Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
While going through my morning routine in Mt. Vernon, I noticed my right shifter was still acting funny. It had been acting a little funny the day before, sometimes skipping a gear and refusing to go down to the lowest one. I asked Dan about it, and he suggested cleaning the shifter with a pipe cleaner, so I did. I tested the shifter after that and heard an unusually loud click. After that, my shifter didn’t do anything.
As it turned out, my shifter’s cable snapped entirely. Since we’d left the trailer somewhere else to be repaired, we didn’t have any spare cables with us. I was stuck in the highest gear possible in the back, effectively giving me a three-speed bike whose three gears were all pretty high. I pedaled a mile away to a bike shop a few times, but it didn’t open at 10:00 AM like the posted hours said it would. I had to set off that day with three speeds. It didn’t look good for our first international border race.
I headed out with the perennial stragglers: Dan, Andrew, and Hap. Only a few miles from the church, we found another bike shop that had actually opened when they said they would. I bought a cable and Dan installed it for me (thanks Dan). Our first aid station of the day was unusually at someone’s house, where we were getting lunch. The stragglers and I got there long after the rest of the team, but there was still plenty of food left for us. Unsurprisingly, I was still one of the first ready to leave.
We were less than 20 miles from the Canadian border, so the border race started from there. A few more got into it this time, and we wound up having about seven people racing (though I’d be a lot happier with 17). Bobby, Athan, Jay, and myself declared ourselves the “Second Tier” and decided that the winner of the Second Tier would be a second-tier champion of sorts (the First Tier was Paul, Dan, and John).
We all set off together, my strategy being to hang with the First Tier as long as I could by staying on someone’s back wheel. Seems like that was everyone’s idea. There were about eight turns to make, so a few of us had to have directions handy, though most people just followed the pace line. The pack stayed pretty tight until only a mile or two out, when a few holes started forming in the pace line. We were blazing through a town at that point. At one point, I saw the First Tier make a left turn through a stoplight. It turned yellow as I came up to it and I sprinted like mad to make it through, leaving the rest of the Second Tier stuck behind me. The First Tier out-sprinted me at the end by a wide margin, as they always do. Dan won the Canadian border and I came in a modest fourth, though a Second Tier champion nonetheless.
After a while, most of the team showed up, missing only a few who had decided to hang out at our lunch break for an additional hour or so. We waited in a park in front of the border for what seemed like an eternity. Some of us eventually got frustrated and decided to tell the car and van to head to the commercial crossing three miles east of where we were, and that we’d find our way over there. We hiked up a hill in the park, found a side street, and started heading east. After only a block or so though, we found something peculiar: a speed limit sign written in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour. Realizing we’d illegally crossed into Canada, we turned around.
So we sat in the park for a second eternity. Eventually, everyone showed up and we crossed in the pedestrian lane. Not only did we not get our passports stamped, but no one seemed to notice that I hadn’t even signed my passport, making it invalid. With nary an incident, we crossed into Canada, many of us for the first time.
Vancouver was still a long way away and it was already late afternoon. With that in mind, Athan and I started to book it. The directions we got were good, but we missed a turn and wound up adding about six miles to an already long day. We wound up missing an aid station as well, making our last 30+ miles unsupported. Towards the end, I needed water. Paul, Jennifer, Bobby, and Jeffrey caught up to us towards the end and gave us some of their water (thanks guys!). After zig-zagging through a lot of urban area, we found our host’s house at about sunset. I was a worried for the people that I knew wouldn’t be in for at least another hour.
Our hosts were some friends of friends of Krista’s, just a few college students who had a house together. The house was small for hosting 19 extra people, so floor space was at a premium. A few of us wound up sleeping on the trampoline in the backyard.
Most of us went downtown together to celebrate our first night in Canada. At one point, Athan got separated from the group when he stopped to buy some falafel and I was one of the few that waited for him, though not for long, because I didn’t want to lose the group either. As a result, we didn’t see Athan for the rest of the night, until we made our way back to the van and he was already there. If he hadn’t been, I’m not sure what we would’ve done. I get the idea we would’ve made it to Anchorage, with Dan still asking “Where is Athan?” though never stopping to look for him.
