycling, Roger's other hobbies include being a handyman and a fine carpenter. About 15 years ago, Roger and Janet decided their house needed a little refurbishing. As the project started to stretch out past the few months they initially budgeted, they purchased the house next door and moved in there to free up their house for more extensive work. It was at the house next door where they were living, where I stayed with them; they hope to move back into their magnificently remodeled house "any day now." Roger and Janet hired contractors for some of the work, but did much of it themselves, including the design, which is truly amazing.

The bike Roger road was the classic Alex Singer he purchased back in the 1960s. He also has a Moots titanium mountain bike and a Moulton with 20" wheels that he uses to commute to work. Janet has a Caylor road bike, made by former Modesto Roadman Gunnar Caylor, a Moots mountain bike matching Roger's, and her Schwinn balloon tire bike from her childhood which she uses to ride around town. She has mostly stopped riding, except for these local rides. She came with Roger and me on the Art of Survival, but rather than bike one of the routes, she drove the course in their car, providing sag support. Janet rides the same size bike as I do, and when I saw her Caylor, it took my breath away - it is gorgeous! I told Roger to give me a ring if she ever decides she wants to get rid of it.

In summary, this was a wonderful experience for a sad old widower; a fun ride to add leavening to my regular rides, a chance to get to know old friends, and an opportunity to see a part of my home state that I had previously missed. Next time, it is my turn, and I am actively looking for rides in my area so that Roger and Janet can come and visit me.