Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Different Type of Anniversary

Solvang Spring Double Century, March 28, 2009

There was a time when I didn't even think of possibly attempting a double century; such a distance seemed completely out of proportions for a casual century rider like me. Not that I wouldn't have liked, deep inside, to do longer distances; but over the years, the constraints related to raising four kids and holding a demanding job eventually succeeded in discouraging me from pursuing loftier goals. I had to content myself with just riding a century, every once in a while.

Six years ago, in the context of visiting with friends in Shell Beach, I had an opportunity to participate in the century option of what would later become the Solvang Spring Double Century (after the century option had been dropped). It was a beautiful, perfect cycling day - just like last Saturday. About half-way through, somewhere on Betteravia Road near Santa Maria, on the way from Sisquoc to Guadalupe, I found myself in a paceline of about ten riders, in the next-to-last position, nearly effortlessly gliding along at well over 20 mph, when I hit a big lump of dried dirt left on the road by some tractor from the fields. My hands rested in a relaxed way on the brake hoods without gripping them (big mistake!) - they got thrown off by the bump, and I was unable to avoid going down. I'm still proud today to recall that I barely suffered a scratch; only the new jersey was scratched on the back - nothing else. But as soon as I was on the ground, the only rider behind me rode his front wheel into my ribs, and I felt some air get kicked out of me. So, after a little while, I resigned myself to call Ghislaine (who spent the day in Solvang) to come and pick me up, and to bring me first back to our friends in Shell Beach. From there, eventually, we went to the community hospital of Arroyo Grande to check me out; I told them that I might have broken a rib.

To make a long story short: I had seven broken ribs, and I learned a new word: pneumothorax.
During the five days at the hospital, sleeping was unexpectedly difficult, and so I had enough time to think about what was important in life. One important conclusion was that from now on (or, rather: as soon as I could normally breathe again), I would take bike riding more seriously. I resolved to pursue bigger goals in order to motivate me during my recovery.

The following year I joined the Randonneurs USA and completed my first couple of 200 km brevets. After that, I decided to prepare for Paris - Brest - Paris 2007. In 2005, I would get used to double centuries and 300 km brevets. In 2006, I would try to complete a full qualifying brevet series of 200 - 300 - 400 - 600 km distances as a dry run, and then in 2007 safely qualify for and participate in PBP.

And so, end of March 2005, Ghislaine and I went back to our friends in Shell Beach, from where I went to Solvang to participate in the Solvang Double Century, to start getting used to double centuries. I deliberately wore the scratched jersey from my spill two years earlier, avoided pacelines as much as I could, and finished conservatively, slowly and happily.

I also completed it in Spring 2007, much more confident already, in 14h25. Not a very good time at all for this relatively easy and fast course; but I progressed and that was all that mattered. Consequently, this time, I announced that I wanted to finish in less than 14 hours.

I felt in good shape and enjoyed being able to stay on the uphills with many more other riders than in the past years. Many of them also pursued their own goal of a new personal best; and I noticed how startled they were when I announced that I would now stop on the road side to take a picture of the poppies which exuberantly flowered nearly everywhere. It was the best day of the year for being out on a bike ride, and I didn't want to spoil it by staying on the bike all the time!

In various places, I remembered vividly how slow I had been there in years past, and how I had to resort to the smallest chain ring for certain uphills. This time, I never used the smallest chain ring at all, and was able to always keep a decent rhythm. Oh, it feels good not to be among the very slowest riders any more!

San Francisco: 249 miles - but we'll turn around in Morro Bay (12 miles)

The Rock of Morro Bay - and the check point

At the check point in Morro Bay, I noted with satisfaction that I had a big time cushion for my 14-hour goal; I might even be able to finish in 13 hours if I put my mind (and legs) to it! But this was not the goal, and I dutifully discarded the thought. Instead, I started justifying a more easygoing attitude for the trip back to the finish: I should save my legs for the next weekend where the calendar says "600 km brevet in Oceanside", and I should just enjoy the beautiful day and the outrageous tailwind!

So that's what I did.

Guadalupe rest stop with playground

On the lower slopes of the Drum Canyon Road (1000 ft in 3 miles, 16 miles from the finish). Four years ago, I was grinding up there in complete darkness, even though I had started half an hour earlier in the morning. Trust me: it's much easier and much more fun in daylight!

Higher up on Drum Canyon: more poppies on the left!

