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Jeff Linder needs no introduction to ultracycling watchers in the fold. One of Bike Friday's original boosters, he distinguished himself in 2006 by coming first in the gruelling 24-hours Of Adrenalin mountain bike race in his age class.
In the 2007 PACTOUR Elite Tour, a rite of passage for serious ultracyclists, the elder statesman of the group was one of only 21 finishers in a starting field of 51.
His secret? A scant need for sleep ("very useful for flying"), a handbuilt Air Friday, and a resolve to always always do E.F.M. …
In Jeff's words:
Would I do it?
Did I want to do it?
Questions that had elicited such a vibrant affirmative response months before had diminished to: I said I would, so I guess I'd better.
Does this sound like the way you'd wanna be thinking as you threw your leg over the top tube and rolled out for a 2,820-mile life adventure?
Let me explain.
It all began simply enough when my two old cycling friends, Ed Pavelka and Fred Matheny announced on the Road Bike Rider web-site that, they were going to do PACTOUR's 2007 Elite Tour, a 17-day trip from San Diego, California to Savannah, Georgia in June 2007.
They planned to cover an average of 170 miles a day. It was only November, and I accepted the advice to place my name on the necessary wait list.
I wrote to Susan Notorangelo, RAAM record holder and co-founder of PACTOUR with her husband and multi-RAAM champion, Lon Haldeman. I’d had the pleasure of riding and working with Lon on several occasions and I was honored with a quick response from Susan telling me "Lon says you’re on" … the start list that is.
My original outreach to Susan was designed more as a place holder on the wait list than a definite "I wanna go!" I think I received a teensy bit of preferential treatment, so I wasn't about to write back and say, "I was just kidding."
Training had to begin in earnest if I was going to get my just-retired-from-the-airlines sleepy head honed to the fine edge of uber-fitness that was strongly encouraged/demanded by the literature.
I could see there were going to be no shortcuts during this quest, just miles and miles and miles of concentrated conditioning, bringing me in line with the test of tests: back-to-back double centuries in under 12 hours each!
I was able to remain pretty faithful to the prescribed conditioning routine, comparing my progress each week to that of Ed and Fred as they shared their progress each week in the Thursday issue of RBR.
At first, I felt pretty good checking my hours/miles of training up against theirs, but as the months rolled by I began to see something of a divergence in the x-axis of their training logs.
Theirs kept getting steeper while mine seemed to be flattening out. In fact, just a month before D-day after I had finished a challenging ride of 150 miles/10,000 feet of climbing, I sank into such an over-training pit that there seemed to be little hope of my eyebrows ever being seen by another human being. I was down, down, down.
My training slammed to a halt. I took three weeks off the bike. To add worry upon worry, this unintentionally dove-tailed too nicely into the original three weeks I had scheduled to use as a taper. I was facing the start of this Herculean task with six straight weeks sans training.
Needless to say, my anxiety meter really got a shock and the needle pegged flat out to the right as I read Ed's last training entry where he had logged a 1000k brevet over the weekend!
I was solidly intimidated and not just a little concerned. The old Ray Stevens song, "Please Mr. Custard, I don't wanna go" started rolling around inside my noggin and the thought of fighting my way from coast to coast aboard a two-wheeler began to take on a dark foreboding encased in a sluice box of commitment.
Well, no time for maudlin misgivings. It was time to throw caution to the wind and soldier forth. After all, the only thing I could ask of myself was to ride as long and as hard as I could. If I needed the aid of the sag wagon to keep me in the game, so be it .. I mean that's what it’s there for! Right? Right.
Day one came, and I called upon every trick I've ever learned about putting together my riding kit for a big event such as this. Each and every piece of gear and clothing had been packed and re-packed. I had weighed my bike, weighed my suitcase, re-packed my suitcase, dropped the number of cycling shorts down from 6 to 4, jerseys from 8 to 5, pairs of socks from 7 to 4 and sunglasses from none to one -- good catch, Jeff.
As Lon began the countdown for our initial departure on Day 1, I secured the chin strap on my helmet, slipped on my gloves and got the shock of my life when I realized I had two left gloves in my hands.
I turned to find Coach Fred Matheny next to me -- you know, the guy who has written tens of thousands of words on how to train for and execute a b-I-g ride.
PRP Ed Pavelka
He saw the helpless look on my face and asked, "What’s the matter, Jeff?" In what might have easily been the most embarrassing moment of my cycling career, I confessed my stupidity. Ah, but I was in front of the right man. Fred simply suggested that I turn the bad glove inside out. What a stroke of genius. But you might imagine how I could interpret this as a possible sign of things to come!
Finally we were on our way. Ed, Fred, Lon and myself … now there's an "elite" group. I was basking in this wealth of speed, stamina and experience that these mighty icons of cycling were laying down on the road. I knew all in the world was right. I was going to really love this ride … no, really, I was sure of it now. All I had to do was push on the pedals, they'd do the navigating, the pacing, even the topic of conversation … everything was good. And by gosh, it stayed that way for at least another six hours! Hmm, let’s see, that just left about 180 hours of riding to go. I began to worry about what was waiting down the road for me.
Sure enough, things began to change. For instance, I had made a vow with myself to stop at every single stop sign and stop light from the West Coast to the East Coast. I thought I could be an ambassador for good cycling roadmanship the entire breadth of our nation. This would surely make my karma cool!
The adage that road to hell is paved with good intentions came to haunt me. My good intentions went the way of toe clips and straps within the first ten miles when I quickly tired of going into the red zone after each stop to get back to the wheel that I had been following.
