Day 1 - Wednesday October 1, 2008
"Wake up I have a mission for you, call immediately" said my phone at 5:31 AM. I rolled out of bed and gave Chris a call. Within an hour I'm looking at tickets back to SF from Palm Springs. Chris's friend had a crew member bail and they needed someone to fill in. I had heard about the Furnace 508 a few months before and was interested so when Chris told me I jumped on it. I take that back, Sunday's my birthday so I had to call my mama and make sure she didn't mind if I canceled our plans for the weekend. But after that, I jumped on it. I talked to Joe, the one doing the 508, and he said we were leaving Thursday morning. I hadn't wanted to go to class for the rest of the week anyways.
Day 2 - Thursday October 2, 2008
I BART down to Union City and Joe and Chet pick me up. Joe is on his phone so we just shake hands and I jump in. Chet is Joe's crew leader and he does the driving. I was excited to get going, especially since I knew my own bike was at home and that my legs were safe, at least for the weekend.
On the way down we talk a lot about biking, the markets, biking. Joe's on his phone half the time so Chet and I chat a decent amount. I ask him if he's retired.
"Well, Joe thinks I am!"
"Hard to retire if you never worked!" says Joe.
"Yeah, well I was always more interested in living, than making a living..." Chet replies. Classic. I knew I'd get along fine with these two.
We stop off at a diner after missing the taqueria we were looking for; by we I mean me. I knew with a road trip there'd be plenty of diner food and I wasn't eager to start this early in the trip. Shows how much I know, the place was great. All you can eat tacos. We talk about those extra pounds, consensus is it's the late night eating that kills us all. I order more beans.
A few hours later we get down to Santa Barbara. "You want to drive?" Chet asks me. "Yeah" Joe says, "we'll try you out." I neglect to tell them I haven't driven in years, at least since my insurance cancelled me and my parents gave away my car.
Santa Barbara and the coast are amazing. There's the mountain range on my left, the water on my right, heaven. I've been down south a few times but this part is all new to me. In Northern California there's a sort of subtle animosity towards Southern California. Maybe it has to do with all our water going south, maybe it's jealousy, who knows. I don't really buy into it but flying through the smog to LAX has never helped my perceptions of the place. However, nestled between the mountains and the sea, all that falls away and I'm eager to pack up and move. Doesn't hurt that all the women I see are looking on wide-eyed. This feels pretty nice until I realize I've got short, pink swimming shorts, shaved legs and birkenstocks. Maybe that explains it.
Finally we make it to Santa Clarita, check in to the hotel and go get sushi. After Chet's had a few beers and Joe's had many calls, we begin debating. Chet's deconstructing the ills of capitalism while Joe and I attempt to interject with counter-points. Chet suggests we let a computer rule us all. I never quite get the details of this but am amused by Chet yelling in my face excitedly about the "bullshit" and "assholes" that are messing it all up. He even points his finger. The wait staff is all Japanese and don't seem to notice anything-typical Americans. I tell Chet that the best vote we have is with our feet. He agrees and although he hates the "bastards" at Walmart, it's still cheaper and what are his few dollars worth anyway?
We go over to Ralph's and get groceries. Chet gets the recycled paper towels and organic chocolate. Joe pays and reminds Chet he wouldn't have made the "ethical" choice of the recycled and organic goods if he was paying. Chet says he wouldn't have bought anything! It all comes full circle back to self-interest. I got some granola out of the deal so I smile and drive us home.
Day 3 - October 3, 2008
I wake up to some news network blaring full blast. It's about the markets of course. I roll over, thankful there's no loan on my bike.
Chet and Joe go out for a morning ride.
When they get back it's time to head over to registration. We pull in and I see all the cars with bikes and I can't wait to get out. They go inside and I wander around and talk to people. Lots of excitement. Not the same nerves as at ultramarathons which is nice. I can't really explain it. Maybe it's just bikes are more soothing, less pain initially, who knows.
I run into the race director from the Tour of California. I find out next year's route will run by my parent's house. I'm tempted to ask him if he could get me in, you know, let me sit off the back and draft the whole race.
The day goes by with a lot of walking around, talking to people.
Finally we head over to the nighttime orientation. We show up on time but see an Italian place so decide to go for pasta instead. After we eat we wander over to the presentation. Chet and I stay outside while Joe goes in. He comes out bored to tears so we decide it's time to leave.
We head home and pack up the truck. Saturday will be a long day.
