So at the end of Day One, we arrived at Jupiter just before 12:25AM and our rando sextet was really looking forward to getting some precious off the bike time. I’m no RAAM type, so a shower, fresh change of kit and couple hours’ of sleep is all I need to feel the magical powers of quick recovery. It’s pretty remarkable how one can adapt to such a deficit of rest — I normally need 7-8 hours a night to feel human — and after pedaling 265 miles, even more so. But there’s nothing like a goal — oh, that shiny, shiny RUSA Cup — that enables us to ramp up the levels of denial in order to withstand all of the challenges we face en route.
Now at home, I’ll bid The Bearded One goodnight, plunk my head down on my pillow and I’m out; I can flick off my brain like a light switch. While traveling, however, I’m extremely sensitive to noise. I’m talking Kafka-esque sensitive, and the merest hint of a cough, snore, door slam or siren will jolt me awake. I begged one of the volunteers to give me a solo room, but no dice. After taking a quick survey of my riding mates — all of them said they either snored or didn’t know if they did — I accepted my fate and prepared for the inevitable interruption. So while I’d been planning on tucking in for a much-needed 5 hours, when Vickie (the terrific SLO RBA whose 400k and 600k I enjoyed riding this past spring) arrived at just after 3AM, I knew I’d be staring at the ceiling for the next 2 hours or so. We chatted briefly and she was super considerate about being as quiet as possible, but I was now officially awake. Plus there were mosquitoes, mites or some other nasty critters that were feasting on my legs — so I must have spent at least an hour scratching their bites while I tossed and turned under the covers. Ah well, at least I only had a 184-mile ride ahead of me, right? RIGHT.
We Got A Big Posse, Y’all
I headed down to the kitchen by 5AM to have breakfast with the other randos. Unsurprisingly, despite inhaling large quantities of the fine homemade spread of rice, roasted chicken, stew and other dishes the kind volunteers had set out for us the night before — I was famished. I dug into a big plate of warm biscuits and gravy with some fruit and hardboiled eggs. Lots of other riders were downstairs, so we assembled a decent-sized group to tackle the next 46-mile segment: the raucous and rowdy Southerners Ian, Jerry, Dan and Paul joined forces with DC Randonneurs Calista (who was also riding her first 1200k and was angling for a RUSA cup after we enlightened her to its existence) and our merry band of six.
Raindrops Are Falling On Our Heads
The pace was brisk, too brisk for my sleep-deprived state, and I hung on as best I could in the back. But about 26 miles in, near Ocean Breeze Park, I began to fade. When I’m tired, caffeine is my nuclear option, my last resort — I don’t even drink coffee during a ride, just flavored gummy chews or soft drinks — and I didn’t want to deploy my drugs so soon in the morning. But Roland must have been feeling just a wee bit tired as well — or psychically empathized with my fatigue — since he told Jason, Dave and Toshi (our group had already splintered at this point) that he was going to pause and have a Coke. So I stopped as well, happy to take a break, and reapplied my sunscreen (the sun was already bearing down on us) and chomped on an energy bar.
I let out an internal sigh and thought, “This is going to be a lonnnnnng day.” But I recall RBA John Preston saying at yesterday’s secret control: “If you can make it to Daytona Beach, you’ll probably finish the ride.” So I took a deep breath, rejoined Roland and clung to his wheel. (I forgot to mention in my previous post that he takes epic pulls, since the headwinds didn’t seem to bother him as much as the rest of us.) The humidity was thick like stale cotton candy, and the dark storm clouds that had been looming in the distance finally let loose and a light rain began to fall.
“Should we stop to put on rain gear?” Roland asked.
“Nah, it feels good,” I replied, never thinking that I’d ever be glad it was raining whilst on my bike.
A heavy downpour ensues and we toil away in the dense raindrops.
“Well, I guess another option is to just pull over,” suggested Roland, and we parked ourselves underneath a tree while we waited for the mini-monsoon to pass. The temperature immediately dropped and I felt revived by the cool refreshing breezes coming off the ocean. We jetted off again in a matter of minutes and soon entered the quaint town of Ft. Pierce, our first control of the day. We passed by a Manatee Center — the front lawn was festooned with brightly painted sculptures of the gentle sea cows — and I debated for a moment whether to stop and see if any might be in the vicinity. But I figured they’d already migrated elsewhere as their wintering season was over, so we motored on to the Shell gas station.
Thinking that most of our group had already come and gone, I was pleasantly surprised to see our original morning crew was still there. Randos were sprawled out front, tending to their sidewalk picnics, and I hastily joined them with a bag of potato chips and fruit. Calista was having uneasy rumblings in her stomach, so she sipped on Pepto Bismol and decided to roll at an easier pace with us. Jerry, or JP, wanted a mellower segment as well since he was still cooked from hammering hard the day before.
We had a oceanside 69.5-mile stretch ahead of us, with a interminably long 43.5-mile leg in the middle that spanned the length of North and South Hutchinson Islands. As we pedaled past scores of beachfront condos, I lagged again in the back, yawning and trying to stay awake. I was relieved when JP took a hiatus from pulling up front with the rest of the strong workhorses so we could chat for 20-ish or so miles.
