Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 16 - Greenville to Athens, Ohio

Today was a long day, 176 miles, with the threat of thunderstorms with us all day. This kept the temperature reasonably cool (low 80s), but we had a persistent quartering/cross wind for most of the time. Luckily for us we ended up being about ½ hour behind three storm cells that went through just ahead of us as we crossed Ohio. We had some wet roads, but didn’t get rained on ourselves. 40 minutes after we got to the hotel it poured, drenching the last finishers.

Randy and I got up extra early to hit the hotel breakfast buffet at 5am instead of the usual 5:30. This change to the morning schedule somehow resulted in us not being ready at 6am when the ride started. Normally we can get this all done in ½ hour, but today we were the last bikes out of the lot. Clearly we need a consistent structure to keep us on track. I don’t know how we are going to settle back into normal life in four days.

Our route today took us from Greenville on the western border of Ohio, through several small valleys and rollers, onto some flatter plains then down through the heart of the Hocking Hills, south and east of Columbus, and on to Athens, close to the Ohio River and West Virginia. As more than one rider said, the Hocking Hills section would be a fun ride with fresh legs. It was very pretty, with small streams and numerous little valleys, but getting into and out of the valleys required some tough climbs, in the 10-15% range. My legs were pretty toasted by the time we got to the last rest stop, nearly through the hills. After a nice break, Randy and I sailed through the last 24 miles pretty quickly.

The composition of the groups for each day’s ride is always a little flexible depending on who has more energy and when people start, but most riders are settled in to riding with the same people most days, or on their own. Randy and I are usually riding together often with other riders. Today we were on our own most of the day, which worked out very well. Randy is riding very strong. He is focused on testing himself for a solo RAAM (Race Across America) attempt next year. I hang in there with him for most of the time, but today wore out for a bit through the Hocking Hills before coming alive for the last leg.

The stage is now set for the last big challenges of the Elite Tour – 2 days of mountains through West Virginia. Our climbing will exceed the toughest days in the west, with 12,000’ and 15,000’ days coming up. I am thankful to have my triple crank and plan to be patient on the hills, working at a dieseling pace.

As we are entering the final stretch of the Elite Tour, we are starting to think about how we are going to return to ‘normal’ life and what impact this experience will have. As I look at each of the riders that I have gotten to know, everyone has had to deal with some tough issues along the way, whether they be mechanical, physical or mental. Nearly everyone has gotten through the mechanical and physical stuff and continued on. Mentally this is a very tough group of riders. Some are faster, some are slower. Most ride in a group; some choose to ride on their own. Each of us has our own reasons for signing up for this challenge. For some, completing Elite Tour may be a culmination of bicycling experiences that Elite Tour will be a capstone, primarily personal, to emphasize a pinnacle in their bicycling biography.

I think for most of us, bicycling is such an integrated part of our lives that the Elite Tour will likely represent a high point, for now at least, that stretched us and forced us to work harder than we thought we could to complete each day’s challenge. After this, there will be more rides and more challenges. Some of us may choose less demanding cycling tours or riding experiences in the future. Some of us may go even further down the road of ultra marathon riding. RAAM (Race Across America) would be the next step, but it is a big one.

Whether Elite Tour is a watershed event for a rider or not, it will be an experience we will not forget. Knowing you have completed this very demanding event does give you an insight into your own fortitude and persistence. When I was 28 I rode the 1979 PBP event. I had no idea how hard it would be (it was really hard!) but it did change my outlook and confidence on what was possible if you just went ahead and did it. Now that I am more than twice as old, I don’t think Elite Tour will have the same personal impact, but it will be a part of my experience that will be treasured.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 15 - Crawfordsville, Indiana to Greenville, Ohio

The early morning paceline, heading for Greenville, Ohio.

A fast day today. Five of us, Randy, Tim Feldman, Max Hogan, Brad Reid and myself got out in front and kept a good steady pace going all day. We averaged 19.1 over mostly flat, with some rollers and a slight upward trend as we moved into Ohio. Indiana is now the seventh state we have gone through. We got in just after 3p, our earliest time all tour. The mileage was a short 142 miles. We are all planning on an early bedtime tonight.
The wind was not in our face today, mostly a very mild cross wind and, on a couple of legs, actually a bit of a tailwind – something we have not had for a while.

There was a Dairy Queen less than 100 yards from the hotel in Greenville, Ohio, so everyone made a beeline over as soon as they finished.

Lara is on her third tandem partner. Jim wanted another day of rest before the big hills of West Virginia and Lon was eager to get his tandem back on the road. They took their time and finished nicely. Lara will be the first person to complete an Elite Tour on a tandem. This is an amazing accomplishment given the amount of climbing we have done and just the day to day stress of bouncing around on the back of a big bicycle.

Jon, from Liverpool, is back on the road again after being on and off the bike for a few days due to GI issues. Nearly everyone else is chugging along, weariness is taking hold, but persistence and overcoming our aches and sores is still driving all of us. Sore tushs are the number one issue.

Into a small town in Indiana, decked out with Memorial Day flags

Photo opportunities were limited today – not too many sightseeing highlights. Here are some of the riders on the tour.

