Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tour de Kota 2012 ..and down came the rain...

The remains of the map.

Marshall, Minnesota.  430 am.  Mary and I are sleeping underneath a big tent such as one they use for funerals or events.  It was sturdy but a bit noisy and thus depriving of an easy drift-off to sleep.  I may have had 3 hours of sleep.  TdK is roaring back to life.  I over hear officials stating that the storm moved much slower than expected.  They were handing out Ziploc baggies for cellphones.  I did not need one but took one anyway.

Breakfast was inside the school.  I purchased a bagel, a sausage patty and an omelet ala cart and made a sandwich.  Tasty.  Then it was time to get rolling.

We hit the road as a team.  But no sooner than we started the first drop out occurred.  Tom Riggs lost his sunglasses AGAIN.  This was becoming a reoccurring joke.  Joe said he left a pair in every county and got a pair in every county on Ragbrai.  TdK was no exception.  Tom stopped at a store while we rolled on.

Automatic formation of the draftline found me staring at a the wheel in front of me.  I was not comfortable.  The sky was grey and I felt like crap.  Too early for the ram-jam of high speed precision bicycling.  There was a black cloud in the sky and we were heading into it like Pickett's division at Gettysburg.  I could feel it already.  I could see it.  rain.  There had to be an out.  Why could we not wait an hour or two until this system blew through?  We had 25 miles to go until the first town.  Most of this on a highway.  There's an answer to this I wish I had.

About 4 miles into it the sky only got worse.  My mood was sour.  I let a gap build in front of me and one behind and then I pulled off onto the shoulder.  I did not want to cause anyone to go down today.  I did not want to go down myself.  I had no desire to see my friends and my wife crash on this journey into a rain storm.  I forgot what I told them.  I merely told them to go on, don't wait and I will see you when I get there.  Mary stayed behind with me.

At 5 miles there were bicycles under the only tree close to the road.  People were getting their rain gear on.  I left mine at camp because I did not want to carry it.  Sure, my torso would remain dry until I sweat but the rest of me would get wet anyway.  It was starting to sprinkle.  20 miles to go to the first town, 80 more to the overnight after that milestone.  Grim was my mood.

Sprinkles gave way to full fledged rain.  I noticed my front tire moving around a bit on a downhill.  Need to control speed, the road is slick.  Shelter.  There had to be a place to wait this out.  But none was to be found.  Trees were set back quite a ways from the road.  Homes and buildings were scarce.  Just wide ditches and cropland and rain.  Trees do Ever not make money here, crops do.  Ditches need to be wide to accept the snow plowed or blown of the roads.  Trees would fall down and block the highway.  Ever intensifying rain.  This will be bad.

Soon I was unable to see.  I thought about taking my glasses off but needed to keep both hands on the bars.  The wind was picking up too and the sky was black.  In the distance lightning appeared.  No where to stop.

After 13 miles I called out to Mary, "Stop at this driveway!"  I had enough.  Wet is one thing but wet and blind and in traffic was another.  We pulled onto a driveway that was only a slab of 15x30'.  Then it turned into a level B road that ended at a building nearly 1/2 mile away.  We could only see its lights.  Too muddy to attempt.  "Turn your back to the rain and hail and let's wait this out and pray for rescue!"  Lightning was getting closer.  Big trucks going the opposite way were throwing large amount of water up.  We may have been wet and cold but we were safe from vehicles and bicycles.

Soon Tracy and another woman pulled in to join us.  And another person.  "I'm calling the ride officials," Tracy stated, "we need to be picked up," as she pulled her phone from a baggie.  No answer, straight to voicemail. 

"Should I call 911?" she queried. 

"No.  Don't do that," I replied.

But she did.  I had to look at my rain soaked laminated map to tell her what road we were on.  A few minutes of conversation only drained her battery.  We were on our own.

