Monday, April 23, 2007

Part 11 Lon's Cross Country 1981

Part 11
I was starting to feel better with the daily routine of riding 250 miles per day. My low point had been in Kansas and the previous night near Clines Corners, New Mexico. Reaching Albuquerque, New Mexico was a symbolic landmark in the Double Transcontinental. I felt that I had reached the old west I remembered from cowboy movies. The dramatic landscape and tall sky had a vastness unlike the terrain of the midwest. Albuquerque was 280 years old and it had a feeling of old and new as I rode across town on old Route 66. There was a mixture of tan adobe building scattered between the rows of glass strip malls. Central Avenue is 17 miles from end to end and claims to be the Longest Main Street in America. As I reached the west side of town I climbed up the ridge on Nine Mile Hill. The straight highway grade started at 2 %, then to 5% and then tilted to 7% near the top. From the west side you can look back over 25 miles of sprawling city to Tijeras Canyon on the east side where I had been two hours earlier.

By the time I left Albuquerque it was mid morning. I was back on I-40 again with the chip seal shoulder. The interstate rolled into the distance with shallow grades. Near the white chapel at Old Laguna I stopped at a highway rest area for a snack. There was an outdoor pit toilet there. I went in the toilet and noticed the pit was filled with dried crap all the way to the brim of the toilet. I lost my appetite and my desire to use the bathroom. I remarked to the crew that the New Mexico Highway Department just builds and new rest area when they need one instead of cleaning the toilets.

As I headed toward the town of Grants my support car warned me that a house was catching me. There were no police escorts or warning vehicles. Behind us taking up both lanes of the interstate was a building on a flat bed truck that resembled a classic train depot. It had truck wheels on all corners and was moving about 35 mph and catching us. My support car and I pulled into the ditch as the house passed by. About 50 vehicles and trucks were behind waiting to get past the house. After passing us the house then drove into the median at about 20 mph to allow everyone to pass. I thought the whole structure was going to tip over and fall off the wheels as it coasted to a stop. We proceeded on again and kept a watch behind us. The house never caught us again.

When I rode through Grants I noticed that I-40 bypassed downtown. The road through town was Old Rt. 66 and the green interstate sign was called Bus. 1-40. Just then a Greyhound bus past me. I saw several more buses downtown. I must be on the bus route I thought. The signs for Bus. I-40 must mean that is the way buses should go. It took me several more towns before I understood Bus. I-40 stood for Business Loop I-40. My knowledge of the American road system was growing.

Between Grants and Gallup, New Mexico is the Continental Divide. The grade is a shallow 3% - 4% most of the way. The headwind is more of a factor than the climb. As I reached the summit at about 7,250’ I expected to look out and see the shores of the Pacific Ocean. At the top of each rolling hill I kept waiting to see the distant coastline. I didn’t really have a good perspective on how much further I had to go to reach Los Angeles. In my mind I had forgot about the State of Arizona. I had about 600 miles to go to the ocean. I had been on the road for 10 days. I was counting down the miles before I reached the turn around and had to start do it all again. Only next time it had to be faster.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Part 10..Lon's First Cross Country 1981

Part 10
The billboards for the Club Cafe in Santa Rosa had coaxed me off the interstate. These bill boards of the famous fat man cartoon would become Route 66 icons when the Club Cafe would close it’s doors ten years later. The Motel-6 was at the first exit ramp entering Santa Rosa. I had slept there for about fours hours and now it was dark. Jon Royer and Dean Dettman would be crewing in the Dodge Omni support car tonight. The air was cool enough I needed a windbreaker jacket. We left the motel and follow Old Route 66 through the main street district of downtown. After about three miles we were on the west edge of town and merging back on to Interstate 40. The shoulder of the road was better here or maybe I couldn’t see the rough pavement in the dark. I seemed to be standing a lot when riding and struggling to maintain 15 mph. I began to listen to the noise of the trucks on the interstate. The trucks coming toward me were coasting while the engines of the trucks going west were working harder. In the distance I could see the outline of rocky peaks against the stars in the sky. I was heading into the mountains tonight and my first real climbing since Missouri.

Each of the interstate grades seemed to get steeper and stair step climb for the next 30 miles. Billboard signs for “Clines Corners 25 Miles...Worth Waiting For” reminded me of the Hillbilly billboards in Missouri. These signs every mile would be my gauge tonight as the road climbed 2,500 feet in the next 50 miles. As the Greyhound Buses passed me I noticed their diesel exhaust smelled sweeter than other trucks. I could always tell a bus was passing by the smell of the exhaust. I asked my crew if they noticed any difference and they said a diesel was a diesel and there wasn’t any difference. I think there is difference and 26 year later I still think the buses have a sweeter smell.

