In which the best laid plans…

Bicycle and teammate Kate of Happy Hour Body in the French Quarter:

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In retrospect, I should’ve asked for gatorskins on both wheels…

We had the good fortune to have a friend with roots on both sides of the relay and willingness to fly in to be our getaway driver. Melissa is from New Orleans, has family in Pensacola, and worked as an assistant director. In other words, fun and organized. Exactly what you need when you’re jet-lagged or bike-brained, or just in need of a good time.

Old-school carboloading at Morning Call:

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Warm up ride (to cover the Louisiana miles the course wouldn’t in advance) on Lake Pontchartrain:

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Which was 8 miles of twilight gnattiness out and 8 miles of headwind back. It occurred to me that there shouldn’t be headwinds in that direction…

The next morning, our crew arrived at the East New Orleans Comfort Inn, and no sooner was I set up on the bike but I was off!

GCI start

The first leg was a loop. My legs felt good, the course had blinky lights at the turns, and then I made the second turn, and…

Headwinds (please hear Jerry Seinfeld saying, “Newman” here).

Headwinds and the realization that this was the direction we’d be heading all day.

Still, I found a good group to ride with – three solo riders who were pushing the pace a little, but good to hang with in the dark.

Past refineries, past pho restaurants, through deserted industrial regions and out into the middle of nowhere. A rest stop at a dive bar that opened its doors for us to use the bathrooms well before dawn.

And then at 30 miles, Amy, one if the soloists, flatted, and our entire group (eight or so) stopped to help. Ricky, the guy who was with the two soloing women, changed it and urged us to check our own. Sure enough, my front tire (I had been on Amy’s now-flat back wheel) was flat, too. Ricky had it changed and we were rolling in no time at all!

Me and my hero at the Mississippi State line:

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Louisiana, DONE!

Shortly thereafter, I handed off to Kate, who had no problem keeping up with Amy and Ricky’s friend Jocelyn’s blistering pace. (Her middle name on Facebook is “Quadzilla” and they were using this as a training ride for the Texas Ironman.) The plan was to trade off every 16-18 miles throughout the day, get to near the Florida border before dark, and let me ride in the last 41 miles (and pick up 20 some miles in Florida on a recovery ride Sunday morning).

The plan went well in Mississippi. Ricky would drop back from the lead girls to help me with the headwinds. At each stop, we’d adjust the seat, swap shoes, send off the other rider, and stretch, eat, drive up to the next turn.

Melissa did an amazing job of staying on top of directions, snapping shots for the scavenger hunt, and generally boosting morale. She gets her own post about the adventure, because getaway drivers deserve their due.

She also gets credit for these photos of me at the Mississippi-Alabama border, 80 miles in to my mileage, but almost the halfway point of the ride:

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Mississippi, DONE!

We rode up to exchange #18 – the halfway point of the ride and a major exchange, with food and a drugstore to visit. As Melissa was down at the tent (and I was inside), she saw a wall of rain appear in the distance, and engulf everyone. Kate took the worst of it, her quads pelted at first by rain, then by hail.

The weather had begun.

My first leg in Alabama might have been my best – it certainly felt my best, although the Strava data suggests otherwise.

The only place a marker board was stolen was in front of FBI headquarters in Mobile – where I ran a red light (I had stopped, no one was coming) with impunity:

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I handed off to Kate at the USS Alabama, and we lingered for some photos:

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On my last leg, I needed to stop for food at one of the turns before I handed off again. Poor Kate headed out into what was now a rainstorm. Amy and Jocelyn decided to stop for good, but Ricky persisted on. Night was falling quickly, and we were diligent about stopping the car at every turn to make sure we stayed on course.

As we passed Kate, she asked us to get a picture of her in the rain gear. This was the best I could do:

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We got to the next turn, we saw her get through the turn, and we zoomed up to the next turn, a few miles away, to wait. I ate. We waited. We waited some more. We thought we saw the headlight on the bike. Some motorists stopped to see if we needed help. (We had the hazards on.)

At 8:15, we decided to go back and see if Kate needed help. We hadn’t seen Ricky either. As we approached the turn where we’d last stopped, we grew apprehensive. They’d disappeared. We retraced our steps, driving slowly, looking apprehensively into ditches in the dark. Nothing. We tried to persuade ourselves that they’d somehow passed us when we were looking at the maps and rode up to exchange 29. They hadn’t been there. I texted on the team leader group thread, asking if anyone had seen Kate or Ricky. I texted Kate.

Finally, a response. Kate and Ricky were at a toll booth. Not on the course. We got their location and sped there, letting Amy and Jocelyn know where to find us. Their phones were dying, and toll booths are tricky to find in the pitch black during a thunderstorm.

We found our teammates, who had followed arrows painted on the road – they just weren’t our event’s arrows. It was close to 9pm, and I couldn’t ask Kate to get back out there again (the rules specified that lost riders had to ride back to where they got lost, and it simply wasn’t a safe road for that). We called it, with about 50 miles to go. We waited to reunite Ricky with his teammates while Melissa called her uncle in Pensacola to let him know our ETA.

Weirdly, it didn’t feel like defeat. It felt as if we’d done the smart thing, under the circumstances. Hail and headwinds had made the goal unattainable for us, and it was better to get a good night’s sleep than get hit by a car – or worse, lightning – trying to avoid a DNF. After all, isn’t death the ultimate DNF?

An hour or so later, we were in a warm house in Pensacola, having a drink and regaling Melissa’s uncle with tales of our adventures. He thought we were insane. I’m not sure he was wrong. He also had a kitty welcoming committee!
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Miss Judy

Which kind of resembled my home team:
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In the morning, we headed to the finish line to turn in our scavenger hunt (we won by default), get some photo ops and swag, and pick up a cocktail for Uncle Butch:

GCI team finish

GCI finish pelican

And then we headed back to New Orleans, stopping in Alabama to let me pick up my 10 missing miles there.

So, 3 of 4 states done, and I’ll have to head back to Florida at some point to pick that one off. Still, way more fun than almost any event so far. It’s really great to ride with friends!

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