Icky. Just typing that name kinda makes me feel like I need to take a shower. Patrick tried to get me to do this ride last year, but why would I want to do something that I don’t even want to say the name of? Then there was the question of whether one can do said ride if one doesn’t have aforementioned part to be hammered, but I was assured it’s not gender specific.
My dictionary was no help with that, listing for the noun usage: 1. A moral defect considered as a stain or spot. 2. An infecting touch, influence, or tinge. Hmn, things have changed since 1999. Ah, the fascinating malleability of language. But I digress. Oh, well #2 might apply as far as getting me to do the ride.
Semantic quibbles and unsayable name aside there was the route itself – a hundred plus miles of flat and craptastic Valley roads. Yeah, not so much.
Then this year two other much more interesting sounding rides were cooked up to make a three ride Gravel Gauntlet series and OK fine, in for a penny, in for a pound, I’ll sign up for the whole thing. And it certainly does fit in with the theme of riding new places and checking out different sorts of events. Remember, what doesn’t kill you just shows how stupid you are!
There was a big storm in the Bay Area, which apparently hadn’t swung down to Los Banos. I’d definitely felt the winds on the drive down though. Saturday dawned with mild temperatures and a few puffy clouds. I rode the few blocks from where I was staying to the start at the High School. Signed in, milled around, and then there were some last-minute instructions from Murphy. He mentioned the two distance choices, only a few people raised their hands that they were planning to do the shorter, 90-mile option. He said the longer route added a 20-mile loop which included washboard alley and a section known as no taint left behind, prompting rueful laughs from the riders.
The 80-something of us followed Murphy’s truck on neutral roll out out of town. A few blocks from the high school and BLAM someone had a blow out. Ouch, bummer way to start the day. A short distance later and someone else had a flat. What is going on, we hadn’t even gotten to the pee break! Which, yes, that happened. (I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it though.)
Rolled out from the stop, still behind Murphy’s truck, but the pace started to ramp up. Oh I should have taken my jacket off while we were stopped. Neutral my ass. OK, well yeah neutral doesn’t mean anything about speed. I don’t have a widget but Patrick said later it was 25 – 27 mph. Somewhere in there Murphy pulled off and the fast guys were slingshoting out of the corners, and putting the hammer down. uh yeah not going to be hanging on to that all day.
I predicted a tractorful day. Oh and barns. Hey, a dairy. Some little doggies came out and barked at us but I don’t think that qualified as a dog sprint. Tailwind. Bad pavement. No pavement. Tried to find good line. The old hmn, maybe it’s better over on that other side. Nope, not so much. Who am I kidding? Hit some mud oh wrong gear. OK, well, while I was stopped I took my jacket off.
Chit chatted with other riders here and there, some did it last year and were back. Crazy people. Heh. Got back on smooth pavement and one of them made the disappointment noise. Got a nice a pull past the Gustine Airport. Bit of rain. Back on rough pavement the lead got a ways ahead of us then when a couple of guys came motoring by and he jumped on their train.
I’d forgotten my watch, so I really had no reference points. Patrick started talking about relativity and how, since my watch and I were separated, our times were moving slightly differently. You probably won’t have to reset it when you get back to it though.
Anyway, I was just starting to wonder, and there was the first check point. Pancakes! Someone was having a syrup bourbon coffee cocktail, and recommended it, but I kept the syrup on the pancakes. Oh hey, it’s other Patrick that I met at the Hopper last week. It looked like some weather coming in, and I was starting to get cold standing around so I put my jacket on. JL (Menso’s dad) rolled in.
Just out of the stop and the guy in front of us got a dog sprint. Maybe they tired themselves out on him, but they had absolutely not interest in me or Patrick. It started to rain, more in earnest than earlier. I was glad I had put my jacket on. We passed a subdivision, crossed the San Joaquin River and then the Merced River.
Oh and the gate jumping feature. Apparently that sign that says No Trespassing didn’t apply to us. There were a few folks in front of us. F-ing city boys – you go over on the hinge side. Wait, that’s just basic physics. Past the gate was a pretty double track section along the river. We didn’t see anyone except the city boys stopped with a pedal problem. At the end of the section was another gate that was a little trickier to get over, but we managed.
Some packed sand then we were back on pavement. The rain let up and there was a nice rainbow in the distance – no pot of gold but lots of pot holes. With admiring the rainbow and trying to figure out what sports event the field full of kids was playing we almost missed a turn, but noticed the markers just in time.
Rolled past a row of small, plain boxes of houses. Those would be the workers. Then at the end of the lane was a large landscaped mansion. That would be the owner. Quite the contrast, although they were all across the street from the rows of chicken barns. The signs said “Biosecure Area.” Do I want to know what that’s about?
Passed orchards with trees already in bloom. A windmill – for JL – he’s Dutch, and had been saying how the flat and wet was like riding in the homeland, but minus the windmills. Tumbleweeds. Random patches of decaying melons along the roadside. Irrigation apparatus that looked like some sort of prehistoric beast. So many straight lines. It made me think of drawing lessons for perspective.