It took me almost five hours to ride the 60 miles to Clines Corners. Most of it was uphill. I was getting sleepy again at 2:00 AM. We had crested the grade and my pace exceeded 25 mph as I began to coast and soft pedal down the hill. The easier terrain made it more difficult to stay awake. The mountain air was brisk and I was getting cold. Finally I motioned to my support car to pull over. I told them I needed a nap. There wasn’t much room in the car but they had a foam pad in the back seat. I took the pad and walked into the desert on the side of the road. Jon and Dean said I couldn’t sleep here and that the motorhome was just five mile ahead. I said I only needed to rest for ten minutes. I laid down and closed my eyes. I probably fell asleep in two minutes. Jon tapped me on the shoulder and said it was time to go again. I got back on the bike cold and shivering and just as tired as before. We continued the next five miles near the town of Moriarty. The motorhome was parked off an exit ramp and everything was dark inside. I was the most tired I had been the whole ride. It was now almost 5:00 AM. I leaned my bike against the motor home and went inside. My mom,dad, brother and Susan woke up when I went inside. “I really need to sleep” I said. “Don’t wake me up until I wake up on my own” . I wasn’t in a good mood and everyone kept their distance from me. I collapsed in the back bunk still wearing with my clothes, jacket and gloves. I am sure I was snoring in less than a minute.

As I slept I had a dream. I was in a movie theater seated next to Susan. I had an aisle seat. During the movie a guy came into the theater with a bicycle and a set of rollers. It was Jim Black, the guy I had seen in Missouri trying to break the cross country record. He put his bike on the rollers in the aisle beside me. He started riding and said “I am still a good rider”...”I am still a good rider”. “ Do you want to buy my bike” he said. “ Do you want to buy my bike”. I looked at the bike he was riding on the rollers. The white frame had bubbled paint and looked burnt. I said, “No thanks, your bike is burned, I’ll keep my own bikes”.

Just then I woke up from my dream. I felt very alert. I looked around the inside of the motorhome. There was enough sun light that I figured I must had slept all day and it was almost sunset. I looked at my watch. It was 6:30 AM and sun was coming up. I had only slept 90 minutes. The rest of the crew was sleeping and figuring I was going to be in bed for at least six hours. I got out of bed and woke up Susan. “I feel great and I am going to start riding” I said. “Catch up with me down the road”. I took and apple and some cookies from the motor home kitchen and put them in my jersey pocket. I went outside and my bike was still leaning against the motor home. The sun was warming up the morning and I was feeling very fresh today. I rolled down the entrance ramp onto the interstate and saw a sign; Albuquerque 25 miles.

I rode solo this morning down the interstate shoulder. I ate my cookies and apple and started wondering what was keeping the support car from catching me. I had reached the downhill of Tijeras Canyon that drops the final 10 miles into Albuquerque. I was feeling good and enjoying my gradual 30 mph descent. Just then the red Dodge Omni support car rolled up beside me. Susan was in the passenger seat and asked how I was doing. I didn’t have a chance to tell her about my dream and my new found enthusiasm. She said she had been on the phones talking to Velo News Magazine and Michael Shermer who was working at a different industry cycling publication. Susan said she had some news about about Jim Black and his cross country record attempt. “Yeah what” I said. Susan said “Jim made it to Indiana but he had to stop when his motor home started on fire”. I did a double take and asked for more details. All Susan knew is what she was told by the magazines. I told Susan, “You won’t believe the dream I had” .


Friday, April 13, 2007

Part 9 First Cross Country 1981

Part 9
We were looking forward to getting out of Kansas if for no other reason than to prove we were making progress west. The panhandle of Oklahoma would be our next state to cross and we would be in and out in only 60 miles. I remember seeing a sign in Pratt, Kansas as the “Home of the Miss Kansas Pageant”. As we rode through Hooker, Oklahoma I was wondering what type of pageant they were famous for. I didn’t think it would be much of an honor to be crowned “Miss Hooker”.

