PRELUDE: THEY'RE JUST BROKEN BONES
My own adventures on this ride began three weeks earlier, when I cracked two ribs after what at first seemed to be an insignificant (yeah right) crash on some North Carolina singletrack. I was visiting my sister in the Durham area, borrowed her Rockhopper (same model bike as my first real off-road rig, matter of fact), and hit some really fun twisty trails in the woods with her boyfriend. Riding off-road in northern California seldom offers the kind of stuff I was encountering there. Elevated boardwalks, narrow plank bridges, really tight twists through trees, ramps, tons of hopping logs and gnarly roots, 4-foot-high whoop-de-doos. I was practically a virgin in the forest, so naturally I was taking it all very cautiously.
Didn't I swear once (after a bad MTB crash that ripped my kidney and landed me in the hospital for 4 days) that I'd give up mountain biking altogether? Then did I not swear that I wouldn't be a thrillseeker when I caved in to the urge to ride off-road again? Risk is all ridiculously relative, of course, and I evidently have an even shorter memory than I thought.
Blood and adrenaline pumping, I completed the whole first loop in pretty good shape and spirits, actually. I insisted on following wheels throughout the lap, and Doug's a masterful one to follow. On the second lap, I foolishly thought I had the whole trail figured out and gained more and more confidence as I was setting myself up really well for each obstacle. Until that one. I went down hard on the left side, and distinctly remember a hard blow to the ribs. Handlebar contact, maybe. I honestly didn't think it was that hard, but after pain didn't subside (worsened, in fact) after about a week, I reluctantly sought some truth from the docs and the X-ray techs. Yup, busted ribs. Nothing you can do about them. Just rest.
THE STAFF RIDE: WASH, SOAK, SPIN
I went on a total of three bike rides in the three weeks preceding the Knoxville DC staff ride, mostly to see if I could deal well enough with the pain and discomfort of my injury throughout the double century. The first signs were not so encouraging during the earlier rides. I could only take half-breaths, even in near max effort on climbs. Climbing out of the saddle inflicted a LOT of discomfort on my chest, and even small bumps on the road produced painful jolts to the same region. Not good.
I think I persisted with training and preparation because I had looked forward to this particular Knoxville staff ride for many weeks, knowing the company we were going to keep on it. It was shaping up to be a really special affair, with both Scott Halversen AND Jesse Smith getting behind the handlebars -- on the same Quackcyclist occasion -- for a change. Others, too, such as John Z. and Tim H., each seeking to maintain their perfect record (8 finishes for 8 starts, which they did). And the ridiculously loquatious duo of Dan and Doug (the same pair who kept Lisa company nearly throughout her first Solvang Double Century), were on the roster as well. Steve S. too, whom Lisa frequently encounters during her daily commutes across the Dumbarton Bridge. Great company, and generally speaking, there were also more names and faces that Lisa and I recognized as people we also stood a FAR better chance of being able to ride with throughout the day (rather than getting blown off the back).
I was on the fence between sitting it out and suiting up for the start right up to the night before the ride, actually. In the end, starting the ride felt like the gamble I could manage, remembering that I did complete a 110-miler with a lot of punishing vertical one week after getting injured -- one of those rides I inflicted on myself 'just to see' if I could do this. Well, that was 2 weeks prior. If I could have suffered as much back then, my chances were pretty good for the double century.
Assembled with a record-size field of riders on any Quackcylist staff ride (34 starters, unbelievable!), I immediately felt excited. I was really happy to have suited up and gotten up out of bed at 2AM to drive out here and start a ride on a day with near certainty of rain. Fucking crazy. I can't explain.
Sure enough, the rain arrived. And it didn't relent for nearly 13 hours. In all, about 140 miles of our ride were downright pissed on by Mother Nature. Yet, everybody's spirits (including mine) were sky-high. We were geared for rain, all right, but after that much soaking, it just doesn't matter any more -- yer gonna get wet and stay wet. But it almost didn't matter. The vibe was just that good.
OK, maybe I hit a low-spot early on, ironically before the rain even arrived. After a short bush-watering break, Lisa and I lost contact with the group, and we took a wrong turn somewhere on the way to Mount George. We rode a bit over 3 miles before we realized our mistake, adding about 7 unnecessary miles to our ride. At that point, I started to get kind'a grumpy because I thought we'd be off the back all day for sure. Lisa was more optimistic, and was convinced we'd make contact with the group again. Fortunately (and predictably, I should know by now)... she was right. We were happy to catch up with most of our suspected companions by the first rest stop in Yountville.
With a busted rib not quite healed, crashing simply isn't an option. Yet my next adventure on the ride happened to be a pretty close-call to a kiss with the pavement. The Eastern descent on Howell Mountain Road in Napa County is a pretty fast and technical affair that commands 100% alertness and the best of your handling skills in DRY conditions. Given the continuous rainfall we were getting, it was obvious that this descent was a downright treacherous skatepad, and I wasn't about to take ANY chances. Still, while negotiating a tight left-hander, I had my front wheel slip sideways nearly two feet, even as I was creeping somewhere between 10 and 15mph. Magically, all the right instincts took over, and I somehow stayed upright. If memory serves me right, it was just the right amount of counter-steer and rear brake that straightened me up again, maybe with a little bit of unclipped left foot leverage.
