I know, I know... The 400K was supposed to be next. When I saw the group that was forming to ride the first US 600K of the year I just couldn't resist. Mark Thomas, president of RUSA was flying in from Seattle and bringing his friend Joe. Mike Dayton, Tim Lucas, Joel Lawrence, Jimmy Williams, John Ende, Ian Hands, and Steven Andreaus rounded out a stellar crew of Randos. Who cares that the weather was supposed to be cold and rainy- I was in!
We lined up in the wet parking lot of the Super 8 in Lumberton at 7:30am, ready for a long, wet ride. It wasn't raining at the start, but it wasn't long before the sky opened up. I had fitted the LeMond with fenders in anticipation of the wet weather, and I'm glad I did- they keep a lot of dirty road water off your feet, your bike, and your back! This was also to be my first ride with my new Shimano dynamo-hub wheel and B+M IQ CYO light, and I must say that being able to run an extremely bright light constantly all day and night in the rain without ever needing to change batteries was wonderful.
We rode with the 200K, 300K, and 400K riders for the first bit. I know the 300Kers including John O. had to stop for a controle in Ammon while we pedaled on. I don't remember if the 400K folks were with us after that or not. On a ride that long, a lot of it becomes a bit of a blur! Sorry there aren't any pictures from this first part on Saturday, my camera was taking refuge inside 2 ziplock baggies in my handlebar bag. I did manage to get it out to shoot one video during a lull in the rain:
At our first controle stop at Roseboro I had just finished my to-do list when some of the other folks started leaving. The running joke all weekend was the phrase "I'll just soft-pedal!" I hopped on the bike and rolled out asap- not quite ready to get dropped 45 miles in to a 380 mile ride. When we all got regrouped back on the road we did a quick headcount and realized that we were missing Ian. Everybody slowed down and we gave him a chance to catch up- a cold, rainy 600K is not the place you want to be riding solo. Best if we all stuck together.
There was another controle stop at Garland, just long enough to wring out the water from my gloves, get my card signed, and drink a caffeinated beverage before getting back to the grind. One of the most memorable moments came at about 80 miles in when we ran headfirst into a warm front. This was like nothing I've experienced before- it was such a drastic change that I could hear the front of the line, about 7 riders ahead saying "whoa!" Then a couple seconds later I hit a wall of warm air, perhaps 15 degrees or more warmer than before. My glasses instantly fogged up. This was just as we entered Wallace, and we stopped at an Andy's for a sit-down bite to eat. Our little group of Randos left large puddles inside every establishment we frequented!
Up to this point we'd been riding more or less east, with a nice tailwind from the west. But after Wallace the route took a turn to the south almost to Castle Hayne before turning west, so we were dealing with head and cross-winds. This was where I first started to yo-yo off the back of the group. Also somewhere in this section it got dark, and I got to fully enjoy my newfound ability to see where I'm going at night. Also the rain finally stopped! Still, in my memory this section is pretty much a blur. When we finally rolled into White Lake it was going on 11pm. Riders who had planned to go all the way to Sunset Beach before sleeping were ready to get a room and live to ride another day. Dry clothes from my drop bag were wonderful!
Ian and I toyed with the idea of a short sleep stop, but after 1.5 hours of sleep we both mumbled something about staying with the group and slept for another hour or so. At 3am we were up and getting ready, 3:30 we departed. It was cold, and the group immediately got to work warming up. I was dropped like a bad habit. I spent my time in the early morning darkness riding mostly solo, just keeping the group in sight. Whenever I did catch them it was because they backed off the pace and waited for me, but soon it would accelerate again and a gap would open up. It can be quite frustrating, but it's something I've gotten used to!
We were treated to a nice sunrise and with it a general warming trend began. There was much talk of bacon at the Waffle House in Shallotte, and since we hadn't been sprayed by a passing hog truck in the rain for awhile it actually sounded very appetizing. The thought of a hot breakfast spurred me on, and I was staying with the group and even going to the front for my trademark short pulls. When we climbed to the top of the overpass for US17 in Shallotte, there it was- the Awful Waffle, like a shining beacon of pork products! And there was much rejoicing.
