"Sometimes you can become
like the wind, if you dream
Remember your school days when your friends were prone to do screwball stunts that you knew were insane at the time, but you did them anyway? Afterwards, you may have regretted your actions, but in the process you learned a few things about yourself. On one of my journeys across the USA, I rode with three wild and crazy guys—itching to break out of the mold.
It was no one's idea, then everyone's--so we decided to do it. Ride 200 miles in one day on loaded touring bikes? That IS crazy! We sat at a restaurant on Route 380 near Socorro, New Mexico, making our plans for the assault on what would be the toughest physical challenge of our lives. A hundred-mile day on loaded mountain bikes was a challenge even on the flats. Two hundred miles with hills thrown in, and unpredictable weather was a dream. It could be a nightmare. John, Mike, Kevin and I put our hands together over the dinner table that night and made a commitment to ride 200 miles in one day.
We had talked about the mythical 200-mile day for weeks as we powered our way over the New Mexico Mountains. It was at hand. A couple at the restaurant offered their trailer for a bunkhouse. We accepted.
As we walked out the doors, our stomachs bursting with food, I contemplated the 200-mile day only hours away. I was going to do it, ready or not, because three of my friends had answered the challenge. The group energy carried me. I was in control of myself, but had no control of what was coming.
Wait. I wanted to do that ride. I wanted to confront my mind and body. It intrigued me and I wanted to follow the idea to its conclusion. If I never attempted it, I wouldn't know success or failure. In such an endeavor, I had a 50-50 chance of success if I tried. If I gave no effort, I had a zero chance of knowing the outcome.
How can I explain something comparable to riding a loaded mountain bike on a double century? It would be like forcing someone to run up and down the Rose Bowl steps all day with a whip at his/her legs. In my case, my mind was a self-applied motivater, not a whip. It was interesting what the mind could do. It created extreme athletes and super human efforts. It was more powerful than a whip.
We took a shower in the trailer and bedded down. I slept fitfully, hearing John rise for a visit to the bathroom. At 3:05 AM, I awoke again to hear the wind blowing outside and my bicycle flag flapping against the trailer. I got up and strapped down my bike flag. Stars sprinkled the night sky like diamonds on black velvet. A 10-mile per hour breeze blew eastward. I chuckled thinking how easy it would be to ride 200 miles with a tail wind blowing us down the highway. Minutes later, I returned to my bed.
"Bleep, bleep, bleep," the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m.
My brain staggered awake. I gobbled my cereal. In minutes, I dragged my panniers out and hitched them to the racks. Everyone staggered around the trailer getting their gear ready.
Outside, I noticed the wind had died. It was dead still with the first hint of dawn cracking the dark morning horizon. The stars vanished with the coming light. With a full belly and sense of purpose, I slipped into the pedal straps at 5:05. No one followed, as they were busy with their own preparations. I figured every second was going to count that day, and the last of it was going to exact a price from my body. Thinking about it gave me butterflies, but that was okay, as long as they were flying in formation.
I stopped at three gas stations for air, but none had anything over 50 pounds of pressure. I needed more and could inflate my tires in another town. My muscles warmed up with each stroke on the cranks as I rode along the main road leading out of town. Street lamps triggered by photoelectric cells, popped off with the growing sunlight. A bearded fellow in a green VW asked me where I had started.
"San Francisco to Savannah, Georgia," I answered.
"That's great. Have a good time. Good luck."
The edge of town was abrupt. Several run-down houses offered an ugly display of junk in their front yards. Two dogs gave chase. I stepped on the pedals and revved my bike to higher speeds. I clicked into the high end of the middle chain ring. In seconds, the dogs trailed behind me. I hit 18th gear going down a slight grade.
"Come on suckers," I yelled. "Keep chasing me."
The road leveled out, into a valley, with a long climb ahead of me. I pressed on the pedals and hoped my Achilles tendon would take the pressure. It was recovering from the mountainous ride behind us. It was a bit disconcerting knowing that I might hurt myself further by doing 200 miles of hard cycling. Somehow, I would succeed. Bob Wieland's inspiration came to mind as I cranked over the Pecos River. My thoughts focused on success.
Sweat beaded on my arms as the sun broke free of the hill in front of me. I pressed my legs into the rising land. Kevin rode up behind and passed, yelling, "Ninety miles to the Texas line and I'm cracking twenty."
"You'll burn yourself out at that speed," I hollered.
