Black-Spoke The White Knight
By Vincent Muoneke
With childhood heroes like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, with biplanes suspended from my ceiling, like Icarus I had a dream to fly, but dreams die first. No rules would keep me grounded while my thoughts could fly away, I was regressing to that childhood at the thought of finally seeing Kitty Hawk. I did not fly into Kitty Hawk, but limped in, not on two wings, nor even two good wheels. Having spotted a cracked rear rim earlier and benefiting from a loaner from ride organizer Tony Goodnight, any sense of redemption was immediately marred by problems with the loaner. Luke “Skywalker” Heller stuck with me, through hope and despair, finding the right spacer for the cogs, after the anxious ride to the control for the exchange. As we headed into the outer banks my senses were ablaze with foreboding, the wheel was not up to the job. By Kitty Hawk the wheel was so out of true that the tires rubbed the stays, I had broken a spoke, not even 100k into the loaner wheel.
Strange that 8 has always been my self appointed lucky number, no evidence, but are we not a superstitious bunch? My eighth Grand Randonee of 2013 would crash in Kitty Hawk. Not if Young Skywalker had any say, he knew of a Bike Shop in Kitty Hawk. Young Wilbur (I have no idea if that is his name) looks at my bike, I look at his wheels. I am pretty nihilistic, I feel pretty powerless. He listens to my flight plans, he discourages me from buying his best wheel available, my best chance is the wheel I have. Yet we need a spoke, after an apologetic gesture that the spoke is not available, he pulls out a black spoke from a potpourri of parts and goes for a fit. No fit, he does not give up he modifies the spoke by cutting off a small piece of the threaded end and trues the wheel. I am now a true non-believer, but still powerless. At the Nags Head, Control Joel Lawrence has set up for us, I try but fail at not being a party pooper.
Why this intensity? it starts back at Port Campbell in Victoria, Australia in November 2012. I had as the Aussies would say “punked out” of the GSR. I termed it The Great Southern Debacle. I knew not in Port Campbell if I could ever fly again, it would not be from lack of trying again and again. Gary Wall had given me a ride to Anglesea and Peter Donnan had picked a good number of us Americans from Anglesea and kept us at his home in Melbourne. Peter and Family, Mark Thomas, Mike Dayton, John “Cap’n” Ende, and Spencer “Roomie” Klaassen, they all lit a candle in that poor heart of mine. I set my eyes on the Wagarratta Wahine but there was a lot to figure out, eek!
Nine Grands in 2013 was not a plan, it was like the falling of dominoes, a chain reaction. I commence the story at Kitty Hawk merely because it was the weakest link.
A frigid 600k in North Carolina with the NC Randonneurs in February is the first test, I bloom the first day but wilt in the wind on the second day, bitter-sweet uncertainty.
Taiwan in February, ready or not! A few hours after my arrival in Taipei I get hit as a pedestrian by a moped walking to the hotel from a soup shop. I am somewhat protected by my carry-on bag which takes the direct hit, my left knee and right shoulder are questionable, I religiously apply heat for the remaining days. I will be riding with my SIR buddies Mark Thomas and Rick Blacker. A bullet train ride and a bus brings us to the Pingtung Province. Amidst pomp and Pageantry from the local officials we kick off at night from “The Bridge” in Dapeng Bay in the South China Sea. It is hot and extremely humid, I am so so nervous. Mark looks at me and says “relax, this is what you do”. I drink two gallons of water as they go through their speeches, I stare at the mountains off in the distance.
The small island of Taiwan has 10,000 24hr convenience stores, they are the secret to any success, sleep and soup. We hit the Mountains in the heat of the following day and it takes its toll. At our first overnight the ride sponsor has a live band going, we are not going to make our planned sleep stop a little further down the road. Mark and Rick try under the circumstances to get a few hours. I stay awake and drink three gallons of dilute Recoverite, wake up the boys and we are off. Night riding had shielded us partly from the crowded islands traffic, after what seems like all night climbing I think we have obtained the admiration and respect of the Taiwanese riders, most succumb to sleep in a 7-11 store, we push on. We arrive in Taipei through a howling wind storm. Lack of sleep is weighing on me but I will not admit it. Traffic is just nuts until we go into the mountains again. Four hours of black nonexistence at the next overnight in the mountains, we start back towards Pingtung. We pass a completely different Taipei at night to find strawberry fields and then more mountains and then more traffic. I will take the mountains any day and it was still waiting for us, but this time with a huge wind and rain storm. The roads are closed for two hours due to fallen trees and branches, but we have already squeezed through. Back at Pingtung I have to take off my shoes to dismount as I cannot twist to unclip, we know there has been carnage in the finishing numbers. Rick summarizes with the words; “Just because you can, does not mean you should”, but I will miss the duck with noodles.