Jon Batek's attitude has not changed since yesterday

Brad Reid, Illinois rider and one of our support crew

John Newton - Pennsylvania

Lynn Lashley, North Carolina

Len Zawodniak, New Jersey - rejoined us two days ago and is getting his legs reacclimatized

Tracey Becken, Vermont - rider and support crew member

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 14 - Effingham, Illinois to Crawfordsville, Indiana

Lon giving the morning send off speech, with latest changes and advice.

Today was a great day! Last night I had an ice bath to reduce the swelling in my legs. It really helped. I felt fresh and strong all day. I’m also paying more attention to keeping the right nutrition flowing as it gets hotter. Temperatures reached the low 90s today, with some humidity. Typically I fill my insulated bottle with ice water and the second bottle with Perpetuem/Heed (powdered whey/carbs/protein and electrolytes). This works ok, but when it is warm, I tend to drink the cold water first and avoid the nutrition bottle as it gets warmer. I have switched so now the insulated bottle has the nutrition and is more appealing to drink because it stays cold longer. The regular water gets warm but is still ok, and I am much better off energy wise. An even better plan would be to have two insulated bottles – I’m working on that.

We started in Effingham, Illinois today with 159 miles to cover. Since we were on back roads most of the day, a fairly large group of 11 riders formed up early and rode together for the first 72 miles. We averaged nearly 19 mph, mostly into an annoying 5-10 mph east wind. Len, Randy and I dropped from the group after the second stop to ride together to the lunch stop. Len is still getting his legs back in shape so he stopped after the lunch break. Randy and I rode together the last two legs and had a good rhythm going.

This bicycle wall is one part of what includes several hundred bicycles all around a local bike repair shop in Illinois.

Jon has his own perspective on how the day's ride is going.

Elite Tour is not a race, but sometimes during the day there are encounters where a little competition that emerges. Harold Trease has ridden two RAAM (Race Across America) events. He typically rides alone each day by choice, hammering along at his own pace. Harold is a fun guy to talk to, but he is difficult to catch and even harder to pass. Today we caught up to him on an uphill a few miles before the last rest stop. We passed him but he roared by us on the following downhill run-out. On the next uphill we caught him again and, with both of us working together, were able to get some distance on him before we reached the rest stop. RAAM guys don’t waste a lot of time though and before we had really settled into enjoying a nice break, Harold came into the rest stop, refilled his bottles, grabbed some snacks and was off again. We saluted him as he headed for the hotel.

We finished Illinois before lunch and are now half way across Indiana. The terrain is relatively flat, but with some rollers and the odd steeper pitch in and out of a small valley. The crops are just in and starting to show.

As we are starting to get towards the end of the ride, I have been thinking about what I have learned from this experience. From a survival perspective, the two big things are maintenance and consistency. You need to continually look after yourself and your equipment, addressing issues before they become problems and you need to take a consistent approach to each day’s ride. You need to follow a routine to get ready in the morning, focus on what you need to get to the next rest stop (nutrition, snack, fluids, sun screen, tushie care, etc.) and keep yourself in a steady state as much as possible. When I have had an off day, it usually has been the result of not preparing properly, riding too fast or not eating/drinking right. Once you get out of your consistent state, bad things happen. Sometimes you can't prevent this, with a flat or other mechanical for example, but the key is to find a way to resolve the issue and get back on track.

The other important aspect of Elite Tour is how important working together in pacelines is to help get you down the road efficiently day after day, especially when the wind blows or you have a lot of flat ground to cover. There are a few solo riders, but, other than Harold (and the departedRAAM riders), they have long days on the road. None of the solo riders have been able to ride every mile, as they are sagged up when they get tired or fall too far behind. I would estimate that we have been in a pace line of at least two riders for 80% of the Elite Tour. Some riders are in a group all the time.

Randy and I have matched up well. He is riding very strong for the past several days. I am gaining in strength over the past couple of days and will need it. After two more relatively flat days through Indiana and Ohio, we have two days of 12,000’ and 15,000’ of climbing through West Virginia before finishing in Virginia next Thursday.

Tomorrow is more of the same – hot, humid, flat with some rollers as we head to Greenville, Ohio. This is a shorter day of 142 miles. There is a chance of thunderstorms, which would be a welcome break.

Day 13 - St. Louis, Missouri to Effingham, Illinois

Today we toured St. Louis, cruising the Mississippi shoreline and the Gateway Arch. The river is very high, crews are still cleaning the roads and trails near the river.

The cue sheet was five pages long today, much of it getting us through St. Louis. We did a photo op at the Arch and another in the middle of the bike bridge crossing the Mississippi. After that it was off through the Illinois countryside for a 144 mile jaunt.

Issues were fairly minimal. Jon Batek had a flat and he and Lynn got off route for 11 extra miles. Randy also had a flat, but overall things went pretty well. It was warm and a little muggy, with an annoying head/cross wind from the north all day.

