If races were categorized as "fun," "funner," and "funnest," this event would definitely be near the top of the list in the "funnest" category. To some folks, this is a serious race. To others, it's a great way to see some remarkable countryside. And for some of us, it is like our trip to summer camp when we were in the eighth grade. Only amateurs are allowed in this event, which not only makes it a little easier on those of us with careers and full-time jobs, it also brings a more relaxed air to this great event. Taking place in early September, the weather of Nevada is generally not dramatic, sparing the participants the "epic royale" that would otherwise take place on U.S. Highway 50. The race generally goes in an easterly direction, as do the prevailing winds. The promoters of this wonderful event have had their hands full since the race's inception in 1988, and it could not happen without the expensive but excellent assistance of the fine gentleman from the Nevada Highway Patrol. The events are as follows:
At the end of the previous year, I knew that I could not sustain the level of effort required to be successful in both career and bike racing, so I decided that 1989 would be a year of fun (racing) with just enough training to sustain that fun. Then, in June of that year, I found out about the Tour of the Loneliest Road. My little training had been quite contrary to the long miles demanded by such an event, but I thought that I might still have enough gas left in me to pull it off. I gave myself a test: I told myself that if I could finish Berkeley Hills Road Race with the pack, then I could do the stage race in Nevada.
The Berkeley Hills Road Race, which is not in Berkeley at all but rather in the hills of neighboring Contra Costa County, did not start well for me. I was sitting in the outhouse when the starting gun signaled the departure of my competitors. It took five miles of real effort to catch the pack, and I caught them on a downhill. During the course of the 75-mile event, I found that I had real trouble on the climbs, but that all else was well. I worked on the technique (mastered by Tom Simonson at this stage in his racing career) of getting to the front of the pack at the beginning of each climb, and losing ground such that I was arriving at the back of the pack by the end of the climb. This trick worked very well, and coming up to the beginning of the last kilometer climb to the finish, I was right behind teammate (and very capable climber) Mike Peavey at the very front of the pack. As we began the last ascent, others fought me for the cherished position behind Mike, and I gave them as much grief as possible (in order to protect Mike) before I could no longer hang on. My output was at one hundred percent while I counted the riders as they passed me. I counted twenty-two, and as I crossed the finish line, most capable referee Casey Kerrigan yelled to me, "You are twenty-third, Mark!" My mission had been a success, but I knew that the race in Nevada was going to be no cakewalk.
I was to be a member of a hastily thrown together team whose distinguished leader not only had been a basketball player at the University of Las Vegas at Nevada; he was an honors student in their graduate program as well. He held some patents, and was by far the most capable athlete on the team, a real achiever to be sure. Another teammate was also from Las Vegas, one was from New Mexico, and one from Santa Rosa, California. We were to wear jerseys pledging our allegiance to Las Vegas. I did not meet my fellow teammates (with the exception of Aaron Walker of Santa Rosa) until the check-in at a hotel in Carson City (the state capitol of Nevada) the night before the first stage of the race.
Taking place in the morning, the air is relatively cool for this time trial. That is a blessing because after leaving the capitol city and traveling a short distance to the south, the event makes a right turn and climbs up U.S. Highway 50 all of the way up to Spooner Summit. In reality, the event takes less than an hour, and the participants who are not totally fixated on the road moving slowly beneath their bikes are treated to a fantastic view. The climb is nice in that the ascent is gradual, the shoulder is very wide, the pavement is very smooth, and there are no surprises on the course. There is little mixing as the riders start in one-minute intervals. After finishing at the summit, the ride back to the bottom is quite fun as speeds up to fifty miles per hour are achieved without having to pedal.
My own efforts that day were uneventful. I focused on staying smooth and conserving energy for the days that lay ahead. As a result, with the exception of the first half-mile and the last-quarter mile, my heart rate stayed between 173 and 177 for the entire time trial. There was no seeding of the riders, and during the event, I passed two less experienced riders, and was passed myself by one of the top contenders near the top of the hill.