We had a day off the next day, largely spent doing not much. I went and saw “Pirates of the Caribbean” with Athan and went downtown again with him later. Spent a lot of time in one particular Irish pub and had some good times.
On our way out of Vancouver, one of our hosts, also a cyclist, led us out of town, since the directions were extensive and confusing. It was a big help. Once out of town, we got on the highway and promptly saw a sign that read “Whistler: 111.”
“No way,” I thought. “No way were we told that Whistler was 80 miles away when I’ve already done ten and I’ve got 111 to go.”
I like kilometers. You tick off the numbers faster, and it makes you feel like you’re covering more distance than you really are.
The roads to Whistler were mostly under construction, and for the first half of the day, very congested. Athan and I missed a aid station again, as it wasn’t set up when we got to the spot. We wound up back-tracking four or five miles to get to it. I wouldn’t have been objected to skipping it altogether, but I knew that would mean the cars wouldn’t be able to keep up and I wouldn’t get any aid stations all day.
A little later on, I noticed Bobby and Krista standing in the shoulder, off of their bikes. I figured something was wrong, so I stopped in the middle of a steep downhill, noticing a large bump in the road as I came up on them. Right after that, I noticed Bobby’s arm. Almost half of it didn’t have skin, and even more was covered in blood. His jersey was torn, with a few holes all the way through. He looked like his thigh had been beaten pretty bad too, even through the shorts.
"So what happened?” I asked, even though it was pretty obvious.
“That bump you just went over? I hit it at a funny angle. I’m just glad there wasn’t a car behind me when I did, or I’d probably be dead.”
I asked if I could help, another dumb question since I knew there really wasn’t anything I could do. He said he was fine as Krista rinsed his wounds with her water bottle. He said he’d go ahead and ride to the next aid station and get cleaned up and bandaged there. I went ahead and took off, making a mental note to be extra careful in construction areas, especially on downhills.
Whistler proved to be a tough day with lots of hills, though none were killer. We saw some spectacular mountains off the road, reminding a lot of us of the Eastern Sierras, only with more pine trees around. Most of us were impressed with Canada right away.
At the end of a long day, we pulled into the driveway of our host in Whistler, a really nice guy named Steve. He and a few friends made us a great dinner. We hung around and chatted for a while afterward, then slowly started heading to bed. Like most folks in Canada, Steve didn’t have air conditioning. That’s not normally a problem up there, but it was in the 90s when we were there. For the first time since Texas, I slept on my sleeping bag, not in it.
We had heard stories about Duffy Pass in between Whistler and Lillooet. We had even heard it referred to as “Super Tioga.” Steve only added to our expectations, telling us how hard it was when he rode with the team for a day last year. So we headed out that day expecting the worst.
The first part of the day wasn’t too bad, but soon enough we saw the sign warning us of extreme grades for the next 13 km. Duffy was indeed steeper than Tioga. The first half was mostly switchbacks and was probably steeper than the second half. I was in my lowest gear the whole way, pumping as hard as I could and still often dropping down to 4 mph, rarely getting as high as 7. Once the road straightened out a little, it seemed to flatten out a little as well. Unfortunately, we were running right next to a stream and we weren’t far from a lake. What does that mean in Canada?
Mosquitoes. Lots of ‘em.
Imagine climbing a hill about as steep as Lombard Street. OK, now make it over 90 degrees outside. Now add in thousands of flesh-eating bugs from Hell and you’ve got what we had. Most of us were only steering with one hand as we inched our way up the hill, using the other hand to swat at the mosquitoes. Since we were moving so slow, we had to deal with them for quite a while.
We had an aid station at the top of the hill, where everyone on the team frantically sprayed on a thick coat of Deet that didn’t seem to help at all. I would’ve taken off again right away, but was again forced to hang around for at least half an hour for the other car to arrive. As soon as it got there, I left, knowing I’d be riding fast enough downhill that the mosquitoes wouldn’t be able to keep up anymore.
After Duffy, we were rewarded with a significant downhill, but had one last unexpected climb at the end of the day that proved to be tough. The roads had steadily become worse and worse as the day went on, until they were pebbly and cracked at the end, sapping our momentum. We were camping in Lillooet, which made us worry about mosquitoes invading our campsite to make us miserable once again. Luckily though, the wind was strong that night, and that apparently blew all the mosquitoes away.