For the first time, the start and finish was not in Solvang any more, but 3 miles away in Buellton. I arrived there with a big smile on my face at 7:15 pm, 13 and 1/2 hours after I started. By the time I got back to our hotel in Solvang where Ghislaine waited for me, it was nearly dark again, after all. - I guess I really will have to shoot for a 13 hour finish, next time!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Santa Cruz Randonneurs 300k Brevet, March 21, 2009

The weather forecast predicted rain showers for later in the afternoon, which was enough to make me mount fenders on the bike again and to bring my new Showers Pass Elite jacket. There were some clouds coming up in the North during the pre-ride meeting at the Santa Cruz Lighthouse and Surfing Museum already; but we (a little over 30, I think) were going South and didn't worry about them just yet.

I knew most of the route from various brevets in the last few years. The first 12 miles through the Santa Cruz agglomeration are not particularly rewarding. It takes some chatting with friends to while away the time spent at red traffic lights. Unfortunately, those traffic lights also tend to break up the peloton; and so, after the first hour, I ended up with a faster pack ahead, while my friend John C. followed in a group further behind.

I kept telling my fast companions "I don't belong here" and "I will soon fall back and wait for my friend". Over the last years, I had been in similar situations more than once. That's when I got used to getting dropped at one of the ever so slight uphills, or left behind during an acceleration into the wind after a tight turn. At least, I was a little bit further down the road already, which helped delay the ultimately unavoidable and for me (clandestinely) ever so embarrassing moments of having John C. wait for me.

However, it appears that I have become just a little bit stronger, this year. In addition, some shameful (but also skillful) wheel-sucking instinct was overriding my still evolving randonneur ethic; and as a result, I arrived at the first control stop in Marina (mile 40) much faster than I deserved. And when I insisted that I knew very well about my limitations (little engine and all), the other riders called me, in a flattering way, "sandbagger!" I knew what it meant; here is the definition: "deliberately underperform to gain an unfair advantage."

No, I didn't deliberately underperform - quite the opposite; and the only unfair advantage I can think of is that I used my downplaying as excuse for drafting them without sharing the workload into the wind. Still, I was aware of my difficulty to let go of pursuing a good personal finishing time. Even though I didn't attempt any more to stay with the faster riders (for the simple reason that I knew I wouldn't be able to on the upcoming rollers) and let them leave the Marina control well ahead of me, I didn't wait for John either. I feared getting cold and decided to move on. John would surely catch up during the 50 miles to the next control at Miller's Ranch.

This was a good intention and a good plan. It didn't take into account, however, the temptation of latching on to the friendly tandem of Spencer and Joann when they passed me. Like a child in a candy store, I just couldn't resist. I enjoyed their company (and had the impression it was reciprocal), pushed my little legs much harder than I would have if I had stayed alone (thinking of how this would make me stronger in the future) - and also felt like a jerk, and guilty. At least, I would get punished for it later in the day, when I would limp home into some headwind with cramping muscles and general exhaustion, right?

When we entered the hills west of Greenfield to the Miller's Ranch control, it was time to face the beginning of my punishment. I couldn't stay with the tandem any more; the legs hurt pretty bad, and it was clear that I had reached my limitations. The illusion of being worthy of a 13-14 mph brevet was over. 

The control was manned by Scott (the one I mentioned here), and I saw there the Spencer/Joann tandem and John D. for the last time in the day. The area was most beautiful under a sunny sky, with a small river running through the valley, and spring-green meadows dotted with Californian poppies. Time to stop for pictures, and to finally take it really easy!

On the way back, I crossed John and estimated that he was about half an hour behind me at that point. I shouted out that he will catch up with me. I stayed about half an hour for lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Greenfield, but not long enough for John to come in. I crossed him again on my way out and told him that now I was really slowing down, meaning: you will catch up easily, now!

But, as you might guess, this did not happen. Other smaller groups of riders passed me and encouraged me to join them; and even though I didn't stay with them at first (I diligently put on all me rain protection when the first drops fell, and removed it again 15 minutes later when it was apparent that we would likely stay dry, after all), Kevin and Kim didn't leave me much of a choice, engaged me in a conversation and dragged me along until I recovered my legs and felt again as if I could ride on forever. While we prepared for night riding at the Marina control, Michael joined us for the last 40 miles, and together we marveled at an unusual southwest wind that pushed us rather comfortably back to Santa Cruz. I enjoyed the benefit of knowing the route better than any one of my companions, and they appreciated it. The roads were still wet from recent rain showers, but we stayed dry. I didn't pay attention when we arrived, but we finished in less than 15 hours. 