A chatty dapper gentleman from North Carolina who is a fast, seasoned randonneur, JP always managed to look fresh and clean no matter the hour. We talked about our various cycling exploits from our early days of randonneuring to our longer adventures, then recounted our harrowing crashes and injuries, and even delved into relationships (always a favorite topic of mine.) Meeting new friends and hearing their stories is one of the highlights of randonneuring for me. There’s inevitably going to be dull patches, or your energy will be low, and conversation is one of the best ways I stay alert and engaged. But our chit chat couldn’t distract us from the intense heat or impending thirst we were all feeling as the road went on and on; there seemed to be no amenities on this road until a gas station finally appeared on the horizon.
Can I Get A Fire Extinguisher, Please?
JP broke away from us to rejoin the Southern contingent after our rest stop and 15 miles ahead, we resolved to stop for lunch. My sleepiness had subsided a bit at this point, and my legs, neck and stomach were in fine shape — but another problem had crept in, one of the indignities of randonneuring that I suspect strikes more women than men. Pudu has an elegant term for it, one that he coined with his friend Sam* that’s a contraction of “fire crotch”: frotch. I hate saying it (I prefer to say “tender nether regions” but admittedly, it’s an appropriately ugly word that accurately describes this terribly uncomfortable condition. (Pudu took great pleasure in saying “frotch” as much as possible since he finds the word so dang funny; this should give you an indication of how his twisted mind works.) I probably brought it on by wearing shorts that were too worn out and by not using enough chamois cream. My handlebar bag supply was running dangerously low, so when we picked out our lunch spot — I scooted across the street to the bike shop to see if they had any stock. Nope, there was none to be had, but the clerk said there might be some at their other location — which was off-course.
Frazzled and thinking I’d have to abandon the group to attend to my increasingly irritated bit of real estate down below, I glumly ate my lunch (you’ll notice I took no photos from inside the restaurant.) Then St. Roland took it upon himself to do some research and phoned a local bike shop that wasn’t too far away. He volunteered to set his legs to turbo boost, buy a tube of cream for me, then reunite with us at the next control. What kind of man does this for another person? A truly chivalrous man, a real mensch. (I would have shed several feeble, dehydrated tears of joy if I’d been able to squeeze them out.)
Post-lunch, it was time to distract myself from the pain and turn on my iPod. Music’s another way I restore my mental equilibrium, and I think I even enjoyed the remaining 20-odd miles to the 7-11 on Merritt Island — humming along as I pedaled away.
Right as we pulled up, St. Roland materialized with the wondrous tube of chamois butter and I couldn’t thank him enough — although I tried to by buying him some snacks and a Slurpee. Then Pudu and I plopped down on a plastic pallet next to a stack of cheap beer, ready to enjoy our second lunch of salty snacks. (You’ll also notice he’s flipping off the camera, which is his signature classy move.) All right: shorts slathered up, food in belly, ice water in bottles — time for the final 69.5-mile push to our next overnight control in Dayton Beach.
As we flew by Cape Canaveral, we grouped up with some other riders — but they stopped at a Burger King in the town of Titusville. This slowed down our momentum and Roland and I took the opportunity to check out Space View Park, which faces the Kennedy Space Center‘s launch pads. While the others went on ahead, Toshi had courteously waited for us, then led the way over the A. Max Memorial Parkway to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Return of the RBA
We caught up to Calista, Pudu and Dave as he was changing a flat, then formed another peloton with the addition of Texan Craig, North Carolinian tandem team Wayne and Melanie and Alaskan Andy on another recumbent. With the wide, smooth road cutting through the nature reserve with hardly a car in sight, we rolled at a perfect “photo pace”: 15-17 mph, where I could comfortably surge back and forth to capture my action shots. RBA John Preston materialized with his camera to snap some of his own, then joined us for the short jaunt back to his van for pre-dinner Gatorade aperitifs and energy bar h’ors d’oeuvres.
So Close And Yet…
Now we just had just 37 miles or so until we arrived at Daytona Beach. Pudu got his second wind and took off at a breakneck pace with the tandem/recumbent leaders towing them to the hotel. I hung back with Dave, Roland, Toshi and Werner, not wanting to get my legs ripped off, and sometimes drifted off the back as I was just plain worn out from the day. All four were sweet enough to keep an eye on me to make sure I didn’t stray too far and would slow down the pace to make sure I could keep up.
These are the small, kind gestures that keep you motivated when you’re hitting your low point — and this was definitely one of them. They also patiently waited for me when I requested a bathroom break right on the cusp of town. Just one tall, steep bridge remained before the home stretch — “Of course there is, ” I said to Roland — and we ended up catching Craig before making the turn on Atlantic Avenue. With our rest stop in clutching distance, he and Toshi shot off the front, while Roland and I pedaled along at a steadier cadence to the Oceanside Inn. Dave and Werner were nowhere to be seen, so just the two of us arrived shortly before 9:45PM. (Turns out they were slowed by the bridge climb, then Werner broke a spoke about a block before the finish. He walked in carrying his bike on his shoulder.)
Another set of enthusiastic volunteers greeted us, along with a delicious buffet — the magnificent potato salad that accompanied the cold cuts and stew was a standout side dish — and then ’twas time to kick off our shoes. I figured I’d ask again if I could get my own room — and even considered just booking one for myself — but AH! The angelic volunteer checking me in said YES! I did a happy jig and scooted upstairs to enjoy my 6 hours’ of solo relaxation.
*From Pudu: “For the record, Sam had nothing to do with the coinage of the recent “Puduism” of “frotch”. I just attribute him with these because it makes me laugh when he responds in the affirmative to the credit of their creation.”