The southwest wind continued to howl at a steady 30 mph. There was enough of a cross wind from the left to give me a blast from oncoming semi trucks. I would need to put my head down and hang on as the trucks passed and the gusts almost brought me to a stand still. Crew member Jon Royer got out to ride with me. My bikes had toe clips and straps so Jon was able to ride one of my bikes in his gym shoes, t-shirt and jean shorts. In 1981 a baseball cap was as good as a helmet so Jon wore his blue and white mechanics cap. Jon was a pretty good rider in 1981 and a few years later would be a USCF Ranked Category 1 racer making a living on the Pepsi Cycling Team. He was a wiry climber and a strong time trialist. The day he was riding with me in Oklahoma it was too windy to talk but I enjoyed the mutual suffering. As a semi truck approached we braced ourselves for the blast. Jon’s baseball cap blew off and tumbled 50 yards behind us in the wake of the truck. Jon needed to make a U-turn and go find his cap in the ditch. This routine continued at least six more times during the hour Jon rode with me. It was amusing to me and frustrating to Jon. I couldn’t help speeding up a little every time Jon lost his cap and make him work to catch up again since I felt he needed the training.

I was barely averaging 10 mph today. The towns were getting further apart and I had few landmarks to gauge my progress. By dark I was entering Texas and had Oklahoma behind me. The tracks of the Santa Fe railroad followed along the highway. In the night sky I could see the single cycloptic orbiting headlight of an oncoming train in the distance. The powerful beam was sometimes visible for at least ten miles on the flat prairie. I estimated if the train was going 50 mph and I was going 10 mph we should meet in about ten minutes. Every time a new train came toward me I played the game of estimating how far away the train was and when we would meet. Throughout the night we were only plus or minus one minute of my guess.

My daily routine had changed the past three nights to include more and more night riding. Partly to avoid the winds but I was getting used to spending 18-20 hours on the bike and sleeping less. My goal before the ride was to travel at least 200 miles everyday. By sunrise I was entering New Mexico with only few stops during the night. I had only gone 180 miles in the past 24 hours against the stiff headwind. I was getting discouraged and was losing track of how many days I had been on the road. The shoulder of the highway was paved with golf ball sized rocks to act as rumble strips for tired drivers. On a bike the chatter broke water bottle cages and made tender hands and seats feel even worse.

By mid day I had reached Tucumcari, New Mexico. Our route card showed I had a turn coming up to get on Interstate 40. This would be our our first turn in 850 miles since the Mississippi River. I was really tired from skipping a sleep break the night before. The temperature neared 100 degrees. My crew agreed I should ride 60 miles to Santa Rosa and go to sleep in a Motel-6 until sundown. The good thing was the wind had died down to a manageable breeze and I could ride at least 15 mph again. The bad thing was the rough chip seal shoulder continued on the interstate. New Mexico was still making the transition from Old Route 66 to new Interstate 40. There was a lot of road construction with miles of closed lanes and one-way traffic. Fortunately I was able to ride unsupported during the day and weave my way passed hundreds of orange traffic cones and road barriers. By the time I reached Santa Rosa it was late afternoon. I was tired and ready for a nap. I didn’t know how tired I was until I got woke up to ride at 9:00 PM.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Part 8 Cross Country 1981

Part 8
The afternoon wind continued to gain force as I pedaled toward Pratt, Kansas. Cattle trucks were more common now. The wind was from the front left and occasionally a passing semi truck full of nervous steers would spray me with a mist of bovine piss. As I rode toward the western sunset the wind seemed to gain strength. I was used to the wind dying down at night. Not tonight. The flags in front of the local post office flutter straight out of the southwest.

Each of the towns were spaced a consistent eleven miles apart. A 200 foot tall grain elevator tower was the most prominent landmark on the horizon. A flashing red light on the top of the tower was my guiding beacon. Each hour I pedaled eleven miles to a new town. Each town was four blocks across. Then I rode out the other side of town and had 59 minutes to concentrate on the next grain tower eleven miles away.

I arrived in Pratt, Kansas at about midnight. Our crew had stopped in the vacant parking lot of the closed Pizza Hut. We all decided to stop and sleep a few hours. We set up the small tent on a patch of vacant lawn. The wind fluttered the nylon tent like it was being pitched on the side of Mt. Everest. I went in the motor home and crawled into the bottom bunk bed. The wind rocked the motor home as I dozed off for a few hours sleep.

We decided to try riding again at 3:00 AM. I got back on the bike while Susan and Dean Dettman followed me in the Dodge Omni support car. We rolled out of town in the pitch black of the night. The rest of the crew would sleep until sunrise and then meet us 50 miles up the road. The wind was still blowing but the road was quiet with only a few trucks per hour passing us in the night. The support car behind me cast eerie shadows on the tufts of grass that grew between the cracks on the road shoulder. I slalomed down the chip seal shoulder dodging the clumps of grass and looking for the best pavement. I was tired now and looking forward to sunrise. I had ridden 250 miles yesterday. It would be difficult to ride that far today if the wind didn’t change.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Part 7 Lon's Cross Country 1981

Part 7
As I left the rolling state of Missouri I was looking forward to some flatter roads in Kansas. I didn’t really know what to expect as I traveled further west everyday. Kansas does have some good rolling hills and lots of trees in the eastern half of the state. The area is really quite scenic and I was enjoying my riding toward Wichita. As we neared the middle of the state I even got back on my six speed bike with one 52 tooth front chainring that I hadn’t ridden since the first day leaving New York City. I remember I picked up a rare east tailwind for about three hours one morning and cruised at over 25 mph for the first time since the start of the trip.