In Illinois the roads were generally very quiet, with some roll, and a few little grinders. A paceline was the best way to get through the day. At various times our group included Randy, Len, Gene, the tandem team of Jim and Lara, and a couple of others that floated in and out. John Newton said what a lot of us are feeling – ‘My legs feel like they have 2,000 miles on them in the past two weeks. Len rode today, for the first time since leaving the tour a week ago. He did well, probably as much from his pent up energy and joy at being back on his bike, as compared to us worn down veterans.

Very tired, fell asleep. I will do a more complete write up tomorrow

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 12 Osage Beach to St. Louis, Missouri

Today we crossed most of Missouri, a distance of 175 miles. For the most part the roads were fairly flat, with a little headwind, but there were three extremely hilly sections that will affect the dreams and knees of the riders tonight.

Randy and I started out with the strategy of riding easy to the first control then turning it up as the day went on. We knew there were some good hilly sections and wanted to be loose when we got there. The hilly sections were definitely a challenge, but the bigger issue of the day, for many riders, was the number of flats and busy traffic. The flats came in bunches for some people. Patrick had six before swapping his wheels out), the tandem had several. I had two. John Newton had four and had to boot his tire. Andrew only had one, but it came after the last rest stop and just before the rain storm.

Many of the flats came from the 17 mile section on the Katy Trail, a hard packed bicycle trail that follows the Missouri River (and the Lewis and Clark trail). This surface that was not kind to our road tires. Other flats were a result of junk on the shoulders of some of the busy roads we were on. Because we are following the RAAM (Race Across America) route, in some places the course takes the most direct route, rather than shift around on back roads. Today was one of those days and road construction added to the road trash and traffic.

Crossing the Missouri River was a tight squeeze, fortunately drivers were generally pretty patient.

The Katy Trail sections were traffic free, but not flat-free.

Riders did not start arriving at the hotel until 6p, an indication of how long the day was. I came in with Patrick, after we got a nice dose of rain 20 miles out, only the second bit of precipitation we have had.

I am feeling pretty tired after today, a sense shared by a number of riders. The last several days have been long in mileage, hills and now warmer weather that have taken a toll. Everyone is still working hard and are focussed on keeping the momentum going. With a few shorter days coming up, and generally flatter terrain, we hopefully can get a bit of a breather.

Maintenance is a regular part of long trips like these. Tandems seem to require more than their share of upkeep. Jim is replacing the wheel and fixing the rim after another hard day on the road.

Len Zawodniak met us at the finish line in St. Louis, ready to ride. He still has very sore ribs but would rather be doing this than sitting at home in New Jersey. I’m sure he will do well.

We picked up Boris,a German bike tourist, just before the lunch stop. Boris is riding basically the same route we are and he was hoping to meet up with us, for a day or two.

This map is updatd daily and displayed outside the support trailer. We are over 1/2 way across the US - 12 days done, 7 to go.

Tomorrow we are starting ½ hour earlier to avoid early morning St. Louis traffic. It is a shorter day, only 145 miles. The weather looks reasonable 60-80 above, with some chance of thunderstorms.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day 11 - Yates Center, Kansas to Osage Beach, Missouri

Lots of stuff happened today, aside from another long, hard day on the bike.

First the riding. 185 miles of increasingly steep and long hills. We started in Kansas with wet roads (dodged another rainstorm!) for the last of the flat riding for a while. As we moved into Missouri, about 65 miles into the ride, we started with some short rollers that were fun to roll down and up, with your momentum carrying you along. The rollers gradually got longer and deeper until the climbs reached up to a mile long with continuous up and downs. The down hills became very brief compared to the grinds back up the next hill. The last twelve miles were nasty, with a one mile climb out of the Lake of the Ozarks, then a few more rollers before getting to the hotel in Osage Beach.

Randy, John Newton and I rode together to the first rest stop. Actually Randy pulled us nearly the whole way then continued on at a fast pace to test his mettle for a RAAM (Race Across America) ride next year.

We spread out after this, with the increasing hills dictating riders find their own pace. After lunch I felt pretty spunky and really cruised along for about 40 miles before running out of steam and backing off until the final rest stop. Harold Trease, another RAAM alumni, caught up and passed me but he also slowed down not long after that. When I got to the last rest stop, Randy was still there, having bonked in the same area and was recovering. The relentless hills wore everyone down – but it still beat another day riding through Kansas!

Now the other news:

Lenny’s back! Len Zawodniak, who had to leave the ride a week ago with bruised ribs and hand, is returning to the tour tomorrow night in St. Louis. It will be great to see Len again and have him back on the road with us.

I was the recipient of a nice care package today. A large shipment of Mrs. Fields cookies from my wife Nancy. I shared some but will keep the rest for later sharing with close personal friends, or for when I need a favor. :-)

Scott Luikart is leaving the ride, due to an auto accident injury to his office assistant. Scott’s wife Jennifer drove over to pick him up tonight. This is too bad, as Scott is a fun person, and a very strong RAAM rider who has been doing a good job of keeping Tim Feldman busy and under control by pushing Tim to ride very fast all day. With Scott gone, Tim will be looking for other enthusiasts to push the pace with. :-) Actually Tim is great to ride with and does a nice job of matching his pace to whoever he is with.
There is a chance Scott may rejoin us in West Virginia and for sure we will see him in Williamsburg. Our best wishes to his assistant also.