Texas Stampede had a whole posse of gauchos in blue shirts this year. Dan Driscoll encourages me to join. I feel honored. We all show in Waxahachie Texas, Mayday! here come the cattle drovers, we move em out in one huge herd. Texas is big, Texas is flat, Texas is windy. Dan Driscoll and the Lone Stars, their hearts are as big as Texas. The herd covers the first 100k in just over three hours. This is insane, the heat is killing me. I feel unworthy of my perennial K-hound status. Day two brings the Hill Country and temperate weather, I go for redeeming myself to myself, gotta quit all this me, myself and I. I find my spot back in the herd. Hiding in the Peloton with Bill Olsen I learn that he plans to pre-ride Endless Mountains, “sign me up” I chimed and then promptly forgot about it. Day three was perhaps a record low temperature in those parts in quite sometime. “Born and bred in the briar patch” I thought to myself, let’s pedal hard for heat. Day four was the big warm up, I am edgy about this and itchy to decaffeinate the ride. A crash splinters the herd and I broke off and ride em in with the Olsens and Mike Fox. Now! Now! Vinny, life is a marathon not a sprint.
The “Two-Step” loomed large and ambitious, it was definitely a dance, though not of Texas. Its originator I am sure, was Mark Thomas, though it all seems so blurry now. None of us brothers in arms (Mark, Rick and myself) had completed such a feat before, or so I believe, yet we embraced it like a long lost lover. We would ride from Belgium through Brussels into France, through Paris to the Champagne growing hills and back. Four days later we would start the Trans-Danube 1200k in Hungary. Mark arranged a great logistic through a lot of emails, the lime in the Corona would be the company of Spencer Klaassen, Cap’n Ende and Mike Dayton on the first step. Flying from Seattle and Kansas was easy enough, but the North Carolina boys had weather problems. Fortunately all arrive in time for a drizzly start in Herentals, I always have fenders. We had several flats that caused us to pull up the rear, not that we missed any of the beauty. We ride into Paris with the Brazilians, The Germans; Herr Kaminski and his stoker, Spencer and the NC boys. They have all slept a couple hours more due to our late arrival at the overnight just before Paris, but we will all sleep well on this one. We see Orleans, and on the way to the next overnight, the rain takes out my Edelux. I have a spare light but I fret this “two-step”. Day three was a day spent with my room-mate Spencer. He plays a fixie like a fiddle, he even rode back 13 miles to find his lost passport, no sweat. We rode through the Champagne grapes to dine and sleep just outside Eparnay, that was a good day. On the way back to Herentals we rode with Serge Maraquin and Alain Caron, seems I remember the Randos more than the Eiffel Towers or Moulin Rouges. The Mayor of Herentals and Organizer Jan Geerts has arranged a welcome for us, The Mayor’s secretary is to be our podium girl with two kisses for each rider. All the Americans have gone to our hotel to shower leaving me to collect their medals and their kisses, twelve in all. One day for Laundry and the next day we all fly out, but on laundry day I acquired Serge Maraqiuin’s Edelux, Lord Maraquin said; “let there be light”.
In Hungary a van took us straight from the airport in Budapest to our lodging in Vezsprem. The ride starts here, the gateway to Lake Balaton, the sea of land locked Hungary. This is a beautiful tour of the great cities and monuments that speak to the lasting influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We feast on Goulash with Paprika of course. and our eyes feast on the natural beauty of this land. On the last day, Mark and Rick are ahead and I spend the day with Jan Erik Jensen. The next day Akos the organizer gives Jan and I a ride into the twin city off Budapest, We find a pension to stay in and he drops us off at Hero Square and we take in the city. Jan flies off the next day and I have a day to kill, some of it is on the internet, where I learn that my “Roomie” Spencer is riding the Big Wild Ride.
Alaska Randonneurs RBA Kevin Turinsky makes it so easy, “you are welcome” he writes, though the ride is now less than four days away, I am scrambled in time anyway with all the flying. With the help of the girls in my office, I find myself flying into Seattle, working one day and on the evening of the same day taking the last flight from SEATAC to Anchorage. At some point in Seattle I found time to swap out the contents of my bike case. I took out the Hampsten Travelissmo (Khaleesi) and packed the Thompson 650B (Wahine) . I get to the hotel in Anchorage in a cab just past midnight, after waiting an hour for a hotel shuttle that never came. I hurriedly put Wahine together only to find that the dynohub powered light does not work, so I break it all down to find where I have created a short in its internal wiring. By the time I fix this it is time to go get breakfast with Spencer, Rod Geisert and Joe Edwards.
