RIP Paul Sherwen

I first read of Paul Sherwen’s death in another blog I follow, A Dude Abikes. Sherwen, for those who don’t follow bike racing, was what we in the US would refer to as the “color commentator” for BBC and Eurosport TV broadcasts of bike races. Analogous to American football broadcasts, they employed a retired bike racer (Sherwen) to provide inside commentary along with a broadcast journalist (Phil Liggett). Though unlike the usual team, Liggett was also a former bike racer.

Liggett and Sherwen always provided colourful commentary along with sight-seeing opportunities and European history lessons. We could always

PAU, FRANCE – JULY 26: Geraint Thomas of Great Britain and Team Sky Yellow Leader Jersey / Sunflowers / during the 105th Tour de France 2018, Stage 18 a 171km stage from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau on July 26, 2018 in Pau, France. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

count on a shot of the riders in a field of sunflowers during the Tour de France. Since I’ve never had cable or satellite TV, access to their broadcasts was always an adventure.

In 1992 I watched their TdF broadcast from a cafe somewhere near Markleeville, CA., home of the Death Ride. When I first heard of the Death Ride, I thought one had to be nuts to try it. I may still be right. The ride is ~200 km (129 miles) on California highways, climbing 15,000 feet while summiting five mountain passes. The low point of the ride is about 5000 feet and the high point over 8700. The best part is that it’s a closed course for the most hazardous parts.

I changed my mind about the crazy part when I went cross country skiing and camping in the area. As we drove over Carson Pass on our way to the trailhead I was amazed by the beauty, and thought it would look even better on a bike. Over the next few days of backcountry skiing and camping, I began to hatch a plan.

I decided to get my feet wet in 1991 with the “two pass option”, riding about 50 miles and crossing two passes, to find out what riding at altitude was like. I’d never ridden anything higher than the Santa Cruz Mountains, at about 2000 feet.

I learned an important lesson. Arriving the night before the ride I had no time to get used to the thinner air. I was tired and had no appetite. It was hot and dry. It was not my most enjoyable day in the saddle.

In 1992 I arrived in the mountains a week early, hanging out at Co-op Camp Sierra. The camp is at about 4300 feet. After hiking, swimming, and a little bit of riding, we moved north to Markleeville. (Note to self: if you make this drive again, go down to the Central Valley, drive north through the valley, then back up into the mountains – your passengers will thank you for it.)

We stayed at Sorensen’s Resort near Pickett’s Junction. A couple of days before the ride I decided to scope out Ebbetts Pass, the highest point of the ride and the only part I’d never seen. Somewhere along the ride I spotted a cafe with a satellite dish. I saw bikes parked outside and a lot of people wearing funny clothes like mine. I asked the proprietor if we might tune the big screen TV to the BBC. He agreed readily and I spent an enjoyable chunk of the day with strangers, enjoying the Tour de France broadcast with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. (Were you wondering if I’d ever get back to him?)

The morning of the Death Ride I was up before dawn and headed to Turtle Rock State Park, the start point. As the sky got light, the strains of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner reminded anyone who was sleeping in that they’d best get up to start riding soon.

Some folks jumped on their bikes at the first strains, others wandered out as it played or as it ended. Some of us stuck around, waiting for it to get lighter. As the sun came up, The Jefferson Airplane got me on the road:

As we headed toward Monitor Pass, it began to sprinkle lightly. This seemed like a good omen, a little something to keep the heat down and counter the dry desert air on the leeward side of the divide. We went up and over Monitor Pass and down to the Nevada state line, then turned around and went back over the pass in the other direction. So far, so good.

As we turned toward Ebbetts Pass, the earliest riders were coming down. They warned us that it was cold and wet up there. Climbing the pass wasn’t so bad. At the top, no one stood around to rest or enjoy the view. It was time to head down. Employing my modern version of the age-old technique of stuffing newspapers in your jersey for insulation on chilly descents (I used a plastic grocery bag – no ink to run, and waterproof), I was back on my bike after a quick snack and collecting the sticker to prove I’d made it to the top. Collect all five and your receive an enameled pin to prove you did it. We were cautioned that there were corner marshals before all switchbacks, urging us to slow down. I’d seen them going up, when slowing down was not a problem.

Ascending Ebbetts Pass
Yes, that is the same jersey 26 years later, Grand Teton National Park

Going down was a problem. The brakes needed feathering to scrub off speed as well as to scrub water off the rims so they would actually function as brakes. It was also a way to keep fingers moving so they wouldn’t stiffen up too much to apply the brakes when really needed. Breathing on the fingers for warmth had to be done fast, so the hands could be back on the brake levers before the next switchback.

The lunch stop was welcome this time and we headed back out on the road. Coming down a few thousand feet did not make it warm and dry. The rain had entered the valley and was with us the rest of the day. Sorensen’s Resort was on the way to Luther Pass, so I stopped into our cabin, dried off, changed clothes, ate a banana, hugged my future wife, and got back out. It might have taken all of five minutes. Dry clothes felt great for the next few minutes.

After the last two passes, I showered and changed into dry civilian clothes and signed the commemorative poster as a five pass rider. Since it was still raining, I don’t know if you can read any of the signatures. We used a silver Sharpie so it was somewhat waterproof. After one last great meal at Sorensen’s, we headed back to the Bay Area. I think I’m ready to do it again.