This is what the lunch stop looks like when you wheel in after riding a 100 miles or so in the morning. Wayne Rosenthal is one of the cheery support crew people that help our days go smoothly.

Once we are done riding for the day, getting your feet in the air helps to drain the blood from your legs. A cold bath also helps.

Tomorrow is another long day, 175 miles, with many steep hills (8,000' of climbing), lots of turns and road construction as we cruise through the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. I rode through this part of Missouri 30 years ago on the first Bicycle Across Missouri 540 mile ride in 1980. This was the first real organized brevet/ultra marathon event in the US, modeled somewhat after the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in France. This was also the ride that Lon Haldeman and Susan Notroangelo met for the first time. Lon finished first, Susan made it in just under the wire. Over the next decade, Lon and Susan set many records on transcontinental crossings and other ultra marathon events. In the meantime, they formed PACTour (Pacific Atlantic Cycle Tours). Check out for more information on their tours and history.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 10 - Pratt to Yates Center, Kansas

At 5:30a the alarm goes off. A quick peek outside and it is pouring. There is nothing more depressing for a cyclist than starting a ride in the rain. There is no avoiding the Elite Tour schedule however and we grab the rain gear and convene for breakfast in the vending machine room and hallway.

By 6:15a, miraculously it has stopped raining. Morale improves. Even the flag over the Walmart showing a brisk headwind out of town isn’t enough to stop us now.

The ride starts at 6:30a, as usual. It is cool, the roads are wet and we have a 10 mph breeze in our faces, but it is a good day for a ride. The weather continues to improve all day, ending up in the high 80s and sunshine in Yates Center.

Getting ready to start, just after the rain stopped.

The first couple of hours were cool and damp, until the roads dried up

Today was a funky day, with a lot of weird things. Jim Slauson, the tandem captain, has a sore Achilles tendon and is very tired so the PACTour Comotion tandem is unloaded and set up for Lara to ride with Harold Trease. It takes 30 miles to set up the bike for the two of them, something that normally takes hours and several test rides. They start the ride and quickly blast away from everyone, except Tim Feldman who thinks he has it made for the day by sitting on their wheel.

Things don’t work out that way as Tim gets the first of four flats for the day. The tandem fairs worse, with 7 flats. All told, we accumulate 29 flats today for the entire group, a good percentage of them due to a rough road with very small gravel spread on it that seems to eat up tires. This is only the beginning of the problems for Harold and Lara as a shift cable breaks, then the bottom bracket craters. They have their own support vehicle keeping them moving down the road. They do finally finish though, a tribute to their persistence and the ingenuity of the support crew.

This seems to set the tone for the day as a bridge out causes a 3-4 mile detour for most riders. Instead of the usual groups spreading out over the Kansas prairie, nearly everyone is bunched up, for a while at least, around the detour.

The views today were consistent, lots of prairie, roads stretching into the Kansas horizon.

The rest of the day goes fairly smoothly for most riders, but the first pair of riders does not get to the hotel in Yates Center until 6:15p. Randy and I came in about five minutes later, tired but happy to complete another day.

Wayne Rosenthal and George Jehant, two of our excellent support crew, enjoying their day off by pulling Randy and I along. Thanks, guys.

Mark Pattinson left the tour today to begin his taper for RAAM (Race Across America) that starts in three weeks. We all wish him the best of luck.

A wonderful surprise showed up at the hotel just before we headed out for dinner when Mike and Nancy Myers arrived. Mike and Nancy are PACTour and RUSA legends, completing several PACTour transcontinental rides and over 30 RUSA Super Randonneur series and three Paris-Brest-Paris rides. They have been riding tandem for many years and, although they had to switch to a recumbent tandem two years ago, are still completing brevets regularly – they already have completed a RUSA Super Randonneur series this year and have a week full of brevets planned in July. They are also two of the nicest people you will ever meet. I met them at a PACTour Desert Camp four years ago. It was wonderful to see them and have the chance to talk for a while before they had to leave for the two hour drive home.

Dinner at the Feed Bunker was great and unbelievably inexpensive. The place was nearly full, obviously this was the restaurant of choice when the local people eat out.

Tomorrow the pedaling gets a lot harder with another long day, 185 miles, and the beginning of the Missouri Ozarks hills – steep and rolling. I switched over to a triple crank set several weeks ago to handle these challenges. Hopefully it will be enough.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 9 - Ulysses to Pratt, Kansas

Today was the day we all had been dreading since we signed up for Elite Tour - riding through the heart of the Kansas wind tunnel. Yesterday we dodged a bullet a little bit as the winds weren’t as strong as they could have been. Today was 25-35 mph crosswinds all day, mixed with an occasional head wind, and, to be fair, a little bit of quartering tailwind. Scattered thunderstorms loomed all day with occasional spatters. One group got hit pretty hard with a short downpour.

Overall it was a tough day, definitely one to group up with other riders to cope with the wind even though the distance was a relatively short 151 miles.

The PACTour support crew did their best to keep us cheered up. At Mile 45, Tracey and Susan unfurled a big PACTour banner as we went by, and managed not to get blown away.

