Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sun and More Sun

Another day back at the mine. My first 'round trip after getting back from vacation and it seems like I hardly left. Heat, heavy train, long stay in the hotel, frustration...oh yeah, it's great to be back. I guess it really isn't all that bad but it sure is hard just trying to get back in the groove after living almost like a human for a couple of weeks. You know; sleeping when it's dark, spending time with the brood, a little leisure time...that kind of thing can grow on a guy. If I live long enough to have 5 weeks of vacation, I don't know that I'll be able to ever go back to work if I take all of it at once.

Speaking of vacation...where did I leave off? Oh yeah...back in VA Beach...

As it turns out, our first night was kind of fuzzy. I was really beat and it all seemed to melt together like everything does when you haven't had enough sleep. I crashed pretty hard and pretty early, hoping I'd be recovered enough to hit the sand in the morning. By the time it got dark, I was gone.

Dawn brought sunshine, climbing humidity and a fast rising thermometer.

Much recovered, Chris and I ventured out to reconnoiter. Early morning is far and away the best time to be on the boardwalk. Only a few runners, bikers and bladers are out and the beach is nearly deserted. The sun traded places with the previous night's thunderheads on the horizon, bright but not yet too hot. I could live with an AM walk or ride by the sea most days for about the next 20 years or so. If we could find a place where I could hold a job and keep my seniority, the ocean rolled up to the sand, there were nearby hills to test my mountain bike, somebody desperately wanted to give us a house and traffic didn't SUCK...we'd have it made. But for here and now, the sand was warm, the water was cool and for a moment...all was right with the world.

One thing I discovered very soon about that area aside from how nice the beach is...everything around there is flat. You have to actually search to find anything resembling a knoll. A short road bike jaunt with some folks from the NS Tour de Cure team demonstrated that if it wasn't for a stiff breeze...riding down there is like sitting on the trainer. Apparently, the riding mode of choice in these parts is to go really fast with a whole bunch of people and swap leads in a paceline. Sounds like fun but I personally prefer a view that doesn't include quite so much bib short and derailleur. I'm pretty much a solo guy when I'm hammering unless Doc is in my draft so I'm not really used to following anyone. Besides, the roads were extremely skinny and completely devoid of shoulders or much in the way of markings. This means you either tiptoe on the edge of disaster between asphalt and ditch to let traffic go or you just let it all hang out and ride in the lane hoping the next low-flying Audi doesn't need a new hood ornament. It's interesting and I can't wait to (hopefully) ride in their version of the Tour next April but for my part, I think I prefer the vertical world.

Anyway, I spent a chunk of one day lounging on the beach and sloshing around in the surf. Very relaxing, especially without a cell phone. Someday, I'm going to heave my cell right out in the ocean and cease to be available. I got along pretty well before those miserable things and I think I might like to do so again at some point. Dream on.

I also got out on both bikes at one time or another while Chris baked and the kids body-surfed. One little cruise right around the beach front area led me into a park with some pretty nice paths and scenery. Still generally flat terrain of course but at least it was dirt instead of sand (mostly). It sure is weird to bike in places with Spanish Moss hanging off the trees. Looked like Pirates of the Caribbean to me but it was pretty cool anyway. Challenging in some ways like fighting the heat and humidity and pushing through the sandy spots but fun nonetheless.

Street riding on the other hand was quite a challenge in other respects as most of the drivers were either oblivious or outright hostile to bicycles. I'm not much intimidated by traffic after years of risking life and limb on the Hog but the deliberate near-misses and cut-offs got old pretty fast. Now I know why group rides are de rigueur around here; there's more back-up available if you have to drag some side-swiping idiot out of his car and review his legal obligations to other highway users (or just stomp his ass if you're a little less PC). I guess you have to get out into the open a little to do much road work without the hassles but I gave it a whirl anyway. I had a loop all figured out but the daily thunderstorm sort of let the air out of that plan and maybe it's just as well. I got some pavement miles in and lived to tell about it so it's all good. Then there was Thursday and the last, longest pedal adventure of the trip. Let's just say that that one that turned into an epic and will be a post all it's own. When I get back from my next rock around the clock on tonight's train, I'll try to get it down. The Lake of the Dismal Swamp is all I'm gonna say for now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Invaders on the Beach My last post covered just one event in the first week of my 14 day hiatus from railroading. Needless to say, there were others.