Second check point had grilled cheese sammiches of awesome! And beer. I didn’t want a whole one but Patrick let me have a swig of his. I wondered if you lived here what your address would be.
Rolled on. I asked what distance we were at. Funny you should ask, we’re halfway. Then we were on a road with the same name as one we’d been on before, but nothing looked familiar. Different stretch of it. Are we just going around in circles?
I was starting to think it was about time for a bio break, and Patrick suggested one. Ah… Shortly after that we rode past a dairy. There was brown slurry on the road. I don’t want to think about what I’m riding through.
After a variety of pavement surfaces we got to a bit of mud, which Patrick was excited about. This is what this ride is about! Aaand some washboard. The city boys with the pedal issue finally caught and passed us. We started to wonder what the snacks at check point #3 would be. Turned out to be sausage sammiches and Coke! Well, that’s what I had. JL and a group caught up with us here, but we were ready to roll out before they were.
Off we went, and in short order hit the evil mud. It was slick and sticky. Hard to keep moving in from the slick and globbing up and jamming things so the bike was unrideable. Sticking to my shoes when I walked. Some people called it peanut butter mud, but I like peanut butter. I did not like that mud.
The SAG truck was there, with several people already in it. We made it past, then Patrick said “I’m done.” What? A little mud and you pack it in? Nope, his derailleur had broken off. Ha, not so fast, you aren’t going to just abandon me out here (I should have given him more crap about that) – I had a temporary hangar. Unfortunately in the breaking off his derailleur had unremovably f-ed itself. Not field strippable anyway. Another person in the SAG was able to use the hangar though, so that was cool.
JL went by just after the derailleur dislocation and asked if I wanted to ride with him. At that point there was still the possibility that Patrick might get going again so I declined. In retrospect that may have not been the right answer, but, as they say, Hindsight is Bliss.
There was a fellow at the truck fixing a flat, he got going just ahead of me, but was only a short way down the road when blam! It hadn’t been his first flat, turned out he’d had a sidewall cut. Patrick contributed a tire to get him back on the road.
Rode for a while, mudded up again. Stopped to clear it. A woman going by asked if I was OK – yep, just bogged down – then a few feet later her derailleur broke off. At least I still had all my parts. Thought I had things de-mudded enough to roll again, but not so much. Didn’t get enough momentum and tipped over. ohjesusmaryandjoseph, really? doofus. I hoped no one had seen that.
Drew caught up with me. He seemed to be having much less problems with the mud, but commiserated a bit before he rolled on. I got going again for a bit, then more jammage. Jeez I need a screwdriver or something. It looked like easier going on the other side of the road, so I shuffled over, and there in the grass at the edge – manna from heaven – a flat stake! That made clearing the mud much easier. Although I hoped I wouldn’t need it again I stuck a piece of it in my pocket.
Finally going again, and made it through the rest of the mud pit. The SAG truck had gone by, but was stopped at the top of a rise. Patrick told me Drew was just ahead. Back on pavement, I could see him ahead of me, after a while I caught up to him, and we rode together for a bit. After some headwind we turned so it was a pleasant tailwind, and then there was a section along a levee that was really quite pretty.
I started to wonder when the next check point was. Drew says it was not on his cue sheet. I wanted to give him some crap for that, but I didn’t even have a cue sheet. Well, I’d get to the check point when I got there.
Caught up with another rider and chatted a bit, almost missed a turn – he wanted to keep going on the pavement but the course cut off onto dirt road along an aqueduct. The course was actually really well marked, and, as Patrick had said when he left me, “watch for bike tracks.” One of the benefits of not being first…
With the turn it was into a headwind again, and I was on my own. I tried to not look at the white caps on the aqueduct. In a couple of spots I saw parked cars, and briefly got excited, but no, not the check point.
Finally I saw vehicles and it was the check point. There was a shot in my hand, which, not having anything better to do, I drank. More grilled cheese, some Coke and my bike got a bit of wash and lube.
I asked what time it was. No one seemed too sure, but someone said 3:15. Distance? mile 90 (in retrospect that doesn’t make sense, since that was the full short course distance and we weren’t at the end but whatever) What’s left? Really the question was if there was more evil mud. No one really knew for sure.
I’d been telling myself if it was after 4 when I got to the short cut I’d call it a day and take it. Then after the first evil mud I was telling myself if there was more of that I didn’t need to do the last 20 miles. But there I was with 20ish miles, almost 3 hours of daylight and feeling good – should be able to finish before dark. And I had a light anyway. And I signed up for the series. Came all the way out there, gotta do the whole damn ride.
I was about to roll out and one of the volunteers (called me “Miss” – big points) asked if I wanted to clean my glasses. Oh yeah, there’s an idea. I’d gotten kinda used to the grime but once it was off WOW that’s magic! Greatly improved my outlook.
More headwind along the aqueduct and then an intersection with a busy road. The short cut. Go right to Los Banos. A few cars sped past, and after hardly any traffic all day, somehow riding along the highway seemed less appealing than continuing on the course. It was a divided highway, there was a person in the center meridian wanting to head toward Los Banos, but at the next break in traffic they waved me to come across. I’m not sure if it’s that they don’t see cyclists too often, or that there’s just fewer people and more room, but the motorists we did see were all very friendly and gave us plenty of room.
