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Old 10-29-09, 07:55 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: SoCal
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Bikes: 2008 Scott CR1 Pro; 2006 Schwinn Fastback Pro and 1996 Colnago Decor Super C96; 2003 Univega Alpina 700; 2000 Schwinn Super Sport

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Stage II - California City to Trona (cont.)

I’ll confess here that I love Trona. I don’t know what it is. It might be the curious mixture of hope and despair. All around are dilapidated and abandoned houses ... the product of the company selling those homes to their employees before unexpectedly leaving town and taking their jobs with them. That left a lot of residents holding the bag. But there are also museums, and proud little historical museums on the side of the road.

There is a hopeful little bike path. But it’s condition is so poor, no one uses it.

There is probably no community in California with more churches per capita. But they are closed most of the time. The Catholic Church, a grand, windowless monolith of concrete, has services but once a month, and that is on a Wednesday.

There is the Rite-Valu market:

... but the shelves are mostly empty.

There is a proud little high school, but few students go there. It’s football team, the Trona Tornadoes, practice on a dirt field, reputed to be the only dirt field in the lower 48 states. Grass refuses to grow, and astroturf would be blow away in the desert winds. There are students enough to field a team of only eight players.

As a matter of fact, there is pretty much no vegetation anywhere in Trona. Even crabgrass does not grow here. Instead of lawns, most homes are fronted by garbage and rusted out automobiles.

If the wind is just right, you can smell the chemicals they pump from the depths of Searles Dry Lake. The odor is reminiscent of dirty diapers. Driving through years ago on the way to Death Valley, I actually stopped here to change my daughter’s diaper, only to discover that it was clean, and that the town was the source of the odor.

Perhaps 300 people are employed in the mining operation that dominates the town. But many of them live elsewhere, leaving Trona itself to those on public a$$istance.

Those that know me know that I love Trona. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it's people like the proprietors of the gas station, who love Trona and would live no where else. They make a mean burrito, too.

My support crew was waiting for me as I rolled into town. At once, they replaced my near-empty water bottle with a full one, shoved food at me, and scolded me for not taking enough endurolytes. But I had been taking enough ... probably an average of 3 or 4 tablets an hour, and in truth, it was not that hot. I ate what I could, though I must confess that nothing sounded all that appetizing.

I dunno what it is about cycling in the desert. It is so very easy to lose your appetite, and if you do, it is so very impossible to finish the 508. I know this well enough, and so whether I was hungry or not, I shoved food in my mouth and started to chew.

And there she was. I had heard that Terri might meet me in Trona. Terri had done the 508 with a 4 person mixed team the same year that Saralie and I did it as a mixed double. Too bad I didn’t know her at the time, because we must have been within sight of each other much of the way … we finished within a half an hour of each other. She hadn’t done as much cycling since then as she’d like, and came to cheer myself and the others on.

There is one part of the 508 that is particularly memorable. That comes when you reach the north end of the Panamint Valley and make the right turn to face the most difficult climb of the race … Townes Pass. Most riders arrive there either at or just after dusk. And after making that turn, what do you see?

Before you, a series of flashing red and yellow lights, slowly … imperceptively … crawling up the hill and disappearing into the sky. Like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.

To your right, a king’s view of the Panamint Valley. And a steady line of headlights extending south as far as the eye can see. Like something from the Field of Dreams.

For most of the 508, your only company is your support van and perhaps a rider or two directly in front of or behind you. But at this point in the ride, the sheer scope of the 508 is clear. It is an exquisite community of adventurers. Each pinpoint of light represents someone’s faith in themselves and their crew and teammates. Each is someone willing to lay it on the line.

“I’m going to go to the bottom of Townes Pass tonight.” Terri said.

“That was something I have to see again.”

While we were chatting, the rider I passed on the Randsburg grade appeared. He stopped just long enough to check in and kept moving. He looked a lot better than he did when he was suffering up the hill. He had recovered substantially.

Terri’s son was there too. A cute, curious kid, holding the remains of a black house key that looked to have been broken off in a lock. He studied it with a discerning, scientific eye.

Terri even brought me a little gift … incredibly sweet of her. Like the fixie support crew, her appearance was like a pleasant mirage.

I would like to have stayed and chatted over a Tronarito with her, but it was time to get back on the bike.
Proud parent of a happy inner child ...

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