Looming large on the list was a trip to hot and sunny (really, really hot and sunny) Virginia Beach. It's been a lot of years since Chris and I last took a jaunt down thataway. A couple of offspring, a house, a career change and middle age have all intervened. And this time around it was a luggage-stuffed mini-van with kids in the back and bicyles on the rack instead of a screaming red Shovelhead with garbage-bag-lined gym bags on the sissy bar. Times they do change.

At least when the usual enroute monsoon opened up on this go-round, we didn't get drowned and beaten half to death as was normally the case on the Harley. Hitting rain on the bike headed to the shore always seemed like riding through Heaven's own urinal flush; the sky would get dark, lightning would flash and then the Big Guy would zip up and pull the lever...
Every time we rode to Norfolk or VA Beach, we'd UPS our clothes down ahead of us because we knew nothing would arrive dry enough to wear no matter how many Heftys we used. Once the downpour started, there was no rain gear short of a space suit that could withstand it. There's just no describing what it's like unless you've done it yourself. You could volunteer as a target for fire department hose practice and that might be close but it probably wouldn't last as long. I've been more than suprised a few times that the Big Twin could gulp down that much water and keep the plugs firing. It sure looks different through windshield wipers.

Unconcerned with dodging tropical weather this time and hoping to miss at least some of the heaviest beltway traffic, we hit the blacktop in the wee hours of the morning. The kids promptly crashed in the back and I never heard much except music and tire hum until daylight. A breakfast and gas stop in Harrisburg displayed the first cracks in the plan as we got nailed by the morning rush hour trying to get out of town. The ETA display on the Garmin kept creeping further and further into the future as 6 lanes stuttered slowly southward. This was frustrating but also merely a warm up for the main event. The real fun came in the neighborhood of DC...pretty much as I remembered it from every time I've ever been near the place. Construction, detours, gridlock, attitude; yep, nothing's changed here. I95 was an 8 lane, 15 mile parking lot which only accelerated above 3 mph after we passed the crunched plastic and glass remains of someone's artery-clogging 'oops'. My lack of sleep before departure began to display itself as a lousy disposition which finally led to surrending the wheel for a while to catch a nap. Another hour slipped away.

Eventually the traffic jams, rest stops, thunderstorms and brake lights all blurred together until at last, signs appeared advertising an approaching beach. The screen on the GPS showed nothing further east but blue so I knew we'd either reach our hotel soon or have to find out if a fully packed Toyota will float. Fortunately, the road took a left before the blue line and we didn't have to test the van for seaworthiness. But we did need to offload and get all that stuff out the hatch and up to the 5th floor. Long intervals passed waiting for the single bank of elevators to have room for our travelling show. When the van was at last safely parked, the last coolers and suitcases had made it to the room and all hands were accounted for, I finally got a look off the balcony and realized we really were here again. The ocean was a smooth hazy blue fading to mist where the clouds touch the water, just as I remembered it. The beach looked toasted, edged with slow breakers and boardwalk. Late afternoon storms were still rolling around in the heat so the sky was moving, dropping lightning and rain squalls as the weather moved out to sea. I'd forgotten that big horizon over the Atlantic. It drops right off the edge of the world taking ships and thunderheads with it. There's places and things in life that can still make me stop and stare. The sea meeting the sky in it's eastern home is one of them.