Soon the support vehicle for the people riding with the SD National Guard pulled up.  They said they had room for people but not for bikes.  They'd run us to Ivanhoe and return for our bicycles.  Nope, I do not abandon my bike unless I am seriously in jeopardy.  But the second woman gladly accepted the offer.  She had assumed the position anyway, crouched low, on the balls of her feet in case the lightning got too close.  Later when I read the Rider's Guide I discovered that this was the correct thing to do although the lightning would have to be much closer to me before I'd do it.  She left with them right when a RV pulled up.

This RV was driven by the other woman's husband.  Apparently, he travels ahead 10 miles and waits for her.  Today he was behind.  there was space for us and our bicycles and an older gentleman with a Campy equipped Trek 2300, the original Trek carbon series.  Rescued!!

I asked the driver if he drop us off in Canby, MN,  so we could avoid the  strong north headwind.  It would be about a 20 mile stretch due north into the wind and rain.  He just smiled and I sat down, glad to be out of the rain and enjoying the new prospects of the day.  We were all greatly relieved.  Mary and I have never been caught in such rain and hail without a place to seek shelter.

And then we stopped in Ivanhoe 25 miles out from the start.  We were dropped off at a Lutheran church.  It was still raining but not as hard.  I was in shock that we did not go further.  I was not ready to resume.  The church was converted into a disaster center.  We were given towels when we entered.  The place was packed with riders.  Mary spotted Tom in the kitchen being treated by EMTs.  Apparently he crashed and his elbow was bleeding.  When I saw him he was standing and appeared to be in shock.  But he voiced concern that Mary was cold and immediately two EMTs rushed over to her with more towels.  We tried to get Tom's story.

When the rain got really bad he pulled off the road onto a driveway but his front wheel slipped off the pavement and he went down.  Not sure how long he was there before he was spotted.  He said that he stayed in the ditch as it sheltered him from the rain.  I think the ANG truck picked him up before they stopped for us.  But he was now needing to go across the street to be seen in the clinic.  Stitches were needed to stop the bleeding.  When they took his temperature it was at 93.8F!  They retook it and it improved to 93.9!!  Yet Tom was concerned about my wife being cold.  Hypothermia does that to selfless individuals like Tom.

The parishioners of this church planned to sell coffee and cinnamon rolls and other items to the riders.  They moved sales inside.  TdK officials were busy getting bikers off the road between here and Marshall.  No SAGs going to past Ivanhoe until all bikers were off the road.  If we wanted to SAG to Watertown, ironic name, we'd be waiting for a few hours in this bicycle refugee center.  Time to dry off and plan.

Emily, TdK Event Planner drove in.  She allowed me to see the radar on her phone.  My phone did not get a good charge overnight.  The storm was hitting Canby, our next destination.  Emily then made an announcement to everyone explaining the SAG situation.  I think she and her staff handled it well.  I purchased some coffee and resigned to my fate.  Wait forever or ride on.  I did not want to do either.  Mary was barely warming up.

After our rescue.  Official Argus Leader photo.  Tracy's expression says it all. 

Tracy got settled in.  She was disappointed that we only got this far.  The Argus Leader snapped photos of us here.  Tracy's image is above.  Her expression summed up how we all felt.

Joe, Donnie and Jeff finally reached this place having ridden the entire 25 miles.  New stories.  They got to the rest stop just a few miles ahead of where we gave up.  Boy Scouts were selling goods underneath a tent when they got there.  Because the wind was so strong everyone had to hold onto the tent to prevent it from flying away.  Jeff got really cold and was one of the few people that got to sit in Emily's vehicle to warm up during this episode.  Maybe 25 people had stopped there.  We told them about Tom and they went across the street to check on him.  Tom was guaranteed a SAG.  A hard earned spot but at least he was out of the storm.

There was nothing left for us to do except leave.  The sky appeared to be clearing and the long ride to Canby would give the storm ample time to continue traveling where ever it was heading.  I was concerned about how cold I was but I knew that only riding would warm me up.  The wind appeared to die so I was less apprehensive about heading north.  Sit and rot or ride and greet my fate.  I missed my jacket for the warmth it would provided.