I had been following Route 54 since entering Missouri. I would stay on it for the next 400 miles across Kansas. Our route card said the next turn was three states away in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Route 54 was just a cement slab barely wide enough for two semi trucks to pass. It wasn’t a great road for cycling and we spent lots of time pulling off the road as trucks approached our support vehicle from the rear. For comparison most of Rt. 54 has been resurfaced and widened in 1995 and now has a good six foot shoulder.

As we neared Wichita a police escort met me at the city limits. I was ready for a similar police reception I had received crossing Indianapolis. The Wichita Police whisked me along at 23 mph again. The mid day temperatures neared 98 degrees. By the time I reached the western side of town I was pooped and hot. I wanted to stop and rest but I had a deadline for another teleconferencing call at the next available pay phone 20 miles up the road and only an hour to get there. I continued to time trial until I arrived at the pay phone inside a small gas station. Susan had the interview in progress when I arrived. I was dripping wet with sweat and panting hard when she handed me the phone. I talked for about 10 minutes and gave a report of where I was today and how I was feeling. After the interview I went back outside and got on my bike. The afternoon sun was still hot and a westerly wind was starting to blow in my face. The terrain was changing with fewer trees and long flat roads. The next two days would be some of the longest and most brutal of the whole record attempt.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Part 6 Lon's First Cross Country 1981

Part 6
Our crew for the Double Transcontinental would be made up of six people. My mom and dad had just turned 50 years old in 1981. They had been very supportive of me for the past 10 years as my interest in longer distance cycling took us to new places. My younger brother Ken had just graduated from high school and this ride across across the country was a big road trip for him. Jon Royer and Dean Dettman were two 20 year old mechanics from the bike shop where I worked. They were the “Jack of all trades” type guys who could drive vehicles and repair them too. Our sixth crew member was Susan Notorangelo from St. Louis. She was a nurse and an accountant. We had become friends the previous winter and only met in person a few weeks before the cross country ride. Everyone brought special talents to the event.

Crossing the country twice and being in motion for over 30 consecutive days including travel time was very stressful for everyone. Everyday had dozens of adjustments and changes to the daily plan. It was great to have my parents and brother along who knew me well. It was also necessary to have the perspective of new friends. Considering what we were trying to accomplish without any previous example to follow, we did a pretty good job of inventing the wheel of nonstop cross country cycling.

For support vehicles, we had a 25 foot motor home, a small Dodge Omni chase car and a full size cargo van. Two crew members were assigned to each vehicle. They would rotate between vehicles everyday to get a chance to sleep for a few hours in the motor home or follow me in the chase car. Since I was taking long sleep breaks at night everyone usually tried to get some sleep when I stopped between midnight and sunrise. I remember we even had a tent the crew would set up sometimes when sleeping space was cramped.

Jon Royer and Susan took lots of photos. I didn’t fully appreciate their effort to document the Double Transcontinental until years later. Some of the photos they took still provide me with some of my best cross country memories. I only regret we didn’t have a video camera or someway to record interviews along the way. I did stop and do many interviews with local radio stations but I don’t have any copies of those. A hometown company called DAROME was a innovator in teleconference equipment at the time. They helped sponsor my record attempt. Everyday we did a 15 minute interview that was broadcast nationally on a telephone call in chat line. Newspapers and radio people from across the country could call and ask questions. We had several stories posted by Associated Press newspapers. As the record attempt continued across the country the following by the media increased. I sensed many newspapers and television stations we contacted on our way west thought the record attempt was going to fail. They would only give us luke warm interest when Susan contacted them. I used their snub as motivation to on my return trip east.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Part 5 Lon's Cross Country

Part 5
Missouri was probably one of my favorite cycling states. The thick forests and rolling hills made for interesting and beautiful riding. As I neared the town of Mexico, Missouri on Rt. 54 I was met by some friends from my midwest cycling events. I was surprised to see them and it was the first time I had met any riders on the road. We had known each other from riding the Litchfield Double Century since 1977 and riding the 540 mile Bicycle Across Missouri event the previous September. It was great to see them and chat a while as we rode about 20 miles until sundown.

