By Stoker Susan Cooper
Scott English and I wanted to ride an entire brevet series together on a tandem. But a catastrophic mechanical failure of our tandem (cracked steerer tube) on the Davis 400k meant we would be getting a new tandem just in time for the Davis 600k brevet. We have an early flight, so we get into Sacramento, shuttle to our friend's house and put the tandem together on their front patio (no one was home yet). We ride into town (4 miles) and get the house key from Beth at work. She owns a bike shop, how convenient! We have the mechanic take a look and adjust a few things while we have some dinner. We ride home as darkness falls. Scott seems happy about the handling etc. of the bike and the stem, though not perfect, will be okay.
Four-forty am next morning, the alarm went off and we started the long day ahead. Our stuff for the bag drop; with extra everything including lights, food, clothes etc. for both of us must weigh 20 lbs. We ride the 4 miles to the start with the extra weight on my lap. What a way to start the longest ride of my life, already tired from a measly 4 miles! At 6 am., the brevet starts and we are rolling! The first 30 -- 40 miles are fine, everyone is chit chatting, our tandem and one other are leading the pack of 75 or so riders. We hit some rough road and the pace slows a bit (down to only 21 mph.!). We have had a very cooperative tail wind most of the way. Scott is getting antsy and on a turn, takes it a bit sharper than the rest of the pack and pulls ahead. A big gap opens up as the rest of the pack hesitates chasing. But within a few minutes Daryn Dodge (the head honcho), and Bill Ellis were on our wheel. A few more minutes later the front pack has increased in size, bringing Terri Gooch, the only chick to stay with us, but there has been a definite split in the group. The other mixed tandem is with us, but not for long. We continue to push a bit harder and the pack reduces in size. According to our pace we will get to the first sag stop before it even opens. We arrive safely at the first stop, mile 76, and indeed we are 10 or so minutes early.
After the bathroom and a refill of water bottles, we wait for the official opening of the control to have our cards signed and leave. We leave as another big group pulls in. We have 35 miles before the next stop and it is virtually all flat with a wonderful tailwind. Approximately. 15 miles after the first sag stop our back wheel flats. Bummer! We pull over, as does the rest of the group that is with us, consisting of 9 singles and our tandem. Just as I start to get the pump off the bike I look back and . . . how perfect, the red course monitor van with bikes and wheels on top is pulling up! We wave Lee Mitchell down and get a floor pump. Scott and Bill get the tire fixed, pumped up and we are off!
We get to the Oroville checkpoint (mi. 112) early again two minutes before opening, despite the time delay with the flat tire. Fortunately, we are signed in and out with no hassles about waiting. The climbing starts here and for whatever reason our group has decided to stay together. Very nice. The singles I know can climb better than we can on the tandem, but Daryn keeps them in check as we head into the hills. I am told later the singles were practicing 'tandem etiquette' by sticking close to our tandem speed on the climb rather than attempt to take off and leave us on the climb. Apparently, we are known as the 'Mother Ship' and the singles circling around us on the climb are our 'satellites'. Some sort of Davis-area bike lingo used when riding with tandems. We climb up to 1300 + - ft. before we get a descent. The descent isn't nearly as rewarding as I had hoped it would be before we are climbing some more. The next climb up to Jarbo Gap is much more gradual, but longer, nearly 8 miles at about a 5-6% grade. The backside of this climb lessens to a 4% grade on the way down; bummer again!
Stop # 3, at Tobin (mile 154.5); Scott lies down for a bit while I refill bottles and our food supply. He seemed wiped out after the climb, I hope we don't lose the group now. One of the cyclists who had been riding with us, Rich Boettner, calls it quits here at the control. He had been feeling ill all day. The remainder of the group now sticks together for the remainder of the ride, including our tandem and 8 on singles (Bill Ellis, Terri Gooch, Craig Robertson, Reid Walden, Ken Holloway, Daryn Dodge, Wayne Greenway, and Aron Mason) We are following a river valley upstream, but because of the tailwind it still feels as if we are on a flat or gradual downhill. There is a couple places where we feel the uphill as we approach a dam and a few other climbs before we do some real climbing again out of the river valley to Greenville.
We get to the next stop at Greenville, mi. 191, and have completed more than half of our 600 K. I have a few sips of hot chocolate. We leave there and as we roll around a meadow, I know that every mile from here on is a personal record. I have never ridden this far before in one day in my life! I check our average speed and we have dropped to a 19.6 mph. That average will go up again as we descend, but night will be falling and the speed will slow again. We find the info (secret) control and write down "Eureka I found it!" in our brevet cards. The info control was to keep everybody honest and prevent possible short-cutting. For the next 5 miles, we are headed back the way we came...but against a strong headwind now! However, once we are back in the river canyon, there seems to be little or no wind to fight. We lead the way down the canyon, with occasional relief pulls from Bill and Daryn, as we let gravity do its work and get us back to the Tobin control.
Now it is my turn to lie down. My crotch hurts and my hands, neck and shoulders are hurting but my legs feel fine. Since it is now near dark, I take my contacts out, change clothes, and lie on the bed with my legs up the wall. It only lasts a few minutes, but it is enough, I am ready to roll again. I don't feel like I have eaten very much of anything, in fact only ½ of a pb&j. sandwich is the only solid food I've had. But while on the bike, every time I take an extra deep breath and think to myself I'm tired, I down some hammer gel and/or my drink potion with carbs and a bit of protein recovery powder in it.