19 miles due north.  There was a scheduled rest stop after 11 miles.  We found the road was drying and my wonderful synthetic bicycle regalia was drying out too with every pedal stroke.  The wind disappeared and we found ourselves on the best segment of the day's journey.  The sun was out by the time we reached the now abandoned rest stop.  But a kybo was there, one of the few at rest stops.  Joe, Donnie and Jeff met us there.  Riggs was getting a SAG to Canby despite having one stitch in his elbow.  The next 8 miles were good.

Jeff, Mary, Tom and Donnie at lunch in Canby, MN.  Joe and I were getting seconds.

Canby was the designated lunch stop.  The Cattleman's Association served us beef sandwiches and free water.  Some of us had 2 sandwiches.  Then the long climb to Clear Lake, SD.  The joy of riding ended after lunch.

I don't think it was so much the hill.  The climb was shallow.  But it was long and our speed was low and I did not feel like playing bikes anymore.  This was a 21 mile stretch with one break after 8 miles.  Two breaks if you stopped at the fireworks shop just inside South Dakota.  Supposedly, a free fountain drink for just walking through the door.  I thought about it.

It would have been fun to have some fireworks along that route.  I'd pull over and wait for someone to get close and then light a firecracker and toss it AWAY from them.  BOOM it would report and I'd tell the passing biker to "PEDAL FASTER!!"  Such thoughts in my oxygen deprived mind kept me going.  13 more miles of this shallow long climb in the most desolate landscape I'd seen all week.  Do people live here?  Does the US have an overpopulation problem when there are wide expanses of emptiness?

At the fire station in Clear Lake

Eventually we descended into Clear Lake, SD, and found the fire station where the BSA was selling treats.  SAG service was hooking up here too.  A BSA leader and mother let me borrow her phone charger while we rested.  Craig Lein would have been so proud.  Eventually all the gang made it, Riggs too!  Dennis, our Serotta friend was here and Tracy.  Discussion was on whether or not we wanted to do the remaining 36 miles.

We chased another black cloud to get to Clear Lake.  Mary was not feeling well.  I was getting cold again.  Although Tracy offered me her jacket since she was accepting the SAG I declined.  Donnie was through with riding.  Dennis had enough and Tom was finished.  Only Joe and Jeff continued on among our friends.  When they took names for the SAG I stood up and signed us up.  Dennis found a bar but failed to tell us.  I napped and Mary's health seemed to deteriorate.  Later we think her health issue was 1 part the cold damp ride and 1 part strawberries served at the fire station.  Mary is highly allergic to them and the mere proximity of them to her  makes her ill.  I cannot get this fact through to my mother or my sister let alone the BSA in South Dakota.  After an hour and a half we were sitting in back of a Suburban with Dennis on our way to Watertown.  54 miles ridden.  A strategic withdraw.  Tomorrow will be a new day.  Maybe tonight we can sleep.  Les was the driver of the SAG.  He told us that put in over 500 miles so far that day.  It was almost 4 pm.

Redlin Art Center

Camp was at the Redlin Art Museum.  This is a guy who made a fortune selling paintings of wildlife.  I picked a place by the pond away from everyone.  Nobody would wake us up at 430 am.  It promised to be a cool night.  Maybe we'd actually get inside the sleeping bags.  Our teammates sprung for a motel room across the street.  They invited us and said there would be room.  But I could tell that this would be a good night to sleep in a tent.  the ground was soft from the rain and the air was cooling down.

We skipped showers and took the shuttle to Godfathers.  I was craving pizza and the Hot Stuff's jalapenos would warm us up.  Found a table near an electrical outlet, plugged my phone in and pigged out.  The rest of the team joined us as we finished.  Shuttled home and hit Mc Donald's for ice cream.  Time for bed.

The day ended well.  We were dry and fed.  The weather was better and tomorrow promised to be a better day.  No one talked of rumors of rain.  For camping among friends and strangers we actually had privacy.  This was probably the best night of sleep we had all week. 

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