We said goodbye that night and I continued riding into the night. This was the first night I rode in the dark. The traffic was light and the humid midwest air was cool and refreshing for a change. I pedaled until midnight and slept in the motor home parked in a desolate supermarket near Kingdom City. We were refining our daily schedule and I was learning how to stay on the bike longer during the day.

The next morning I started at sunrise riding on the divided section of 4-lane heading toward the Lake of the Ozarks. This section is similar to an interstate with a divided median filled with trees and untouched cliffs of native limestone rocks. The wide shoulder was made of natural Missouri red granite chip seal pebbles. I was making good time this morning coasting down the mile long grades and standing and pedaling on the long 6% climbs back up the other side. My support car had stopped for gas and I was enjoyed the solitude of riding by myself in the early morning.

It was on this section I noticed a cyclist coming toward me on the opposite shoulder of the divided road. Through the gaps in the trees and rocks I could see the cyclist and a motorcycle traveling together on the shoulder. As they came past me I waved across the median. Neither the motorcycle or rider responded to me. They just though I was local hick cyclist out for a morning ride. A few minutes later I saw a large motor home come toward me with a Lotis Bicycle banner on the side. The rider and motorcycle I had seen was Jim Black from New York. He had started in California about a week earlier and was attempting to break John Marino's one-way Transcontinental Cycling Record of 12 days, 3 hours. I had heard about Jim’s record attempt from some friends in California. They said he had a 60 tooth chainring for the tailwinds in the desert. I was interested because I was also going to try and break Marino’s one-way West to East Record on my return trip to New York.

When my support car joined me a few miles later I told them I had seen Jim riding eastward on Rt. 54. My support car made a U-turn at the next crossover and went to say hello. I continued on alone for the next 10 miles toward the over commercialized area of the Lake of the Ozarks. I was calculating Jim Black’s Record Attempt pace. Would he break Marino’s Record? Would I need to to go faster on my return trip? This was turning into more of a race than a tour across the United Sates for me. As I rode the hills of Missouri the competition was helping me stay focused. I needed to ration my enthusiasm.
I tried not to think about riding back from California. I still had 1,800 miles to go before I would see Santa Monica. For now it was best for me to ride for the moment and enjoy Missouri. I read all the bill boards that were displayed every half mile for the final 50 miles before the Lake of the Ozarks. Hillbilly font signs with the words “Walnut Bowls...Factory Seconds” dominated the landscape. Signs promoting wax museums, Elvis look-a-like entertainers and Fireworks made rural Missouri seem like Las Vegas. I was enjoying my cycling today. My legs were feeling better and I was looking forward to Kansas.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Part 4 Lon's Cross County

Part 4
Getting back on the bike each morning was the toughest part of the day. The aches and pains of just sitting on the saddle was a tender area. I was using an original Kool Gear Saddle and a Brooks Professional Saddle. I had not started using the Brooks B-17 model seats that would save me on many future cross country events. I was still learning what equipment to use on multi day races.

My knees were not used to getting out of bed and turning 175 mm cranks. My legs were stiff for the first 20 miles each morning until I got warmed up. Fortunately after 50 miles I was usually feeling pretty good until sundown. The middle nine hours of each day were my most productive and I tried to knock off 150 miles between late morning and dark.

My father had arranged for police escorts across the major cities. This took a lot of work and coordination to arrange and predict my arrival times. About 30 miles or two hours before we arrived at a city my father would confirm my arrival time with the police. I remember entering Indianapolis, Indiana as six police motorcycles waited for me. They immediately sent two motorcycles to the next traffic light. They stopped the cross traffic as me and my support car and the other four motorcycles maintained a 23 mph pace. Then two of the remaining four motorcycles leapfrogged to the next traffic light and stopped cross traffic again. Two of the original police bikes stayed 50 yards in front of me. The other two police bikes who were left behind us sprinted to the front again at the next light. This leapfrog escort support was repeated for over 50 traffic lights across the city. I had been riding at a comfortable 17 mph before I got to the city. Now I was sprinting through every traffic light to stay with the 23 mph escort. The whole process was quite exciting but very tiring to maintain for ten miles on tired legs. As I reached the far side of Indianapolis I waved goodbye to the police escort. I was relieved to continue at my 17 mph pace again. The mental rush of the escort would stay with me for several hours.

My next escort would be across Springfield, Illinois before crossing the Mississippi River into Missouri. The flat lands were now behind me. The rolling hills of the Ozarks lay ahead. I was really tired and sore. Fortunately I had traveled the first 1,000 miles in a little over four days. Some of my stiffness was going away. I tried not to think about how far I had to go to reach California.