We slowly got settled into our temporary digs and wound down watching those short, vicious little thunderstorms blow off shore. The ships out on the sea lanes disappeared behind sheets of rain only to pop back into view a few minutes later as the squalls passed. In between every blast of wind and lightning, the Navy fighters doing touch-and-go's at Oceana would roar overhead, coming in low with gear and flaps hanging out. Mean looking little devils sneaking in through the overcast with a touch of afterburner to stir up the neighborhood. Things were looking up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Second Century AT (After Trek)

One century was not enough. And now I'm calling everything AT because it's a whole new ball game with the 2.1. Everything BT (before Trek) was just a warm up. That beauty is some way to fly!

So I'm a sucker for punishment. From out of who-knows-where, a notion occurred to me to take a little solo distance ride while I'm on vacation. Great idea. No pressure to get back by such-and-such a time, no worry about getting called to work about 87 miles from home, just me and the mileage. But where to go, where to go?

How about around another lake? Sounds like a possibility. I've ridden the old Harley around Cayuga a zillion times, how about let's pedal it once? And just like that, a plan was born.
Load up on Gatorade and Clifs, pump up the tires, pack my tool bag, plug in the iPod and point the Trek north.

The weather was a little iffy right out of the gate. The NWS guys advertised a 70% chance of rain but clearing later on. I'm game for that so I was on the road by 8 AM under clouds and fog. Funny how fog sometimes gets thicker and darker until you really can't tell the difference between the mist and rain. Less than an hour out, I noticed it was a lot thicker and darker and very much like rain. In fact, it was definitely rain. The world on the other side of my shades disappeared.
Fortunately, it didn't last too long and dropping down the valley to the foot of the lake put me under the worst of it. Not the most auspicious way to begin.

I made a short stop downtown to get my hair buzzed at my sister-in-law's shop (nothing like getting something productive done while I'm at it), then off and running again. The ceiling lifted a little and the rain quit but still looking pretty dreary. I dispensed with the sunglasses on the way out of Tiny Town. The lake came into view and started drifting slowly by on my left as the long climb back out of the valley got underway. So far, so good.

The first misadventure caught me at about mile 30. I'd been grinding along up a steep little dip, gritting my teeth at that right shoulder of mine that always gets sore after a few hours on the bars. Why not pause for a stretch, a drink and a couple ibuprofens to take the edge off? Pick a spot and pull over...Uh...why didn't my left foot unclip? How about pick a spot and fall over? Why is my world rotating leftward and earthward? This can't be good. My right foot finally popped loose and in a desparate attempt to avoid eating tarmac, I jammed it between the front tire and downtube with big chainring teeth embedded in the calf. Now this is fun!

The good news is, the bike never hit the ground so it doesn't really count as a crash. The bad news is I was now equipped with a fresh row of greasy bite marks leaking red stuff down the back of my leg and into my shoe. And alcohol wipes burn like crazy. Well, my shoulder doesn't hurt as much but I needed that ibuprofen a little more than I did. Back in the wind after a bit of first aid and Gatorade. I just hope ProLink chain lube is a good antiseptic.

Still pushing a pretty stiff north wind, I eventually dropped down to lake-level at Aurora and met up with Chris, her niece and our younger son. They'd followed me out with the van so I could take a look at Jessica's new Diamondback and sort of fit it up for her. She'd bought it the day before and couldn't wait long enough for me to get home and put it on the trainer to have a look. So instead, they put it on the rack and brought the bike to me so she could ride it ASAP. The big-box where she got it didn't even bother to put air in the tires or raise the saddle once she paid the tab so nothing was right. She's a shiny-new rider and all this is pretty much from scratch for her but it seems like they could at least show her how a presta valve works before they kicked it out the door. It was kind of a quick-and-dirty, close-counts setup done in a parking lot but it was more than the store gave her and at least its rideable. I needed a break anyway and they restocked my bottle cages before we took off in opposite directions.