 

Door County Century/ Best of Madison?

BOM2019_728x90_1535470768232_12972537_ver1.0.jpgThree weeks with no long-distance riding was enough. The Half-fast Cycling Club escaped to Door County, WI for a century ride on Sunday, September 9. (9/9/18, like an addition problem).

We left a narrow isthmus between two flooding lakes connected by a flooding river and headed to a narrow peninsula (looks like an island to me, since you have to cross a bridge to get to it) with Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. At least this lake is still within its banks.

 

  1. There used to be a beach between the lifeguard tower and the lake. 
  2. Find the bike path in this picture.

I arrived in camp in darkness after the 200 mile post-work drive. Rather than pitch a tent, I slept in the back of the van. Dinner was PB&J with popcorn. Left camp in the dark in the morning and had breakfast in a diner in Sturgeon Bay, not wanting to make breakfast in the dark.

They were nice enough to give me my birth year as a bib number in case I forgot how old I am.B0325C29-B1BB-49B4-B0B2-48C068783903

In case we haven’t shown this yet, this is the back of the coast-to-coast jersey, with the flags of the countries and states of origin of the riders. You may note from all the Union Jacks that the former British Empire was well-represented. The marked cities are the weekend rest days.

We started out by riding a gauntlet of yard signs for a rogue’s gallery of Trump toadies, lest we think that Door County has gone soft.

I wasn’t used to riding in such crowds. I saw someone with rider number 2700-something. I frequently found myself speeding up or slowing down to escape a crowd. It was a bit chilly for the first 20 miles and anytime we hit a patch of sun I wanted to bask for a while.

Twenty five miles in I found a coffee shop for an espresso. For Tim, here’s a picture of that espresso; and the view,  through the coffee shop window, of riders in more of a hurry than we were.

 

There were water and snack stops every 15 miles or so. Every one had PB&J.

Door County is beautiful, with plenty of quiet back roads despite being a narrow peninsula. The wind came up in the afternoon to make sure the day wasn’t too easy.

 

FAQ (there was only one):
Q: After what you did this summer, this was easy, right?

A: Wrong. 100 miles is tough no matter what. Maybe if you’re an elite cyclist, 100 miles is easy. If you’re half-fast, it’s hard.

Oh, yeah. I had a another flat tire. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s, I don’t know, I stopped keeping score.

Best of Madison!

BREAKING NEWS!

The Half-fast Cycling Club has been nominated in the Best Local Blog category in Madison Magazine’s Best of Madison competition.

If you like what you’ve been reading here, vote for us. The final voting period is from September 17 – October 31. Unlike round one, in which you can vote every day for what you think is best, in round two of final voting, you will only be able to vote once per category, so consider your pick and make your vote count! The ballot will be available on our website at www.madisonmagazine.com/bom.

BOM2019_160x150_1535470767904_12972535_ver1.0.jpg

And on the 7th day…

We don’t yet rest. Seven days, 602 miles. Tomorrow we rest. Today, on the other hand, we ride 99 miles.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Today is the first day of Co-op Camp Sierra. This is a camp that was started in 1939 – that makes this the 80th year of Co-op Camp. Camp Sierra itself has been here a few years longer.

Camp Sierra
From Campsierra.org (For a week each year, we used to mount another log center top that said “Co-op”. It was carved by the same person who carved the originals.)

My introduction to camp came in 1985. I had a new job (Maintenance Director of Twin Pines Co-operative Community) and they sent me to camp to network and hobnob with my fellow wizards. Little did I know it would lead to an annual job for several years and a place I’d later bring my whole family.

You’d probably call me the Administrative Assistant to the Camp Manager. She called me img_0009her Mom. It was my job to make sure she got to all of her meetings on time and to drag her rolling suitcase around on the trails, as well as help plan and run the educational programs. For this, her kids later rewarded me with one of my most precious possessions.

Co-op camp was officially a place for people from the California co-ops to gather for continuing education in a mountain setting. It was and is much more.

potholesJPGIt also has the best swimming hole around, miles of hiking trails in national forests, nearby Sequoia groves, and possibly the biggest tie dye project ever. (Camp photos from coopcamp.com) Lodging is in either your own tent or a camp cabin.cabintiedyeJPGWhile I didn’t bring the “grandmother” mug on this trip, tomorrow morning I will raise my cup on our first day of rest, in solidarity with my old friends at camp, who will be raising their cups on one of the cabin porches. I haven’t been back since 2006. Someday…

But what about today’s ride?

Oh yeah. The rain lasted all night but stopped by morning. The day started chilly, with fog/low-lying clouds. We packed up wet with one of the riders humming circus music. We are kinda like a traveling circus, rolling into town, setting up our tents, and leaving in the morning. We don’t provide much of a show.

We started flat and easy, retracing our steps from yesterday. The road started to tilt upward and the sun came out so we shed some clothes. We rode up and over Thompson Pass, with a gradually increasing slope, to 10% for the last mile. At the summit we crossed into Montana and Mountain Daylight Time.

A fast downhill seemed to go on forever and, as the road flattened out, a tailwind pushed us along. Only a little over 4 hours in the saddle today.

Tomorrow is another 100+ mile day over busy highway to Missoula. Then comes our day of rest.

I can’t upload photos from my current location. I should have better luck in Missoula. It’s past my bedtime anyway, and a wall of dark clouds is closing in.