Endorphin Junkies on a Bender

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June 6th 2006
Published: June 6th 2006
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A Note of Support for ChrisA Note of Support for ChrisA Note of Support for Chris

"Keep Going Darling!"
Somewhere around mile 280 I muttered, “To hell with this,” and kicked it into turbo.

I’d already been riding over 28 hours, and I was determined to meet my goal of finishing all 375 miles in less than 36 hours. It seemed like a ludicrous goal, but don’t get in the way of an endorphin junkie.

And I was an endorphin junkie on a bender.

“Mind over matter,” I counseled myself, “You’ve been averaging 15.1 miles per hour so far. Keep it up for another 5 hours and you’ve got it made. 75 miles to the finish, you can cover that in 5 hours at 15 mph and finish within 36 hours.

So I grinned to myself in sheer idiocy, firmly fixed the gorgeous smile of my baby daughter Abigayle in my mind and tucked into my aero bars while belting out Abby’s favorite song at the top of my lungs,

“If I could I surely would,
Stand on the rock where Moses stood,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep!”

In the rear view mirror attached to my helmet I saw my riding buddy Bill Beck drop back, but I set my sights on the next rider in front of me. It wasn’t my intention to drop Bill, but I had a goal to meet: 375 miles in 36 hours.

“Oh Mary, don’t ya weep no more,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep no more,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep!”

The hills were rolling, just right for quick sprints. Just like Eddie B coached, I rode through the hills, shifting up at the crest, picking up as much speed as I could on the downhills in my aero tuck, trying to spin out of my top gear of 54x10 on the way down in order to minimize the amount of time I had to spend spinning to the top of the next hill in my 30x30 granny gear. Hit the bottom of the next hill with as much momentum as possible and stand up for a quick sprint.

“One of these nights ‘bout twelve o’clock,
This whole world is gonna rock,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep!”

For the first 280 miles I had conserved my energy, keeping pace with slower, steady riders. I had resisted the urge to go flitting off at the beginning of the ride with the “mothership” of tandems, enveloped in their buzzing cloud of single riders; knowing that if I tried to ride too fast, too soon, I’d wind up getting dropped by the mothership and passed by riders I’d normally be able to keep up with.

“Moses stood on the Red Sea shore,
Smote the water with a two by four,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep!”

After about five miles in turbo, Bill caught back up with me, much to my surprise, “I thought I’d left you back there, Bill!” I called out as he pulled up alongside me,

“Well, you nearly did!”

I told Bill the plan, and he stuck it out beside me as headed up another hill, a song still under my breath, a smile on my face,

“Old Mr. Satan he got mad,
Missed that soul that he thought he had,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep!”

Every minute or so I’d do a “sweep” of my vitals: speed above average, no cars behind me in the rear view mirror, take a sip from my camelbak, keep the pedals spinning. Every thirty minutes eat, even if I wasn’t hungry. Keep eating, keep feeding the beast.

“Brothers and sisters don’t you cry,
There’ll better times by and by,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t ya weep!”

As Bill and I crested one hill I spied a few riders cresting the next hill in front of us. And sure enough, at the top of the next hill there were a few more riders in sight,

“Hey Bill, I think we’re catching up with the tandems! Wouldn’t it be great if we could catch them and just hang out on the back for the end of the ride?”

Bill grimaced at the thought, telling me, “I already got burned trying to play that game. I thought it would be a great idea to get in front of them for a picture, but it took nearly everything I had.”

With 35 miles to go, the prospect of running out of energy was unpleasant, but it wouldn’t mean the end of the ride. With six hours to go before the final 40 hour time limit, we could bonk, recover & painfully finish the ride. It was a gamble. How much strength did I really have left? How much could I push it? Would Bill stick it out? Was I deliriously high on endorphins?

“OK, you’re right, Bill. Let’s just keep our speed above 15 and see what happens.”

I tucked back into my aero bars, settling down into my happy spot (baby Abby giggling and smiling in my lap as I sang to her), and pushed on. Each turn, each crest, each flat stretch, the mothership got closer: three or four tandems and almost twice as many single riders. For hundreds of miles now my buddies and me had seen only brief glances of the mothership at the control points. We’d ride in, sore from the last batch of hills, only to see the tandems roaring off again. It seemed they had eaten at every restaurant before we even got there. In the light of our second sunrise of riding my buddy Chris had been caught in midstream with his shorts down when they mothership blew past us. Chris and I had slept for less than a couple of hours that night before, forcing ourselves back into the saddle before Three A.M., struggling with hills in
Off Duty Railroad PhotographerOff Duty Railroad PhotographerOff Duty Railroad Photographer

Dude, that's my train!
the predawn darkness that we felt sure we could have sprinted over a day before. As the mothership rolled past us their friendly banter and laughs drifted in their wake, and we felt sure we’d never catch them. We picked up Bill at that point, who decided to drop off the mothership and ride at a more relaxed pace with us.

