James Houck’s Frederick 400K: Rookies, Dogs and Drunks… the Makings of a Great 400K

James Houck sent me his story titled “Rookies, Dogs and Drunks …the Makings of a Great 400K” that I’ve posted here. Did you come upon the drunk driver crashed out on the side of the road on the way in to Frederick? James and Glenn Kuhn were first on the scene, and James describes it Here

Rookies, Dogs and Drunks… the Makings of a Great 400K

My friend Glenn Kuhn finally returned from his much-touted trip to Spain. He spent fifteen days gallivanting while completely ignoring his training. Unfortunately, his vacation meant missing all three 300Ks, which means he has to ride both 400Ks in order to qualify for the 600K. As a good friend, I promised to ride along with him. If Lebanon Church proves to be as much fun as Frederick was, I’ll consider that I’ve gotten the better part of the bargain.

Glenn and I had a great plan for getting a full night’s sleep before and after the ride. We reserved a room at the Hampton Inn for Friday and Saturday nights. We planned to be at the Hampton Inn by 2000, however, Jay-Jay and Selma, my son and daughter, didn’t buy into the plan and I didn’t get to Glenn’s house until 2100. We didn’t get to the hotel until 2215 where we set up shop in the room. We adjusted fenders and derailleurs, lubed chains, trued wheels, and laid out our clothes and food for the next day’s ride. We set the alarm clock for 0300, checked it, and double-checked it, then fell into our wonderful queen sized beds. I expected to fall asleep immediately, but only stared at the ceiling, anxious about the next day’s test.

Glenn is one of the most laid back people I’ve ever known. If he was anxious about pushing his endurance limits out to 250 miles, I couldn’t tell. He was cool as a cucumber.

Even though I double-checked the alarm clock, it didn’t sound, or we didn’t hear its piercing tone until 0310. I woke with the panicked feeling of someone unprepared for a final exam, an exam of endurance and fortitude, knowing there was no getting away from it. We both knew we were behind schedule, so we hustled into our gear, ensured our camel backs and rack bags were properly packed and secured, poured ourselves hot cups of coffee and bundled ourselves off to the truck where we raced to Holiday Inn for lighting inspection. Glenn took the first corner so fast his bike came crashing down in the back of the truck and came to rest lying on its side just shy of mine.

Glenn managed not to run over any of the highly visible, crazy people riding circles in the parking lot, as he smoothly pulled into a spot at 0350. We put both bikes together. Set our coffee mugs back in the cab, and locked it up. In our rush to make the start, we found the lighting inspection spot, picked up our brevet cards and stood by for starting instructions at 0358.

At 0400 we picked our spot in the crowd of ready randonneurs leaving the hotel parking lot and we were off. Two rookies headed down a road that would take us through large parts of Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania.

We knew we were in for a long day and tried not to get caught up in the adrenaline rush of riding too fast and building up lots of lactic acid. I say again, we TRIED. My focus constantly shifted from keeping a reasonable pace to that full – minus three small sips – cup of JOE cooling in the cab of Glenn’s truck. Somehow we covered the first 39.3 miles in just over two and a half hours.

I know I smelled hot coffee coming from the front of the store in Airmont. I was delusional. I saw Crista and Chuck sitting in the van and thought, “that’s really nice of them to drive here and offer support as we ride through.” I went to the door, twisted the knob, and was crushed to realize the Airmont store was CLOSED – no coffee for at least another 34 miles. DOH!

Fueled by an irrational desire for coffee we covered those next 34 miles in a little less than two hours. I was so focused on my caffeine addiction I can’t remember much of what happened in those 34 miles. I remember the State College guys flying by us at warp speed. The logo on their jersey pockets stuck in my mind – “all professional and sh%#!”

When we pulled up next to the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop, I hoped no one would come between me and my coffee. With cup in hand I said a little prayer as I reached for the pump handle, “please don’t be empty!” I thankfully downed a cup of the most wonderful coffee between bites of a ham and cheese roll. One day I’ll have to go back to see if the coffee is really as good as I remember it or if it was the 75 miles of imagining how good a cup of coffee would taste that made it so wonderful.

We cruised out of Shepherdstown full bellied and highly caffeinated. I was happy and highly motivated. We cruised along smoothly until a boxer attacked us just before the one lane underpass at mile 90. That dog must have had lots of practice chasing those fast folks out front because he never barked. He pounced at me from behind a shrub. Playing it back in my mind, it’s one of those things one just does without thinking about, but couldn’t do again in ten chances. I hit the front brake just hard enough to lift my rear wheel while unclipping from my pedals and shoving the rear of the bike toward Fido’s head. Fortunately I missed because that joker looked like he would have eaten my wheel, spokes, tires and all, but the swinging tire stopped him in his tracks. Every time I took a step toward escape and the underpass, he charged again with newly found vigor. I thought he would go away when he got to the edge of his yard — wrong. I just kept the bike between him and me and kept yelling at him. Fido’s owner was probably sitting in a rocking chair behind a thin curtain, laughing as his beast tormented the spandex clad bicyclist. You must be asking, “where was Glenn while this was going on?” Well Glenn’s no dummy. He was under the overpass coaching me onward.

