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I can be a bit impulsive. I have lots of shoes and own more bikes than I can ride in a week. I said yes to London Edinburgh London on a whim and then got in. I decided to do the Stampede because it fit better into my schedule for LEL in July. But after our fleche on Easter weekend, I told Steve Haas, and Tom and Alayne Haggerty that there was no way I was going to Texas. I just wasn’t in shape for the type of long distance abuse a 1200k dishes out.
So when Dan Driscoll called me wanting to know when I’d send my flight info to him for the Stampede, I guess randonesia had set in, cuz I said I’d get right on it. I was Texas bound.
The little town of Waxahatchie is about 40 minutes south of Dallas. I am picked up by A. Ray Allen, a Texas rando-man with a penchant for fun. He has a party bus that is set up for sleeping, drinking and general fun-hogging, regularly making the trip to RAGBRAI. We make an ice run to keep the brews cold and then return to DFW to scoop up some of the Seattle boys – Chris, Andy, Gary and Hugh. We settle into the bus and get acquainted.
Once in Waxahatchie we de-bus at the La Quinta, check in, and find food. I jump into the SIR group and we cross the street to Chilis for chow. Unmemorable, of course, but I have already switched gears on food. It equals fuel and nothing more. In the AM, I build my bike and go out for a spin with Andy and Gary in search of a worthwhile cup of coffee. We actually find one and enjoy what will be our last good coffee (except for Starbux Via’s) for a few days. Back at the La Quinta, people are arriving and the energy is picking up. My roommate, Agnes, arrives and we sort our stuff for the next few days.
One great thing about the Stampede is that it’s point to point and so our drop bags are moved daily up the road. One bag, tons of stuff. I am feeling organized, which is unusual for me. We are expecting a cool day, and a couple of cold mornings, lots of wind, and possible rain. I had been giving Steve and Tom some sh*t about packing SFR wool. I had one piece of Rivet wool with me, but had also brought a wool underlayer. I needed everything in the end, except raingear, we missed the precip (thank god).
The La Quinta is conveniently located next to Walmart so a few of us made a quick trip over for last minute purchases. Batteries, Ensure, etc. We were met by a Walmart greeter who wished us well on our journey, and said he’d pray for us with his guardian angels. I wondered what aisle you could find guardian angels on, but didn’t ask.
While riding back, a big pickup truck zooms past us and a blonde headed woman leans out the window, yelling at us to get off the god damned road. I yell back at her to shut up, and she tells me to bring it to her. It is Pam Wright and Dan D. but Andy and Gary didn’t recognize them. She and I are making a scene and the SIR boys’ jaws drop to their bottom brackets. Pam and I get a good laugh later on when we are all together.
After a pre-ride meeting, the group takes pics and then convenes for a last meal over at the local Carinos. Steve, Tom and I talk about our ride plans. Mine is to suck their wheel unconditionally for 90 hours or less. Funny thing, that’s their plan as well…only to suck mine. We are in trouble.
Day 1: 210 miles, Waxahatchie to Marble Falls
We depart at 6:00. Dan wants everyone to ride together at least until the first stop, then we can find our own way. It’s a civil pace and everyone settles in. There are just under 50 people on the ride, and it’s a bit intense to ride in such a large pack (aka the herd). I am catching up with some rando–friends I haven’t seen in a while, which is really nice. Bill Olsen is here with brother Mark, Lara Sullivan, who I haven’t seen since PBP in 07. Hugh is off the road and Andy has stopped with him (he has a broken pedal which will dramatically delay his ride, but he finishes). Steve and Tom are just ahead of me. Dan D. rides up and down the line, saying hello and watching riders. He looks like he’s herding cattle, minus the bullwhip and spurs.
We reach the controls and stop for the typical rando goods. All of these small towns that we pass through have marvelous courthouses. We head out into the prairie. Wild flowers, blue bonnets, lupine, buttercups dot the landscape, as does prickly pear cactus and tall grass. And there is big sky. We are heading down to Marble Falls, which is in hill country. Still traveling together as a group, we expand and contract as we go up and zoom down.
I have moved up towards the front, chatting with Vernon and Paul (both from CO and my old rando club, RMCC). Randy, the strongest drafthorse in the peleton (honestly, he must’ve pulled 75% of the time), and Ruth and Keith, who are a fast tandem from FL are also towards the front. They make a break on a downhill and I go with them. We leave the group behind, and as the tandem hits their booster rockets again, Paul, Vernon and I give chase. I barely hang on, and burn a few matches staying with them. Such fun!
At the next control, I take off with Gary and most of the herd, and don’t see Steve or Tom. We continue onward as a group, with a few jaunts off the front, then coming back into the group to regroup, talk to folks and move down the road. The day wears on. While the herd is moving along at a fine clip, our breaks take too long. 30+ people descending into a small town equals long lines. Gary talks to me about a plan to see where the group is heading and then to find an alternative place to stop. Dan moves us along at stops too. I figure that if I’m with the ride boss, then I will complete the ride. We end day one 210 miles completed. Gary and I shoot off in search of a beer. We locate some and drink it with dinner, and hit the hay.