By now, the sun was peeking out and raising the temperature as promised and the humidity was creeping up along with it. The road along there is an endless series of little dips and dives which means you don't get much of a break anywhere for a lot of miles. It was a preview of things to come. The north end of the lake eventually appeared and I took a little breather at the lock where Cayuga connects to the Erie Canal. I've lived around here all my life and never seen this. Guess going a little slower isn't all bad.

But if I wanted to get home before Thursday, I had to keep rolling so it's back on the blacktop and around the turn at the top of the lake to head south. I'd been anticipating that the wind at my back would help a lot on the return leg but I didn't count on the hills. It turned out to be a long, gradual climb with only minor variations for what seemed like a week. The breeze coming from behind did give me a little boost but it also meant I didn't have much free air conditioning to keep me dry while I chewed my way back up to the top of the ridge.

Somewhere in there, a yellow jacket zoomed in, bounced off my helmet visor, lodged under the strap in front of my right ear and before I could grab him, buried his stinger in my cheek. He must have been a healthy one because it felt like somebody punched me. And alcohol wipes burn like crazy. My eye sort of puffed shut for a while and teared until I couldn't see past the forks. Somewhat less than ideal but eventually it cooled off and calmed down to where I had binocular vision again. I guess between the sweat and alcohol, the venom didn't have a chance. It took my mind off the sprocket holes, shoulder ache and saddle burn. More ibuprofen.

I eventually got up on the hilltop and in the nick of time, an ice cream stand appeared. I'd had about enough hot Gatorade for a while so a break in the shade and a cone fit the bill nicely. I managed to speak coherently enough to order and chat with the owner while I soaked up some of their conditioned air. Leg burn was becoming a significant issue but the cold vanilla and cool air took the edge off enough to clip in and push on.

From about mile 85 all the rest of the way down the lake, the short climbs and drops just ran together. This was the same stuff I was doing earlier in spades. It turned into an endless exercise in gear changing. The cables were stretching out and shifts were a little harsh but the lake kept moving slowly along on the left. The bonk was lurking just around the corner so rest stops got more frequent and cruising speed dropped quite a bit. My saddle had seemingly developed fangs and there wasn't really any spots left on the bars that didn't come with stiff shoulders and tingly fingers. At one lightheaded pause, I foolishly decided to swab some more grease, dirt and blood off the chainring gouges in my calf and just about passed out when I tried to stand up. Note to self...don't do that quite so fast when you're already loopy, stupid. And alcohol wipes REALLY burn. Finally, there was no more lake, just road and the last 20 mile leg to home was all that was left.

I know this part from riding it many times in the past and I know that it comes equipped with several climbs including one wretch called McMillan Hill. This thing's just steep enough to get your attention on a good day but normally isn't that big a deal. It's about 2% and only a couple miles long, just gear down a bit and grind it out. Having 112 miles already behind me when I hit it this time made it a very big deal. Granny low got used all the way to the top and I thought my legs were going to burst into open flames. The old bonk was drafting right off my back tire and gaining.

By mile 119 I was pretty well done in. Just about everything hurt at this stage of the game and the world was going by very slowly. About then an orange jersey appeared headed toward me and there was Chris, returning the favor of coming out to meet me and riding shotgun into the finish. I needed that extra boost of having a cheerleader and found enough in the old legs to make almost 20 mph for most of the last five miles. I don't know if I'd have made it in without my escort.

We hit the driveway ten hours after I left and that put away another record distance. It was a long day but worth the trip. I keep pushing, finding out what an old guy can do and surprising myself. True, a lot of my parts are pretty sore as I write this even after a stretch of sleep but this too shall pass. I outran the bonk-monster one more time despite a close race at the end and with any luck, will always stay just one pedal ahead.

Now where do I go from here? Two lakes? Who says you get smarter with age?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tour Diary Part 3

Finally, finally...I'm on vacation. It always seems like it'll never get here and it's gone too fast but for now, I'm out of the loop for two whole weeks. Time to get caught up a little.