Dog behind us, we cruised toward our next control. We noticed the Subway in Hancock, but passed it by because we didn’t know what they’d have for us at the C&O bike shop control. We got our cards signed and backtracked to the Subway for foot-long BMTs with everything. Jared can keep his seven grams of fat sandwiches, we wanted the works. This Subway was unique because they barely provided “same day” service. Instead of service with a smile, we got service with a grunt and a grimace. The girl making Glenn’s sandwich leaned over to her friend and whispered how ridiculous it was they were so busy. Hey, the sandwiches were awesome. We ate half at a table outside, packed away the other halves and headed back to the C&O Canal.

We worked our way up the hills toward the next control, but we couldn’t resist stopping at the Saunderosa campground because the cue sheet promised it was the last place to get food for 48 miles. I told Glenn I’d get a Snickers, but opted for an ice cream cone instead. The people at this campground were amazing. With the exception of the people running the store, I didn’t see anyone with a body fat count below 50 percent. I watched a guy drive his golf cart to within six inches of the dumpster, shift his cigarette to his left hand, slide across the seat and throw away his bag of garbage; his butt never lost contact with the seat of his cart. I wanted to follow him back to his R.V. to see if he might just drive the cart up a ramp into the living room when he got back to “camp.”

When we got to the 18th Century Inn, we were ready to stop. We’d been going solid for almost four hours on just goo and Gatorade. Thanks to Ray and his wonderful family, we filled up on lasagna, chicken and rice, brownies, and cinnamon buns covered in peanut butter. I dared Glenn to jump in the pool, but he wouldn’t do it. We both changed into fresh shorts. What a difference a chamois makes!

I have to take a break in my story to tell you Glenn was cruising. I didn’t know what to expect going into this 400K with my fellow rookie who’d skipped the 300Ks. I’ve known he was tough as nails since the first time I rode with him about five years ago. The guy is undroppable, but we are talking about 250 miles here! Here we were 178 miles in and he cruised along like he was taking a ride around the block.

We knew the sun would set before we covered the 32 miles to the 7-11 control, so we put on all our ankle bands, vests, and checked our lights before leaving the finest control ever. We didn’t really want to leave, but flew out and worked our way, ever so slowly over BIG FLAT. “Big Flat” … yeah right! The sun went down just as we reached the top, so we got to descend using our lights. I heard lots of deer spook as they jumped away from the edge of the road, but never saw any. Having seen what hitting a deer at 40 miles an hour does to a car, I was thankful none jumped in front of me as I sped down the mountain chasing a thin cone of light for four and half speedy miles.

Riding through the Gettysburg battlefield with only our Cateye lights was eerie. What a beautiful sight to see Venus sitting just inside the moon’s crescent. I couldn’t help but whistle at how lucky I was to see it in the absence of light pollution while crossing this ominous battlefield where over 46,000 Americans lost their lives in three torturous days of fighting.

We pulled into the 7-11 control with a plan. I needed new batteries for my map light and wanted to eat the other half of my subway sandwich. I got my card signed, bought a coke and paid $5.25 for three AAA batteries. When Glenn put his sub in his camelback in Hancock it was three inches thick. One hundred miles later, he removed a wafer thin sandwich from his pack and admired my Coke. His admiration foreshadowed the next couple hours.

We passed a few of our fellow randonneurs leaving Gettysburg and cruised on down the road. As we cruised through Mennonite country, I noticed Glenn slowing down. He told me he was falling asleep, but I didn’t realize how tired he really was. I told him we could stop for a cup of coffee in Thurmont, a full thirty miles further along the route, the nearest store to us without backtracking to Gettysburg. I finally realized how tired Glenn was when I tried to engage him in conversation as we approached the covered bridge. He ignored me. This guy never needs much of an excuse to talk. He’s normally downright chatty.

When we got to the left turn on Albert Staub Road at mile 232 I noticed a glow in my peripheral vision, on the right. On further investigation I found the answer to Glenn’s problem—in the lot of a car repair shop was a Pepsi machine full of twenty ounce bottles of caffeine. Glenn bought and downed two of them, transforming into Lance Armstrong, yellow jersey and all, right before my eyes. We’d taken three hours to make the previous thirty miles. From the Pepsi machine I chased him for all I was worth as we covered the next ten miles in half an hour. Lactic acid be damned, we had fewer than 20 miles to go!