Four of us started out together (Randy, Jon Batek, Brad Reid and myself), and wisely let the small crazy fast group head off into the sunrise without us. We were able to echelon fairly well for the first forty miles when we caught up with Max Hogan, who had dropped from the fast group. At this point we changed to a flowing double echelon line for a while then eventually broke into two groups so we could ride safely on the shoulder. This worked out pretty well for the rest of the day.

With 60 miles to go, Randy and I were together and he really cranked it up. He is riding stronger every day. I held on and we left the other group of three in the dust, figuratively, as it was still raining off and on. With 30 miles to go, I had a bit of a meltdown. I tried a caffeine energy boost (Dr. Pepper) but nothing happened. Finally, after 20 miles, a GU tube and Payday bar got me fired up again and we finished strong.

Scenic highlights today were minimal, other than two tributes to the winds that blow consistently through this part of Kansas. One was the M. T. Liggetts Political Statement Emporium in Mullenville, Kansas. There are over a 100 whirligigs and other metallic art, from used farm implements and other material along the fence line of his farm at Mile 108. Very interesting – but we had 40+ more miles to cover and it was raining. This is one of the tough parts about Elite Tour, there isn’t any time to stop and look around. Fortunately Randy is quick with the camera so we can at least say we saw it on the way by.

The other tribute to wind was the 170 tower wind farm at Mile 55. By this point we were believers that they could power the whole country by harnessing the wind going through this area.

Every time we reach a rest or lunch stop, the PACTour rule is you must wash your hands (sans gloves of course) before touching any food or drink. No cheating, even if you are in a hurry. This makes a lot of sense and goes a long ways to keeping bacteria or other communicable virus from spreading around.

Tomorrow’s outlook is much better as Elite Tour and RAAM (Race Across America) veterans tell us. We get out of the wind tunnel path and head past Wichita on to Yates Center, Kansas, 178 miles. Winds are forecast to be less than 10 mph, but thunderstorms are likely.
Tomorrow is also hump day. After that we start the nine day countdown to the end of the ride.
We are all trained into the daily cycle now. 5:30a wake up, Dress, Eat. Ride. Rest stops. Ride. Lunch stop. Ride. More rest stops. Ride. Hotel. Stop. Clean/fix bike and person. Eat. Ruminate briefly. Sleep. Repeat 19 times.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 8 - Trinidad, Colorado to Ulysses, Kansas

Today’s agenda was 193 miles of eastern Colorado plains and the start of our trek across Kansas. Strong cross winds were predicted and temps in the 90s were forecast. Flat, long, windy and hot were the words of the day.

Good news - Mark Pattinson, the Race Across America rider who went over the guard rail yesterday, was back riding on a borrowed bike today. It looks like he will be able to get a replacement frame in time for the RAAM race in mid-June.

We started at 5:30a, an hour earlier than usual, to cover the longer distance in daylight hours, plus we end up in the Central Time Zone once we cross into Kansas.

PACTour support man Brad Reid at his bagel and toast station for our early breakfast.

Right off the bat the first group of 8-10 riders went off at a crazy fast pace, 24-28 mph, with up and down rollers. I was near the front of the group and took a turn leading, unfortunately up a short, steep little hill. I was pretty winded by the top and nearly fell off the back of the group when my turn ended. A mile or two later, about 10 miles out, I blinked and lost contact with the group. I had a few seconds to decide whether to bridge up quickly or let them go. I choose to ease up and they quickly disappeared. I spent a few minutes debating whether this was the best move, but enjoyed riding the next 30 miles on my own to the first rest stop, passing a couple of other riders who had also fallen off the pace. At the first rest stop, John Newton and I hooked up and worked together to the second rest stop where we found Randy Mouri and Jon Batek ready to leave. At the third rest stop we added Max Hogan. The next stop added Lara and Jim on the tandem to our group and 15 miles from the end we picked up Gene Ter Horst, so we were a happy octet heading into Ulysses.

There weren't many towns along US 160, but you could spot the grain elevators from many miles away. We will be seeing a lot of these over the next several days.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting Wyatt, a seven year old BMX bike rider at the lunch stop in Prichett, Co. Wyatt rode up to our trailers and asked to have the bike mechanic look at his bike. Jon did a quick check and adjusted his handlebars. Wyatt then showed us his trick moves, including putting both feet on the top tube. He was a really cute kid and insisted on leading us out of town – a distance of three blocks from the park.

An Echelon day.

This was an excellent day to work together in a group, as the persistent wind was variously a headwind, crosswind, quartering tailwind and a blustery, quartering head wind. We did a lot of echelon pace lining which worked very well with our experienced group. This was also a big energy saver and morale maintainer for everyone. We were on US 160 all day, heading pretty much due east. Traffic was virtually non-existent until we got close to the end at Ulysses, Kansas, so forming echelon lines was quite safe, and we kept an eye out for any traffic coming up behind us. After our group grew, we even had a double echelon line going for a while, which didn’t take up as much of the road.

Lara Sullivan and Jim Slauson joined our group on their tandem for the last 50 miles. Their contribution was much appreciated in the windy crosswinds.