We're putting the finishing touches on our NS Thoroughbreds for 2010. A couple of last-minute donations came in late yesterday to put us over the top in donations so not only did we all ride like Armstrong, we topped the list of fundraisers as well. How's that for starters?

We're kind of planning on doing some riding while I'm off but mostly the big idea is to get to Virginia so Chris can dip her toes in the Atlantic. I'm all for it. After her trials and tribulations on the 65 mile loop, she really deserves it. Even though Doc and I had our share of problems on the 85, those 65 milers really got hammered.

The courses for three of the distances all started out the same way so everybody got pounded with that stiff hill-climb right out of the gate. There was a fair amount of walking bikes up that killer which kinda takes the edge off the rush pretty early. Once out of the valley though, it's more of the up-and-down stuff that's just the way of life in New York so the six from Team NS got together and rolling. Somewhere along the way, Chris heard that unmistakable TWANG as two spokes in her drive wheel gave up the fight and broke off at the hub. The rim instantly went out of true and that was that. A call went out to the trusty SAG truck and mechanical help soon came over the horizon. One spoke was fixable but the other required the one tool that the tech didn't have. A quick replacement was made and a good-enough truing was done to get her going and back in the game. He even gave her a ride to catch up with the pack. Nice! wasn't the end of the run of bad luck. Why is it that no matter how much prep you do, something always decides to break once you get out on the road? Half the troops started throwing chains so several stops had to be made to fix greasy drivelines. No big deal but it sure breaks up the rhythm of things. Luckily, no flat tires or crashes put in appearances but then the weather decided to chip in on the proceedings. It was hazy and humid all the way which in this neck of the woods means there's always a chance of thunder showers. Sure enough, they got caught in one of those afternoon squalls that tear around the area on hot summer days. Luckily, there wasn't any lightning but the rain was like trying to ride in a waterfall. Reports of water sheeting down off the visors of their helmets were pretty much universal. Since there's really nowhere to hide from such a thing and they were all instantly soaked anyway, the only thing to do was keep on keeping on and hope the storm passed. Bicycles make very poor submarines so riding the remainder of the day under water was not exactly high on anyone's wish list. No wonder the answers to my cell phone inquiries were short.

True to form, the mini-monsoon came and went it's merry way fairly quickly and the rain was replaced with humidity normally reserved for malarial places like the Amazonian jungle. Ain't New York great sometimes?

Wet and trying to breathe a semi-liquid atmosphere, they pushed on around the detour Doc and I had already negotiated and found it to be a dead end. The only reason for them to do another climb and wobble down the afore-mentioned torn up blacktop was to reach a rest stop, then turn right around and go back the same way. Not exactly a great idea for half drowned people wearing soaked chamois and shoes that squished water every time the pedals went down. It added about 12 miles to the route for not much benefit. Thanks DOT.

Finally on the return leg, the remaining four...Chris, Dave, Norma and Amy with Karen bringing up the rear in that screaming red VW, started pounding away into the wind for the finish line. Karen wouldn't leave her adopted kids alone on the road and gave them a first-class escort all the rest of the way in. No more mechanical or weather adventures came along but by now, everyone was getting pretty tapped out and the bonk was lurking around waiting to pounce. A steady supply of goodies and Gatorade stashed in the VeeDub kept them going but as the time ticked down, they were still miles out and pushing the south wind. That's about when we found them.
They looked pretty droopy strung out in a line ahead of Karen but perked up a little when Doc and I came around the curve and tacked on behind the pack. A couple miles further and the road drops over a crest and runs downhill all the way to the foot of the lake. I heard a lot of whooping and hollering during the long coast down off the ridge and into town. We hooked up with Mark and Gary at the light and the damp, weary, dirty but happy tail-enders rode into the park like they rode a team. What a way to end it!

So we all finished the day with smiles, hugs and handshakes on a ride well done. The photos say it all. Our first Tour was something I'll never forget and something I'm truly happy we did. It really was "The Ride Of Our Lives".