The full breakfast had the effect of energizing the group, but not me. With a belly full of waffles, eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon I was yo-yoing off the back again. Since it was only about 12 miles to Sunset Beach I let them go, but I'd already done the damage trying to close the gaps and I didn't feel like I had any power in my legs. It was a struggle to maintain 12 or 13mph! When I arrived in Sunset Beach Tony told me I was about 20 min. behind the group. They were all having a nice long stop, changing clothes and whatnot, so I short-stopped it, quickly ran through my to-do list and got back on the bike telling them "you'll catch me."
My intention was just to make it over the bridge climb in front of the group so I'd have a chance, but on the other side I settled into a rhythm for the first time since earlier on Saturday. I upped my cadence a bit and found that I was fine to maintain a steady 16-17mph. It was sunny and warm, and I had deployed my iPod so I was rockin' & rollin' down the road and feeling good! After 20 miles or so Steven caught me & I told him I was keeping it to around 16mph. He stayed with me for awhile, but eventually the group caught up and passed, just before a county line to take the sprint. Steven was off with them, so I was solo again until I came upon a fire station where Mike D and Cap'n Ende had taken a break. The 3 of us rolled together to the next controle. I love randonneuring. Officially it's "every man for himself" and self-sufficiency is the order of the day, but Randos still look out for one another!
We regrouped at that controle and all but 2 rolled out together toward the controle in Boardman. Steven and Jimmy were "smellin' the barn" and wanted to get it over with. They said if we passed a restaurant we'd find them there. There are no restaurants! We wouldn't see them again 'till the end. The sun was out and we were in short sleeves and loving life. What a big change from Saturday! Of course the warm weather also made the free range country dogs more frisky, it seemed like every house had at least 2 dogs. You can hear the barking in the background of my video:
By the time we got to the controle I was pretty hungry. I'd been eating Cliff bars and Hammer gel on the bike, but I really needed some solid food. All that there was to be had was a convenience store. I got one of those triangle sandwiches and a Little Debbie oatmeal creme pie. Tony was there and we stopped and visited with him while we ate.
Back on the bikes the talk was "can we finish before dark?" The pace quickened. Pretty sure Cap'n Ende was the instigator, then Mike D. went in pursuit. I got on Mike's wheel, and Tim got on mine. Joel was the smart one and let us go. I was feeling good, so after Mike swung off I put in a pull to close about half the gap to the Cap'n. Then I swung off and let Tim finish it. In retrospect that was probably a match I shouldn't have burned. Pretty soon I was having trouble keeping up the pace again, and then that triangle sandwich caught up with me!
Mike D, Cap'n Ende, Mark, Joel, and Tim were still cranking away but Joe from Seattle stuck with me and we just kept the group in sight. Joe regaled me with rando stories to keep my mind off my G/I predicament. Soon we saw Mark and Joel waiting up for us, but I wasn't going to be able to hold out 'till the convenience store. They went on to the controle and left me alone to do my best impression of a bear in the woods. I remembered a story my friend Charlie Brown told me from his Boy Scout adventures, and I used the "hold a tree" method:
I felt much better as I rolled into the controle at Clarkton, and the boys were waiting for me- chomping at the bit and ready to go. I didn't want to slow them down any more (I also didn't want to try to keep up with them) so I managed to convince them to go on without me. It was only 28 miles to the finish and I had something like 6 hours left to get it done! They took off and I finished a ginger ale to settle my stomach. I got rolling and soon I was back in that magical rhythm that I'd found after Sunset Beach. No music this time, but I found motivation through math: I figured that if I kept my average speed up I could finish before 6:30pm- a sub 35 hour 600K. Once again I was feeling great, and I rolled into the parking lot of the Super 8 in Lumberton at 6:20pm, beating my last year's 600K time by 1 hour, 25 minutes!