Due to particularly good company, John C. had extended his lunch break in Greenfield much longer than planned and couldn't make up the time on the way back because his conditioning had suffered from too much involuntary time off the bike over the last weeks. Instead, he accompanied and coached a young rider who was at his very first 300 km brevet: quite a rewarding experience, as he said on our drive home (we were carpooling). - And I still felt like a jerk.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Whale of a Deli

Santa Rosa Cycling Club 300k Brevet, March 14, 2009

This time, the alarm went off at 2:50 a.m. I had a two-hour drive up to Healdsburg, and the start was at 6 a.m. Throughout the week, I had been following the weather forecast which announced highs around 60F along the route - perfect! Conveniently, I overlooked the lows in the very low 40's and ignored the wind.

At the start, not only the tip of my nose was uncomfortably cold, already. Several among the nearly 25 participants wished for an early climb to warm up; but instead, except for some rollers on Westside Road, we went dominantly slightly downhill out to the coast along Russian River. The first part of the route matched a portion of the San Francisco 300k loop and we had ridden the second part out to the Point Reyes lighthouse on the San Francisco 200k already. I like rediscovering routes I had ridden before; this makes the distance appear shorter and each time there is something new to see. Difficulty-wise, the RBA Robert Redmond warned in his ride info document: "There are no great hills to cross, but I would hate to classify the ride along the Pacific coast and out to the Lighthouse as just rollers." (Still no word of the wind). 

A large group stayed together at the front until we arrived at the coast. At some point, I rode next to Tom R. who asked me what my time goal was for the ride (I wonder how he could guess that I had such a goal). Reluctantly I admitted "15 hours." He seemed a little doubtful and intent on bringing me back to reality. Maybe he had read my No Miracles piece?

But for now, we advanced so fast that it was hard not to believe in a wonderfully fast finishing time. And when at the top of the first major hill on Hwy 1 (about half a mile long) I could still see my much stronger companions within reach and could actually close the little gap, I blurted out "I cannot believe I am still here with you!" I continued keeping track: 100 km in 3h45, and 80 miles (including the control stops at Diekman's in Bodega Bay and in Point Reyes Station) in five hours even, even though I had to let go the strong guys (and the strong girl) when the hills north of Marshall became too relentless, and was riding alone now. Obviously, something was wrong: I cannot ride that fast without a massive tailwind! And this meant bad news for the return trip in the afternoon, when the wind would get even stronger ...

Another thing that appeared wrong in my mind was that the temperatures stayed low, and I didn't like it. The cold air seemed to dig in my face and it hurt. There was visibility, but no sunshine, no shadow on the ground, and an uninspiring solid gray cloud cover. Without conviction, I stopped to take some pictures from the Point Reyes scenery; never for long because I got too cold within a minute. There were some nice wildflowers, including Californian poppies in some places, and I was tempted to take a photo. But the wind shook them so hard, it was pointless. 

Just at the moment when the wind threw the bicycle to the ground

At the turnaround point

No time for whale watching, today

I counted about ten riders coming back from the turnaround point before I got there, and took note of the distances of the riders behind me when I crossed them on my way back. They were too far back to wait for them; and of course, I had no hope of catching any one of the riders ahead of me. No problem. I don't mind riding alone; and I will get moral credit for dealing with the wind on my own. If only it wasn't so cold!

It was so cold, I desperately needed to eat and drink something warm when I came back to Point Reyes Station; and as soon as possible - I was hungry, too! And so I walked into "A Whale of a Deli", whatever that stands for. All I can say: they make the best burritos I have ever had. I felt so much better afterwards! It created a little problem, though: When you are riding into a strong headwind, you want to bend down to minimize the wind resistance. Well, with my full belly, I couldn't.

Long ago already I learned that a headwind is difficult only when you are fighting it. If instead you just allow a smaller gear and accept it, life is much easier. So that's what I did, again. On the downside, the goal of finishing within a "good time" (it's all relative anyway) has to become secondary. I simply replaced my original goal with a new one, incremented by half an hour!

In Valley Ford I stopped, only to take a picture of some flags in order to illustrate the concept of headwind (and, trust me: at that point the wind was 100% frontal!).

Soon afterwards, I started losing patience with the wind and the three major uphills on the way to Bodega Bay and rode harder again. When I arrived at the Diekmann control (mile 135), I had nearly lost my voice with breathing the cold headwind air for so long. A hot coffee and a delicious baclava brought it back.