I get a late bike inspection, check in my bike in the truck and board the train to Whittier. A picturesque train ride, the train is buzzing with Randonneurs, I am too pumped up to crash out at this point. Bill Olsen informs me that there will be no pre-ride of Endless Mountains, we will have to do the regular ride we decide. At Whittier we pick up the bikes and board a ferry to Valdez, we sail with whales and all kinds off marine wildlife, I crash out on the ferry in a most uncomfortable chair. I am dead to the world. Next day we flesh out the bikes and struggle to bank sleep, midnight we are off with what seems like the who’s who of RUSA. I am riding with Dan Driscoll, Pam Wright, Lois Springsteen, Kitty Goursolle, John Lee Ellis, Debra Banks, Greg Conderacci, Ron Himschoot, Karel Stroethoff, Jim Solanick to name a few of the Randonneurs I know, not already mentioned above. Heading north through a mountain pass in the dark to Delta Junction where there is barely any darkness past twilight. We roam with wildlife moose, bear, wolves and Randos. Next day we continue north to Fairbanks and turn south, from Fairbanks to Nenana is memorable climbing in the heat. As the day cools off we hit a long patch of bad road before Healy, I am glad Wahine is with me, Healy to Talkeetna is by the Denali Park and Mckinley is out. Last day through Wasilla, we are back in Anchorage.
Endless Mountains; “I remember a lot of climbing at night” I said to Mark. But four years ago it was in September, now it is in August with more daylight, this one will also be hotter and more humid. This will be my fourth 1200K in just over a month and my sixth for the year, caution is prevailing over exuberance by now. A pattern is emerging, I will add the first couple of days, to the recovery phase and exploit the training effect in the last two days. I resist any temptation to follow a very strong group in the first two days. Mark flies off with Joel Lawrence and Vinny Sikorski, I barely see them the whole ride. I ride with John “Endless” Pearch and Ian Shopland my SIR roomates also the Olsen brothers and Mike Fox. The last day I spend almost exclusively with Jos Vestergren (the Flying Dutchman). The climbing is unparalleled and endless, the support is awesome as expected of Tom Rosenbauer and his group of Volunteers. Jos leaves the next day to ride to Canada for the Granite Anvil, Bill Olsen will join him, I will pass on this one, I travel to Africa for family matters.
Last Chance was spent totally in the company of Theo Roffe. We mingled with other riders in random fashion, including the very impressive Andrea Matney. Our trip from Boulder to Kensington was uneventful enough, though I could not sleep much at Atwood on the way out. For a brief while in Kensington it got quite hot and humid, and I was glad that for cooling showers as we headed back to Atwood. At this time we ran into Andy Albershardt and Gary “Jens” Sparks. Sleep deprivation was a problem then, not much thought given to the weather. I had better sleep at Atwood on the way back, but still we did not prepare for the storms that lay ahead. By Bird City; another flat had us hiding in a dairy to fix the flat, when we saw Andy and Gary fly by, they were chasing us down. At the Bird City Diner the farmers asked where we were going in the storm, “I hope you have a canoe”, they joked, when they learned we were headed for Colorado. Then it got worse, at Idalia we bought thrift store clothes for reinforcement as 30mph wind gusts drove the rain in our face and sometimes stopped us in our tracks. At Byers we ate and slept a glorious four hours. Gary had skipped this and Andy rode in with us on a modified course through the flood devastation to Boulder, but I digress.
Before I digressed we were at Nags Head on the Taste of Carolina, we started in Lumberton and it was mostly wet the first day. We had done the first overnight and we were now headed for Engelhard. I thought; there is not much city form there to Lumberton, perhaps I should quit there, not in the middle of nowhere. Reaching Engelhard it looked pretty much like the middle of nowhere so I went on with much of the wolf pack (Mark Thomas, Dan Driscoll, Rick Blacker, Greg Courtney, Luke Heller. Thomas Droege, Michael Shmit and Bob Bruce) to a sleep spot eleven miles down the road. Exhausted and exasperated I fell into REM sleep to find Orville Wright Admonishing me to “take this broken wing and learn to fly again, learn to be so free“, then he morphed into Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
And that was it, I rode in with Black-spoke and the wolf pack to Lumberton.
Next was the Sydney to Melbourne Alpine 1200k, the return to the scene of the crime.
“Just gotta learn to live with what you can’t rise above”….. Bruce Springsteen.