Congratulation to Vicki Pelton and Timothy Woudenberg for setting the California E-W record in the 50-59 age-group, 2x mixed team category on an upright bike

CA Cross State Record, east to west, Northern Route

From:  near Reno, NV; To:  near Point Arena, CA

10-11 Nov 2007

Riders:  Vicki Pelton & Timothy Woudenberg

313.5 miles; 32:04 hh:mm; 9.8 mph (but read the narrative)

Narrative by Vicki Pelton

While I have crewed for many long distance cycling events, I figured I wasn’t strong enough to actually ride in one.  I knew there were cross state records, but CA is a big state & out of my reach.  The small states are far away.  Then I realized they allowed 2-person teams.  Hey, that’s doable.

The CA east-west route was in Southern CA & people said it had tons of traffic so wasn’t much fun.  Then I noticed that they were going to allow another CA east-west route farther north.  What an opportunity.  If I designed a new route & actually finished it, then that would set the route for all future attempts.  This was an exciting challenge.  I chose a route that was accepted so now I just had to get a team & do it.

I was extremely fortunate to have Tim Woudenberg join me as my riding partner.  He has done many long distance events but has never done a cross state record so he was eager to try something new.

It was also great to have Lee Mitchell join the team as the Official.  While he would not be able to physically help as Official, with his vast experience, it was a great peace of mind to have him watching over us.  Continuing on the same trend, Jim Kern & Anthony Gilbert joined as crew, each with years of experience crewing & riding.  The combined experience of the team was longer than my years on this planet.

The ride would be a day of many firsts for me:  night time riding, 24 hr. ride, hour on/hour off & supported ride.  I was wondering how I’d do with all these challenges.  I made sure I practiced night riding with a van following me.  It’s strange to have sufficient light to ride but to not be able to see the surrounding terrain.  It makes it difficult to judge your speed.  I was told the two shadows you see of yourself cycling can play tricks on your brain.  I’m glad I practiced ahead of time. 

The team drove to Reno, NV the night before the ride & then early the next morning went to the CA/NV state line for the ride to begin.  Since I was the newbie, I got to start.  After all of the effort to organize this ride, I was finally on my bike, riding.  This was a big, complicated event for me, but once I was riding, it seemed so simple.  Now it was just a long bike ride.  It’s actually a race, as others can challenge the record at any time in the future.  But right now, it was just my team, so we were racing against the clock.

This was the first pull ever of my first ever race & I was feeling good.  The crew & Official are experienced, fun & get along great.  My racing partner is very accomplished & in a great mood.  I found I was biking faster than I usually would.  Tim would be working hard on his pulls as he always does & I wanted to do my fair share so pulled as hard as I could & still be able to complete the race.  Since I would be cycling only one hour at a time, it would be easier to keep my speed up.  Also, the crew & Official were here on their vacation, so I wanted to do the best I could for them also. 

Within 5 minutes, my bike was making a funny noise so I stopped.  That was sure a short ride.  The crew jumped out & found a piece of barbed wire caught in my frame.  It’s the little things. 

The ride started in the high (i.e., cold) desert, then went over Yuba Pass (i.e., colder), through pine covered mountains.  I was to do quite a bit of the uphills & Tim would do the steep downhills.  This might sound strange, since Tim is a much stronger rider, but I enjoy the hills & the gap between our speeds is smaller on the uphills so that worked out. 

We had to plan the date three weeks in advance so wouldn’t know what the weather would be like.  There could actually be quite a bit of snow.  Tim wanted to be prepared so bought studded snow tires & put them on his alternate bike.  I didn’t know they made such things.  While there was a bit of snow in the high peaks, the road was clear.  But we briefly got Tim out on his alternate bike just to be able to say, “We even had to use studded snow tires.”  So there was the bike with studded snow tires, along with me & the four guys, so I said, “I’m surrounded by studs!”

During the descent, one side of the road was often lined by steep rock walls.  On the other side you could see the river below.  It was a very dramatic setting.  I was awed by the scenery.  We then dropped down into the Central Valley grasslands.  We were now half way through & encountered our first (& only) traffic & stop lights.

After an hour pull, it’s time to make a rider swap.  It’s funny to have a racing partner, but to only see each other a few moments each hour.  Then I get in the van & eat & rest.  You can never eat enough to fill your energy requirements in this type of race, so you eat as much as your stomach can take.  No guilt!  Just shovel it in!

It’s crucial for the riders to get enough calories, so the crew is not supposed to eat the riders’ food.  That worked out sort of well.  Whenever I ate something, I would report it to the crew so they could keep track of my calories.  I told them I ate a cup of rice.  They said, “You have rice?  We didn’t see any rice?”  I had put it in used Ricotta Cheese containers.  So I learned how to “hide” my food from the crew. 

