Despite a decent run at my last double century in early August, I've been quickly losing motivational steam to keep doing these long rides, let alone prepare for them. Since the Mt. Tam Double Century this year, I'd done nothing more than a few short and easy rides. And the one long and torturously hilly century we did two weeks prior to this staff ride event nearly ended in tears, that I find it surprising I was even able to psych myself up to even get up at dark 'o clock on ride day and face the miles and hours ahead.
I suppose there were a number of things that worked in my favor: I had just enough motivation to do one more double century this year because it would mean cinching a California Triple Crown Thousand Mile Club award for a fourth consecutive year. Lisa, as usual, was my accomplice and instigator, and also earned her fourth Thousand Mile Club award with this ride. I had just arrived from a weeklong trip to Pennsylvania and New York City, where I happened to be rejuvenated by some really enjoyable urban riding. And... it seemed I was in pretty good health -- the healthiest I've ever been at the start of this particular event (for some reason, I've been plagued with some cold every year in the past but one, on which I was nursing a couple of broken ribs instead).
Like on all other Quackcyclists staff ride events, however, the key motivation comes from the guarantee of damn swell riding company. Lucky for Lisa and me, once again we were ushered by the gentleman nonpareil Tim Houck (who not only has a perfect record of completion in the history of this event, but was inducted to the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame this year as well) for more than half of the entire ride from roughly the midway point to the finish. Lisa and I always feel blessed and energized by his company. Every time.
Another fella with a perfect completion record on this event, John Zarella, kept us company for many miles during the first half. We'd learn the following week when we staffed the actual event that John was plagued with flat tires -- again, and again, and again -- all day. The cause baffled him for most of the day, and ultimately he attributed the misfortune to the combination of the excessively narrow tires (he was riding 20mm clinchers) and the rim design of his particular wheel. 20mm tires -- on a course with many stretches of very rough pavement worsening year after year. I didn't envy his bum, and certainly admired his perseverance to keep going after having to repair flats so many times in a day.
In an accumulation of all moments throughout the ride, I believe I spent most of the day riding on my own. This was inconsequential during the first half of the ride, since it appeared I was having a really great day at this point, being the first to arrive at both the first and second checkpoints. But being by myself when both my energy level and mental barometer needle plummeted was a far from pleasant thing, so I ended up stalling a few times to wait for Lisa, who was lucky to already have Tim alongside her.
I'm not really sure why everything about my ride changed so dramatically by the time I hit the climbs up Siegler Canyon and Cobb Mountain (mile 115-ish). I can speculate though: 1) Rising temperatures - by now it was over 100F, in stark contrast to a foggy and damp 50F in the morning when we started. A 50-degree swing in temps! 2) I was bonking - despite good hydration all day, I think I got lax with my regular caloric intake. I didn't feel hungry, the muscles just weren't doing their work any more. 3) I was less healthy than I thought - because, sure enough, the day after this ride, I succumbed violently to the flu and am guessing I had already caught that shit when I was seated next to Mr. Viral Cough Sr. on Continental flight #41 last Thursday.
Whatever. I harnessed everything I could to keep up the spirits and not panic at the reality of so many more miles left to ride. I still wanted to finish this ride on my own power -- what was left of it anyway. That hadn't changed. I was painfully aware of every mile and detail of the course between Middletown and the finish though, and I wrestled mentally for hours until the finish. That was remarkably different from a super chill attitude I fostered in the morning of this very same day. Today, mood swings correlated very closely with some wildly discrepant low and high ambient temperatures. It was a difficult ride.
In the end, I think 23 out of 24 starters of the staff ride finished it. A large field for a staff ride, but certainly more reasonably sized to manage compared to last year's 34 riders. A dedicated team of five worked as our day-long custodians running rest stops at the customary locations and roadside SAG. Many thanks to Mike Curren, George Pinney, Doug Beisner, Mike Connolly, Eric Senter and to the inexhaustibly obliging Scott Halversen, who himself completed the staff ride but started late to check in the Group A riders and assisted in closing up some of the early rest stops.
FAST FORWARD: LUCKY BASTARDS GET A PERFECT DAY
One week later, Lisa and I put in roughly 24 hours of exhausting staff duty over three days to stage another remarkably successful Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century, which saw a 92% completion rate. Temperatures on the actual event were far more temperate, damn near perfect I'd say, and it showed. The general moods of the riders we encountered at both rest stops we usually run were visibly great. At the end of an exhausting day of repeatedly loading and unloading a ton of supplies, setting up deluxe shop at two different locations, bike wrenching (it was busier for me in this particular department than ever before), nighttime roadside SAG, and cleaning up after and storing everything back at base camp, I relapsed quickly with violent coughing fits and a high fever. Seeing and hearing the gratitude from countless riders that day certainly made it worthwhile and fun.
But boy am I relieved that I have several months of relief until I force myself to start thinking about riding or staffing another one of these events. With maybe a few century rides still ahead, I'm already relishing the rest I'll get in the coming months. Both Lisa and I have done fewer double centuries this year, fewer event miles overall for that matter, but every event seemed to be some epic challenge like they never were before. It's been a tough season, but a rewarding one no less.