But now Bill and I had left Chris behind on the hills, and the mothership was just around the corner. Now let me be clear, randonneuring is NOT racing. Finishing is the goal, not finishing fast. But dang it, put me on a bike next to someone else, and I want to find out who’s faster. It’s usually a contest I lose: I’m just not the fastest guy out there. Yet after 34 hours of riding, I still wanted to test myself against a pack of a dozen or so riders. When we dropped down into a little valley, rolled over a creek and started pumping up the next rise, I didn’t slow down when I caught the back of the mothership. Instead I shifted up a notch and sprinted even harder over the hill, flirting with the double yellow line as I passed the tandems, grinning like a giddy addict, the opiates in my brain overriding any pain receptors in my brain. “Woohoo!” I heard someone call out from the mothership, “Go, Wes!”

For another couple of hills it was a solo effort, but then Bill was back on my wheel. “I thought the plan was to stick with the mothership!” he panted out,

“It was,” I replied, “But dude, I couldn’t help it! The heck with this, I’m gonna finish before the mothership!”

A worried look crossed Bill’s face, “You, you can’t do that. They’ll catch us for sure! They’ll never let us finish first! Besides, we’re rookies!”

Bill had a point. Neither one of us had ridden 600 kilometers, 375 miles, in one go before. Heck, when we met on the 200k neither one of us had ridden 300k. We were both rookie randonneurs, and just back around the bend was a pack of seasoned super randonneurs and randonneuses. Our chances of finishing before them were slim, but I was feeling strong and ready to gamble.

“Bill, we’ve got less than thirty miles to go. Let’s keep our pace up, and we’ll see what happens. I think we can drop them when we cross Route 15.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, it’s a nasty highway to cross. The two of us can make it across faster than all those tandems. They’ll have to regroup on the other side. The same goes for Frederick. When we start hitting traffic lights we could get through while the mothership gets stuck at a red light. Or,” I realized with a grimace, “we could get stuck at a light while they catch up to us.”

By now my legs were rubber in my mind, molded and massaged into unstoppable pistons. With another smile I squeezed a few more drops on endorphin into my system, and firmly threw myself over the delusional brink. I swear I heard John Tesh on the keyboards, a swelling, pumping symphonic overture keeping time with my pedals. Bob Roll provided a voice over and I thought for sure the helicopter on the horizon was pacing me for a long shot as we broke away from the mothership.

We rode. We rode hard. I’d occasionally steal a glance back, the mothership receding in the distance. Twenty five miles to go, and we still led. Twenty miles to go, still alone. Fifteen miles, and no mothership. Somewhere around ten miles another rider caught up with us,

“Hey, did you break away from the mothership?” I called out,

“No,” he panted, “They sent me up here to demoralize you until the cavalry arrives. They wanted you to know that they're tired from riding real hard.”

"Yeah, well they got more sleep than I did!"

With that he dropped back onto Bill’s wheel. I just smiled some more, and stood up for another hill sprint. I checked my cue sheet again:

366.4 2.0 X US15 SS w/caution >Bartgis Rd

Easy enough. I checked the next cue as well, having learned the hard way to always read two cues ahead,

366.5 0.1 QBR tro Bartgis SS @Hansonville

Cross Highway 15. A quick right turn after the highway to stay on Bartgis Road at the intersection with Hansonville. The mothership was only a minute behind me. I came to a stop in front of the four lane, divided highway, watching the cars roar by at sixty miles per hour, looking for a break in the traffic. Seeing one I sprinted off, just as the mothership foreriders were coming up the hill behind me. Repeating the same drill in the median, I sprinted again, saw the stop sign, the sign for Hansonville Road, and made my quick right, looking back over my shoulder at the mothership on the other side of the busy highway.

I followed the cue sheet right, but the cue sheet was wrong.

For almost half a mile I waited for the little road paralleling HIghway 15 to cut to the left, because the cue sheet called for a right, and a right hand turn would take me back onto Highway 15. But the turn never came, and the road fed back out onto Highway 15. My 30 second lead on the mothership had been turned into a minute-plus deficit. Cursing through a U turn, I sprinted back down the road, passing several other rookie randonneurs who had followed my lead, trying to convince myself that with eight miles to go, I could catch up. If they hit a red light, I could catch up. It they let up, I could catch up. I pushed and pushed, nearly missing a couple of turns, passing four or five riders, including one tandem, but it wasn’t until I rolled into the Holiday Inn parking lot that I finally caught up with the mothership. I joined the line at the final control, and Gordon signed us all in at the same time: 1616 hours, 36 hours, 16 minutes since we had begun.

As I scarfed down a piece of Domino’s pizza I speed-dialed my wife for one of the best cell phone conversations ever,

“Hey Honey, guess what! I caught the tandems! I passed the mothership.”

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


My Endorphin Buddy BillMy Endorphin Buddy Bill
My Endorphin Buddy Bill

Hi, My Name's Wes, and I'm a friend of Bill...

7th June 2006

Strong work!
Gosh, what an amazing ride. Glad Abbie gave ya such--an--ah, inspirational song?! I guess if Moses, Mary and Satan can't get a person motivated, who can? Great photos also.
7th June 2006

So Cute!!!
Wes, I love the photo of the boys on the tandem!!! Fun writeup.

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