Just after I finished writing this report, I found out from the Lone Star Randonneurs mailing list that Mark Sachnik passed away in his sleep on New Year's day. I thought he was a humorous fellow, who seemed to love being outdoors on his bike, enjoyed the camaraderie (his own words) and was full of good cheer. Sharon told me later that he showed up at Richardson Bike Mart to meet me, when Sharon came over to hand over her bike to me, but was 20 minutes after we left. This tells me that not only was he a great cyclist (from the way he rode the 200), but also eager to welcome somebody new and and go the extra mile to make them comfortable. His passing is truly a tragedy, and I feel that I am that much more unlucky for not being able to ride with him for long on that day. The full version of this picture, is available at the link below.
We at SIR suffered a similar tragedy with the passing of Steven Hameister during the Olympia 300k. RIP, Mark Sachnik. It was fun crossing paths.
This report suddenly is very much an afterthought in my mind. Pictures are here.
The idea of riding a permanent in December in warm temperatures among new environs and randonneurs is highly appealing, and even before my Christmas holiday plans were set I emailed the Lone Star Randonneurs and asked if there was any way we could get together and do a "not very hilly and something to look forward to ride", and how I could get my hands on a bike (rent or otherwise). Several friendly folks responded with offers of help, notably Sharon Stevens (a former PNW resident who has ridden with SIR and ORR), Shellene Foster, Dan Driscoll (the RBA), Jim Bronson, and Pam Wright (Ms Selle Anatomica).
Since becoming one of the Permanent coordinators for SIR, I was very interested in finding out how another club handles permanents and group permanents. And I did learn a few things, which I plan to talk to Geoff (routes owner, and co-permanent coordinator) about. Like one person getting a receipt at the start, and having group signing forms, instead of individuals bringing waivers to the start. I had sent mine in advance, but I did sign again, just to be sure.
Once my travel plans were concrete, we decided to do the Winnsboro Wander on the 29th (one day after I turned 36), with a very nice bakery at the halfway point, and not much climbing. Sharon Stevens offered me the use of her other bike, and also a ride to the start and back, which meant, she had to endure the "pleasure" of my company for the better part of 200k. :)
I was advised to bring all my cold weather gear, and in my infinite wisdom I decided to not take a long-sleeved shirt (after all, how cold could it get in TEXAS?). Well, the forecast for 7a in Greenville was 23 Bleeping degrees. Somehow I had landed in the wrong "Texas"! Luckily my brother gifted me a synthetic undershirt for my birthday, and I donned that under my Wool Jersey, with a Showers Pass Elite jacket over this. The days preceding the ride were indeed cold, and we had some clear-and-cold days and some rainy days, but thankfully there was no rain the day before the ride, so not much threat of ice on the roads.
I met Sharon the previous day inside Richardson Bike Mart in Plano, a few miles away from my brother's house. She was very affable, and she brought her bike! I rode it around the parking lot, and despite the Selle Anatomica on it, pronounced it fit to borrow. I had brought my Brooks B-17 from Seattle for nothing. The bike was fender-less, Aluminium, and a great bike to ride. We (Golfer brother and I) chatted for a few minutes, and then left with her bike; imagine leaving your bike with a complete stranger... We made plans to meet early at my brothers house, and sure enough there was Sharon the next day morning, bang on time. A pleasant ride to Greenville in Sharon's car was spent chatting about randonneuring, how we got into this crazy sport and life in general. Apparently other non-rando cyclists in Texas consider LSR folks "crazy". Our reputation remains uniform elsewhere in the nation!
We met quite a few people (Sharon helped me with this). Brenda Barnell (two-time RAAM finisher), Mike and Nancy Myers, Daniel Schaaf, Sharon Stevens, Lesli Gillett, Mark Sachnik, Russell Kelley, and Sonny (there for a run, and not the ride). Many apologies to any names I may have mangled. Or I could blame Sharon. :)
Start to Yantis, TX
We hung around the start for a little later than the official start, but left a little later than 7.15. Somebody mentioned that the temperature was 27 deg F, a whopping 4 degrees warmer than forecast. This was considerably higher than the 22 deg F at the start of the permanent that I did in Redmond, 3 weeks ago. Almost all of the riders wore balaclavas to cover their face, but I wore a skull cap for the noggin. That kept me plenty warm. I had a helmet cover and rain pants in my Carradice, but I never used them. I also carried a spare wool sock, and 3 spare tubes, but didn't get to use any of them. Sharon admired my route sheet holder, and asked me to put it away as I would not be allowed to be alone or get lost, which was mostly true as she rode with me from start to finish, the only times I was ever left alone was when she had to pee and asked me to continue. [The route sheet was extremely easy to follow and the roads were well-marked. So, I never got a feeling that I would get lost on this ride].