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tour Diary Part 2

On and on we go...

The Good Doctor and I finally turned the corner and headed back south down the east side of Seneca Lake toward Watkins Glen. Our first official rest stop came at a winery parking lot just south of Geneva. I decided to forgo any wine tasting since I couldn't think of a good vintage to compliment Clif Bars. Would that be a white or a red? Instead of a fine Finger Lakes pressing, I stuck with a couple of PBJs and a reload of my Gatorade bottles. Doc had to take on more chamois butter as his saddle-burns were smoldering pretty good by now but other than that, things were progressing remarkably well. The rain was mostly holding off except for a few sprinkles so our biggest obstacles were the hills and the stiff south wind. A little rest and recharge and we're back on the road.

I finally did make cell contact with the 65 milers over on the other side of the lake. The conversation was still terse but at least conveyed information. By now, a couple of them had surrendered to the SAG truck after a heroic effort and Chris had broken two spokes on her drive wheel. It was pouring rain on their side of the lake but they were still going. The detour that we took led them on a merry chase to nowhere except a dirt road down to a rest stop and a double-back to head south. It added about 12 wet miles to the 35 or so they'd already done. It sounded like they were getting pounded on all sides but by all accounts, they hadn't given up. I looked across at the very dark sky to the west, shook my head and dropped into the bars to cut the wind for Doc. There wasn't much we could do for the time being except keep pushing.

A couple of stiff climbs got us back up on the ridge-tops and cruising but suddenly Doc disappeared off my back wheel where he'd been a fixture for some few miles. I'm used to him doing that. Sometimes he just drops out of my draft and is gone before I realize it. He gets a little behind but just hammers along until he catches back up or I take a mini-pause. I never worry because I know he'll be along eventually. The guy is so damn strong that you can watch his chainstays and derailleurs flex from the strain when he pedals so I'm rarely too concerned. This time though, he was nowhere in sight and my pause got a little bit long to be normal. I did a quick loop, backtracked and found him along the shoulder looking disgustedly at his own rear wheel now also newly equipped with two broken spokes. What is it with broken spokes? Could it be that the high altitude bunny-hops over railroad tracks and potholes that Doc specializes in finally had an effect? He got about a foot of air over a couple of them and the landings were an audible crash so that does have potential I guess. I made a mental note to remind him sometime that street bikes don't have long-travel suspension like the mountain varieties. A quick inspection and the verdict was an unrideable bent rim necessitating a call to the SAG wagon. Fortunately, we were near one of the Ham radio operators stationed around the course so a call went out for the mobile wrench to swing by and make repairs. ETA for the bike medic was about 30 minutes so the idea was that I would keep going while Doc waited for the fix and then he'd catch a ride with the truck to catch up. Looked good on paper.

Now solo, I took off for the next R&R about 15 miles ahead. Another vertical climb up out of the lake valley pretty much tapped out the legs for a while so I put in at a fire station/bonk stop to refuel and stretch out a couple of fairly serious kinks. Still no sign of the Big Man so one last fill of the bottles, another Clif or two, out the driveway and back into the wind on the last leg for home plate. Turns out that all that climbing had some benefit because it was pretty much downhill all the way into Watkins. Lucky for me because my uphill muscles were really singing by this stage. Head down over the bars and rolling, the last downhill finally came in sight with 'Zoom Zoom' chalked on the turn marker. One last swoop and suddenly, there's the park and the finish line. Seven hours almost to the minute after we rolled out at the back of the pack, I clicked out of the pedals and put my foot down on the longest ride of my life.
And that is how we do that.