It rained about half of the day, but with not much wind.  While biking, I was able to stay warm.  I was wearing a hat, neck warmer, undershirt, long sleeved wool jersey, heavy waterproof jacket, full finger winter gloves, shorts, tights, leg warmers, wool socks & neoprene booties.  In the van, I cooled down quickly, so the crew blasted the heater for me, but it didn’t reach into the back where I was.  The crew was roasting.  They said it felt like one of those Hot Yoga places.  But I was cold & even with 4 blankets on me, I ended up shivering during my hour rest.  If I were warm & toasty in the van, it might have been hard for me to go back out into the rain, but as it was, I could hardly wait for my next pull, as that was the only time I could warm up.

Some of my friends called during the ride.  That was terrific.  You do feel rather alone out there, just your little team, finding its way through the rain.  It was great having people at home call to find out how we were doing.

As night descended, I was excited (& a bit worried) to see how well I would do.  My first night pull went well, & then it was Tim’s turn.  At the top of a pass, a cop pulled us over & said, “You can’t do that.  The van is too slow.  It’s dangerous.”  In unison, we all said, “What!?”  To make a long story short, he shut us down.  After all the time & money & organizational effort that went into this, it was over.  Being the main organizer of this event, I felt a heavy weight pressing on my shoulders.  I was overwhelmed by sadness.

But then, after some discussion, the team generously said they would be willing to sit out 12 hours in a hotel & continue in the morning.  We were saved!!

Early the next morning, we were back at the same spot & continued on.  The rain had stopped & the skies were clear.  The sun was shinning.  What a glorious day for a bike ride.  Of course the clock had been ticking all night so we had a few extra minutes added to our time (i.e., about 12 hours!), but we were going to finish.  Hurray!

It was a delight biking through the quaint little towns around Clear Lake.  There was very little traffic, all was quiet, my wheels were crunching the fall leaves & the bright sun made everything look beautiful.  I was so jazzed going up Hopland Grade.  I was full of energy & around every turn I got a different view.  I could look down & see the long twisty road I had just ascended.  I did that?!

At about mile 290 we got to the final hills, with lots of 12% grades, on up to 16%.  But I loved it.  We were near the end & I powered up the hills.  At each swap, Tim jumped on his bike & did the same.

Tim was rushed by two ferocious dogs … but they were so tiny, they could barely reach his heels.  They would yap & jump but couldn’t do much damage.  Our crew said they’d report that Tim was attacked by a pack of squirrels.

We passed through dense redwood forests & then descended to the Pacific Ocean.  The last few miles Tim & I rode together.  We were biking on a spit of land on high cliffs, surrounded on three sides by the pounding Pacific waves, headed toward the Point Arena Lighthouse.  The sun lit up the lighthouse & the ocean as we crossed the finish line.  All was well with the world.

This route has little traffic, good roads & shows off the spectacular & varied scenery that CA has to offer.  As a CA native, I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to offer this route to the cycling community.  My hope is that many others will be drawn to the beauty of this route & come out to establish many more records.

CA Cross State Record, east to west, Northern Route

from near Reno, NV to near Point Arena, CA

10-11 Nov 2007

Riders:  Vicki Pelton & Timothy Woudenberg

313.5 miles; 32:04 hh:mm; 9.8 mph (but read the narrative)

Narrative by rider Tim Woudenberg

You never know how a ride will end.  All the training, mapping, planning and equipment lists help you visualize it.  But even for the seasoned crew and team, there are things that take you by surprise.  Vicki went through a great deal of research and negotiation to line this thing up.  We would be the first to do a northern CA state crossing under UMCA rules.  All we had to do was finish and we would be record holders!  “Just Finish” was my highest priority.

Crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains in November conjures images of surprise snow storms and potential road closures.  We thought of that.  We carried snow chains for the follow vehicle and one of the bikes had studded snow tires (no kidding).  We carried multiple spare tubes, tires, wheels, chains, and two spare tires for the follow vehicle.  All the standard stuff of course. We even had back up yellow blinking lights for the vehicle.   

I have a history of stomach problems and so we had my favorite remedy, instant hot chicken noodle soup; complete with means for heating water and a backup means for heating water.

Out near Reno, NV where 395 crosses the state line, we set up to start our journey.  First thing to fail was the PA.  Blown fuse, no spare.  Oh well, no matter.  It was only a back up to the radios we used for communication between rider and follow vehicle. High spirits and lots of smiley pictures and off we go.  At 6:52 am, Vicki takes the first pull.  We planned to swap every hour, or less if needed.  It was cold but we were dressed for it. 

During my first pull, I notice it is raining lightly.  Every cyclist knows when it rains, you get wet.  You get to choose whether you want to go without a water proof jacket and get soaked with rain, or with a jacket and get soaked with your own sweat.  I chose the former.  I could always put on a jacket later if I got cold.

Vicki is already climbing Yuba Pass on her second pull.  Though she is new to the endurance scene, she is undaunted by it and is quite enthusiastic about taking her pulls.  We are getting steadily wetter and the temperature is dropping slightly as we climb.