I knew he wouldn't last. It would come down to riding a pace line and working together. I crested a quarter mile climb only to face another. After the second one, flat plains stretched to the horizon. I slipped into high gear and cranked a steady cadence. Kevin was a mile ahead.
Originally, I didn't want a group ride because I could not keep up with John. To try would kill me because he possessed incredible endurance. That's why he was known as "Mad Dog John Brown." His bulldog tenacity had served him well over the years. Within ten minutes, Mike and John were on my tail. We stopped for a bathroom break.
"We gotta' ride in a pace line to make it today," I said. "It's the only way we're going to pull this thing off."
"You're not wrong, mate," my Australian friend said.
We slipped back into the toe-clips. That was the last time my feet hit the ground for three hours. We caught and held Kevin with us. Our pace line jelled and it was comfortable. Each of us pulled for five minutes, plowing through the air, pushing ourselves, then dropped back to drink and munch on a piece of fruit. We clipped along at 20 miles per hour. No wind. No hills. No traffic. No problems.
Each time I faded to the rear of the pack, I felt a change in my attitude. In the back, the pack pulled me along in its draft. I cranked at 70 % of my normal effort, which was relaxing. My view consisted of rumps and legs pounding the pedals, along with side flags and vertical flags flapping. Sweat dripped from their arms. They spit off to the side. Each of us rode 12 inches off the rear tire of the man in front, in perfect cadence and harmony. I was at the tail end of a living machine that possessed one purpose--grind out 200 miles.
I kept a constant eye in my rear view mirror. If a tractor-trailer rolled up, I called out, "Bogie 6." (which meant they were at 6 o'clock behind us. At 12 o'clock, they were in front of us) If two big trucks were going to pass us at the same time they passed each other, I called, "Bogie 6 and 12." We exited the highway.
When the lead changed again, I moved up to the third slot. Everything was much the same, but I had to keep my place behind the number two rider. I couldn't slack off because the man behind me depended on my consistency. I had to concentrate every second. If I didn't my front tire would rub the forward bike and cause an accident. I didn't look at the landscape, but down at the spinning tire in front of me. I enjoyed pedaling more when I was behind John. I felt a greater sense of emotional well-being behind John because we were close friends. Kevin and Mike were casual buddies. John and I shared a kindred spirit, born of age and similar spiritual appreciations. Being closer to him made my ride easier. Over the years, we'd pulled each other along in many ways.
Moving into the number two position, I felt more wind resistance. I drank water, knowing that I couldn't falter at the point position. I watched for traffic. I gathered myself for the next shift. In minutes, John pulled left, and dropped to the rear.
"Good pull John, way to go," Kevin said.
I was in the lead again, pressing against the wind, cranking at 100% power at a steady cadence. My legs worked harder. I lathered up with the extra effort. When a truck passed, I was hit hardest by the draft, but I kept a firm hold on the bars. In my determination to maintain speed, I dropped down on the lowest part of the bars. Several times, I downshifted to maintain speed. When the land leveled off, I shifted up. With a slight downhill grade, I kept a constant speed, and only increased it gradually. If I wasn't in harmony with the group speed needs, they let me know with verbal abuse. A complete rotation turned every twenty minutes.
Cap Rock, New Mexico flew by with the only hint of population being a lone black dog rushing out to chase us.
"I'll feed him a Zefal sandwich," Kevin said, brandishing his air pump.
The dog didn't reach us in time as we sped past his territory. He pulled up short, barking his disapproval of our momentary encroachment. Beyond Cap Rock, we rode over flat, grassy plains as we pressed into a side wind.
At the end of three hours, we stopped for a break. My rear end was hurting, and everyone made a few butt jokes. We watered up and stuffed ourselves with apples, bananas, and tomato sandwiches.
Back on the highway, our pace line formed up. It was our salvation, but Mike became a liability in our campaign. Throughout the ride across the United States, he wasn't happy, nor inclined toward enthusiasm. He had come over from Australia with John as an acquaintance who had decided to go on the spur of the moment. At the end of his lead pull, he dropped back, and kept dropping back. He was a strong rider who could pound the pedals at any pace, but his mind wasn't into it. He was a confirmed pessimist.
After the next break, Kevin took the lead followed by John, Mike and me. We called Kevin "Revvin' Kevin" because he spun his crank at high revolutions. When he hit the lead, he got into it and pedaled us into the ground. He was like a lead Husky on a dog sled, and he wasn't about to slow down for anyone. It was a battle trying to slow Kevin down and speed Mike up. Later, we stopped and asked Mike if he wanted to make the run for the 200.