Day 2: 209 miles Marble Falls to Columbus
Breakfast of champions – bloatmeal, coffee, and some kind of egg thing @ 3:30 am. The herd is departing at 4:00. There are supposed to be strong headwinds today, possible rain, and cool temps. Wool is the plan. The herd organizes and gets underway. It’s dark and we are heading up a ridge road of some kind. Gary, Kerin Huber and a few others are stretching their legs off the front. We hear a commotion and spin up to the intersection and stop.
Bad news travels fast. While heading up a hill in the dark, a wild boar (yes, a boar!), comes from nowhere, bombing straight across the road bisecting the herd. It takes down a tandem. The captain, Stephen, has road rash and is scraped up, the stoker hits the deck hard. Lara ends up in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and separated shoulder. Their ride is over. Total bummer.
As the herd regroups, we shake off the early AM trauma and head into a lovely peaceful gorge that the Guadalupe River has cut over the years. It looks like a great summer spot and the river calms us all down.
As the day progresses, so does the wind. It is overcast, cold and windy, which is a blessing because if it had been hot and sunny and windy, we all would have been looking like those dried out bones, scattered across the prairie. Dan has said, “Everyone who makes it through Day 2 finishes the ride.” Steve and Tom are not riding with the herd. They are just a bit behind us, arriving at the control just as we are departing. They are riding really strong, because the wind is really picking up and just the two of them are making up time on the larger group.
Randy, a big Oklahoma man, and when I mean big, I mean big heart, big laugh, big legs and big engine, is pulling the herd for endless miles. The crosswind is strong enough to be riding at an angle, and if you don’t make the herd you are going to be swept up and dropped in Mexico. Agnes and Jan, who are really strong but tiny women, haven’t got a chance in this crosswind. Mark Thomas reels the herd in to get Jan and Agnes back into the group, and we carry on down the road. It is exhausting.
The landscape changes. We are moving through hill country, taking smaller roads that seem to be on ridges. It is much drier, more desert-like with junipers and prickly pear cactus. Locals driving huge dualie trucks, zoom past us, sometimes passing us with very large horse or cattle trailers, other times making sure to give us a big dose of diesel exhaust, just to remind us that we are an annoyance to them and their roads. Much of the day is a blur. Greyish skies, wheels, wind. 209 miles later we pull into our evening control. There is food in our rooms and Agnes and I collapse for a 3-hour sleep.
Day 3: 190 miles Columbus to Crockett
Another departure at 4:00, and Steve and Tom have joined the herd. Dan has told us there will be tailwinds on Day 3 & 4, but we are denied. Another day of headwinds greets us. More of us are able to take some turns at the front and it’s fun to talk, banter and move along. As a group of 30, we are all getting to know each other, and the day, while still long at 190 miles, seems to move along. The sun is out, it is warmer and people are now taking more turns at pulling in front. Jan and I get a chance to pull and it feels great to have two women in front.
We leave hill country behind and are in easy rolling terrain, green pastures filled with beautiful horses that come up to the fences to say hello, and at times to run along with us. It is fantastic to see these animals. There is so much space for them to run in. Huge longhorn cattle rustle around. And of course, there are the dogs.
Plenty of dogs run out to the road, barking madly, looking vicious. But most of them stop short when they get to the edge of the road as the herd rustles by. The dogs can’t quite get a handle on how to chase or penetrate our mass, so they let us know how tough they are, but keep a bit of distance. Of course, a loud whistle helps immensely.
We stop in a small town for lunch. Gary, Jan and I zip into a small lunch spot that says café and bistro. Gary is on the hunt for real coffee (which means something that would be served in Seattle, where coffee is king). We enter into the establishment and are greeted by a very large woman. We are, in fact, the smallest people in the place except for one very small Texan matriarch whose grey beehive hair is twice the size of her head. The menu doesn’t have coffee at all, but instead we sit down to the lunch special: fried shrimp and catfish, dirty rice (white rice and hamburger bits), green beans and key lime pie. While everyone else is at a convenience store, we are here eating KEY LIME PIE! Oh hell yes, life is good.
The herd hasn’t had many problems mechanically. Andy and Hugh on Day 1 with a broken pedal. Hugh has since joined the herd, Andy DNF’d, but later saves his ride with a 200k perm. He joins the crew of volunteers moving our stuff down the road and meeting us at checkpoints.
Life in the herd is interesting. On the one hand, it’s great to have the strength and support of the total group. On the other, some freedom is traded. Dan keeps an eye on all of us, calling the shots, checking in with many throughout the day. I wonder how much of his own ride he gets to do. Our herd boss has earned the respect of all of us. He has the strength to keep an eye out for everyone in this rolling group of 30 for 90 hours. Not an easy task. Most of us can barely keep ourselves going along let alone watch out for 30 others. Impressive.