Jim Kern, our crew chief, arranges that I get on the spare bike with the studded snow tires as we get close to the top.  This is all for fun of course.  Though there are some signs of snow up high on the mountain, the road is not slippery.  I notice the difference in efficiency and am immediately begging for my regular bike back.  The crew readily swaps it out and I take off up and over the crest.  As I pick up speed in the descent, the crew asks over the radio if I want my jacket for the long descent.  I wave it off.

Hours later in the central valley, we are keeping a good pace (>17 mph overall average).  We are ahead of schedule, which entirely offsets the fact that both Vicki and I are soaked to the skin and there is no sign of the rain letting up.  The funny part is that when you’re out on the bike, you’re warmed up and feeling good.  The uncomfortable part is when you’re in the van cooling down.  The toughest part was standing in the rain waiting for the swap. 

We got to use the chicken noodle soup, but mostly to keep warm.  Somehow we brought way too much of the stuff and Lee was beginning to tease us about the over abundance.   

In the rain it seemed to get dark earlier.  It was 4 pm and the skies were getting very dark.  I rode with my lights on to be in compliance with the law, even though all the light I needed came from the headlights of my follow vehicle.  After dark, UMCA rules require the follow vehicle be right behind me at all times.  The vehicle has lots of flashing lights and reflective slow moving vehicle signs.  I feel very safe here, even in a high speed descent.

As we approach the coast, there are some hills to climb.  I figure it will be a long, hilly, wet night, but I am used to this.  The surprising thing is that although Vicki is not used to this, she is still up for the challenge. 

We climb the steep quarter mile hills at 7 mph.  On this road, the occasional car will see us well in advance.  The follow vehicle and bike stay as far to the right as possible so that cars can easily see around us and pass safely.  This routine is nothing new to this crew.  Every one is a RAAM crew veteran here; cream of the crop.

There at the top of the hill, out of nowhere, it came.  That unexpected ride ending event.  We hadn’t planned for this one.  In all the combined experience of the crew, none of us have ever faced this.  The California Highway Patrol officer stood next to his patrol car. 

I said, “Good evening officer,” as I rolled to a stop there.  He didn’t want to talk with me; he wanted to speak with the follow vehicle.  I stood there quietly out of earshot, expecting to restart as soon as the cop had satisfied his curiosity.  It was taking a while.  I was starting to cool down and was anticipating a long, chilly downhill ride.  Finally, Anthony walked over and gave me the news.  The cop would not let us continue.  He said the bike is fine but the follow vehicle was impeding traffic.  It was not safe.

I was quite upset over this but was doing my best to control myself.  The crew was civil and negotiating in fine form but not getting anywhere.  Lee Mitchell knew that if the cop says you can’t go, that means you can’t go.  UMCA rules require you to obey the cop.

Jim sensed my mental state and defused it before I blew up.  He said simply, “Tim, come in here, sit down.  It’s not over.”  At that point I knew Jim had a plan and that I had better not screw it up by losing my cool. 

The next part of the story is all about how an experienced crew deals with new situations.  I was most impressed.  Lee marked the time and the spot.  We found the nearest hotel and got some rooms.  Lee called the UMCA Records Chair, explained the  situation, and got him to approve that Lee be in service for more than 24 hours, given that he gets an 8 hour sleep break.  The plan was to restart the attempt 12 hours later at sunrise.  At that point, the bike can roll without a follow vehicle.  The cop would have no case.  Unfortunately, there was no way to erase the 12 hours from the clock.  In effect, we would set a very easy record to break.

The next morning we started fresh.  The rain had stopped.  It was going to be a good day.  The dead car battery in the follow vehicle was not a problem for us.  We carried a spare battery.

It was a great day to be riding.  The day went fast as we cruised around Clear Lake, up over Hopland Grade to Hopland, and over Mountain House to Boonville.  The last bit of road to the coast is not one any of us had ever ridden.  We found Mountain View Road is a well maintained low trafficked route to Point Arena.  On the way up the hill there were two ferocious dogs protecting their turf, but it was more comical than anything else.  They were about the size of dachshunds and could only reach up high enough to bite my shoes.  I did my best to squirt them with my water bottle.  They gave up quickly after that.  Vicki took care of most of that hill, still motivated, still in fine form.  The ride down was twisty and steep with a 16% grade leading into a 25 mph corner.  Interesting that the crew chief asked me to check my brakes before descending.  How did he know? 

Once down at sea level, Vicki and I rode the final six miles together to the Point Arena Lighthouse.  It was great to be finished.  It would have been lots of fun to hang out there as we had planned; however, in the interest of seeing us finish, everyone had stretched their free time to the limit and had to quickly scatter to get back to their families and normal lives.  It was totally cool that our team willingly gave up a lot more of their free time than they had originally planned, without giving it a second thought.