Several hours after the time trial saw a very tight criterium. Tight in that the course was very, very short and that the streets were extremely narrow. It was dark and the majority of the street lights were not working. As an observer to a number of crashes, it was soon apparent that most of these guys were true road riders that did not do well in dark, close quarters. One of my "roadie" teammates crashed twice in this race. One accident was too close to me for comfort; the affected rider hit me and then my front wheel on his way down, and his cyclometer (bicycle computer) flew off and bounced off of my spokes, then was launched into a crowd frightened for their safety. Because the rules of stage racing give the same time to all riders within a group, I decided to slink to that back of the pack so that I could watch the crashes from a safer perspective.
The course was so tight that the front of the pack could see the back of the pack on the two longer stretches of the small four-sided course. I did not like the feeling of hearing the action at the front of the pack taking place behind me, so I made the effort to squeeze past everybody (which took a long time) and get all the way up to the front of the pack. It was terrifying up there, so I slid to the very back again (which also took a long time) and got used to the sensation of the front of the pack breathing down my neck. This time I relaxed and stayed put. When all was said and done, those who unnecessarily expended themselves out and did not finish in the top three (who are awarded time bonuses due to stage racing rules) ended up with the same time as those of us who expended very little energy sitting on the back of the pack and finishing near dead last.
This was a wonderfully uneventful stage. There had been talk of making this one hundred-kilometer jaunt into a team time trial, but that was not done for some unknown reason. What I do know is that other than two medium sized hills, the course was as easy as one could get. Every single rider who started the stage officially finished it as well. I say "officially" because teammate Aaron Walker suffered a flat tire with just less than a kilometer to go, and the stage race rules gave him credit for finishing with the pack. The last few miles were just great; it was dead flat, we had a very strong but steady tailwind, the surface was as smooth as glass, and we enjoyed having several lanes of this wonderful highway to ourselves.
Visibility was perfect as we approached the finish. From two miles back, we could see the whole picture that awaited us, and it was as simple as could be. All of the highway's traffic for both directions was squeezed into two lanes, and there was a buffer lane in between the cars and us. From a distance, we could see that a car was on the course, and its driver was enjoying weaving his car through the cones as if it was his own private autocross course. We found this to be rather amusing, and as the car disappeared from view, we wound up for what turned out to be a classic road sprint. It was fun to watch from what turned out to be the middle of the pack. Because of the tailwind, we just about lit the town on fire with our speed as we arrived, but the sprint was as safe as it was fast. What great fun!
As it turned out, the car doing the autocross number had been pulled over by one of the local police officers. The officer felt that the two occupants of the car were acting rather suspiciously, so he performed a search of the car. The trunk had many pounds of cocaine wrapped for shipment, and the two guys in the car had been sampling the merchandise. We found this to be quite funny, but we learned some scary news a couple of days later...
Everyone knew that this day would separate the men from the boys. At 112 miles, this stage was the longest, and after the halfway point, it had a large mountain followed by two smaller ones. We were all loaded with food and water (especially those of us who had no support; I started the day with six bottles) and it was already quite warm by the nine o'clock start time. At the starting line of the race, we got a surprise. We were told that the road on which we were to race (all but the first forty and last three miles were on "Old Highway 50") had had its pavement removed in preparation for repaving. "How much?" we asked. "Well, from about mile 70 to about mile 90" came the answer. The mood of the pack lost some of its cheer at the prospect of riding 20 miles in dirt during such a long day.
The race started, and everybody rode slowly, thinking about the possible adventures that lay ahead. Then, after we had rolled along for only three miles, two riders left us behind with blinding speed. The rest of us were puzzled by this great display of effort, but were glad to let them go as such behavior could only cause them trouble later. But they did not soon come back to our shelter. Instead, they got so far ahead that after an hour we could no longer see them despite the openness of the road. What could they have been thinking? The answer came as we approached a house of ill repute. These two clowns were looking in the windows. As we approached, they noted our presence, got back on their bikes, and rejoined the pack without a word to say, but with big smiles on their faces.
As we casually rolled along, one guy started yelling something about an aircraft at four o'clock. Over our right shoulders were two low flying military jet aircraft coming right at us. They were so close to the ground that the dust stirred by their wake was twice as high above the ground as the planes themselves. We had about three seconds to brace ourselves, but we had no idea what to expect. When we were hit with the shock wave, it wasn't simply a strong blast of air, it was also very turbulent! We knocked into one another hard enough that a group of lower caliber riders would have ended up splattered all over the road. The pilots much have enjoyed this because they did a 210 degree left turn and came at us from the other side. This time we were a bit more prepared, and I recall seeing not only the rivets on the underside of a wing, but scratches and other surface defects as well. Next came a face full of dust...