At this point, I had lost all hope of finishing in 15 hours - Tom was right! So I just continued doing my penitence in bicyclist's purgatory on the remaining 9 miles on Hwy 1 (I'm sure all my sins are forgiven since then) until the right turn onto SR 116, upwards along the Russian River. That's when I observed that I would still arrive within 15 hours if I could keep an average of 16 mph from now on. But the road goes uphill, and the Westside Road has some annoying pitches and is often quite bumpy and not easy to roll on. Why do I even think of the 15 hours, still? -  Well, because the wind is now in my back again, and I'm cruising along at close to 20 mph!

Of course, this didn't last. As I said, I don't like the surface of Westside Road very much, and in complete darkness one is always slower than in daylight. It's harder to evaluate where the road goes uphill or downhill, and this translates into less efficient use of one's effort. On the other hand, the closer one gets to the finish, the easier it seems to maintain a higher speed - it's called the "smelling the barn" effect. And so, believe it or not, in the end I did get really close to my original goal - not that it mattered, of course!

Robert Redmond had set up a hotel room in the Best Western not only for check-in, but also for a light dinner, snacks, (beer ...), and general socializing. Several riders who had finished one, two or three hours before me were still around chatting and joking. Obviously, I had reasons to be quite satisfied with my ride. But the best came just when I left and bid good-bye: the randonneurs who know me from the last years complimented me on how well I had progressed. Hmm - music to my ears!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Very Good Day

Pacific Coast Highway Randonneurs 400k Brevet, March 7-8

On Friday afternoon, during the 5-hour drive down to Ventura, I had some doubts. How reasonable can it be to travel such a big distance by car just to ride the bike at the destination? Then again, the time spent on the bike will be at least twice the time spent driving; does this make it any more acceptable?

All those doubts vanished as soon as about twenty of us rolled out on Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m. for a long day. The route was the same as the 300k route from four weeks ago, with additional out-and-back pieces added to the northern, southern and eastern edges to bump the distance up to 250 miles. What was not the same was the weather: this time, the sky was blue, and the sun did its very best to make the outburst of spring wildflowers sparkle all over the place.  I kept repeating to myself "It was all worth it" (the long drive that is).

In addition, I soon felt that I had a good day. At first, I thought it was just a side effect of the nice weather and environment; but when I was able to stay with Chris and Isabelle for over 50 miles, I understood that there was more to it. Regularly, I shouldn't even try to ride with them! I was so impressed with myself that I started searching for reasons why I had such a good day. But the only possible explanation I could find was the bottle of AlleyCat I had enjoyed on the evening before in terms of prehydration and carboloading. So, who knows?

Meanwhile, we rode above Montecito/Santa Barbara for the first time since the Tea fire catastrophe from last November through the burnt area. (The roads were closed four weeks ago for the 300k brevet). It was sobering and very impressive.

After the downhills to the northern end of Santa Barbara, I started thinking about how to say "good-bye" to Chris and Isabelle. Each time the road presented a little roller, my legs started talking to me to the effect of not overdoing the enjoyment of my good day; and the day was still long! Eventually, I didn't have to say anything. I was lagging behind just a little bit during a downhill, when a stop light turned red between them and me. OK, now I could fall back on plan B: ride according to my own pace and enjoy the trip! It turned out that I would ride the remaining 200 miles all alone - which is not anything I am worried about, luckily.

I was still pleasantly surprised about how well I progressed northwards to the control at Rifugio State Beach - must be a tailwind! Will have to fight the corresponding headwind on the way back, then. But I was even more pleasantly surprised when the wind appeared to be mostly favorable again during the trip back - how cool is that? In a sense, it's bad news: I would not be able to blame the wind for being slow. But I didn't complain, and I wasn't slow (it's all relative...), and I arrived at the traditional Shoreline Park lunch stop control well ahead of my pre-calculated estimates.

By the way: time to express a big compliment and thank-you to Linda for her exceptionally delicious wraps: they really transformed the good day into a super-good day! I know, because they allowed me to continue with renewed stamina to the half-way point which I reached after barely nine hours, back at the start/finish location in Ventura. I was quite happy with that, and upbeat about the second half of the event.

The sunset over the Pacific started soon after I passed Point Mugu, and I had to stop several times to look back at it and to take pictures.