I’ve mentioned that the trailer had been left behind in Washington. In Whistler, we’d gotten the call from the mechanic to say this it was all fixed and ready to go. So on our day into Lillooet, we had to send the van back, cram as much supplies as possible into the car, and rely on the support of only one vehicle. In the meantime, Hap drove the van back into Washington to get the trailer and return.
The roads between Whistler and Vancouver were only one lane each way, and now, they’re under construction, to widen them before the Olympics a couple years from now. So traffic in the area is miserably slow. And in Canada, everything is far apart. At one point, Hap needed to pee while he was trying to drive down into the United States, but traffic was barely moving, and he never found a gas station, so he used an empty to-go cup that had been left in the cupholder.
By the time Hap got to the border, it was already afternoon. As a US citizen, he had no trouble with the border police, and quickly made his way another two hours south to the mechanic. Now with the trailer attached, he turned around to head back north, though it was already late afternoon, and we were camping that night. He now had an even longer way to go, through all that traffic again. It would be well after dark by the time he got back. None of us had any of our clothes, or tents, or sleeping bags, and barely any food. He hurried.
When he got to the border, he stood out. Here’s a guy, alone, with a thick full beard, driving a 15-passenger van, with an enormous trailer. What the heck is this guy up to? So they started asking questions.
“Why are you driving such a large vehicle?”
“So all my teammates can fit in it.”
“Where are they?”
“What’s with the trailer?”
“It’s to carry the bikes.”
“So it’s full of bikes?”
“No, they’re with the team, in Lillooet.”
“So it’s NOT carrying bikes! What’s it REALLY carrying?”
“Bike equipment and stuff.”
“So why aren’t you with the team?”
“Well, they’re ahead.”
“They’re riding bikes, and they’re ahead of you?”
Hap was answering every question honestly, but it sounded like the story didn’t add up. At some point, they had someone else come out with a clipboard and ask him the same questions, but in a different order. Hap realized they were trying to see if he answered them the same way, to make sure he didn’t change the story. It was about that time he remembered that he hadn’t mentioned the box of fireworks, nor the three or four cases of champagne in the van, both intended for our celebration in Anchorage. He realized that he probably wasn’t allowed to carry fireworks over the border, and probably not that much alcohol, but since he had already said he didn’t have anything to declare, he didn’t want to change the story, because that would be even more suspicious.
Regardless, they had him sit down in a waiting area and told him they’d have to search the van and trailer. Hap was worried sick. He figured they’d find the fireworks and alcohol, arrest him, and confiscate the van. The team would never get their supplies, never get the van and trailer back, may not even know what happened or why. We’d never make it to Anchorage, all because Hap got detained at the border.
Five minutes later, an officer came back.
“Sir, we found a cup containing a yellow fluid in the driver’s cupholder. What is that?!?”
Hap took a deep breath, then let out, “My urine…”
The officer was livid. “How old are you? Act like an adult! You need to learn to use a bathroom like a civilized human being!” This went on for at least two full minutes.
At first, Hap was scared, because the guy was so angry. Then he was relieved, because it was only about the cup of urine. And after a while, he was even kind of entertained, because the officer couldn’t have gotten that mad if he hadn’t sniffed it, or maybe even drank some.
After an exceptionally long attack of Hap’s hygiene habits, he disgustedly declared, “You can just go.”
And that was it. They let him back in the van, and Hap continued on his way. Of course, he still had to get through the construction zone between Vancouver and Whistler, and only got to Lillooet past midnight. We were laying in the grass sleeping, still dressed in our bike shorts.
“Wake up, we’ve gotta pitch our tents and go to bed.” I groggily managed to find my sleeping bag and help get a tent erect. By the time I did, I was wide-awake.
“So Hap, what took so long? Did you have trouble at the border?”
“You ever seen ‘Dumb and Dumber?’”
“I’ll tell y’all in the morning.”
The strange thing is, if he hadn’t found the cup right away, there’s a chance that the officer would’ve continued searching the whole van and found the fireworks and wine. Hap peeing in a cup saved the ride!
