According to Harold Camping, the world was supposed to end on my birthday, May 21, 2011-and for quite a while along the Greybull Highway between Greybull and Cody, Wyoming I was wishing that it had! Rain was drizzling down, a stiff cross/head wind was blowing, there were almost 50 uphill miles to go, and I just got my third flat of the ride. But alas, time kept ticking both in the cosmos and on this 300K brevet. I got the flat fixed and kept going.
My second brevet of the season and the 2nd of 4 qualifying brevets for Paris-Brest-Paris started out well enough. Ken Billingsley, Karel Stroethoff, and I left Cody at 6:00 AM under cloudy but clearing skies and lighter than predicted breezes. As per usual, we set out at a casual pace, chatting along the way. When we rolled up on some road construction about 8 miles later that we didn't see on the drive into Cody the night before we knew we were off route. Back to Cody we went, finding Highway 120 which wasn't as obvious a turn as we had expected. The bonus miles cost us about an hour, but we were nice and warmed up anyway. In retrospect it was kind of funny-here we are in Wyoming where there aren't that many roads to begin with and we still managed to get on the wrong one!
The first 30 miles (after the bonus 16) were very pleasant as we climbed out of Cody and then had a nice downhill to the first info control. The sky was patchy, but we could see the about 3/4 of the way up the Beartooth Mountains and the wind was light. That all changed pretty soon after we turned toward Powell. I got my first flat, a piece of glass inbeded in the tire, and as we were changing the tube, the wind kicked up big time out of the northwest. This wasn't all bad, as we were headed in a southeast direction. The wind pretty much blew us to Powell, or at least most of the way. When we turned straight east the wind blew across our path and made the going tougher.
I got my second flat just after Powell. This one was my fault-not my tire's. In my rush to fix the first flat I didn't get enough air in the tire, so when I hit a big enough bump, my tire bottomed out on the rim and the tube went flat immediately (in cycling jargon this is known as a pinch flat). As I was frantically fixing the flat a sheriff's deputy pulled up and asked if everything was all right. We assured him that we had it under control-unless he happend to have a floor pump with him (he didn't) he couldn't help us any. I only carried two spare tubes with me so I was down to tire patches. Ken lent me his extra tube so we both had one. I was very frazzled at this point. Fixing flats in a strong wind wore me out more than riding. Thanks to Ken for helping out (three hands are a big help when fixing a flat on the road).
After more tailwinds and crosswind, which were increasing to what I'd guess was over 20 mph with higher gusts we made it to Lovell. We had easily made up enough lost time on the road that we were in no danger of missing the time cut off at the Lovell checkpoint. Ken and I stopped at a gas station on the edge of Lovell to get our cards signed and get a quick bite and some chocolate milk. Karel who had gone ahead at my last flat tire (no need for more than two of us to fix the flat) was at a Blimpie in town getting his card signed and refueling.
The ride across the Bighorn basin from Lovell to Otto started out with a cross headwind, but eventually turned into a glorious straight on tailwind. We flew down the road to the next info control out in the middle of nowhere. Brenda and Jackson met up with us on this part of the route with my floor pump. I got some more air in my tire and felt fairly certain that my troubles were behind me. The bike felt a lot better with a full shot of air in the back tire.
Not long after the info control on Highway 32 the rain started. First just a light drizzle, but gaining strength all the time. When we turned to the east going into the info control in Otto we were being lashed with that 20 mph crosswind and hard rain. Things were beginning to not be fun anymore. My Mom and Dad, who drove all the way down from Belgrade earlier in the day caught up to us on Highway 32 and waited for us, along with Brenda and Jackson, at the checkpoint in Otto, but it was raining so hard that Ken and I just waived hello and kept going.
My bad luck rubbed off on Ken as a little ways after Otto I came across him in the beginning stages of fixing a flat of his own. At least I was able to return the favor of holding up his bike and various bits and pieces as he got the tube replaced. But now we were down to one tube between the two of us. Although with Karel a little ways behind he certainly would have bailed us out if need be.
We met up my folks and Brenda and Jackson at a Conoco c-store in Greybull looking like wet rats, but no worse for wear. We got some food and I patched one of my flat tubes. We also got the word that Karel was a ways behind but doing fine (as fine as one could expect in the weather conditions we were having). The picture above kind of sums up the situation. I was just about to leave Greybull into what I knew would be a stiff cross/headwind, in the rain, and uphill. It was 54 miles back to Cody and it was going to be slow. I was all reflectered up as I would have to ride a bunch of the way in the dark.
Ken, who is much faster but graciously held up to ride with me to this point, decided strike out on his own-hoping maybe to get back in time to drive back home after the ride. I on the other wanted to hangout at the c-store a little longer. When these rides get really tough you've got to just ride your own pace and not try to ride someone else's. Mom and Dad also headed back to Belgrade, but said they'd check on Karel on the way out. They called a few minutes later to say he was about to join us.
Karel came in just as I was about to leave. He had oral surgery a week or so ago and hadn't been able to eat solid foods or get in any training. That he was out here at all, let alone riding successfully, was a real testament to his toughness. He was worried about not making it back to Cody before the time cutoff, but I wasn't worried-I knew he'd make it in "easily."
The ride back to Cody was the slog I knew it would be. Slow, uphill, and wet. The highway had a nice wide and smooth shoulder, but after my third flat a few miles out of Greybull I rode mostly in the traffic lane to avoid the flat tire causing shoulder debris-watching my rearview mirror and moving over whenever a car came. I had just used the tube I patched back in Greybull and patching another tube in the rain on the side of the road in the dark didn't sound appealing so I had to take every precaution to avoid another flat.
As I finally entered Cody after some steep hills just before the town a Wyoming State Trooper flagged me down. He let me know that Karel was about 8 miles behind me and Ken had got into town over an hour ago. He was a super nice guy and it was comforting to know he was out there keeping an eye on us. Kudos to the law enforcement of Wyoming. They were happy to help if needed.
As I turned onto a residential street, about half mile from the finish I hit a bump and my tire went flat again (another pinch flat). I had mixed emotions-relief that it happened so close to the end that I could walk the rest of the way , but frustration that I couldn't ride it in triumphantly. Before this ride, I had never had more than one flat tire on an organized ride (and there have been some long ones). I guess I was due, but for sure I'll be looking at some different tires!
We each finished about an hour apart, but all well within the required 20 hours. It was a long hard day for all of us, but we were glad to do it, knowing full well it will benefit us going into the rest of the season and ultimately at PBP.
Many thanks to our loyal volunteers: My wife Brenda for the paperwork, bringing out the floor pump, and waiting for us at the controls. And to my son Jackson and dog Ernie for going along too. Also, many thanks to Mom and Dad. They like to provide neutral support on my brevets. Thankfully on his one we didn't need to throw a bike in the back of their car-but all the same it's nice to know we have someone out there just in case something really bad happens.
Finally, much appreciation to Ken and Karel. We've done a lot rides together over the last couple of years and I've enjoyed every one! There aren't many randonneurs in our part of the country but we have stuck together. I've learned a ton from both of them!