Then came a crazed farmer, pulling onto the highway from our left, and traveling next to us facing any potential oncoming traffic. The guy appeared to be oblivious of his surroundings and he was screaming at us things like "Get the hell off the road" as he threw trash out of his passenger window. He was unaware not only of the cop now behind him with the lights flashing, but that the lead cop had pulled into that lane (to re-direct any oncoming traffic), and had stopped. As we approached the stopped cop, I began to wonder when the crazed farmer would wake up in time to stop. The policeman following us turned on his public address system and said "Heads up, guys!" Just as we were starting to spread out (and some guys had already bailed off the right side of the road), the crazy man saw that he was bearing down on a stopped cop car and locked up all four wheels. The last thing I saw of him was the smoke pouring out of his fenderwells as he rapidly disappeared down my left side. The Nevada Highway Patrol was doubled up front and rear, so we continued to have full coverage despite incidents such as these.
Normalcy soon returned to the race, and it became desolate. In short order we passed the sight of "The Loneliest Phone in America," a payphone with a solar-powered radio link to the distant civilization, similar to today's cellular phone callboxes. Nearby stood several hundred very old Indian petroglyphs.
As we turned onto the Old Highway 50, it was soon clear that we were really out in the middle of nowhere. We saw a few dead animals that had been picked remarkably clean not only by the scavengers of the desert, but by the intense weather as well. There were no signs of life until the halfway point when we went into a canyon, and suddenly the world came to life with a nice creek and lots of green vegetation. I was one of the few who carefully studied and memorized the maps before each day's race (I was careful to be smart to make up for my physical deficiencies), so I knew that we would soon be at the feed hill.
Just before the feed hill appeared, I rode to the front and told the leaders of the prominent teams that we were almost to the feed. They appreciated the information, and I told them that I was self-sufficient so that I would be going ahead. When I did so, they made no effort to reel me in. I knew from studying the map that the road would be very windy, and it did not disappoint. Once I was out of view, I really put the fire to the coals, blasting through the feel hill, and got down to business. I knew that most of these guys were in much better shape than I, so I needed all the help that I could get. I found my rhythm on the climb, and it was a real good one. As the miles went by, I wondered when the hotshots would catch up to me. It was about a seven-percent grade, and everything was working well. The Nevada Highway Patrol police escort came up along side me and asked me if I could just pick up the pace by one mile per hour. Doing my best Conway Twitty impression, I said the "That's all there is and there ain't no more" from Hot Rod Lincoln. He smiled and said nothing, so I added, "Why do you ask?" His response was, "I really don't like downshifting this thing [a Mustang 5.0] into first gear!"
The verbal exchange did not break my rhythm but was a rather welcome distraction. I had climbed a couple thousand feet, and there was still no sign of the pack. Coming around a bend, I could see the summit a couple miles away. I knew from the map that it was not a false summit, so I was happy. Finally, I heard the sound of the riders approaching me from behind. I collected myself, and when they caught up, I said that I had been wondering when they would be joining me. Oren Siegel, a very young but highly performing rider unhappily rolled his eyes and said, "We've been busting our butts on this climb!" They sure were; I accelerated to match their pace that was almost two miles and hour greater than my own. In short time, I was struggling, and I lost contact with them just before the summit. I pulled out all the stops on the decent, but it was soon evident that they were working well as a group, and that I had no chance of re-joining them.
Once on the flatlands, I took it easy knowing that the next group would eventually catch me and that it would be wise to be fresh when joining them. It was hotter than expected, and checking my inventory showed that although I had been diligent in carefully rationing my liquid intake, I would be empty just as we got to the finish. Knowing that it was getting hotter and that the rest of the course was more exposed, I realized that I could be in trouble if I made any unnecessary efforts. When the next group of riders arrived, I immediately dropped right in to their rotation and took more than acceptable turns at the front to ensure that I would be welcome.
