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.
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
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
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
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.