"I reckon you better go ahead," he said. "I'll meet up with you tomorrow."
At the Texas State line, we pulled away from Mike for good. It was a load off our minds but I knew John was feeling sad about leaving his countryman. Once the pack meshed into a determined team of three, the miles flew past. At 12:55 p.m., we completed the first 100 miles. They seemed like nothing because I knew it was the second 100 that was going to kill us. On the good side, my feet felt good. No pain. My body loved the power output. Talk about a natural high! Those feisty endorphins (the body's natural drugs) released into every cell of my body. My whole body buzzed crossing the endless fields of red soil in west Texas. Thousands of plowed furrows in perfect rows stretched to the horizon. It looked like the farmers were driving their tractors off the ends of the earth. It was as if they might be swallowed by the red dirt ocean that rippled toward the blue sky.
At Brownfield, we drank water and orange juice. Hunger seemed to engulf us as we stuffed our faces with sandwiches and fruits. We inflated our tires, filled our water bottles and oiled the chains. Everyone complained about their butts. Mine didn't feel too bad. Maybe endorphins were keeping my cells deliriously happy. Maybe I was crazy!
We slowly pedaled out of town, but soon revved it up. Out of Brownfield, we hit a six-mile stretch of gravel road. It pounded us. John lost a screw from his rack and took ten minutes to replace it. We ate dust from passing cars, which caked on to our arms and legs. Dirt got into our chains and the breeze changed into a head wind.
At Tokio, Texas under a darkening sky, we had completed 167 miles by 8:00 PM. We cranked eastward into a storm front gathering from the south. My body ran on empty as we brought our goal down to twenty-three miles. We had attached flashing lights to our arms for safety and wore reflective vests. A chameleon sky swirled overhead. I kept stuffing raisins and nuts into my mouth as the wind picked up. A passing car driver stopped us to ask what we were doing.
"Don't you know there's a tornado watch?" he asked.
"No, but we do now," I told him.
"Be careful," he yelled, driving away.
At that point, a rush of wind crashed into our bodies. Lightning crackled on the horizon. To make it even more strange, a pumpkin colored full moon broke from the horizon, only to vanish into the clouds minutes later.
John looked over at me, "What are they going to throw at us next?"
"Rain," I joked. "But I'm not stopping now."
"How about you John?" Kevin asked, his eyes blazing.
"If you Yanks are that crazy," John said. "The Australian representative of this mad dash will equal anything you mates throw at him."
"It's settled," I said. "Let's see how miserable we can make ourselves."
The wind blew hard in our faces at that point. We busted into it with the determination of an American battleship flying an Australian flag. I'm sure people in passing cars considered us crazy. I was in another world as my body answered the call. I was tired, weary, bonking, and ready to quit--but my mind wouldn't let me. My mental whip drove my body onward. John and Kevin held the same resolve as they maintained the pace. Nothing short of an erupting volcano could stop us now. Each of us was determined to cross the finish line. At 10:30 PM, we entered Post, Texas, only to find out that we had several miles more to go before completing 200 miles. We turned back with the wind and raced out of town, then turned back once again into its fury. At 11:30, we watched the meter on Kevin's bike turn over 200 miles. We had ridden for 17 1/2 hours. Our energy consumption exceeded 14,500 calories.
We opted for a motel at the end of town. I walked into the room in a state of utter exhaustion, endorphin euphoria, and mental weariness. My pulse dropped. I fell onto the bed, waiting for the others to finish their showers. I had never felt that way before, nor have I since. When I stepped into the shower, I was in ecstasy with warm water cascading down my body. I toweled off. When I returned to the room, John and Kevin snored in deep slumber. Seconds later, I joined the snoring!
Tomorrow was dark on the horizon.
Excerpts from: Bicycling Around the World: Tire Tracks for Your Imagination by Frosty Wooldridge
Motorcycle Adventure to Alaska: Into the Wind by Frosty Wooldridge
Bicycling the Continental Divide: Slice of Heaven, Taste of Hell by Frosty Wooldridge
Handbook for Touring Bicyclists by Frosty Wooldridge
An Extreme Encounter: Antarctica by Frosty Wooldridge
Misty’s Long Ride: Across America on Horseback by Howard Wooldridge
Copies available: 1 888 280 7715
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents – from the Arctic to the South Pole – as well as six times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. He presents “The Coming Population Crisis in America: and what you can do about it” to civic clubs, church groups, high schools and colleges. He works to bring about sensible world population balance at www.frostywooldridge.com He is the author of: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans. Copies: 1 888 280 7715