I had my apprehensions about riding in Texas. Some of Lance Armstrong's comments about having somebody drive behind him on his training rides (was it in "It's not about the bike" ?) to prevent vehicles from running him off the road or playing "Chicken" with him. [I have had this "game" played on me, and shall say it is not a pleasant feeling]. Riding in a group calmed my fears, and the conversation flowed freely.
We hung around together for the first few turns, and a gang of 4 took off while Sharon, Daniel, Mark and I rode together for the next few miles. It was freezing cold. Most of the small puddles along the roadside had ice on them, indicating the prolonged sub-freezing temperatures. Luckily, the roadways were completely bereft of any water, and risk of black ice was very minimal. Sharon promised that the route would be an easy one for some one from Seattle, with its hilly terrain, however my conditioning was so pitiful that I never did feel like I had an easy time.
One of the first things that I noticed that the route was well marked. Cars passed us with a great deal of care giving us plenty of room, and if there wasn't enough room, waited for a good time to pass without showing any signs of impatience. This was great. It was yet another lesson: Never believe a few things until you see for yourself. The drivers during the entire ride were very polite, and the number of honks I got were very minimal. I also noticed the presence of a lot of dogs: some of the houses were fenced, but many weren't and the risk was there. The layout of the roads: not many had shoulders, and and usually had no trees by the roadside. It was mostly fence, field on either side. [I am not about to say that all of Texas has country roads laid out thus. I have learned my lesson].
Sharon stopped off to pee, and I was by myself. I was Le Lanterne Rouge, a role I am very comfortable with. I rode along for a little while along FM 1564, and was barely a mile in, when I heard dogs barking a few hundred feet ahead. A group of 3 dogs had split up, one to my left and two to my right, and started barking with their tails wagging. As I started to slow down (not very smart there, was I ?), the dog on my left crossed in front of me, and I swerved to avoid it. Just as I swerved the dog took a nice small bite of my left thigh. I felt a small stab of pain, and it hurt a little for a while, but luckily I escaped without further incident. I don't think it was a vicious bite, more playful than anything else.
I made a mental note of the locality and stopped to survey the damage. I saw that the teeth had not even broken skin, and hadn't left so much as a scratch on my thigh, so I was not worried about it. I had completely forgotten about the incident by the next turn. About 8 miles later, Sharon caught me, and when I recounted the incident to her, she was aghast. She hadn't encountered the dogs, and was wondering if these were the same dogs that Sonny (the triathlete) had mentioned at the start as being near Miller's Grove. This was obviously a different set.
We were soon joined by Mark and Dan, and we rode together admiring the rapidly brightening day, and rejoicing together at the prospect of feeble wind and warm weather. Dan has family in the Tri-cities area, and is conversant with Seattle. I also talked a little with Mark, but I don't remember the details now, something I regret. I do remember that there was a hearty amount of laughing, and Mark mentioned something about doing these rides to enjoy the great camaraderie. On FM 514, we hit a rough patch of chip seal, and this was the worst 6 mile stretch of chip seal on the whole route that Sharon had mentioned earlier. We were lucky to have chip seal: somebody had ridden this route a few weeks ago, and had encountered 6 miles of gravel! I will take bad chip seal over gravel any day.
Dan and Mark soon took off, and Sharon and I rode on. We finally got to Yantis around 10.30a. Dan and Mark had gotten there just a little earlier. The store was small and had standard convenience store fare. The store clerk was cheerful and helped us sign our cards and gave us our receipts. It was clear that he knew the drill. He was also smoking, so I stayed indoors the bare minimum. The day was warming up, and that was the source of much cheer. Mark and Sharon talked about the stiffness of the flags on one of their rides where a strong wind really upset their riding, but the flag near the convenience store was limp.
