Ride report by Liz Overduin:
If you do a 1200 km ride, under 90 hours, in Canada and the US in the same year, there’s a medal for that. This is what I told my Bob and he threw up his hands, knowing it was something I wanted to do.
The Taste of Carolina 1200 is a mostly flat ride, going through some amazing scenery along swamps, marshes and of course the Ocean. We cycled beside acres of cotton fields, tobacco fields and peanut fields – all new sights and smells for me. Going across long bridges, sometimes 5 – 8 km long, we could look down at the snow white Egrets in the long grasses of the inland waterways. I was constantly scanning the algae covered swamps looking for the beady eyes of the Swamp Alligators, making this one of the most interesting brevets I have ever been on. We also saw quite a few of the big fat Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes – but they were dead on the road. Going along one long stretch of road beside a river we saw a Great Blue Heron up in the trees. As we got closer she would fly up along the road, sometimes landing on the road, sometimes in the trees, waiting for us. It was like she was guiding us – this went on for a good long distance. Kathy Brouse would have liked that.
Because this route was mostly flat, it was easier to stay in a big group. Although the first day was 372 km into a strong headwind and constant rain, by staying with 20 or so men with tree-trunk legs (including Henk Bouhuyzen), we maintained a moving average of close to 30 km/hr. Except when it was my turn to “pull” the group, we slowed down, although no one seemed to really mind. After a couple times of that, I very strategically made sure that I was never at the front, which also meant I got to meet a lot of people as I stayed back in the paceline. One of the men in the group was doing his 8th 1200 km ride this year, with one more to go in Australia after completing this one. He has the world record. Another man called himself a “Rando-Nerd, which totally suited him. There was also a young guy who just got married and wants to get these rides in before starting a family – we probably won’t see him for the next 20 years. Every cyclist in the group knew that it was imperative to stay with the group because if you dropped off the back, you were on your own and in for a tough day. The only positive to cycling alone would be that you wouldn’t have the muddy splash of road dirt coming off the bike tire in front of you into your face and teeth. Our group got to the first overnight control, 372 km, by just after 10:00 pm, Seventeen hours to do almost 400 km – something I could never have done alone. We decided to have a 6 hour stop so we could shower and sleep. I was actually so fed up of being wet and rained on that I could not bear the thought of more water coming down on me. Instead of a warm shower, it was a “washcloth wipe-down” for me. Thanks to all the high energy drinks, caffeine pills and extreme physical activity, I got zero sleep, but I did lay there motionless for those hours.
Henk and I went for breakfast in the morning, but this time there was a lot less of the group, as some of them had opted to sleep longer. Our group of about 8 were all hoping to get to the next sleep control in good time, an ambitious goal of 430 km. What was I thinking! The rain continued, but not as constant as the first day, and the headwind was not as strong. By the last 100 km before the end of that day, I was exhausted. The group was very patient with me and would not leave me. Henk made sure he was behind me so that I would not drop off – he was very encouraging to me, thanks Henk. The group plan was that I would be “Cyclist #3”, following closely on the wheel of “Cyclist #2″. That became my only focus in life – follow that wheel and don’t let it pull away!”. This way we could keep up 25 km/hr average and I could stay with them. About 30 km from the overnight checkpoint I hit a pothole and got an instant flat. Again, Henk took charge and while most of the group carried on, Henk replaced the tube a lot quicker than I could have done. The rest of the way to the Control my tire bumped and thumped and I thought for sure there was something seriously wrong with it, but we kept rolling. Cycling 801 km in just over 40 hours should have been one of the best moments of my life as a Randonneur, but in truth I had never felt so physically and mentally destroyed. Without the patience of the others I could not have done it and I did not feel that it was my accomplishment or that I deserved any kudos whatsoever. Thoughts like “Never Again!” or “Is there a medal for reading for 4 days in a row?”, or knitting, or gardening – or anything but cycling, were going through my head. But like every Randonneur knows, these low moments will pass. I had a shower and spent another sleepless and motionless 5 hours before getting up to face another day. As far as my thumping tire went, it turned out that it had not “seated” properly and I was able to fix it quite simply.
The others had all left, which is exactly what I had hoped for. Not because I did not appreciate their camaraderie and patience, it was just that I did not want to be “Cyclist #3” or even look at the back wheel of another bike again. I wanted to be free and alone. I wanted to go as fast or slow as I wanted. I wanted to stop and take pictures. I wanted to eat real food instead of gulping down “5 hour” energy drinks. Once again I was a happy Randonneur, even if I was alone. This wish came true for the rest of my ride. Although my GPS tracks did not work, the written cue sheet was perfect and I did not get lost. Although I never saw the sun, the third day was free of rain. I picked a piece of cotton and ate a raw peanut. I sang songs, and no one heard me – it was wonderful! I arrived at the 3rd overnight control before 8 pm, with only 175 km to go to finish the ride. The volunteers had bought pizza and let me eat as much as I wanted. I had a shower, watched TV, phoned Bob, and finally was able to fall asleep.
The morning of the last day was very calm, rainy and dark. Nothing but the sound of my spinning bicycle gears, splashing water, and the crickets in the marshes. No vehicular traffic at 4:00 am. I felt like I owned the road and all of North Carolina. These are the moments that make Randonneuring worth it all. Then I came around a long curve and someone, a creative someone, had set up a scene of the most realistic looking zombie-like creatures emerging from the ground – I suppose in honour of Hallowe’en. I must admit it gave me the shivers, and I don’t even believe in zombies. Suddenly I longed for the morning light and the finish of the ride. I started to push myself to get the last 130 km done. That’s when I noticed an inescapable ache on the outside of my left leg in the area of the knee. I did not know what it was, but it hurt to bend my leg at the knee. Riding a bike without bending the knee…..yeah, it doesn’t work. I had to let my right leg do all the work while my left leg just sort of went along for the ride. After a while, that still hurt too much. So I let my left leg hang down while I continued pedalling with the right – that also did not work out very well. I could barely go 20 km/hr and the headwind was picking up. Eventually I found that I could make the best time if I swung my left leg backwards and rested my foot upside-down on the rear rack bag, leaned forward and used the other leg to do all the spinning – it looked ridiculous if you can picture what I am saying, but it worked. I got up to 25 k/hr doing this, but had to stop and rest often. Tylenol and Advil also helped and when that kicked in I was able to stand up and pedal in short bursts, ignoring the left leg. This was something I had never experienced before – maybe it had something to do with the fact that Taste of Carolina 1200 is a flat ride, which means you never get a descent to give you a break from pedalling. It took me 10 hours to finish the last 175 km of the ride.
A grand total of seventy-nine hours and twenty-five minutes after heading out of Lumberton, North Carolina, I returned to the start. A 1200 completed in under 90 hours, in Canada and the US in the same year – and there is a medal for that! I’m going to frame that medal!
By the way, I asked the guy who has the record for the most 1200 km rides in one year if there was a medal for that. He laughed and said no. So my Bob doesn’t have to worry about that – I am content now. Thanks.