Speaking of wheel following, aka wheel sucking, I need to own up to the fact that I found it necessary to raise my previous level of drafting into an entirely new stratosphere; a place where mere mortals rarely venture. I had to develop an entirely new mantra that found me searching out each morning exactly the appropriate wheel to follow. I based my decision on how my debilitated legs were feeling, then I'd begin my internal chant (or was it the "infernal" chant) of "follow the wheel, follow-the-wheel, FOLLOWDAWHEEL!"
This "infernal" chant could be momentarily displaced only by words with a specific gravity of cobalt or kryptonite, like, "How far to the next sag stop?" or "Does anyone know which way the wind is going to blow this afternoon?"
Days blurred into days. There was the same repetition that had become the hallmark of my training, i.e., eating, riding, eating, sleeping, riding. If it weren't for the "riding" part, this would have been quite a comforting life style.
The regime was under the stern, knowing eye of Lon and Susan, co-founders of PACTOUR. Follow the routine and the road was yours without thought or concern. Neglect obeisance to the clock and find yourself toting the PACTOUR mascot, the "purple pig" of ignominy around for the day. I was so wired during the trip that I was always early for everything. This got me into trouble with Lon when I showed up with my bags and bike too early on the second day. I didn't make that mistake again! My unfortunate roommate couldn't understand why I needed an hour and a quarter to get ready each morning. Poor lad, these youngsters (I think he was in his early 40's) just need so much sleep …
Breakfast was a compendium of cereals, bagels, fruits, yogurt and juices. Very tasty, very adequate. The numerous sag stops along the way were well stocked with tasties and necessaries. But I found that I had to abandon the "tasties" and hunker down into the necessaries since imploding at the end of the first day.
When I rolled away that fateful first morning, I adopted the attitude that I could eat anything and everything that my little heart desired. After all, in theory I was going to be burning somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 calories a day.
Some of that proposition was true, But reality and practicality out-trumped theory when my egregious over-indulgence soon came back to haunt me. My poison came in the form of copious amounts of Wheat Thins, Paydays, red licorice, Gatorade, Coke, chocolate milk, hammer gels etc .... and I mean heavy on the etc!
Not to gross anyone out too much, but at the end of acclimation day, my extreme physical distress created a situation where I had the opportunity for a visual identification of just about everything I had consumed.
This day marked the end of my "eat anything you want" theory. I switched to a powdered liquid diet that stayed with me all the way to Georgia. Don't worry, I did enjoy the evening meals where I could look at a restaurant menu and eat with abandon.
It would be easy to tell you that days two through 16 were an unending repeat of the theme of the Bill Murray movie, "Ground Hog Day." 170 miles, 4,000 feet climbing give or take, three meals, five SAG stops, a ton of stress and strain.
I could get away with that except that each day brought unique opportunities to connect with your inner self or another rider or just to embrace the immensity of the human will. There were the anticipated joys and the unanticipated disappointments.
I was completely bummed when I heard that my dear friend Ed P. had taken a spill and broken his hip. This was a huge put-off for me as I had tackled this monster ride in order to ride with my big buds, Fred and Ed. However, making new friends and sharing in their triumphs helped to counter the downers.
As the ride went on, the road continued to take its toll as old friends and new friends dropped out either by choice or by happenstance. An air of survivorship pervaded our hours and days.
I remember clearly on day nine, when The Griz rolled up along side me and engaged me in a tentative conversation. He wanted some information from me but was reluctant to be direct because what he wanted to know was pretty personal and more often than not held in private to one's self. If the answer to the question was "no", you were delighted to say so, but at the same time you couldn't help a twinge of embarrassment because you knew that the folks who had to answer "yes" had suffered pretty much the same as you had, had wanted it as much as you, had trained like you and were probably wishing it weren't the case.
Well, I'm sure that right about now you're saying something like, "What the heck was the question?"
It was such a simple interrogatory, but it just might be the question upon which one judges his or her whole cycling experience from that day forward.
Griz asked the question quietly and in private, not wanting me to incur any embarrassment if I should be so predisposed:
"Jeff, have you had to SAG any?"
There it was. Just that. But let me tell you I was so dang pleased to be able to tell him that I had indeed been able, at least to that point, ride "Every F-----g Mile" (EFM).
Those three letters became our own private little greeting each day, our own private way of urging each other to stay the course and to not fall prey to fatigue, or injury, or to lose the psychological edge necessary to come out of the hotel room each morning with the determination to see another 170 miles roll under our wheels.
Thank you to Griz. E.F.M. forever. If I were a Marine, I'd feel the same if I heard the words "Semper Fi."
There were a lot of memories that differentiated one day from the next. If I said the words "Talamina Parkway" to anyone on the Elite Tour, you'd see chicken flesh popping out all over. Or if someone said to me, "7 lunches to go", I'm sure I'd recoil into something akin to the fetal position.
Although legends aren't always easy to understand, I believe that I've been blessed with the opportunity to live and breathe in the genesis of one. I have the legends of Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo to thank for this opportunity. I want to be sure to put that out there right now. Lon and Susan were the shepherds watching over the flock as it made its daily pilgrimage from watering hole to manger, from sag stop to lunch stop, from Dairy Queen to Denny's.
Of course, this is the time to thank Bike Friday for its generosity and support. It built for me the sweetest small-wheeled wonder you would ever want to see or ride. It was my secret weapon -- my chariot of fire -- my magic carpet ride, 20 pounds of slick stickem' that slithered and slid its way from coast to coast. It left me with an admiration for the magicians of Eugene, the Michelangelos of the torch and paint booth domiciled at the Bike Friday headquarters.
The whole gang at Bike Friday are my heroes, and I'll be forever in their debt.