Yantis, TX to Winnsboro, TX
Dan and Mark left ahead of us, and we left around 10.50a or so, and it was clear that we were working against the wind. Not a fiery wind, but something I could notice. Sharon thought a 6 or 7 mile headwind was nothing, but my cold-addled body could not handle the rollers that dotted the route well enough. Sharon and I talked constantly throughout this stretch, and we crossed a couple of lakes that we didn't know the name of. It was pretty through this stretch and traffic was very minimal, so we rode side by side, talking about the achievements of the Lone Star Randonneurs. No fewer than 9 of them, 5 of them female, had completed 10,000k in brevet+permanent distances of the year. A couple of them, had done 20,000k including the RBA Dan Driscoll. For comparison, we had ONE rider Mark Thomas, who completed 10,000k for the year, and all of RUSA had 2 people in 2006 complete 10,000k. This was astounding. One of the riders Shellene Foster, had started in April 2007. This was fantastic! The club was rife with mileage junkies.
We saw the lead group - for the last time as it turned out - heading out of town, exchanged waves, and were in Winnsboro around 12.20, aided by a nice tailwind for the bit on TX 37. I guessed that the lead group had waited for us, and left when we hadn't showed up quickly enough. It would have been nice to have a group lunch.
Winnsboro, TX to Yantis, TX
Dan and Mark were sitting having sandwiches, and we headed into the bakery to eat. As I walked in to the bakery, several heads turned in my direction. I am not sure how many Asian-Indians they get to see in Winnsboro, but it looked like they don't get to see that many. I felt like a celebrity. The bakery as it turned out, had nothing for vegetarians, and I had not come prepared. So, I got two cookies and a Cinnamon Bun. Well, the stop would be quick. Dan and Mark wolfed down their sandwiches, Mark took a couple of pictures of me and Sharon, and Dan teased Sharon about one thing or the other. Just as we were ready to take off, Lesli rolled in. We took pictures of him as well, and then took off, around 12.50p. I could not finish the Cinnamon Bun; it was too much of a sugar overload.
The same rolling terrain, and gentle wind greeted us, and the sun was now warm. Sharon took off her jacket, but I left them on, but took my skull cap off. I left my booties on, for whatever reason, but I probably should have. Dan and Mark rode with us, but then rapidly took off.
Sharon was very easy to talk to, and we had lots to talk. She asked about some of the characters, and sure enough, I told her about Ken Bonner and his Royal Victoria Marathon amidst a tough 600k ride story, about Bob Brudvik and Erik Andersen, and about Jan Heine. She was curious about my Carradice as she needed something for carrying stuff. She had done a 1000 this year, and I wonder now what she carried all her stuff in. Panniers, I guess. We spoke a lot about equipment and food. It was somewhere on this stretch that I told her about the quote attributed to anyone from Scandinavians to Alfred Wainwright ("There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing."). She seemed to get a kick out of that one. Sharon also told me about some of the characters in LSR. We talked about the culture of volunteering, pre-riding routes, and saddles.
Pleasant conversation eats miles and we had made decent time to Yantis, getting there around 2.20p, I think. We saw Dan and Mark ride away, just as we were about to make the left turn to the control. That was the last we would see of them.
Yantis, TX to Finish
I finally managed to rotate the handlebars a little and that made the bike handle a little bit better, and my hands thanked me. I just wished I had done this before I started the ride. Oh well. We set off around 2.30p for the finish, and hopefully we would finish with sunlight to spare. This of course, was not to be.
We rode side by side for much of this stretch, and it was clear that I was fading. The cold that I had contracted from my nephews was now beginning to bother me, and my lack of conditioning showed on any little bump, where Sharon would stay in the big ring, and I would have to switch to my smaller ring. We finally got to the trouble spot on the road, and sure enough the same darned dogs were there. This time, I sprayed them with water, and they ran away. Sharon tried to blow on the whistle, but to no avail. A few hundred feet down the road, a couple of Daschshunds chased us. It was comic relief. We made it to the finish at 6.26p, having never seen Lesli catch up to us.
Sharon dropped me off at home, and I scampered off to a New Years Day party... Yes, one day before New Years Eve.