Unfortunately, despite my lucky outcome, Howell Mountain did claim a crash victim that morning. Dan wasn't nearly as lucky when his front wheel washed out underneath him, and he hit the deck pretty hard. Game over for him, with a suspected rotator cuff injury. And even if his luck was down, his spirits weren't, and he kindly loaned his wheel to another rider who busted a spoke on his wheel irrepairably. That fella got to finish the ride. And while in the passenger seat of the SAG vehicle, Dan continued to lift our spirits each time the car passed us. Classy gesture, Dan-o, chapeau.
With the injury, I was riding very uncharacteristically. Specifically on the climbs, when I was really hesitating to ever get out of the saddle. That's just not my style, and I definitely suffered a different way on each of the climbs during this ride. By sharp contrast, Lisa was riding SO well that day -- steady and solid. She simply OWNED me on every one of the climbs all day. Very cool.
The accumulation of grime, water and maybe even oil (hmmm, bike lube fling-off combined with the rain even??) on my rims rendered my rear brake completely useless by the mid afternoon. I had to take the descent off Cobb Mountain (in Loch Lomond, mile 130 or so) super carefully because despite adjusting my cable adjuster completely, I could bottom out the brake lever with my hand and the brake was doing nothing to slow the bike down. It was pretty scary. I was using Shimano pads, the same sort that were giving me grief during our soggy Devil Mountain Double this year. Note to self: stop fucking around and switch out to the salmon Kool-Stops or the like next time any bit of rain is forecasted.
With Dan's unfortunate crash producing the only DNF, the staff ride produced a 97% completion rate. Outstanding!! Never may the volunteer assistance we got from a very generous few be overlooked. A thousand thanks to the staff ride support crew: Thom Dyson, John Carr, Kim Johnson, John A. Long, Elmar Stefke, Jim and Marcia Beisner, Eric Senter, and Kim Johnson. Bravo!!!
EPILOGUE: ELECTRICITY IN THE MAIN EVENT
The actual Knoxville Fall Classic event took place one week after the staff ride, which we've helped run for the third year in a row. Given our unceremonious and increasing commitment to all Quackcyclists affairs, Lisa and I have pretty much joined the gaggle of folks who put on this event and the Devil Mountain Double. In doing so, we see more of the event inside and out, get a more intimate understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, and admire all the more the indescribable amount of love and sweat guys like Jesse Smith and Scott Halversen (the Quackcyclist ride directors) put into these events for no pay. Frankly, being part of the team that helps run the events that they put on is a pleasure and a privilege.
With our increased involvement in Quackcylist events and a number of others throughout the year, we can easily say without reservation that running these events as we have this year is certainly more exhausting than riding our bikes in them. Keep that in mind next time you ride any organized and promoted bike tour or event, and thank your local pro-bono bike event directors and volunteers faithfully. Everything they're doing, they're doing for you.
All the operations on event day appeared (from our vantage point anyway) to have gone more smoothly than I can ever remember. All the orchestrations and coordinated efforts of the volunteer crews simply clicked... really well. Food and drink supply were plentiful and of good, desirable quality (for which the selection process has been an evolving, ever-improving art). SAG vehicles were perfectly placed and spaced. Improvisations were handled gracefully. The most exciting moment that required such improvisation actually happened late in the ride. Very late in the ride.
Lisa and I had just packed up RS4 at Detert Reservoir, and the final riders were on course towards Lake Hennessey. As we were driving past the last 10 or so riders on course, through Butts Canyon, several miles North of Pope Valley, we noticed a rider (Fred, whom Lisa and I have met on numerous occasions before) off the side of the road, off his bike, and staring up at something. It looked odd enough for me to pull the SAG van over and investigate. It turns out that Fred had noticed a wooden electrical pole that was cracked in half and about to collapse on the roadway. Sure enough, the cracking sounds it made were an unmistakable sign of its imminent destruction, so when a couple of riders made their way up the road, I first told them to stay put when it appeared the pole and line were about to come crashing down. Then... silence. If the riders wanted to get across, I told them they'd better hurry like they just shoplifted something. No sooner than half a minute after they cleared the section, the pole and electrical line fell, producing a series of spectacular arcs -- yet no loud explosion. The downed pole AND the electrical wire (still potentially dangerous) lay across the road, blocking the way through completely.
This was an area on course that had absolutely no mobile phone service signal of any sort, so we sent one SAG driver off the front to find a phone in Pope Valley, or to report the incident to the fire station there. And for the next hour or so, Lisa and I played CHP guardians, warning speeding vehicles to slow down and stop because of the hazard they weren't seeing around the corner. Some were none too happy about the news we were delivering -- like it was our fault. I suppose it was a bummer for most on that road, because not being able to go through meant having to take a roundabout way up to Lake County that adds another 50 miles or so to one's trip. Unfortunately, the same was true of the 3 last riders on course, who would not have been able to get through. So they were all SAGged in, as was Fred, who basically sacrificed his last chance to finish the ride in serving as the first alert of the situation. Well done!