All of a sudden, we were on the dirt. At first, the guys were fishtailing all over the place. Some of them fell down, but got right back up again. Just as I started to wonder how long I could bear to watch this spectacle, they started to figure it out, and it looked like all would be well. Then a large RV appeared and insisted on driving just in front of us such that those of us without eye protection had a real problem. We took turns trying to sprint up to this whale on wheels, but each time one of us did so, the beast sped up so as to stay out of our way. We tried screaming at the top of our lungs, but that also did not work. Throwing our empty water bottles at the beast also proved to be futile. Just as we contemplated simply stopping, a referee appeared next to us. He could see exactly what was going on, and told us just to hang back for a bit and to be prepared for some possible fireworks. The referee then drove around the RV and suddenly slammed on his brakes causing the RV to come to a nervous stop. Without having an AdultCheck Verification filter, I cannot tell you what some of the riders said to the offending driver as we rode by, but it paled in comparison to what took place when the referee discovered that the RV was populated with the friends and family of one of the race entrants who happened to be in another pack. The RV had interfered with us for almost ten miles, but surprisingly, none of the riders from behind had caught us.
After a couple more miles rolled by, I was just beginning to gain confidence that we were going to get out of this thing alive. Then, out of the blue, three of us had flat tires all within a hundred meters of one another. The referee who had fixed the RV problem gave us each good wheel changes, and the three of us went to work to catch back up. Unfortunately, one of them started having physical problems, so we had to leave him behind. As we got onto pavement again, the road began its last climb of the day. The fellow that I was with was built like a true climber, and I began to worry that he might leave me behind. This worry soon vanished as I found that he was matching my pace. We did not gain on our group as the climb progressed, but when we crested the summit, I soon learned that my buddy was a decender in climbers clothing. I was impressed! Just as we caught up to the group, they fanned out for no apparent reason. My buddy and I were going so fast that we had to slam on our brakes in order to avoid crashing into them! We returned to our previous rhythm, and 20 flat miles went under our wheels with little apparent effort.
This piece of Old Highway 50 is dead flat when it meets the real U.S. Highway 50, but after turning right onto the highway proper, it is a three-mile climb to the finish. I had been out of liquid for quite some time, and then came the inevitable. I told my compatriots that I was in trouble, and to make sure that I was seen in the town after the race. There was no more sweat appearing, salt was coming out everywhere, and I was starting to feel very slow while climbing that last hill. I looked back to reassure myself that there was nobody behind me for miles, and upon doing so, immediately felt dizzy. With a mile to go, I nearly lost control of the bike, felt nausea, and started to hallucinate. At least that's what I was told by others after the race when I insisted that there were old Amish men sitting in the trees watching me on that last climb. I struggled into the town in first gear, and found that some of the guys had been nice enough to wait for me at the finish.
After barely crossing the finish line, I was in no mood for any festivities. The town hall was open right at the finish, and it had a refrigerated drinking fountain. Its freezing water was an immediate pleasure that sent me right into shock, and for the next fifteen minutes, I was practically blind from all of the salt that was falling into my eyes. I was troubled to find that the vehicle carrying my belongings had not arrived before me. Teammate Aaron Walker finished and told me that our stuff was far, far behind, so we checked into a motel, observed that the only two channels on the television gave us a choice between a demolition derby and fanatic religious preaching, then went across the street to the restaurant in the old International Hotel. To the astonishment of the waitress, I drank two full-sized pitchers of water (without bothering with the formality of a drinking glass) and two chocolate milkshakes before my food (two large chicken sandwiches) arrived. It was a big relief, but I just couldn't get enough!
As I finished my first sandwich, I looked up to see yet another pack of riders stumble across the finish line. They just kept coming. It turned out that this was my best road race finish of the whole week, yet it had been my longest single day race ever! But the day wasn't over. It took hours for our stuff to arrive, and even longer for me to retrieve my wheel with the flat tire. With a pounding headache and feeling the other effects of dehydration, I set about the task of repair. Oren Siegel made me feel like an old-timer as he watched in amazement while I peeled just an inch of the tire off of its base tape (while still on the rim) and performed a surgical repair requiring hardly a dozen stitches. He completely forgot the engrossing "Crocodile Dundee" on the television and slurred, "Wow, I've never seen anybody do anything like that before..."