Still headwind, more washboard. There was a rider in front of me in the distance, which gave some reassurance, and then just when I was starting to wonder if maybe we were both lost, a marker plate on the side of the road with the arrow pointing straight ahead. Just. Keep. Going. At least the wind wasn’t gusty. Besides the noise of it in my ears it actually didn’t really bother me.
There’s gotta be a turn somewhere though, if we’re going back to Los Banos. Eventually it came, along with rougher road. The clouds that had been decorating the sky all afternoon were now looking a bit more ominous, and I was headed toward them. In the distance I could see a rain curtain but closer by there were clouds of birds and ponds glinting in the late afternoon sun and I was surprised at how beautiful it was. (Again, the secret of having low expectations!)
Any thoughts that I’d make it back to Los Banos before the rain were soon washed away. The sky dumped buckets of water. Deluge. Biblical proportions. From what the sky had looked like earlier I held on to the thought that it was a squall and would pass. You’ve got a rain jacket in your pocket. Stop and put it on. You don’t know how long the rain will be or how much further you have to go. The sun is going down. Don’t be a dumbass. I stopped and put the rain jacket on. I’d been gaining on the rider in front of me, but with my stop they got further ahead again. Even with the jacket on the rain stung.
But, as I’d thought, it did stop. And I wasn’t drowned. I was headed toward the sun, but out of the corner of my eye caught a glimpse of RAINBOW!!! behind me huge full OK I had to stop to take a picture of that. It was so big I couldn’t get the whole thing in the picture.
The bike tracks weren’t so obvious anymore, but I could still see the other rider ahead of me, then a marking plate for a turn which seemed the right direction to be headed to Los Banos. Continued on and I thought I could see the water tower yay that means town is close I started to think how nice it will be to be done.
Hmn. The other rider was stopped. Oh. Mud. Mud from hell. It made the previous mud seem merely ill-tempered. There was a set of car tracks that veered off the road down onto the side of the field and continued along there. I wasn’t sure if they slid off or drove off, but I found that if I was careful I could at least walk and push my bike along one of the tire tracks.
That ended though, and it was back up to the road. We were able to ride for a bit, then back to walk/push/carry. Cursed about having to use the stick again, but glad I had it. Just. Keep. Moving. Forward. At least it was still light out. Note to self: generator lights are awesome, but would be no use in this situation.
We could see another road in the distance, the other rider thought that was where the mud ended. It actually firmed up enough to ride before then, but that road we’d been seeing was paved, and was the next turn. It felt great to be on solid ground. Surprisingly there weren’t many puddles, but we were both riding through any we saw. I was definitely seeing signs of town now too.
It was dusk, the finish was supposedly at a white water tank (“there’s only one, you can’t miss it”) and there were some final looking arrows, but no one was there to greet us. I heard later that had happened to the fastest people too – no one there. Heh.
Past that I had no idea where to go, but kept rolling thinking maybe I’d get to something familiar looking. Right. That was the first time I’d been to Los Banos. Actually I did get to the main drag, Pacheco, but then what to do?
I called Patrick, he was at the after party, and eventually was able to give me directions to get there. It was between where I was and where I was staying, and I figured if I went back and changed I wouldn’t go out again – or if I did that by the time I got back there wouldn’t be any food left, so I just went in my bedraggled state.
Menso was already headed out, JL was saying goodbye to him at the door as I came in. JL said, “We were worried about you!” Patrick waved it off, “I kept telling him you’d be fine.” The two of them had carpooled, now that I was accounted for they could head out.
I was just going to grab something to eat, but someone heard that I did the whole route and told Murphy there’s another woman finisher. Apparently I was second woman. Murphy made me get up on the podium (OK, not MADE, but I’d been following his directions all day, why stop?) and I got a beer can medal, and a t-shirt (which I don’t know if I’ll wear since it has That word on it, but the logo is OOO shiny!), and a case of beer (which WTF was I going to do with that I was on my bike, for crissakes.) And I did manage to get down off the podium, which was rather tall, without falling off. (Wouldn’t that have been great?! Make it all the way through the course then eat shit stepping off the podium. Story of my life.)
Then there were really nice fellows with the most awesome soup, and tacos, and rice. Totally hit the spot. The guy who was able to use the temporary hanger thanked me (and gave me some money for it.) Chatted with a couple other people. Drewski rolled in! He’d had some bonus miles, but missed the MFH. He was able to help me with my beer issue.
I rolled back to the hotel, there was a Baskin Robbins right next door, after cleaning up I had a hot fudge sundae. Ice cream flavor? Rocky Road!
I had just chucked my bike in the back of my car, the next day I was at the Codex Book Fair, so I didn’t get to unloading things until after work on Monday. It had been dark when I’d loaded it, so I hadn’t really seen the extent of the mess. Insert Gasp of Horror It definitely needed some attention and love. I’m still not sure that it’s really on speaking terms with me.
But it sure was a crazy amazing day on the bike!
Menso’s report from the pointy end
Ride Date: February 7, 2015