More variations of butt preservation strategies are coming into play, including double shorts, balms,creams, special potions and changing saddles. Most riders are coping ok, but long, hot, flat days are tough on the tushie as you can tell by Max Hogan's expression.

Colorado is now over, we are down to 3,000' and breathing a little better. Kansas is our fifth state in eight days.

Tomorrow is a ‘short’ day of 151 miles to Pratt Kansas. Weather forecast is for 25-35 mph crosswinds from the south and a 30% chance of thunderstorms.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 7 - Monte Vista to Trinidad, Colorado

Mark Pattison - RAAM Racer
Rob - leaving rest stop on way to La Veta Pass

Loading into the shuttle van after La Veta Pass - Randy, Jon, Max, Jim

Singer/waitress at Rino Restaurant in Trinidad

Today’s leg was only the second time in PACTour history that the ride was stopped for safety reasons. Winds gusting over 60 mph created very treacherous, swirling wind conditions on a high mountain pass in Colorado. One rider, RAAM favorite Mark Pattison, was blown off the road and went over a guard rail.
We started in Monte Vista this morning. La Veta Pass was about 66 miles into the ride. Until the approach to the pass, we were travelling basically east, with a fairly good S-SW cross wind. Riders were grouping up into echelon pacelines using the wide shoulder, Even across the flat mountain plains there were significant shifts in the wind.
Once we started up La Veta Pass, heading northeast, a tail wind picked up considerably as we reached higher elevations. It was a unique experience to be climbing a mountain pass at 15-25 mph. Standing up to catch the wind would gain another 1-2 mph. After the top of the pass at 9,400’, the problems started on the descent. Blasts of wind, up to 60 mph and more, would hit you from any direction. My first sense of this was a head on blast that pushed my glasses into my face and stung my cheeks with fine gravel. My speed went from 35 to 12 in a couple of seconds. A little farther on, two riders ahead of me were being pushed sideways by the wind, in unpredictable patterns. Most of us got down the hill ok, either by by being very cautious or going faster and managing the wind gusts well. There were some incidents though that highlighted the dangers.
Mark Pattison, who is planning to compete in the Race Across America (RAAM) ultra marathon event in three weeks, was the first one down the hill and was pushed off the road by a big swirl of wind. He flipped over a guardrail, his bike sailing over his head with him. Mark amazingly was unhurt, not even any road rash, but his custom ultra distance bike, with electronic shifting, etc. did not survive the fall, cracking his seat stays. He was able to ride the bike slowly down the reste of the hill. Mark finished second in RAAM 2008 and is a favorite in this year’s race.
Lynn Lashley, one of our women riders, was blown off the road and nearly went over a steep embankment. She fortunately only has a small bit of road rash on her knee.
Lon Haldeman, our PACTour leader and famous past RAAM champion, had to put both feet out to keep himself upright when he was blown into a gravel turnout.
At the bottom of this 10 mile torture test was the next rest stop. Susan was there and was already very concerned as the next part of the route would take us over Cucharas Pass, 1,000’ higher than La Veta, directly into the 40-60 mph wind and with a twistier descent. Once everyone was off the hill, Lon and Susan decided to stop the ride at that point and shuttled us up to our next overnight in Trinidad. No one disagreed. This is only the second time in 18 years that PACTour has stopped a leg of a ride. We got in 76 miles, a little over ½ of the day’s miles. Probably most riders were a little bit glad to have a small bonus rest as tomorrow we ride 193 miles to Ulysses, Kansas with a projected 20-25 mph crosswind from the south.
We are now out of the western mountains and face the prospect of several days of wheat fields and silos across the rest of Colorado and through Kansas, with likely strong winds and the possibility of rain in a couple of days. So far, (other than the wind today) the weather has been very good. We are all well tanned, some of us even a little crispy in spots.
One of the interesting effects of a day like this is how as a group we are growing closer together. There were lots of very animated stories about coming down the La Veta hill. Everyone here is a strong rider with many years of road riding experience. Some are faster than others, but nearly everyone has ridden every mile to this point and morale is still very good.
Dinner tonight was a special experience. Eight of us went to the Rino Restaurant in old downtown Trinidad where the theme was pasta, the ambience was wonderful, food was great, the conversation was fun and we were treated to several very well done classic songs by the owners and waitresses.
The biggest issue now for many riders are that butts are getting sore. More of the evening dinner conversations now revolve around ways to minimize or at least numb this problem area. Other aches and bruises come and go. Personally, I am getting over my cold, my ribs are still sore from the fall on Day 1, but improving. Onward.
Because of the safety concerns on the ride today, we all get a free pass on the ride-every-mile challenge.
Thanks, Lon and Susan for providing a great challenge for us, but looking after our safety when necessary.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 6 - Durango to Monte Vista, Colorado