The morning of the Austin to Eureka Road Race saw some folks feeling the effects of the previous day effort. For example, I was feeling a little of the effects of the dehydration as well as some pretty severe saddle soreness. And then came a hurdle to the race director that caused us no tears: some fifteen miles ahead, the road was being paved, so the race would be run until that point, stopped, then started again but neutralized through the area of repair, and then all would be back to normal. That meant that we could ride the climb out of Austin at a nice leisurely warm up pace, go down the backside, climb back out again, and by then we would be loose and warmed up.
This was nice! It was a very slow and talkative ride out of town. Slow to the extent that the promoter told us that if we rode any slower, he would run behind us with a bullwhip! We were a bit cool on the backside, but going up the next climb we became very comfortable. But my saddle area was giving me grief to the point that I was desperate by the time we got to the top of the hill. We were told that there would be a delay of ten minutes while some equipment was being moved, so I borrowed a sharp screwdriver, went behind a bush, and performed some rather gory self-surgery. Fortunately, somebody had some Neosporin ointment, thus I was able keep most of the inevitable collateral damage at bay. I made the owner of the screwdriver promise not to use or touch it until I could disinfect it later in the day; he rolled his eyes but asked no questions. I got on my bike and found that, at least in the short term, the work by this unlicensed medical practitioner had been a success.
The stretch of road that had caused the delay was of such little consequence that we all laughed quite heartily. After about thirty seconds of having hot asphalt bouncing everywhere, we were on our way up a very long but very gradual climb that seemed to go on forever. Nobody seemed frisky, but surely the best riders were not terribly affected by the previous days efforts. Then came a similar long but very gradual descent, and we were faced with almost 40 miles of flat and then a climb with two miles to go.
Just as everyone seemed to be getting complacent, somebody's tired exploded. This was not just any "somebody," he was one of the top three riders overall. The team members of the other two top riders were quick to capitalize on this opportunity and immediately formed a ten man chain gang at the front and brought our tailwind assisted pace up to 37 miles per hour. The unfortunate rider's entire team dropped back to help him, and he received a quick wheel change, but they were never able to come close to our pace and ultimately finished 14 minutes down looking absolutely devastated.
Meanwhile, the chain gang was relentless, and others joined in on the fray, hoping to ensure the demise of the unfortunate team. I was at about mid-pack when I heard some yelling from behind, and looked up to see that the guy three riders ahead of me had opened up a huge gap. Everyone behind the chain at the front was single file, so this was serious, yet nobody was coming around. I felt that I had enough in reserve, so I pulled out into the wind, and rode up past the rider who had caused this terrible situation. As I pulled off in front of him, I found that only three riders had followed me, and not the entire back half of the pack as I had expected. I got on this express bus real fast, and hung on by my fingernails. Somebody was really strong because we hit 39 miles per hour on our way up to the front half of the pack, leaving behind a disorganized mess consisting of nearly half the pack. The thread had been broken, and the unlucky riders behind us were soon gone for good.
It was a much smaller and more manageable pack now, but the same two teams were still providing the leadership, with several others helping to drive in the stake. These guys kept at it like gerbils on amphetamines, and the pace never went below 34 miles per hour. When we hit the hill with two miles to go, they turned the screws even tighter. These guys weren't sadists, they were also masochists! A number of us failed to hang on, and were content to ride at a more reasonable pace into the town of Eureka. Several minutes passed before the back half of the pack arrived, and they put on a very impressive sprint despite the fact that they were going for something like 27th place.
My team of five had grown accustomed to clandestinely sharing a single motel room, but the management of the motel made it clear in advance that there was to be no such activity. Had cheap bikies previously visited? Therefore, two of the guys came and went via the room's front door, while the rest of us (guests, fans and relatives included) climbed in and out the back window undetected. I let everybody else shower off first because they were always faster. I had completely forgotten about my field repair on my saddle area until I took off my shorts. Oh my, what a mess! But the actual tissue didn't look too ravaged. I did a good job of cleaning and made a nice dressing with the help of another rider's wife who had some "female supplies." It was a nice piece of work, but for some reason the other guys really didn't seem to want to be impressed by my handiwork.