It seems to be working fine, for it is just my brain that is logically thinking that I should eat more, my body feels fine. Back on the road, it was here we first noticed that we have a tailwind again. Amazing! It appears we will have a tailwind both on the way out and on the way back. It is completely dark as we approach the screaming Jarbo Gap descent. I'm glad I'm used to not seeing where we are going. That is one of the prices you pay to stoke a tandem. So it is no big deal for me to close my eyes, hang my head to rest my neck and enjoy the wind fly by me as we rocket down the road. Only Bill and Daryn manage to stay with us on that down hill, both of them commenting about how fast they had to spin to stay with us and the fact that they have never gone that fast down hill in the dark. Someone said we were doing way over 50 mph. Somewhere along the line, I look at my watch, it is 10:34 PM. Past my bedtime!
At the Oroville control, mi. 283; I finally give in to my brain and eat a whole pb&j sandwich and some more hot chocolate. I hope it is not too much for my stomach to handle; we still have almost 100 miles to go. I know the next stop is out there somewhere, but the miles go much more slowly when there is nothing to see but a few stars and it hurts your neck to look up and enjoy them. I keep fidgeting on the seat to find a spot that doesn't hurt. I take a deep breath and notice that my ribs/chest hurt. I jokingly ask Scott if I can stop breathing. Surprise, surprise, he rides up to Daryn and they call for a stop. Everyone, almost immediately, slips off his bike to pee. Terri and I do as well. There is an advantage of darkness. (Not that it really mattered to anyone at this point)
Finally, the next control comes out of nowhere; we are riding in almost complete darkness and silence and then a gas station all lit up! No one is there to greet us, but we must stop to collect a time receipt to show what time we were there. This was the only unsupported control. I have a craving for fruit cocktail, but none available. I get a drink, but want to keep moving quickly as it is cold. As we roll out I glance at my watch; it is 1:04 am we have ridden 318 miles today, oops, yesterday and today. Before our ride, I had no idea what to expect as far as our time of riding would be. I asked Scott about it and he said, since we hadn't gotten in the miles we should have because of the broken tandem that he just wanted to finish; we would probably stop and sleep a few hours and get done in about 30 hours or so. He has done a 600 K in 27 hour before with 2 hours of sleep. However, I heard that Terri's goal is to do the 600k in 24 hours. Panic hits me. I hate to be beat. I thought I was nervous before, but having this bit of info really sets me off. Now here we are, less that 60 miles from the finish and we have 5 hours to do it in. Barring any really bad luck, that should be easy! After all, I have done 100 miles in less than 5 hours. But that was when I was fresh. I try not to think about it. Terri is with us, we have all ridden together virtually the whole way, I'm quite sure we will finish together. That is fine by me. I can share victory no problem.
Back on the road, more of the other bikes begin to take a few pulls. Up until now, our tandem did all the work up front on the flat and downhill sections, with occasional help from Bill and Daryn. Somewhere in the darkness before dawn, we run across another info control stop. This one says "Sags rule!" Yep, we wouldn't be able to do it without them, that's for sure! Every pedal stroke brings us closer to home and that is pretty much all I can think about. I think hard about it to block out the pain in my seat, my hands and between my shoulders and neck. I think about a nice hot bubble bath and I think about a nice soft bed where I can lie down flat and have no pressure on my sit bones. Surprisingly, I do not think about food. After most of my other rides that is my main/only concern. Hmmmm, I wonder what that means, if anything. So here we are in the wee morning hours pedaling a bike. Scott's battery for his big light has become dim. He asks me for our little backup light. I hand it to him. There is no mount for it, so he holds it in his mouth. Then we are riding in the middle of the pack of riders instead of at the front and he feels like he can rely on the lights of our other biker friends. Then, just a few minutes later, we hit a pothole, I feel it, I hear it, that nasty pssssssssssss sound. Bad words are spoken. Another rear flat.
We begin the fix it process; where's Lee when you need him? As we are fixing, another rider (Craig) discovers he has a flat as well. We get the rear fixed and Scott checks the front. [Expletive], it is flat too! As a result of this unplanned 10 minute break, at least one of the riders (Reid) is lying down on the side of the road sleeping while we scramble in the cold to make everything all better. Finally, we are on the road again. Daryn thinks we have about 10 miles to go. We cross some rough RR tracks, very carefully. From this point, we have just over 3 miles to go. We roll in to the finish line. It is 4:41 am. Twenty-two hours and 41 min. after we started. A little over 19 hours of actual riding time. 24 hours and 1 min after we awakened! Scott and I still have 4 more miles to ride alone back to the house. I ask Daryn if we can sign our cards and give them to him so we can get on to home. We are both shivering in the cold when we stop. Daryn agrees, we do that and head home.
Just before I turn the key in the door I tell Scott, I hope Beth turned the alarm off. I push the door open and oooops, huge noise! I guess she didn't. We tell her it is us, she gets the alarm off and we drop into bed. I awake to the sun shining through the curtains. It is 8 am. Scott is up and dressed. He says all he needs is 2 hours sleep. Yeah right! I am still exhausted but I am starving too! Yes, my stomach does work. I try to decide which is more important, sleep or food. The sun shining in the window is too inviting. I shower and we walk over to get some breakfast.
Back home, there is no argument that we should go back to bed. I wake again about 12:30 starving again. We call Terri and meet to pick up our bags from the ride and to have lunch together. Back at home around 4 we go back to bed one more time. This time I wake hungry at 6 ish. We wait for our hosts to get home and the 4 of us go to dinner at Katmandu, an Indian restaurant. MMMMMmmmmmm good. Home again and ready for bed about 10:30. Up at 5:40 off to the airport and back home to San Diego. What a weekend!