Today the big challenge was Wolf Creek Canyon Pass at 10,500’. It was a butt kicker. The first 90 miles were great – a group of six of us (Randy, Tim, Jon, John, Max and I) worked together through some easy to moderate rollers and a few short climbs. Starting at mile 90, at the foot of the pass, we climbed 2,400’ over the next eight miles, at a grade of 5-7%. Us old flatlanders could definitely feel the high elevation.
After a nice lunch stop at the top of the pass and adding a layer to handle the cold descent, we blew down the next 20 miles in well under an hour. Our good luck continued after that with a 20+ mph tailwind or another 15 miles. All good things come to an end though and our last 10 miles we had a cross/quartering wind. Overall though, a very nice day with 7,650’ of climbing.
We are staying at the Movie Manor, in Monte Vista, Colorado. Out our window are two drive in movie screens – we can choose between ‘How to Train your Dragon’ or the ‘Bounty Hunter’, once it gets dark. Most of us will probably be in bed by then, but the concept is very cool.
Tomorrow we have two more big mountain passes, La Veta and Cucharas, both in the 9-10,000’ range. They should be a little less steep than what we did today but there are rumors of a headwind later in the day . We end up in Trinidad, Colorado tomorrow night and after that, we start heading across the plains.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 5 - Kayenta, Az to Durango, Co

Our paceline group starting out in Monument Valley
at about 6:50a. Randy Mouri is the photographer.
Our paceline group - Brad Reed, Jon Batek, Tim Feldman
Randy Mouri, Rob Welsh, John Newton at the first rest stop
in Monument Valley. Our layers came off quickly, we were in
shorts and jersey by 9a

Jon Batek in Monument Valley with Shiprock Mountain in the background

Tim Feldman in Monument Valley

Another great day to ride across the country! We started at sunrise in Kayenta, heading into Monument Valley, Arizona, then Utah. This was one of the all time fabulous morning rides anywhere – the morning light was on the huge cliff monuments, the road was smooth, it was dead quiet, it was absolutely beautiful. Six of us formed a paceline early and kept up a better than 20 mph average for the first 60 miles over some ups and downs. The fantastic rock formations were hard to ignore, even while we were cruising along.
At the second rest stop I strained a rib muscle, probably from trying to keep up with the younger, trimmer guys. :-) This didn’t keep me from continuing to ride but I wasn’t able to go really hard on the up hills without causing a pain in my upper rib cage. This was the same spot I fell on back on Day 1 so I may have re-stressed this muscle or rib. From this point on, to keep things moving along I would leave a rest stop 5 minutes before the rest of the group so I could ride my own pace and not slow down the guys at least for the first part of the leg. This worked pretty well, although the first time we did it, their competitive juices got flowing and they treated me like a race rabbit and hunted me down quickly by hammering their way up to where I was piddling along. The guys were really good when we rode together, taking it easy on the longer hills, so I could stay with them. As the afternoon wore on, the group overall slowed down and I was able to keep pace for all but the last big hill. This was much appreciated by me and made for a good sense of cameraderie.
After 60 miles of Monument Valley, we cruised for another 60 miles up Montezuma Creek, over a number of small ridges in the high desert plains of Utah and Colorado (three states in one day!) to Cortez, Co. The Dairy Queen in town was voted a required stop by the whole group. From there I left early again and was soon caught by Tim Feldman, from Colorado. Tim eased up and we chatted for 45 minutes about biking and life (what else!) until the rest of the group joined us part way up the 8,000' Mancos climb and the last rest stop. After that, Randy, Tim and I dropped 600’ very quickly then started up the last long, gradual climb to the top of the pass outside of Durango at 8,400’.
The 12 mile descent into Durango dropped 1,800’, with many 6%+ pitches. Randy and I reached 50+ mph at one point. We were fortunate to be able to use the main traffic lane as there was virtually no downhill traffic. We would not have taken a chance on going that fast on the shoulder, although it was pretty decent. What a rush! This is two days in a row with a screamer downhill finish.
Overall, everyone in the Elite Tour group is doing well. We all have some aches & pains (tush, shoulder, neck, back, achilles tendon are the most common issues), but we are pressing on and morale seems to be very high. Lon and Susan say that by day 5 most people have gotten ‘Elite Tour fit’ and will continue to get stronger as the tour continues. Nearly everyone has been able to ride every mile so far. If you complete all 3,100 miles of the Elite Tour you become solo RAAM qualified, which entitles you to enter the Race Across America as a solo rider – a tremendous challenge that goes beyond what Elite Tour does. We have three past RAAM riders in our group, Mark Pattison, Scott Luikert and Harold Trease. Mark is competing in his second RAAM later this June – in 2008 he finished 2nd. Mark will ride with us until we get to St. Louis then take a 2-3 week taper break before starting the RAAM race in San Diego in mid-June. Randy plans to compete in RAAM in 2011.
The Elite Tour follows 90% of the RAAM route so it is a good preview of what the riding will be like. So far we have covered 826 miles in five days, with nearly 35,000’ of climbing.
Tomorrow we go to Monte Verde, Co, over Wolf Creek Pass at 10,500’. The distance will be a little less at 145 miles. Weather looks to be very good again!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 4 - Flagstaff to Kayenta, Arizona

Rob - Heading down the high plains desert road
Great PACTour Support people - Tracey, Susan and Bill

Randy's very waterproof, windproof, chemical proof gloves

Today was a 'rest' day of 151 miles across the high desert plains. The scenary was excellent, but eventually became monotonous (in a beautiful way, of course). We started at 34 degrees, but it quickly warmed up and was a great day, weatherwise (except for the shifting winds - which blew us around and kept us on our toes in some places. It was mid-70s when we arrived in Kayenta, a little before 4p, our earliest time in so far.