The word reached our camp about the two bozos who had autocrossed their cocaine-laden car on our course two days earlier in Fallon. As it turned out, one of them was wanted on a murder warrant in Mississippi. And if that wasn't enough, while we were in Eureka, one of the Nevada Highway Patrol officers (who thought that he was done with his duty for the day) was enjoying a drink at a local tavern when a drunken man accosted him. Not wanting to get involved in local politics, he attempted to calm the drunk who responded by giving the officer a violent kick in the groin. While the poor gentleman was temporarily disabled, a couple of the athletes beat the drunk pretty good, and then left. The officer was left to recover his wits, and then drive the drunk to the jail in Ely some 80 miles away (Eureka's jail was in the process of being remodeled), and then return to get a small amount of sleep in preparation for the early start the next day.
The schedule of the race had been adjusted so that we would be leaving Eureka by 7:30 a.m., again due to scheduled roadwork. As we lined up in the cold, we gave a standing ovation to the Nevada Highway Patrol officer who had had so much trouble the day before. He gave us a strained smile, waved back to us, then said a few words about how the bikies who beat up his aggressor should not have taken the law into their own hands, but there was a subtle look on his face that said, "Good job, boys!" The promoter continued his instructions leading up to the start of the race. It was just above freezing, and almost all of the other riders were wearing extra clothing as we started. For once, I was glad to be in possession of extra body fat. In short order the air temperature rose so rapidly that some riders were lost from the pack because they simply had to stop to take off their extra clothing.
The day's race was hilly and many of us could not cut the mustard. The terrain resembled that of the California Sierra, even to the extent that one of the officers leading us hit a deer with his car. There were riders scattered all over the course; even I (with my referee experience) couldn't keep track of it all. I rode much of the last half with Dan Cvar, an old Berkeley Wheelmen teammate. We passed faltering riders, and were passed by others who had made numerous clothing adjustments. Dan and I hadn't spoken in several years, so we enjoyed the remainder of the ride, finishing far, far, behind a teammate of mine who had won the day's race.
My teammates seemed anxious to stir up a little trouble, but the girls coming out of the local high school in Ely looked very unappealing. It appeared that the most attractive woman in the town was the only healthy one to boot. She was sixty years old and ran a health food store, something of an enigma in Ely. She giggled as the many athletes and their associates quickly decimated her supply of goods. This didn't interest my buddies, so we took off for the Ruth copper mine. The mine was closed, but our team leader was a geology major who knew the area and he took us to an abandoned town (that appears on no map I've seen to date) where we scaled a fence and hiked to the south end of the mine. What a sight! The world's largest open pit copper mine is like the Grand Canyon; it has to be seen to be believed. The five axle trucks down below made the toy trucks in my big childhood sandbox seem huge by comparison.
Back in town, the locals were responding in strange ways to the unusual spectacle in their midst. Some were downright hostile, while others were extremely friendly. There were warnings about an old souped-up Volkswagen bug that had all of the windows tinted solid black (including the windshield!) whose driver was trying to run down any guy with shaved legs. The friendly high-schoolers figured out where most of the members of the entourage were staying and eating, and generally made their presence felt in a nice way. Meanwhile, teammate Aaron Walker and I were not only starting to crumble, but the mild gastro-intestinal grief that we had since Fallon was not getting any better. At the time, I had speculated that this was simply from the unusual stress of racing day after day. I felt like an idiot when another rider with whom we often roomed said that it was probably the result of our consumption of large quantities of soy milk. I had discovered this wonderful "liquid carbohydrate in a box" some months earlier, and both Aaron and I had really taken a liking to it, each of us downing almost a liter a day during the event. It wasn't clear why that would be a problem until our genius friend pointed out to us that soy is a bean product. Duh!!! After that revelation, I couldn't give the stuff away.
We had to get up early for the last road stage, not because of road work, but because it was being run in reverse, and we had to get transported to Baker, close to the Utah border. Once there, we learned that there would be another delay, this time of several hours, so I took my buddies to a geologic gem with which I had previously become acquainted, the Lehman Caves. These caves were formed by water seeping through a mountain and removing its dissolvable solids. A gold prospector named Josh Lehman discovered the network of caves when he nearly stepped into the three-foot diameter, seventy-foot deep hole that is the caves' only natural outside opening. My friends, particularly the geology major, were impressed, and we all felt well rested and relaxed by start time.
