Monday, March 23, 2009

The Ride of the Damned - A Story in Two Parts

This a tale of two rides. They were the worst of rides and the worser of rides. Let me begin, as so many tales do, with an unreasonable hope that will ultimately be dashed against the shoals of despair and roads of asphalt.

For riders in the southern climates, this year's riding and racing season began around Thanksgiving. For those of us in Spokane, a Thanksgiving or New Year's Day ride is often possible but it is a triumph of spirit and will over the elements. And yes, I recognize that riders in Saskatoon think we are pansies since they don't start riding outdoors until the annual Saskatchewan Moose Husbandry Festival, which coincidentally coincides with our Fourth of July, and their season usually ends at the start of the Saskatchewan Ice Festival, which coincides with our August 1st. But this year in Spokane we have had a wretched and unending winter that has let loose hail, snow and cold rain day after day after godforsaken day.

So, when the promise of decent weather on a Saturday morning presented itself, it was a welcome relief and indication that we Spokanites might actually experience a change of season. As men of action, one of the members of Team Two Wheel took to electronic notification to our various friends, companions and fellow riders. We agreed to meet at The Scoop, an ice cream and coffee shop known to be friendly to cyclists, and roll away at noon. At the appointed hour it was a welcome sight to see 22 riders rolling up from literally every direction to take part. We had a range of riders, from some members of the GU cycling team to some members of the AARP cycling team. The weather was decent, in the mid-40's and it appeared that we picked a nice break in the intermittent rain.

There was brief discussion about a route, but no one was particularly committal. With a general sense of "Let's go" or "You lead the way", we headed out. There was minimal discussion of "about two hours" and "we can pick a spot where some people can head home and others can go longer". With a plucky sense of adventure suitable to a Gilbert and Sullivan production we followed Quicksilver off the South Hill, through Vinegar Flats and to the West Plains. Personally, I am never thrilled to heading up Thorpe Road, because it is not so steep as to be an actual hillclimb, but it too steep and too long to ignore. I gamely kept pace with the group, but was troubled to see that I was huffing and puffing mightily while my compatriots were talking pleasantly. We regrouped at the top, a welcome relief since I had exerted myself to stay with the front group, and moved on. The next bit along Spotted Road gave us a tail wind and we charged along 2 by 2 feeling good about being outside on our bikes in the nicest weather we had experienced yet this year. I noticed that our speed was high, but then again, so were our spirits.

Following well known roads, albiet with a few more noticable lumps of hills, we made our way to Cheney. There was still enough zest in the group to have some members sprinting for the City limit sign. At this point, though, there were the first rumblings about when to "turn back" or just what route. In a spirit of comraderie, some suggested we all stick together and a suitable turn off would be forthcoming. It was a few miles later that the first signs of fatigue started to be noticeable. Along the roller strewn Salnave Road, the group broke up for the first time. I was in the rear and was glad to no longer be holding on to the faster bunch. I knew the quickest route back, but the reality is that by turning left, instead of right, in Cheney, we were adding many miles to the route no matter what.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found the front group waiting for us on Clear Lake Road. We pulled up to the group and put a foot down for members to deal with various nutritional and natural functions. To my further surprise, Rider 1 posited that "some" of us, meaning me and whoever was foolhardy enough to go with me, should ride down Clear Lake Road while Rider 1 and 2 offered suggestions to the GU cycling team members on team time trial techniques and they tried to chase us down. My immediate response to this was something similar to "What if I don't want to be your f___ing rabbit? Okay, that was actually my exact response.

Nonetheless, always endeavoring to be a companionable individual, I agreed and invited some of the group to go with me. Keep in mind the following important facts when we consider the next thing that happened: there were 22 of us total; Rider 1 and 2 had volunteered to work with 3 members of the GU team, which basic math would indicate left me and 16 others who were available to ride up the road; and that just prior to this proposal, I was part of the "second" group, aka, the ones who didn't have the legs to stick with the first group. Therefore, it is completely logical that only one person was willing to come with me. Thankfully for me, he was a strong rider. We took 30-60 seconds pulls and worked well together right up until the time I was ready to blow chunks and collapse beside the road. Nonetheless, we upheld our honor and made it to the intersection with Medical Lake Road ahead of everyone else. So, honor fulfilled, legs completely depleted. No problem except the 20 miles to get home.

At this point, the group agreed to make its way to Medical Lake, where the hearty souls looking for a longer ride would go one way and the rest of us would head home. Rider 1 and 2 took the "hearty souls" option. I took the "head home" option.

As one exits Medical Lake, you go down a small hill and head into an exposed area, which today, had a reasonable head wind. One member of the group, who shall remain nameless, decided that after sitting in the group the whole day, this was the time to prove his manhood and he went full gas down the hill and charging into the plains. Decision time for most of the group; dig deep and grab a wheel or let go. I drifted back to find a suitable wheel, held on a for a bit and saw our group of 12-14 strung out over a distance. Instead of being a "group", we were suddenly clumps of 2-3 with small gaps between. I looked back and saw someone trailing off quickly and realized that I hadn't seen a couple of riders I was sure were in the "head home" group. I assumed that the group would see the wisdom of finishing the ride together and would wait up the road a bit, so I dropped off the back to pick up one rider and wait for the other two.

After soft pedalling with one rider for a few minutes, I realized that I was mistaken about the other two being behind or that they had gone another direction. So the two of us picked up the pace so the rest of our group wouldn't have to wait too long. I shouldn't have worried about the rest of the group, since, as it turns out, they certainly weren't worried about us.

As a result, my companion and I never saw the group again and we turned into our own small Ride of the Damned. It turns out, though, that my companion was Damned not just by the wind and softening legs, but also by the Man with the Hammer. The Man with the Hammer is a French phrase for "bonking", not to be confused with the French pastime "boinking". For the one reader hereof who may not be familiar with the term "bonking" (Hi Mom!), it technically means that you have depleted your muscle glycogen. Non-technically it means the tank is empty. You feel as if you can't turn the pedals and sitting by the road is the only reasonable alternative.

With a promise that the ride was "mostly downhill", I promised this rider that if we could make it to my house I would give him transportation to his home, which effectively cut about ten miles out of his return journey. He motored on to the best of his ability, but it was diminishing ability. Having been in that spot I was as sympathetic as I could be, but there is no other way to do it but just pedal along as well as you can. We had the misfortune of adding a rain to the final 20 minutes of our ride, but salvation finally came for the Damned in the form of escape from the elements, a warm home, some food and drink, and motor transportation home.

It reminds me of another ride, from Hope to Despair, but that is a story for another day.
Rider Three

Part Two, Sunday's Ride of the Damned, tomorrow.


  1. The damned would certainly be cold, hungry and exhausted in a ditch somewhere below the Pullman highway had Rider 3 not revived. Possibly dead even.

  2. Dear Anon - You are welcome. If you had died, I want you to know I would have blogged that too.
    Rider 3