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PAC Tour Central Continental

by Pamela Blalock


When I signed up for my first PAC Tour, it was to be a once in a lifetime experience. Having recently completed my second US crossing, and with another scheduled for next year, it now seems that it is going to be a yearly experience.

Last year I did the Northern tour mostly on my single bike. I did occasionally manage to get a ride on one of the tandems that Lon and Susan brought along. I was positively thrilled with the opportunity to ride with RAAM winners like Pete Penseyeres, Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo. And the afternoon I spent stoking for PAC bike mechanic, Mike Bishop, was an absolute blast. But when Lon let my friend, John Bayley, and I borrow his tandem for a couple of rides, it changed our lives forever. Rumor has it that tandems can weave romantic magic, and this one did for us, since soon afterwards our friendship turned to romance.

John and I filled this past year with various tandem rides, including the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, Boston-Montreal-Boston and PAC Tour's Central Continental route. Well, OK, these aren't exactly tandem rides, but rather rides we did on our tandem. And admittedly Mt. Mitchell and BMB aren't exactly rides one might deem tandem friendly, but the Central PAC Tour route is most definitely a tandem friendly course. The grades in the mountains out west are quite tame, at least when compared to climbs of BMB and Mt. Mitchell. We hit rolling terrain that was made for tandems, as momentum from each downhill carried us up the next uphill. And the flat lands with tailwinds made for days where we averaged over 20 mph for 130+ miles. Riders on single bikes should enjoy this ride as well, especially if they can find a tandem to draft !

I must confess before I go on, that John and I actually crewed for PAC Tour this year. Crewing, for us, involved riding every other day, and working every day. Some crew members chose to ride partial days every day, but we chose to go for the longer rides on alternate days. There were certainly times when it was torturous for us to be in the van as we drove through spectacular terrain and scenery, but we really enjoyed crewing on one particularly cold and rainy day in Texas ! Everyday we would help set up breakfast. Then we'd help clean up a bit, before being shoed away on our riding days. When we got in, we would help prepare the next days lunch and snacks, re-stock coolers with water, Gatorade, lemonade, and ice. On our non-riding days, we would get in the lunch van after packing up breakfast, and head out to the scheduled lunch stop, where we'd set up tables, benches, and of course, food. We usually shopped in the afternoon for perishables like milk, juice, yogurt, fruit, and whatever was on the menu for the next day. And occasionally, when we could, we'd even get to sneak in a short ride to an early snack stop. Crewing was a great experience. We learned a tremendous amount about the logistics of this type of undertaking, and while it is altogether different from RAAM, we think we picked up many useful tips that will come in handy when John does the race in a few years.

Speaking of RAAM, this ride definitely draws RAAM veterans, RAAM hopefuls and RAAM fans, and even those who find the whole idea of RAAM to be ludicrous. Many riders use PAC Tour as a training ride for a qualifier or the race itself. In addition to Lon and Susan, other RAAM veterans on the trip this time included Muffy Ritz, Steve Born, George Thomas, Victor Gallo and Roger Mankus. John and I used this as an opportunity to ask lots of questions and get lots of tips for his future attempt at this cross country race.

But in addition to RAAM-types and ultramarathoners, there were a few racers, many recreational cyclists and even a few very recently non-cyclists, who had simply decided they wanted to ride across the USA and took up cycling. There were many PAC Tour veterans, including 67 year old Richard Lawrence who completed his second crossing in as many years. Richard wasn't the only rider over the age of 60. This years rider list showed 4 participants over 60, proving that age is no barrier. And also in the category of those who refused to accept conventional boundaries was Dan Courtney, who did not allow diabetes to keep him from crossing the country in 23 days.

There is no doubt that PAC Tour is tough. The central crossing covers an average of 122 miles per day, with some days as long as 160, and a few others quite short due to sparse services out west. While these distances are shorter than the northern route's 140 miles per day average, the amount of daylight is less as well, making some of the longer days a real challenge to get in before dark. The extreme heat in the desert the first week made the going tough for those who live and train in milder climates. This is not to say that either route can't be successfully completed by a well-trained, average, but determined cyclist. In fact it was the non-elite, non-racers who really demonstrated the ultra-marathon ideals of pushing beyond one's perceived limitations. The determination to finish a day despite all adversity, to cross the country fully under one's one power was evident in all the participants throughout the ride.

And the scenery was magnificent. After the absolutely breathtaking beauty we experienced the first 10 days of the northern route last year, I was worried that this route would be dull in comparison. But the desert southwest provided as many spectacular photo opportunities as the northern Rockies. We went through an entire roll of film as we pedaled through the Salt River Canyon. We did a rare thing on the tandem, actually stopping several times on a fast descent to take more pictures. We had to stop to just catch our breath !

And the ride was fun. Lon has very kindly marked Dairy Queens along the route, and we rarely passed by one without stopping. There were times that we sprinted off ahead of the group to be first in line for DQ blizzards, since these stops became more and more popular as the trip wore on. After finishing the trip seriously underweight last year, I learned a valuable lesson not to starve myself this year, and in fact to indulge at any opportunity !

For us, an unforeseen advantage of doing the ride in the fall, when the days and miles are shorter was that we had a lot more free time in the evenings than on the northern route. Even with all our crewing duties, we had plenty of time to write postcards, swim, lounge around in jacuzzis and socialize. And socializing was one of the best parts of the entire trip. We got to know a lot of great people on this ride. As we talked with different riders, we learned that many of them had done a lot of their training miles on their own. We are very fortunate to belong to a club that has many distance oriented cyclists, and many longer trips. We have numerous weekend trips throughout the year with rides of 100+ miles a day, as well as a brevet series and a few doubles. I've got to say that having others to ride with makes a tremendous difference in my enjoyment of a ride. It didn't take long for riders to form groups on this trip, with some really hammering and others taking it a bit easier. One group named themselves Team Dairy Queen, after their fondness of this particular establishment. Yet there were others, who seemed determined to reach the hotel first each day, and preferred riding alone.

With no other tandems to play with, except when Lon and Susan rode at the same time we did, we sometimes found ourselves alone in both tandem friendly and tandem unfriendly terrain. But more often than not, we had company and it was great. I can't emphasize enough how fun this route was for a tandem, and I really encourage those of you with big bikes to do this ride.

But enough of this. Let me tell you about our ride.



Getting Ready


Preparation and Crew
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 |
Day 15
| Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23