Our next destination, 100 Mile House, is so named because on the Klondike Gold Rush trail, it was 100 miles from Lillooet. The current highway follows the old trail pretty closely, so we knew our mileage would be just over 100. Our day into 100 Mile House started with a climb that seemingly lasted all 20 miles until the first aid station. At that point, we had a decision to make.
We could either do a relatively flat course, or we could take a detour that would involve a climb of Duffy proportions on gravel. The advantage to the climbing? You save 30 miles.
I went with long and flat. Given the choice, I’ll pretty much always take distance over climbing. Besides, after the last 20 miles, and the two days before that as well, I was pretty sick of climbing. Descending something Duffy-like on gravel didn’t seem too safe either.
About six people took the detour. The rest of us took the long way. At one point, a guy named Bob started riding with us and let us know that he’d be helping host us in Prince George in a day or two. He was fast!
I wound up being the first to the point at which we met up with the detour folks, despite doing 30 extra miles. Right after me were the detour folks, all of them together, and then the rest of the pack that I rode with. We had stopped near someone’s house, and only a few minutes later, someone came out of the house and called out to us. Figuring he wanted us to move, I listened up.
”You can come over here and sit under my tree if you want,” he said. Nice guy!
We sat under his tree for a little while, listening to the detour folks describe what the gravel hill was like. Only a little bit later, a woman who was seemingly the wife of the guy we saw earlier came out of the house and gave us a basket of raspberries. Nice lady!
Shortly afterwards, Bob brought us a bunch of ice cream bars. Nice guy! The rest of the ride wasn’t too bad, just had some hills here and there. We hadn’t done a century in a long time though, so it seemed to go on forever. Mileage was easy to keep track of, since every building we passed was aptly named “74 Mile Diner” or “93 Mile Gas Station,” with the exception of a hotel right around mile 50, “Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn.”
At the last aid station of the day, you could look around and see the exhaustion blanketing the entire team. No one was standing up, even though there was nowhere to sit. Most people were laying down. Some barely had the energy to eat. We’d already done almost 100 miles. The day before, we’d done Duffy Pass. The day before that, a long hilly day into Whistler, with construction and torn up roads to deal with. And last night, we barely slept, since the van showed up after midnight. We were done for.
Like usual, I got up to leave the aid station first, but less because I was looking forward to the ride, and more because I wanted to get the day over with and get some rest. Shortly after I got up, Athan arose.
“I’ll go with you.”
I did a double-take. Not that it was terribly unusual for Athan and I to ride together, but maybe looked worse than anyone. I was surprised he wanted to go at all.
“Uh, you sure?” I wasn’t sure how to ask that without being insulting.
“Yeah, I wanna get this over with. Let’s go.”
For the next hour, Athan yelled at almost everything he saw. Cars, trucks, cows, trees, everything was his enemy. I wanted to laugh, but didn’t, both because that might get him started on me, and also because I knew where he was coming from. It was one of those days.
As we pulled into 100 Mile House, Athan wanted some chocolate milk. I figured he wanted a pint from a gas station, but he got a two liter carton from a grocery store instead. Much to my amazement, he nearly drank the whole thing, in about 30 seconds, then passed it to me for the last few gulps. We camped in an RV park that night, which was charging for hot showers, though cold ones were free. A&W was kind enough to donate some chicken for dinner, and a local pizza place donated one pizza.
David’s birthday was the next day, so we found a creative way to wake him up. The ride into Williams Lake wasn’t nearly as tough as the last few had been, so the day seemed to pass by quickly. Directions in the city of Williams Lake were a little screwy, but it didn’t take too much effort for the front-runners to figure out where to go, and it was smooth after that.
We were staying at a rec center that was mostly a couple of hockey rinks, and we got in early enough for me to go on a five-mile run and take a one-hour trip to the public library during the afternoon. Pizza was donated for dinner once again.
That night we were slated to make an appearance at an outdoor concert that the city held once a week in a city park. We gave our standard demonstration, sans video, throwing out T-shirts to some kids and got a warm response. The singer of the band, a pretty good one called the Cruzeros, dedicated a song to us and told us that his brother had died of colon cancer, which of course is the same type of cancer that our grant is funding. A few local papers were in attendance and several of us were interviewed during the concert. I think we wound up in three or four papers the next day.
