Be sure to check out Part I of the story from last week.
……………. At one point as Loren and I were riding side-by-side I said, “Do you get the sense that you’ll just be happy to finish this ride in one piece?”
Not long after that, Loren flatted again. This time, he needed to borrow both my spare tube and my CO2 cartridge and valve. As we stood in the dry grass along the shoulder while Loren tended to his tire, huge combines, spreaders, and tractors would rumble on past uncomfortably close to us.
The day was getting long. We had hoped to finish in three hours so we could celebrate with the wine that Vino in the Valley would start to pour at 4 p.m.
We seemed stuck in an endless series of rolling hills as the sun began to set. It was a mild 60 degrees when we lit out just after 1 p.m., so most of us chose to strip off our thermal wear and ride in our racing shorts. With the sun dipping below the trees on the western horizon, it got cold fast.
By 5 p.m. we were no longer sure that we were even on the right road. We stopped to consult the pixelated map, and it seemed that we had missed a turn somewhere along the way. This meant that we had suffered a number of rollers for no good reason, and there was no telling how many more we’d have to endure before the end.
Loren and I hadn’t seen another rider for some time, but finally, as we hemmed and hawed over the cryptic map, another rider pedaled up to us, also lost, and together we three decided on a direction and rode toward the setting sun.
It’s hard to commit to a climb when you don’t know whether that effort will get you home, and at one point after cresting yet another hill and seeing a long rise in the distance, I exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“The longer this ride takes, the angrier I am getting,” Loren rejoined.
“I feel like we’ve died and gone to a hell for cyclists,” I said, paraphrasing a Joseph Conrad line.
We were at a crossroads and about to head in the wrong direction when a female motorist pulled up alongside of us and said, “You guys need directions?”
“Yeah. How do we get to Vino in the Valley?” Loren said.
“Just go that way,” and she pointed in the opposite direction from the one we were about to travel, “and look for County Road HH. Then take a right. Even though it says that County Road HH is left, go right, and that’s 450th Avenue.”
“How far away from Vino in the Valley are we?” I said.
“Three, maybe four, miles,” she said.
That lifted my spirits. In no time County Road HH was upon us and we were swinging right onto 450th Avenue. The guy that we were riding with had previously expressed concern about the other cyclists on the road that would have to navigate the course in the dark if they didn’t finish soon—especially the father-daughter on the tandem bicycle.
But as we turned onto 450th, there they were, just up ahead of us in the gloaming. They had ridden forty miles prior to the Vino in the Valley ride, the father had told me earlier in the day, so they were closing in on 100 miles when we joined up with them on the last couple of miles to the finish.
The father-daughter team, Loren, and I all soared down the final hill that would take us back to the Vino in the Valley parking lot where this hellish ride began over four hours before.
It was dusky and cold as Loren and I coasted over the grass toward where his Mitsubishi Montero was parked. There, leaning up against the rear quarter panel, we saw Brad Dettman’s bike and, resting on the rear bumper, we saw an empty beer bottle.