Yesterday’s adventure began, fittingly, at 6:05am, when the few, proud Velo 605 racers arrived at BYC slip 39 to board The Solstice. Tom Marshall was the skipper, Scott Biddinger his first mate, and Trent, Draper, and I were along for the ride. We crossed on smooth water to arrive in Avalon at around 7:30 where we tied up to can #68 courtesy of Derek Nye. We had a nice breakfast consisting of bagels and coffee then stepped on land with about a half hour to spare before the start of the big day. The Blackstar-McGee team was there so we had a nice contingent to hang with.
We started with a quarter mile of flat before hitting the first climb…2000 feet of 7-9% grade took the starch out of more than a few collars! Quickly an “A Group” of about 10 separated off the front which included Trent, Steffieri, and the McGee brothers. I was about a minute back with Nat Ross, Craig Murdoch, and about 20 other good buddies I don’t know. Behind us the field spread out down the road for a total ridership reported to be 600 strong.
After cresting that first climb, we hit a long series of rollers leading to the airport. Somewhere along this stretch, I caught up to Jon McGee. We were both happy to see each other recognizing the wisdom of working together through these relatively flat paved sections. Just when I was starting to think the cyclocross bike would have been a better choice than my GT carbon Zaskar 29r, we hit the first singletrack section. It wasn’t a world class trail, but it had a few delightful flowing turns that ramped up and down a traversing hillside. It was from this trail that we got our first majestic sight of the few hundred head of bison that inhabit the island. When we exited the singletrack back onto fireroad, a gigantic bull stood in the middle of the road facing us. I politely let Jon take the lead, and we inched by the massive beast.
Jon and I worked together for another 20 miles until we stopped at our first aid station for water/gatorade at 2 Harbors. Immediately upon exiting that bustling little municipality, we were affronted with a series of increasingly steeper climbs of 22-28% grade. The steepest ramps probably could be ridden, but I was more than happy to break out a little Rads-style hike-a-bike and take to foot. Somewhere along here I got out ahead of Jon who was starting to cash all the checks he had written on that first punishing climb with the fast guys. Once we reached the highest point of these climbs, we coursed along a ridge that dropped off precipitously to the right 2000 feet to aquamarine coves below. The view was majestic from up there, and but for the cactus and chaparral, I felt like I could have been on an island in Tahiti.
Anyway, back to the racing…our efforts were nicely rewarded by a sweet, surprisingly technical singletrack that had plenty of little rock problem areas that made me pucker hunched over the hardtail 29r with the seat up and negative-rise stem! We exited the singletrack back onto fireroad that went all the way back down to sea level. I was alone for about 5 miles as I climbed from the northeast coast back across the interior to begin the return loop. I stopped at an aid station to fill the water bottles and grab a banana, when I saw a group of 4 roll by. I jumped on my bike and sprinted after them. It was a good thing too, because we worked together for almost 10 miles of flats and rollers before hitting some more big climbs. Three of the guys fell back, but one guy in a Herbalife 24 kit stuck to my wheel. It was a good thing, and we gave each other a little fist bump at the top because we knew we were going to be working together across the high plateau around the airport. Soon we had a view down into Avalon from high above, and I knew we were about 80% done, but that last 20% was no gimme! We followed a fireroad that crests the basin below passing west and then south of Avalon. The road has a series of climbs that never seem to end because it feels like at any moment the road will dive down into the valley below and end the anguish…but it doesn’t! It keeps undulating and teasing and climbing yet more! I looked back and saw the Herbalife 24 guy crack and knew I was going to be on my own again for the rest of the ride. I passed an aid station where the man yelled, “it’s all downhill soon!” Yet there were 5 or 6 more climbs right after he said that! WTF!
Nevertheless, the road did finally turn downhill and wound its way into the postcard-worthy hamlet that is Avalon. All of a sudden, the race course leads through town, and I was dodging traffic and stopping at stop signs. After almost 4 hours, I crossed the finish line at Descanso beach where festivities were in full swing. I had a little Garmin snafu where it turned off for about 8 miles, but here is the majority of the Garmin data. http://connect.garmin.com/activity/177729233
I hung around the finish area rehydrating and munching chips and guacamole with Trent and the McGees. Pua Mata came by and we had a nice visit. A half hour passed, then another, and Drapes had not come in yet. When an hour and a half had passed, Trent and I started to investigate. The staff at the finish area had no clue. They could only tell us he had not crossed the finish line yet. I remembered grimly that Mark didn’t take his cell with him to conserve pocket space. We slowly rolled back into town, going against race traffic, keeping an eye out for Drapes, then turned up Sumner street to visit the little hospital there. We walked in the front door and inquired whether they had a Mark Draper. “Yes we do, just wait there” we were told as our hearts dropped. “But, I’m his orthopedist,” I declared, to which she said, “Oh, he’s been asking for you!” So we were ushered in. I was introduced to the doctor who knew me as we have shared many patients that she has sent over to the mainland for consults. She brought me into the xray room first where she asked my opinion about a radial head fracture she was evaluating before showing me Mark’s very fractured clavicle. Then she brought me into the treatment area where I found Drapie smiling groggily, the first dose of Percocet having kicked in. His brand new kit was in tatters, his arm in a sling, his many abrasions cleaned and dressed, and a little band-aid was placed over his recently given tetanus-booster. (see attached photo)
Drapes proudly showed me the curtain he had been staring at for the nearly 3 hours he sat in there wondering how he was going to find his friends again. The curtain was emblazoned with a photograph of the dirt road leading down in to Little Harbor. The image depicted the exact spot where he crashed! Basically, what happened was that he was hammering downhill, adding pedal strokes to a 6% grade, when he came into a hard right turn with ball-bearings dirt. He lost front wheel traction, and the ensuing go-down was instantaneous. He was all tangled up in his bike when the next racer came upon him. The guy asked him if he knew who he was, where he was, and what the date was…satisfied with the answers, the guy said he was going to carry on and send help. The next aid station was only a few minutes away, so Mark was soon picked up by the ambulance service on hand.
Trent, Mark and I left the hospital and walked down onto the main street of Avalon. Every single person asked him, “Were you in the race? Did you crash?” and Mark answered every single person good-naturedly. We got him back to the boat, got him dressed and fed, then proceeded to pass 5 beers off to him while we made the crossing back to home. The last thing Drapes said, as I pulled up to his house, was “even though I crashed, that was a really cool day. What an adventure!”
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