In the late afternoon, I flat and everyone stops. That’s 30 people waiting for me to change my tire. No pressure there. Thankfully, it goes without a hitch, and we are back up and running 5 minutes later. I am relieved to have not wasted everyone’s time and Mark Thomas gives me some sh*t about not getting my white jacket dirty. I remind him of my mantra, “if ya can’t be good, ya better look good.”
As the day winds down we are into some rollers. I start going off for town limits signs. I take 4 in a row. No one is even contesting me, but I don’t care. The herd breaks up just a bit, and we trickle into Crockett, our resting place for the night.
Dinner is there and Jan’s husband has bought some beer! WooHoo! Vicki Tyer’s mom has made food for all of us and it hits the spot. The volunteers are so AWESOME. They are all smiling away and are cheerful, while we drag ourselves to the table to eat.
Texas is the land of K-hounds. To be a K-hound, you need to have ridden 10,000 RUSA K’s in a year. Well, there are a sick bunch of folks who are 100,000K K-hounds, and they assemble for a picture. I am both in awe and blown away by what it takes to ride that amount. I shake my head as I write this thinking about it.
Day 4: 150 miles Crockett to Waxahatchie
We sleep in! …to 4:30, depart at 6:00. We have 150 miles to get back to Waxahatchie and everyone has just a bit of lightness to their step, we are finishing up the ride. Good cheer through exhaustion, we will prevail. This herd is bound for glory.
The day is sunny, warm with head/cross winds that blow against us. The herd is moving along fairly slowly. While we are psyched, our legs are tired, and progress is slow. We are moving through high grasses, acres and acres of ranch land. We come upon a dirt patch, our second or third during the ride. Randy and I are currently at the front, we spin up a bit and make our way through, slowing up on the other side while others make their way. Some work through it better than others, and Kerin’s wheel goes into some soft stuff and it stops abruptly. She takes a spill, but is just fine.
I am joking about getting my Hatchie waxed in Waxahatchie, which means nothing, but we are a bit giddy. Vinnie is in front with earplugs in singing to himself in a gravelly voice. Gary and I ride and talk geo-politics mid-pack, and as the day goes on, everyone starts to get a bit woozy and sleepy. Travelling at 10-11 mph, ya end up being glued to watching the wheels in front of you and around you. Braking, pedaling, trying to keep a pace and not be off balanced. It is actually hard. I yo-yo up the group to talk to someone, and then drop back, or go off the front, to break up the monotony and stay awake.
We roll into lunch and I am in the middle of another allergy attack – I cannot see at all out of my right eye. The left feels like gravel has been ground into it. Nothing seems to help. Eye drops, anti-histamines, electrolytes, food, mtn dew. Steve and Tom are devouring a 12 pack of tacos, joking about DNF’ing because they couldn’t get them finished before Dan rustled the herd outta town. I put my head down for a few minutes and close my eyes. A 5-minute power nap helps, and the food and drugs kick in and I am revived.
We are 40 miles out of Waxahatchie. Gary and I go off the front so I can get a movie of the herd passing. We remount and get around the curve to join the group and see everyone stopped on the side of the road. As we get closer we see that someone is in the grass off the road and people are running to him. Others are looking dazed and a bit confused. I roll up to Dan who is on the road, starting to organize people to watch for cars with Mark Thomas. “It’s Charlie Fenske”, he says.
Herd Click on Herd to see the movie!
Charlie Fenske is a Texan who loves to ride his bike. He just happens to be in his 70’s, but that doesn’t stop him, he has the rando-spirit of someone half his age. He is always lighthearted and a joy to be around. I see his bike on the side of the ground, the handlebars are twisted in a way that worries me. Turns out he hit a crack in the pavement that looked like a canyon, and with nowhere to go in the herd, he went down. From what I could gather he somersaulted off his bike into the grass lining the road. There are 2 docs and 2 nurses on the ride (who knew?), and so Charlie is in capable hands. An ambulance has already been called and we rally everyone else to move onto the next town, which is only 2-3 miles away.
In Dawson, we gather and decide to break up the herd. Smaller groups of riders get together to make their way into Waxahatchie. We are a group of 8 – Gary, Agnes, Josh, Jeff, Dave, Keith and Ruth and me. We practice our rolling paceline, which was a new skill for some of our group, and then pace ourselves back to Waxahatchie. We pick up speed and roll into the La Quinta with fanfare just after dark, just before 9:00 PM.
Everyone else rolls in, and we get word that Charlie is OK. He shows up at the hotel with a neck brace on. He is sore, but has gotten away with a light case of whiplash. We eat, drink and celebrate. The Texans know how to throw a party and we celebrate everyone in the group.
There is no way that I can complete a 1200k without the help and support of other rando’s on the ride. The herd gave me tons and in particular some new friends that will be long-lasting I am sure. What a gift! I hope that I was able to give to the group, to the extent that I was cared for by the group. This is what made the herd special.
Texas is known to have big things: big sky, big land & open spaces, big trucks, big people, big hair, and big hospitality. I am really thankful for George Evans and Dan Driscoll’s big heart and big energy to rustle our herd throughout the big state of Texas.