I chased Glenn along highway 15 as we passed two more of our compatriots. As I passed them on their lefts, I found out those rumble strips that make a G G G G sound when you run over them in a car will loosen fillings in your head and crush the bones in your wrists when you hit them at 20 miles per hour on a road bike – I don’t even want to mention what they do to your butt after sitting on a bike for 240 miles! Glenn had to readjust his headlights after his bounce down the rumble strips.

I caught and passed Glenn just as we made a left turn onto Yellow Springs Road, five miles from the finish. As I passed I accelerated. I’d resisted giving into the competitiveness that is my foundation for over 21 hours only to release it there. I heard Glenn yell out, “James, STOP, STOP, STOP, there’s a car in the middle of the road!” “Sure, Lance, I’ll slow down so you can pass me,” I thought. Then I saw it. I locked up my brakes and skidded to a stop five feet short of T-boning the car and used my light to investigate what, more accurately, used to be a car.

Apparently the spinning car had just come to a stop seconds before we rounded the corner. In a stupidly drunken state, the driver had wiped the passenger side of his maroon sedan against a tree and spun 75 feet down the road. As I laid my bike in the grass and began looking for the rubber gloves buried deep in my bag, Glenn asked what I thought. I told him I didn’t think anyone could live through an accident like that one. Before I finished my sentence the Jack Ass in the car kicked the passenger side door opened and climbed out. His face was a mass of blood. I looked him over as he raced around to the driver’s side and tried to restart the car. I went behind the car to look at the license plate and told him he should take the keys out of the ignition and throw them on the ground. Of course the used-to-be a car wouldn’t start. I looked him over again as he sat in the driver’s seat and noticed a perfect impression of his face in air bag. When he saw me with my cell phone, the driver asked me not to call the police and I told him that I had no choice. I walked away as I made the police report and Glenn tells me the Jack Ass called his mom and told her he was drunk and had wrecked badly. “You’re not going to be happy, mommy, but I just wrecked your car and now I’m going to go spend the night at the hospital and then the jail.”

The dispatcher asked me so many questions, I finally told her to dispatch an officer and let the officer do the investigation. I gave her the driver’s name and told her he’d promised not to flee. She wanted me to stick around until the police showed up, but I had five more miles of riding to do, and the clock was ticking.

While I was on the phone with the dispatcher, one of the neighbors came out to find out what had caused all the noise. He told Glenn he’d moved in about a year ago and this was the tenth accident in that time.

Mr. Jack Ass apologized in a very “I’m feeling sorry for myself” way. I told him he’d live and that time would wipe away this DUI from his history. I also told him 60 of my friends and I were out riding our bikes and if he hadn’t hit the tree he would have probably taken one of us out and that no amount of time would cure his conscience of something like that. His reaction surprised me. I expected him to argue and say something like, ‘Man, I would never hit one of you guys.’ He just looked down at the ground and said, “yah, you’re right.”

Other cyclists passed through while Glenn and I dealt with the drunk. They just picked up their bikes and carried them over all the broken glass and car debris littering the road.

After all the safety talk following the two people killed on the brevet in Texas, I feel fortunate Glenn didn’t get a coke in Gettysburg. If he had, we would likely have been further up the road and might have been hit by this guy.

Before almost t-boning the drunk’s car, we hadn’t seen a car in ten miles.
In the final five miles of the ride, we saw two fire trucks, three ambulances, and no fewer than six police cars en route to interview Mr. Jack Ass. Must have been a slow night in Frederick.

We checked in at the finish just after 0200 and ate a couple slices of hot pizza. Nancy and John Guth arrived while we were checking out. They had a tough 400K. While I wasn’t envious of John’s trip, I did congratulate him on his toughness. I told him I would have quit after puking twice, let alone every five miles for the last 100 miles. He laughed and said I must be smarter than he is. I don’t think so.

What a great ride. I’m just a rookie, but I know I’ll be a randonneur for many years to come. Where else can one get so many great stories in just 22 hours and 250.7 miles. We really went 255 miles because of my navigational errors and some backtracking.

Glenn and I will be at Lebanon Church on Saturday morning, ready to collect some more stories, about 250 more miles, and – we hear – many more feet of climbing experience. Hope to see you all out there.

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One thought on “James Houck’s Frederick 400K: Rookies, Dogs and Drunks… the Makings of a Great 400K

  1. What a story?!?! The distance, the strength and the determination of a human being for nothing more than coffee, pizza and a few good stories? That is why we ride!!!

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