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9.4.1 PAC tours across the country 94 Part 1


This article is from the Misc Bicycles FAQs, by various authors.

9.4.1 PAC tours across the country 94 Part 1

PAC Tour - Central Coninental 1994

by Pamela Blalock

Last year when I signed up for PAC Tour, I had planned to do this sort
of thing ONCE. Having recently completed my second US crossing, and
with PAC Tour's Ridge of the Rockies scheduled for next year, it would
now seem that it is going to be an annual event for me.

Two years ago, I did the Northern tour mostly on my single bike. I
occasionally managed 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 former 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 the tandem for a couple of rides, it
changed our lives forever. Rumor has it that tandems can weave
romantic magic, and it would seem that this one did. Soon afterwards
our friendship turned to romance. To confirm it was fate, our custom
tandem arrived on Valentine's Day.

We 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 was most definitely a tandem friendly course. The
grades in the mountains out west seemed quite shallow, at least when
compared to climbs of BMB and Mt. Mitchell. We hit rolling terrain
that seemed 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 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. 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 the days we rode. When we got in, we would help prepare
the next days lunch and snacks, restock 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

Speaking of RAAM, this ride definitely draws RAAM veterans, RAAM
hopefuls and RAAM fans, and even those who find the whole idea
ludicrous. Many riders use PAC Tour as a training camp 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
(from Team RAAM), 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 US
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
limitation. 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
mileage's are shorter than the northern route's 140 miles per day
average, the amount of daylight is shorter 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 temperatures. 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 goals of pressing beyond our
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, 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, when available, 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.

We flew out on Friday September 9. Neither of us has a lot of vacation
time, so we weren't able to help drive support vehicles across the
country to the start. We did hear incredible stories of breakdowns and
non-stop driving that made us a bit thankful we had missed this
pleasure, and a bit worried that the bad luck might continue on the
trip. Despite having to replace the radiator, water pump and fan belt
in one vehicle, and have the trailer hitch collapse as they pulled
into the parking lot on the way out, we had an almost trouble free
west to east crossing, with one dead battery, and one flat tire.

When John and I arrived the welder was busy working to repair and
reinforce the trailer mountings. Since we were unable to start loading
vehicles and trailers until this work was done, we reassembled our
tandem. After a few hours in the sun, we both noticed that we had
sunburned the tops of our feet - a part, that for us, is rarely
exposed to sun, given the amount of cycling we do. We decided that we
would really have to be very careful using sunscreen throughout the
trip. We were eventually able to start loading the vehicles and met
the other crew members. We first met Victor and Gladys Gallo. I had
actually met them a few years before in France before riding PBP, when
the hotel had accidentally put me in their room. After flying all
night, I wanted some sleep, but the key turning in my door prevented
that. I was eventually given another room. I must say that this
meeting was much better, and we really enjoyed getting to know them
both. Victor's sense of humor was fabulous and Gladys was great as she
put up with our constant requests to stop and take pictures on our
non-riding days. Having crewed for both PAC Tour and RAAM many times,
Gladys was also a great source of information about both.

Roger Mankus had joined the crew at the last minute replacement. John
had met Roger last spring while in Texas for a RAAM qualifier. Roger
had done PAC Tour before, crewed on a few RAAMs and attempted a solo
and a tandem crossing with Nick Gerlich. While his inclusion as crew
was last minute, he was definitely a great addition.

Beau was the resident massage therapist. Beau has done many, many US
crossings as a massage therapist on RAAM. He gave the most incredible
massages. John and I both were recipients of his magic touch. Roger is
also a certified massage therapist, and served as a backup. Massages
were available for an additional, but very reasonable charge.

Eric, the bike mechanic, arrived later in the evening, driving the van
with hopefully the final repairs. The last crew member we met was to
be our roommate off and on for the next ten days. One female rider had
signed up for the first week, and once she left, Karen would join her
former roommate. In the meantime, the crew doubled up. We actually
knew quite a bit about Karen before the trip, since she is the mother
of a good friend. Of course we had to promise not to spill any of
Terry's secrets to his mom.

Saturday was quite busy, as riders arrived throughout the day, checked
in and assembled bikes. John and I tried to run last minute errands,
but ran out of time before John was able to get his hair cut. Fearing
a meltdown in the desert, we bought a battery operated trimmer, and at
John's request, I proceeded to give him the worst buzz cut he's ever
had. It looked pretty bad, but he assured me that he was happy with it
and that he wouldn't have considered riding through the heat of the
desert with his former locks.

Our crew duties had us alternating riding days with Susan and getting
to ride on the first day. Susan actually seemed quite willing to NOT
ride on day 1. The first 70 miles of uphill and the scorching
temperatures in the desert may have had something to do with her
willingness to work on Day 1. Despite all this, we were thrilled to be

Riders are supposed to leave in a staggered start over a half hour
period with the slowest riders leaving first and the faster riders
heading out last. When done right, most riders will reach lunch within
an hour of each other. This makes life easier on the lunch crew and
means everyone gets fresh food. Unfortunately on the first day,
adrenaline was pumping and most riders wanted to get on the road

The 70 miles of uphill had me a bit nervous as well. While we climb
fairly well, I didn't think we'd do very well staying with the hammers
for this much climbing. I wanted to leave about halfway through the
half hour window. But 15 minutes into it, we looked around and saw a
deserted parking lot. We headed off to the ocean for the obligatory
shot of the west coast water and then turned east. We did meet up with
Kurt and Tim while taking pictures and stayed with them for most of
the day.

After climbing well past lunch we were rewarded with a 55 mph descent
into hell. Well not really hell, but the temperatures rose steadily as
our altitude fell. I had my Vertech watch mounted on the handlebars in
the shade of John's saddle, and shortly before we reached the final
snack stop, it read 116F. While leaning against a signpost in the sun,
it reached 126F.

In the final 30 miles, the wind turned vicious on us as we tackled an
incredible headwind. I sucked down a full Camelbak and three bottles
of very hot water. I'd definitely have to look into insulation for
these bottles if it was to stay this hot for long.

We reached the hotel and began our crew duties for the afternoon. I
offered to take Rebecca swimming, a popular crew duty on last year's
northern trip, but thanks to school and other conflict's Lon and
Susan's daughter didn't make the trip this fall. But I still lucked
out with a cushy job that afternoon. For the first time in PAC
history, Lon and his brother Ken, had planned some stage racing. There
were to be a couple of time trials and some road races held throughout
the trip, usually starting after the first 20-30 miles and finishing
up before lunch. Having checked off computer skills on my crew
questionnaire, I got assigned the task of typing in the schedule in
the air-conditioned room !

While I was doing this, John, Lon and Eric decided to destroy our
tandem. We had been having some trouble adjusting the eccentric, and
had dropped our sync chain a couple of times. John asked Lon for a
little help fixing this problem. While trying to make the adjustment,
they discovered that the eccentric was actually broken into several
pieces. They pressed it back together, and reinstalled and assure me
it would hold up for thousands of miles. In the meantime I called the
shop and asked to have a new one sent out.


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