A flattering tailwind helped me reach the southern turnaround point in Trancas in good condition and in sixth position, as I could determine from crossing the riders ahead of me (and I mean: far ahead of me). It's not a race, of course; and I knew very well that many riders behind me were stronger and faster than I. Still, it motivated me to find myself in the first half. At the control station, it was a pleasure to see Foster and David - thank you, guys!
The next milestone was the "Pizza control" at the Jones residence in Moorpark (how many brevets on the RUSA calendar have that? Yet another justification for a long drive...). Before getting there, however, I had to go back where I came from; and this time, the wind wasn't flattering any more. At times, it was even frankly unfriendly, and my legs showed their resentment. It was good I had built up a time cushion during the first 160 miles, because now I needed it. By the time I reached Santa Rosa Road in Camarillo, I started becoming pessimistic about my time estimate for arriving at the Moorpark control. It helped that I knew the route already; but the anticipation of the uphills did nothing to cheer me up. For the first time in the day, I felt tired and weak - and cold. I learned later that I was not alone with this type of experience at this point. I stopped several times under street lights to rummage in my handlebar bag for some forgotten power food - found some and ate it. And apparently it helped, because in the end, I arrived at the 200-mile mark at the Pizza control 15 1/2 hours after the start. That's still a very acceptable double century time, for me.

Only 50 miles left - but they included some lengthy climbing to the top of Grimes Canyon road, and some more pesky uphills on E. Guiberson Road eastwards to Piru. The generous hospitality offered by our RBA couple Lisa and Greg certainly had recharged my "batteries," but didn't bring back the fresh legs from the morning. When Jerry passed me shortly after leaving the control, there was no way in heaven for me to hang on to his rear wheel on the flats, and of course even  less to accompany him on the uphills. Oh well - I have been there before. This teaches me to become modest and honest again.

But it's not over yet: on the way to Piru I gradually warmed up and got some spring back in my legs. I arrived at the 24-hour control station in Piru in good spirits, chatted for a long time with the friendly but lonely cashier, and when I was about to leave and Foster arrived (he seemed to be everywhere!), I think I was able to convince him that I felt really good. The remaining 30 miles to the finish were ever so slightly downhill (if not rolling), and the barely noticeable wind was favorable. I realized that I could maintain a pretty good average, and kept revising my anticipated finishing time in the good direction. This encouraged and motivated me even more, and made me derive a deep and subtle pleasure from the observation that I could still ride pretty hard towards the end of the distance. And I had time to ponder the paradox of enjoying the ride - while at the same looking forward to when it's over. In the end, I arrived 20:17 hours after the start. I fulfilled my goal of staying under 21 hours; and the good conditions on this memorable ride made it appear (mostly) easy.

Checking in at the finish: "This was fun!"
(And I can let it appear as if it was easy)

More pictures from the Santa Barbara area:

(another victim of the economic crisis?)

It's called "Palm Drive"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Weekend in Death Valley

Over the last years, we developed a family tradition of spending up to two weekends a year in Death Valley. Ghislaine really likes the desert - and the swimming pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Also, our weekends always happen to coincide with either the Spring or Fall Death Valley Centuries and Double Centuries; and so it's a win-win situation.
Not only that, but the daughters Valerie and Fabienne, although several years apart, have their birthdays on February 27 and 28 - a perfect match for the Spring event; and Ghislaine's birthday is close enough to the Fall event. As a result, I was able to collect five Death Valley Double Century finishes in the last four years. Due to mostly random circumstances, four of them covered the northern route which is now always in Fall; I finished the southern route only once, when I completed my very first Double Century in 2005. Understandably, I had in mind to add another "southern double" to my statistics for 2009.
Towards the end of 2008, the youngest son Florian (21) suddenly asked if I thought he could do a century. This came as a complete surprise to me, because he had never touched a bicycle since the age of four when he learned to ride - he doesn't even own a bicycle. But who am I to dissuade him? The only question was which century to pick - and you can guess the answer. He would borrow his big brother's West-coast bike (Sebastian lives in New York) and start training; and I was there to provide guidance and advice.