I checked in at the gate so they didn't go out looking for my number at the end of the day and picked up my goodie bag from the Tour staff. Gary and Mark were still hanging around so we sat and rehashed adventures until Connor and Angie showed up after their shuttle back in the SAG van. That left five of the team still out on the course so calls started going out to see who was where. No answer on all cells. This made more sense when Angie mentioned that she had a pocket full of cell phones she'd been handed to keep them out of the deluge. She was ringing like a switchboard but it really didn't help us figure out what was going on.
About this time, here comes Doc limping in. Still missing whole spokes, back wheel still wobbling but at least true enough to use the brakes.
The tech was able to get his wheel straightened enough for the brakes to work and just enough to gently ride it home if Doc promised to go easy. If he didn't baby that much-misused rim, he'd be done for good and all. In true Doc form, he refused a catch-up lift in the truck and just got back on the saddle. I heard later that there was quite a lot of radio chatter among the support guys about the crazy man riding in on a bent wheel and a certain amount of concern among them that the thing would fall apart on that last fast downhill. He did manage to control his usual hell-bent instincts and keep it under 50 and so NS rider number six came in under his own steam.
And that leaves four.

By now, it was after 3 o'clock and all the rest of the field was in and accounted for. The course officially closed at 4 and anyone still out there was required to be swept in by the SAG van. I sort of knew that would never fly with our troops so Doc and I decided to head out backwards on the 65 mile loop in hopes of finding them and riding shotgun to get them in. Besides, we'd promised ourselves and everyone else in earshot for a month that we were going to do 100 miles but even with the detour, we still only had a little over 90. That would never do so back on the cranks and out the gate again. Even Gary and Mark got in the spirit of the thing and volunteered to go along. Mind you, these guys are real shiny at this bicycle madness and had very little saddle-time to work with. They did the 10 mile loop so this promised to almost double their mileage for the day. The first stretch on the reverse is all a steady, solid climb and I had some serious doubts. Once again though, the team showed what they were made of as those two dug in and slogged that hill. They just chewed away at it until somewhere near the top, Doc and I finally pulled away to extend the search and rescue a few more miles. For two guys who had already ridden a personal record day, that was a pretty impressive feat.
But we still had only open road and cars as far as we could see. No NS jerseys in sight.

I knew we couldn't have missed them so I stopped to have one more go at the only cell phone I knew they still had. No answer but Doc rode on while I was messing with it. He'd only gone a little ways when lo and behold, around the next curve and over the crest of a hill comes our long-lost compadres. Still banging along; tired, sweaty, damp and dead last but still refusing to surrender. Following the tiny pack was a bright red VW bug with a flashing yellow beacon light on the roof. The last support vehicle with the faithful Karen at the wheel. Karen had pretty much adopted them and even when they were supposed to get swept, she refused to bring them in and refused to hand them off to anyone else. She said she didn't care when the course closed. If these guys wanted to make it in, she'd stay with them 'till dark if she had to. End of discussion. She was the best of the best for our team.

With the lost now found, Doc and I fell in to ride back down the hill into town. When we dropped over the top and started coasting along, all the tired disappeared and all the sore went away. We caught Gary and Mark right at the first stop light in Watkins Glen and now 8 of the 10 were riding together. The traffic was heavy and we sat in a left-turn lane waiting for the light to cycle a couple of times, getting nowhere. Finally, the light went green again and out of the blue, Gary just rolled into the oncoming lane and stuck out his hand like a state trooper. The first car in line could either run him down or stop and I guess it was the Chief's lucky day because the driver decided not to smash him flat. With the line of cars held up, we made the turn and rode right in the lane down the last few blocks to the park. I can't think of too many times I've been as proud of a bunch of people as I was of those nine. Our final four led us in and across the finish to cowbells and applause from the crowd. What a way to end the day!

We grabbed Karen out of her bug and dragged her into our team pictures along with Jessica, the Tour Co-ordinator. A bunch of sweaty and dirty bike riders in the photos but all smiling and all pretty proud of ourselves. Not a bad showing for a pack of amateurs if I do say so myself.

Stay tuned for Part 3 when I have a few minutes to tap it in.