It was still David’s birthday, so that night, we walked to a bar near the rec center to celebrate. A good time was had by all. Only three or four other people were in the whole bar, which included a dance floor. We got down and funky!
On the way back to the rec center, we walked through a city park, where a half-deranged homeless man started shouting at us from a distance. None of us could understand a word he said, but that didn’t stop Hap from turning around and shouting “I shake my fist at YOUUU, sir!” When we got back to the rec center, the door was locked. A few of us got the idea to call our hosts and explain that we went out and the door locked behind us, so we needed to be let back in. Hap decided to climb onto the roof and look for an entrance there.
Only five minutes later, our hosts arrived and unlocked the door. Inside, you could clearly hear Hap walking around on the roof.
“Uh, what’s what?”
I’ll never forget the look on Hap’s face in the morning, when we told him he’d been walking on the roof the night before.
David had told us earlier in the day that he wanted a pinata, so a few of us had made one that resembled a giraffe out of a box of Nutri-Grain bars, a few water bottles, and a paper towel roll. We had David swing at it blindfolded in the rec center the next morning, and after getting a good laugh, headed out in high spirits (though it may have been the sugar rush from the candy).
In addition to all the newspapers that covered us at the concert, a few of us wound up getting interviewed on the radio that morning. I couldn’t believe how much positive publicity this town was giving us. On the way out of town, we got a lot of friendly honks and waves, which was a nice departure from profanity.
We were headed to Quesnel and had yet another typical warm day surrounded by green mountains and littered with glistening lakes. For some reason, I felt like riding fast that day. Patrick spent most of the day right behind me. The day passed by quickly, thanks especially to a long downhill at the very end. We had free showers in a rec center right across the street from our church accommodations, which was much appreciated, and Bob showed up again to give us a hot dinner. Nice guy!
Lots of us spent the afternoon cleaning our bikes for some reason. Invictus hadn’t been cleaned in a long time and was absolutely filthy. I took my time cleaning it and was proud at how good he looked afterward. Then I noticed that the sky was threatening rain. As I brought my bike back inside, I hoped silently to myself that it wouldn’t rain the next day and waste the effort I had made cleaning Invictus. Most of the evening was spent just chilling out, and we were able to hook up a laptop to a projector and watch a movie in the church.
When we woke up the next morning the air was cold and the sky was gray. Most of us hurriedly got our stuff ready to try and beat the rain, but threw on our rain gear just in case. With no real rain jacket, I put on my arm warmers and my water-resistant windbreaker and hoped for the best. By the time I got Invictus outside it was raining.
It was also frigid. There was also a lot of traffic in Quesnel, and we must’ve gone through the town in the longest way possible. I started cursing myself for not investing in a waterproof jacket instead of a water-resistant one, got angry at my long-fingered gloves for doing nothing to keep the cold air from freezing my hands, and started to think that maybe, just maybe, I should’ve put on my leg warmers before leaving that morning. I eventually got to the point that I hated downhills simply because it added more cold wind, and the driving rain all but blinded you. I was shivering so hard I could hardly steer.
By the first aid station, it was already clear that this was my least favorite day. No question.
While there, I thought it might be a good idea to get my leg warmers, so I unloaded half the bags out of the trailer before finding mine, then dug them out and put them on. I had to have a little better protection from the rain, so I ripped a few holes in a big trash bag and started wearing that. We were stopped in front of a ranch and a friendly guy in a cowboy hat came out and talked to us. I noticed he was wearing a polo shirt that said “Canadian Cancer Society.” He seemed impressed by what we were doing. Noticing how cold we looked, he mentioned that there was a restaurant/convenience store a few miles up the road where we might get some coffee to warm up. I kept that in mind.
I took off down the road in my trash bag, looking like a big ol’ black marshmallow once the wind caught in the bag. It was helping keep the rain and wind out a little bit, but I was already completely soaked, so it didn’t really matter. After a few miles, I spied the restaurant and strolled in. I immediately went to the bathroom, stripped naked, and spent about 15 minutes wringing out my clothes and drying myself off with paper towels. Just as I finished, I finally stopped shivering. After putting my still-damp clothes back on, I started shivering again.