Of course, we would ride together - and I am embarrassed to admit that I planned to just accompany him for the first half of his century. At the top of Jubilee Pass, he would turn around and finish on his own, while I would continue over Salsbury Pass down to Shoshone and complete the double century route. I only came to my senses after I missed the cut-off for double-century riders on Jubilee Pass. 
So, that's the background and set-up. For the rest, I invited Fabienne to do some "guest blogging", so we can look at that weekend from a different perspective!

~~~ Fabienne's Guest Blogging ~~~

The evening before our departure to Death Valley, I got a Facebook Wall post:
"Guess what you get to do on your birthday?! DRIVE MY ASS AND STINKY CLOTHES TO A DESERT!"
Yup. That's my little brother for you. But it was all in good fun, and everybody knows I would do anything for my little brother...

When we got on the road on Friday afternoon, he was pumped - completely euphoric and ecstatic. "I can't wait to do this! Four months of training in the gym for the big challenge!"  He told me that he had been thinking about what he should do if he ran into a snake stretched out across his path. "Swerve into traffic to avoid it, or go over it as fast as I can? What if I'm going uphill and it bites my tire and I have to stop to fix the flat and it attacks?"

He was giddy, energetic and could not wait to get his borrowed Specialized on the road. We stopped at The Mad Greek's Cafe in Baker and he had a gigantic gyro,  fries and water. This time, he wanted to take the wheel into the desert. He was impressed by the dark shadows and was glad he would finish his ride in daylight.

None of us slept much that night, after over-eating at my fancy birthday dinner and with the anticipation of Florian's big day. We got up at 5 a.m. and watched our two cyclists prepare for the road.

At the start, it was cute to see Florian focus and concentrate on the last minute instructions, rules and regulations while Dad looked like the bad boy playing with his camelpack and squirting water into his mouth. They left at 6:30 with the first wave of century riders. It was such a beautiful morning, Mom and I lingered and took in the scenery and fresh air.

At noon, Valerie and Roman found us and we set out together to meet the cyclists on their way back at the last rest stop, Badwater. I sat on a bench with Mom and waited to take my perfect picture. A tourist came out of his car and yelled: "So where's this shitty water?"

Our cyclists arrived at 2:15. We looked more excited than them. And while Dad did his usual smiling and chatting with everybody, Florian swallowed an entire turkey sandwich in 25 seconds. We had to remind him to sit down in the shade for a bit to rest, but he just wanted to leave and get this over with as soon as possible. He still had 18 miles to go.

We left shortly after the cyclists, but made a detour to see the "Artist's Palette." We caught up with Florian climbing the last lengthy hill alone. He was still strong enough to tell us that Dad was ahead amusing himself. A minute later we saw Dad smiling ear to ear descending the hill back to Florian. He had been going back and forth for some "training fun."

They made it quickly to the finish line together. Flo walked straight to the check-in table, had the paperwork done, and then walked over to the pizza table to grab a well deserved slice. I watched people cut in front of him, but he still waited patiently, and then sat on the curb by his bike and gobbled his slice in silence. He wanted an immediate shower and barely made it into fresh clothes before passing out on the bed. Dad had to wake him up later for our second celebratory dinner: Val's birthday and Flori's first century finish. He gained his energy back with a barbecue plate and a well deserved beer.

Sunday afternoon, I was fortunate enough to drive back to Los Angeles with our freshly minted cycling athlete. Dad had recommended we drive south over the century route to get out of Death Valley. I was able to get into Florian's mind and heart about his experience,  feelings and thoughts from the day before.

He had the best time the first two and a half hours enjoying the majestic scenery against the sky, the hills, and flowers. He had a great start, felt strong and simply loved it. He was excited to experience all that was still to come. Until hour three. Then things quickly changed when he started to get hungry, and when the discomfort became harder and harder to tolerate. But he knew that he was not going to throw in the towel until he bled. On the 5-mile climb to Jubilee Pass, he confessed that he wished he had trained harder every single day; but he also admitted that he could not commit to more with his classes, exams, projects and homework. While the Prius was suffering on the way up to the pass, Florian relived his exhaustion from the day before. He did not like the rough, hard roads which caused much of the pain in his hands, and the deceiving turns of the road that hid and revealed ever more unending uphill stretches. He was very happy to have Dad with him who knew which was the last turn before the top of Jubilee pass and the turnaround point. Finally.

Florian expressed his gratitude at the 20-minute descent after the turnaround. He could not believe how long it was. Like a ride at Disneyland, he expected it to be over too soon. But this one kept going, and it was a welcome relief until the next rest stop. He told me it felt really good to see support and people waiting for him which was very motivating, even though he did not have the strength to acknowledge them much. He was glad Dad rode with him the whole way and said it would have been much harder without him. He got emotional at the end of the ride ... and his story.

Florian said he would never look at a road the same way ever again.

The ride back to LA went by fast, and Florian was still humorous and energetic about his experience. His facebook Death Valley album is filled with funny tags this morning. And before heading back to school he told me: "it's an accomplishment everybody should do at least once in their lifetime, because the feeling is indescribable!"

I'm so proud of Florian and what he accomplished on so little training in his sneakers. And yes, I would do anything for my little brother. Even sign up for the next century in Death Valley.