The race started under gloomy skies, and on the first of the two 2000 foot climbs, the race sorted itself into three groups; the real stars of the show, the other still competent athletes, and those of us like myself who were crumbling badly. It stayed cool all the way up the climb that was a nice relief, but for once we had a nasty headwind. Perhaps the promoter ran this stage in reverse so that we could appreciate the tailwind that accompanied us during much of the week's racing. On the first long downhill, some of the leaner riders had trouble with the wind-chill factor, a reminder that autumn was on its way. Other than a very strong headwind, the flat portion of the race was extremely uneventful. We then made another 3000 foot climb, and again made a similarly long descent.
The Tour of the Loneliest Road also had an event for the riders in the lower categories, and this event was always started five minutes after our event in order to avoid the confusion that results when two races mix together. For the first time in the whole week, looking back we got to see the distant headlights on the other race's escort vehicles. In the final flat miles, we could see them getting ever closer which seemed to spur us on.
At the finish, I let my two companions ride away from me, as I was feeling pretty bad. Just a few feet past the finish, a spectator ran in front of me. I ricocheted off of him and headed straight for a curb. Unable to avoid hitting the curb, with my last ounce of strength I pulled up on the bike, successfully hopping the curb, but running into a tall grass mound and falling over, unhurt except for my pride. The spectator who had caused my little accident ran over to me and started yelling that I had been careless. I sat on the grass in a stupor and through my mental fog pondered the source of this man's diatribe. Two other riders who had already finished and changed shoes diverted the man's attention and they exchanged words. One rider pushed the guy and as he stumbled, the other punched him in the chest pretty hard. The guy disappeared, and the two riders asked me if I was okay. I still had no idea what was happening, but just then I saw the finish of the race behind ours. I fell asleep on the grass with my leg wrapped around my bike, and when I woke up, it was very cold, everybody was gone, and it was starting to rain.
It was less than one mile to the motel, but the ride seemed like an eternity. Most of my pals were done with their showers, and when I was sure that I could have it to myself, I got into the shower. Worried about my physical condition, I left the bathroom door open, and proceeded the struggle to clean up in the shower. Once I was done cleansing, I decided to lie on the floor of the shower stall, put my legs up, and enjoy the warm water. Somehow, I fell asleep that way. My friends noticed that it had gotten awfully quiet in the bathroom and apparently came in to check on me. When I woke up, I was in that ridiculous position, and they were all standing there with the shower stall door open and water going everywhere, chuckling at the site before them. I had never had the experience of four guys lifting me out of a shower and onto a bed, and then gently drying me off.
With my buddies present, a woman who I was told was the wife of a friend's friend came by and carefully examined my saddle area. She said that I had done a good job of maintaining it, and that it should be okay for the short race the next day. After she left, I asked my friends about her medical credentials. They laughed and said "What medical credentials? We just met her out by the Coke machine!" and proceeded to joke with me about it. I never did get the straight scoop from them, but I pray that the woman really was some sort of health care professional and not just one of the nuts wandering the town.
That evening, we went to the nearby pizza den because (a) the guys had been told that that was where the action was, (b) it was less than a quarter of a mile from our motel, and (c) it was all you can eat. I chowed down and felt much better; it was only later that I got heartburn that gave new meaning to the term, "China Syndrome." The bike race groupies were out in force, and some of the guys disappeared with women of questionable legal age. I could not imagine becoming involved in such horseplay, even while one homely girl plied me with the patience of a bus station based religious operative. I was a dreadful wreck; I cannot imagine what she must have been thinking.
Back at the hotel, Aaron and I were feeling a bit more energetic, but the gastro-intestinal distress was now quite audible. One of the referees happened to drop by with his bullhorn, and Aaron and I took turns attempting (with limited success) to play our sounds to the motel's courtyard. I guess that we were feeling better...