Our ride basically descended from 7,000' in Flagstaff down to 4,200’ in the high desert floor, then climbed back up to nearly 7,000’ before dropping 1,000’ into Kayenta at 6,000’.

At 33 degrees first thing in the morning, nearly everyone started out with multiple layers – see the picture of Randy’s heavy duty gloves, which kept his hands very warm, and could double as heavy duty chemical handlers. :-)

We are getting into the rhythm of long distance transcontinental riding. Get up at 5:45a, snarf down breakfast, fill water bottles, bring your bike out, bring your gear bag out, load the gear bag, get on the bike, go. Stop every 20-30 miles for a snack, drink lots of fluids, fill up bottles and go. At about the 60% point in the ride, have lunch at the rest stop, go. Continue with rest stops until you get there. Stop. Unwind and snack a little for a few minutes, take your gear bag to your room, clean and fix any mechanical issues with your bike, take it to your room, shower and clean up, find a place to get dinner, have a massage, catch up on email for a short period, be in bed by 10p. Repeat 19 times.

Lenny Z unfortunately had to withdraw from the tour due to cracked ribs and a twisted wrist that came after two accidents in the parking lot. It is too bad, Len and I rode together at a Desert Camp this year and had a good week.

Roads were generally very good, but US 160 into Kayenta was quite busy and the surface was quite rough in some spots. A large motorcycle club went by, many of them waving and giving us the thumbs up – very nice.

The long downhill into Kayenta was a great way to finish the day.

Tomorrow we head for Durango, with a couple of 10% grades and 178 miles to cover. Time for bed.

Day 3 - Wichenburg to Flagstaff, Arizona

Andrew Puddy - Our Aussie rider and nice guy

Almost done - entering Flagstaff

Birthday Boy Rob - 59 today!

Lon Haldeman (PACTour), Randy, LynnLashley, Rob

Today was the last day of the three initial epic rides of Elite Tour. We only rode 151 miles, but this included four major hills of 2,000’ feet each and total climbing of 12,500’ overall.
Our group today started with Randy, John Newton, Jon Batek and Lynn Lashley. Of course no bike ride is complete without a flat or two so we had our share again today, but only three for the day – a big improvement over yesterday.
The temperature worked in our favor today, starting at 65 in Wichenburg, finished at 60 in Flagstaff. The wind was our friend also, pushing us along. The breeze was very cool on the higher elevations but quite warm on the desert floor, where temps were in the low 80s.
Our first climb of the day was Yarnell Grade, about 19 miles from Wichenburg. We climbed about 1,000’ to get to the base of the hill. Yarnell Grade is about 2,000’ and 8 miles long, reaching nearly 5,000’. Long stretches of this hill are at 6%. We got up this hill pretty quickly and headed on to the Prescott climb, which was a lot more fun, climbing about 1,000’ then going through several up and downs to get us up to 6,000’ before dropping into Prescott.
After Prescott we headed downhill and across a desert plain to Mingus Mountain. By now we were getting a little tired so agreed to take it very easy up this hill, which turned out to be a good idea as it was a real grinder.
After a much needed lunch break at 7,000’ at the top of Mingus, we faced a screamer six mile downhill over some of the roughest roads we have ridden, down to Jerome. It is always fun to go downhill but this one was very hard on the bike and hands. After Jerome we continued to roar downhill, dropping all the way down to 3,500’, easily going over 40 mph on this long run out hill. While it is great to blast downhill, this also became very depressing, as I knew we were going to have to re-climb all that elevation again to get to Flagstaff at 6,900’. On the other hand, the views were spectacular.
A little after we descended the Jerome hill, Jim and Lara on the tandem, melted their carbon rear rim and had to have a replacement delivered by the support crew.
After we reached the desert floor again, a short climb got us into Sedona and the start of the Oak Creek Canyon hill, the last of the day. The views of the cliffs and canyon floor as we climbed were beautiful. About ½ of the way up the canyon, a Dairy Queen appeared in the middle of nowhere. We had to stop! This turned out to be the best move of the day. After this, Randy, fueled by a caffeinated milk shake, took off like a rocket and pulled us up the remaining 2,000’ to the last rest stop. From there a quick 13 mile roller coaster got us into Flagstaff and our hotel for another great day of riding. Randy and I are working really well together on the hills and pacelines and having a fun trip.
Scott Luikart is back on the road, with a new crank set, and only a few bruises from his accident yesterday. Len Zawodniak took a spill, bruising is already cracked ribs.
Tomorrow is a ‘rest’ day, with only 151 miles to ride, but we actually drop 1,000’ on the way from Flagstaff to Kayenta. It will be 33 in the morning, so we will be bundled up, but 74 in the afternoon, with a good chance of a tail wind. Things are going well.