Frustrated, but a little warmer and drier, I started making my way out of the store. On the way out, I noticed a coffee machine that said “FREE” on it. Despite not being a coffee drinker, anything warm sounded good. Then I noticed the machine served hot chocolate also. Jackpot.
I poured myself a steaming hot cup and drank it slow, my tongue getting burned on every sip, though I didn’t care much. I struck up a casual conversation with the woman behind the counter, who was wearing a Relay for Life T-shirt. Noticing my jersey and the bike I rode in on, she asked about Texas 4,000. Like the guy at the aid station, she was quite impressed. It was then that she did probably the coolest thing that anyone did for me the entire trip.
”Do you want my jacket? It’s waterproof.”
I froze for a second. At this moment, I would’ve turned down a winning lottery ticket, my own spaceship, and a private continent for a waterproof jacket.
”Are you sure?”
”Yeah. It’s my old one. I was planning on giving it away to charity soon anyway, and I guess you’re my charity. It might be a little big for you, so I hope it fits alright.”
”I’m sure it fits better than a trash bag!”
I thanked her many, many times. It took everything I had not to skip out of the store giggling like a little girl. Now in a good mood, the next 15-or-so miles flew by until I got to the next aid station. By then, another positive turn of events had unfolded: it stopped raining.
I hung out there for just a little while, grinning the whole time. A number of teammates asked where the jacket had come from, and I was more than happy to re-tell the story. It was warming up a little, but the sky was still gray, so I decided to leave my new jacket on, just in case.
Only a few miles past the aid station, the sun came out. It warmed up fast, and all the water that had been on the ground started evaporating, making it extremely humid outside. I eventually got frustrated, pulled over, and took off both my waterproof and water-resistant jackets, stuffing both of them under my jersey. It looked goofy, but I really didn’t care. When Athan drove past me on the way to the next aid station, I managed to flag him down and throw my jackets in the car. He was amused at how I’d been carrying them.
It was still warm and somewhat clear at what would be the last aid station of the day, so I went ahead and left without either jacket. As I rolled into Prince George though, the sky was getting darker and darker. I pushed hard the last few miles, trying to make sure I got in before it started raining again, especially now that I didn’t even have my water-resistant jacket. I made it in still dry and was quickly followed by Jeffrey and Hap. Five minutes after we got there, it started pouring.
I felt terrible for my teammates, knowing that most of them had shed their rain gear like me, and were stuck in a downpour that was quite possibly worse than the one we’d dealt with that morning. John, one of the day’s drivers, had already arrived, so we sent him out to try to give everyone their rain gear back. The remainder of the team showed up soggy, but happy to have finished the day’s ride.
We were staying at a YMCA that night, which had showers and a steam room. The hot shower felt great, and a lot of my teammates that got caught in the late rain spent a long time in the steam room. We all felt better after a while. One of us had gotten the idea that all the guys on the team should have "Morale Moustaches." Pretty much all of us had at least some facial hair at that point, so we shaved ourselves a moustache. But just for good measure, one of us went to the store and bought some Just For Men, the darkest color available. We all now had jet black moustaches, regardless of the color of hair on our head. It didn't look good on everyone.
Prince George is the only town that both the Rockies and Sierras both go to, but separately. We met up with a few people that had hosted the Rockies a week or two earlier and they were some pretty cool people. One of the families had a son in middle school (I think) who had beaten a type of cancer very similar to the one that my teammate Lily had when she was very young. I thought it was awesome to meet another young person who had beaten the odds and had a great spirit (he’s now a snowboarder). The families provided a wonderful potluck dinner and we spent a lot of time at their place enjoying their hospitality.
The next day we would drive 24 hours straight to get to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and meet the Rockies after being separated from them for eight and a half weeks. I had missed a lot of them, and I was looking forward to seeing their faces again, especially after hearing a few things about them from our hosts in Prince George.
British Columbia was absolutely gorgeous. The entire province was made up mostly of massive, lush green hills, with a few snow-capped ones thrown in for good measure. We must have seen at least 100 lakes in about a week. Minnesota, move over. British Columbia is the land of the lakes.
from Texas 4,000