In order to make it to the final classification, one's team had to remain "intact." By definition, intact meant that three of the five original team members were still in the race. We had had one team member (the guy from New Mexico) drop out in the middle of the criterium (Stage 2) after having crashed twice, saying that he was not ready to mix it up with the big boys and would be downgrading his license status. Then Clay, our youngest team member (from Las Vegas), faded prematurely and threw in the towel on the fast part of the ride from Austin to Eureka (Stage 5) when he found that he was unable hang on to any of the packs of riders, finishing almost an hour down. He then became our team's "directeur sportif," which was a big relief to the three of us (the team leader, Aaron Walker and myself) that remained in the running. We now had support.
The leaders of the prominent teams had a meeting with the race promoter. They were concerned that because the third (and last remaining) rider on their respective teams had been reduced to rubble, the criterium would be unnecessarily dangerous. After all, we saw what had happened on the first day, and this day's course had some rather prominent pavement irregularities to say the least. The referees agreed, and waived the three-rider rule for this last race. They also stated that any remaining athletes choosing not to start of finish this last race would be given credit for completing the distance with the same time as the last place finisher. The result of this policy was later to be interesting for me.
Many riders weenied out, but I elected to start with the much smaller pack as it started to rain. There were quite a few one and two person crashes owning to the slippery surface (this was the first rain of the year) and dangerous pavement separations. Recalling the promoter's amended rules, riders began quitting the race in droves as the race leaders stuck together like glue and rode very fast. Less than halfway through the event, I was lapped by the leaders, and the two riders who were with me became discouraged and quit.
With about ten laps to go, it was announced that the riders behind me had also quit, and that not only was I currently in eleventh place, I was also dead last. I decided to keep going if only because I would not be able to get into our motel early, and I did not want to get cold. The riders who quit recalled the promoter's discussion about how their time for the day would be equal to that of the last rider to finish, and some of them became a bit concerned. They knew well enough to know that I was not going to quit, so they got their entourages to the sidelines and began yelling and cheering for me. It was funny because most of the townsfolk watching the race had no clue what was happening, and they began screaming for me as well, even as the leaders working beautifully in unison lapped me for a second time. With two laps to go, I hit a crosswalk strip in one of the turns and went sliding sideways, hitting several traffic cones and contacting a couple of spectators, but I managed to keep it up and lost little speed. After finishing, I immediately signed out and rode straight to the motel to get cleaned up. What a relief! Of course, the rain stopped and the sun appeared minutes after the race's end.
The promoter, the referees, and their assistants all did a truly fantastic job putting on this race. Every day's results had been prominently posted soon after the last finisher crossed the line, and I cannot recall a single dispute in timing, unheard of in an event of this magnitude. After the duties of the day were done, the promoter would then drive the entire course (out and back) and look for any defects (subtleties like the absence of pavement for twenty miles, or the presence of massive road construction equipment), and perform all of the necessary adjustments. At times, their work made that of the riders look easy. We simply ate, rode our bikes, ate, showered, ate, watched television, ate, and slept. The Nevada Highway Patrol did an exemplary job of providing us with a seamless rolling road closure for nearly five hundred miles despite the distractions provided by drug transporters, crazed farmers, violent drunks, road kills, and the like.
As much as we had had fun, after the results for the last criterium and the final general classification were announced, we were ready to gather our stuff and to call it a day. The promoter had arranged for a giant rented truck to carry all of our belongings, and the referees and other race helpers gave every square inch of their vehicles to the bodies that had propelled themselves across this great state. Playing silly games on the CB radios and seeing the week's course rapidly go by in reverse, the time flew and we were back in Carson City by midnight.
Aaron Walker, Oren Siegel and I had plenty of energy remaining, so instead of calling it good, we loaded up my car, planning on stopping somewhere to sleep when we got tired. We soon found ourselves in Sacramento at 2:30 in the morning performing a minor car repair and getting a bite to eat. Stoked by the food, we kept driving, and I delivered them to their homes by 4:30 in the morning, got home, and fell fast asleep before it started getting light outside. When I awoke at noon, I felt very good and refreshed, but knew that it would be best to take it easy. I had little stiffness and my saddle related problem was healing nicely, so I went on a leisurely and most relaxed shopping trip.
The next day I went on a ride with a friend who had once been Northern California's time trial champion. He rode quite slowly, and it seemed like our ride was over before it had begun. Back at his house, he exclaimed what a ride it had been, and that he didn't think that he had ever gone so far in the rain. To me the ride seemed short; after all, we had ONLY gone 40 miles...