Day 4 - October 4, 2008
The day begins at 4:30 AM. I awake to the "click, click" of Joe's Blackberry.
I get out bed and start packing. We head over to the hotel at the start area and have some breakfast. Not too much tension, most the of the people seem pretty relaxed. I meet a rookie though who's noticeably disturbed. My bike is miles away so I'm just enjoying the atmosphere.
We get on the road before the race begins. The format is that all the cars caravan out about 20 miles uphill and park. We get there and it's completely foggy and about 50 out. Not quite the heat I was expecting. Joe comes through near the front of the pack and we drive off ahead of him. For the first day the cars have to leap frog the riders due to the traffic it would cause.
The fog was short-lived. We arrive at the top of the climb and see the sun. It's going to be an interesting day after all.
We continue the driving, waiting, driving, waiting for a several hours. We drive past windmill farms and abandoned houses. Through a good portion there's a killer tailwind so Joe's moving right along. At the first time station, mile 82, Joe's in 10th place. He's only about 20 minutes behind the leaders but it's heating up. By the next time station there are problems. The time station is across from one of the last gas stations for miles. They also have hot burritos so Chet and I get a bit distracted planning out our next couple of meals. Finally we head out and catch up with Joe. He's dripping with sweat and out of liquids. We give him another bottle and encourage him. I ask him if he needs anything and he replies "A gun." We're only about 150 miles into the race so I begin to worry.
An hour or so later, after we see the signs leading to Death Valley, a race official comes to talk with us. He says he saw Joe riding in the middle of the road and he wasn't doing so well. He gives us some salt pills and told us it's better to stay close to him. I give Joe a couple of the salt pills and set him up on an hourly schedule.
Finally Joe begins the ascent of Towne's Pass. His cadence has slowed way down and he's hurting. We stop him and he rests for a bit. I know he can still finish but I wonder how long it will take.
Joe gets going again and summits not long after. All of the sudden the other crews are yelling at us. Our back lights are off. It just turned 6 and all our lights have to be on. From this point on we must stay with the rider at all times. Joe doesn't hear us honking at him to pull over so he keeps going. We check the lights while a car of race officials speed off down the hill. A few minutes later we head down. We see the race officials flying down the hill and finally they've got Joe pulled over. They're irrate and yelling at a docile Joe. The mention possibly have to disqualify us. They say they're going to have to check with the race director. I do my best to settle them while Chet works on the lights. We put Joe in the back of the truck and let him sleep.
We get the lights working and wake up Joe. We can tell the talk of being disqualified has gotten to him. Once the idea of quitting comes up it's hard to turn away from. Joe says he's done but that we should mark the spot and head down to the hotel. You can leave the route at any time so long as you mark the spot and start again where you left off. Putting his bike in the car makes me want to jump on and finish the race. The night is cool and we're heading downhill.
Joe gets in and we drive off. We arrive at the bottom of the pass where the hotel is. Joe says he's done, no more.
We go in and they're all sold out of rooms. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere and somehow they're sold out. We head to Beatty, Nevada to see what they've got. We end up at the Stagecoach Inn and Casino. I ask the woman how far it is to California and she says she doesn't know, "Never been there." At this point I know we're in for it but I'm happy I'll be getting home on time. I have a midterm Monday morning I don't want to miss it.
We unpack and head over to the restaurant. First we have to walk through the casino though. From the looks of the clientele I'd say the place gets most its revenue straight from Social Security. Chet asks our waitress whether the salad has iceburg lettuce or romaine. "Lettuce?" she replies. I take the hint and order a milkshake, so does Joe. We eat and talk for a while.
We head back to the room and I fall fast asleep.
Day 5 - October 5, 2008
I wake up after the deepest sleep I've had in months, maybe years. So deep I don't remember where I'm at, or that it's my birthday.
We drive to Las Vegas which makes me miss Death Valley. Somewhere along the way I remember it's my birthday, I think it's after I check my voicemail and my parents have called. I guess this is what happens when you get old.I fly out a few hours later and my mom and sister pick me up. My mom tells me where she wants to eat but my sister reminds her it's my birthday. We have burritos and I head home.
All in all it was a great trip. I really got to have my cake and eat it. I wanted to help out and be a part of the race but had an idea staying up all night driving behind Joe might get old. So I lucked out at the Stagecoach Inn, got an early flight home, and while taking my midterm this morning I thought of the guys just finishing the race and I wished I was one of them...