Day 2
5 am:  After a night that feels way too short our alarm goes off.  Time to get ready for the day.  We meet with Evan, who has programmed the route for the day into the GPS that will find its place on my handlebars.  90 miles are up today.  The wind and the heat have taken a toll on my legs, the bike seats have adversely affected other parts of our anatomy.  
Melanie has a day off today and Glenn is taking her place today as our guardian angel in the support van.  
The GPS tells us to turn right on state highway 377 and we follow the instructions without questions.  After a while, the position of the sun strikes me as odd.  It is on my left, but should it not be on my right when I am heading North?  Shortly before reaching the Mexican border I realize I am riding on 377 South, not North. To make up for the lost time we load the bike into the van and backtrack.  After consulting the sun, checking the wind (I am sure I will have a headwind again) and the highway signs (North!), I am starting again.  The country is beautiful out there and even the wind goes to sleep for a while.  
There is little traffic and most of time I am alone with the chirping of the birds and the steady hum of my tires on the road.  That leaves my mind with time to wander and I find myself wondering how all this started again.  When I received the first email from Bruce about the ride, I felt this was a great idea and I signed up without thinking twice about it... And then I completely forgot all about it until Eric Goodwin, the coordinator for the ride called me up to discuss logistics and asking incisive questions about my training state.  
A slight misunderstanding (“no, this is not a Harley convention”) was quickly cleared up, after which I thought the entire thing was a pretty nutty idea - crossing the lands of Coronado by bike in summer!  How on Earth did you come up with that idea, Bruce?
However, being a life-long fan of Bruce (Springsteen, that is), there was really no way out:
"No retreat, baby, no surrender!"    
After all, my mental preparations were impeccable, molded by countless dreams during which I easily beat Lance Armstrong on the long climb at the Tourmalet every single time.  What could possibly go wrong?

My mind returned to the blog entries I had read of the other riders before me, and in particular to Bill Van Nostrand's observations regarding the odd behavior of our Texas cows in his presence.  In stark contrast to Bill's report, as I am riding past one pasture after another, the cows do not seem to notice me at all.  Even as I moo as I am going by, they only briefly look up, swinging their tails in my direction before going back to grazing.

Clearly, something is either wrong with the experimental conditions or the difference in outcome is due to an uncontrolled inherent property of the trial participants. Maybe Bill had reincarnated and the cows still knew him as a Grizzly from his former life?

A short while later, I see another rider merge onto the road ahead of me.  I decide to join up with him and use the opportunity to advertise the ride.  I learn that my new companion is from the area and that he is riding the route every morning as part of a successful weight loss program.  Unfortunately, he is less interested in Alzheimer's.  I am attempting to change this unacceptable situation, but even my short lecture on the fat-brain axis and the hypothalamic regulation of food intake is not making the impact I had hoped for.  The conversation drifts to the respective advantages of road bikes vs hybrids when we reach the turnaround point of my companion's daily route.  
After a brief good-bye I am left alone again with my thoughts and with Glenn, following 50 yards behind me in the support van.  A honk from Glenn indicates I should stop and I come to a halt in front of an old cemetery.
As it turns out, Glenn had accidentally hit the horn.  I take the opportunity to take a few pictures of the cemetery in the morning light before getting back on my bike.  
As I pedal across the rolling hills toward the Oklahoma border, the sun is climbing higher in the sky.  Soon the heat becomes oppressive again.  As I look up, I see the vultures circle above me.  I never understood their language before, but today I understand perfectly what they are communicating:  

I fixate my eyes on the road, determined to disappoint them. Yet, only moments later I have the most terrifying experience of the ride:

I am being attacked by a vicious dog!

The animal had been lying in ambush, waiting for me to come within reach before emerging from its lair. A full 8 inches tall and legs the size of match sticks, it moves toward its prey at breakneck speed. I am helpless, outmaneuvered and the victim of a surprise attack. Frantically I am trying to remember my karate moves, but my feet are locked to the pedals and my hands hold the handlebars in a death grip. My life is passing in front of my eyes, all the experiments that still need to be done suddenly appear with unprecedented clarity.

And then, as quickly as it started, the nightmare is over. The hungry, seething predator has found its match in my support van. As it casts its shadow over the creature, the animal comes to a dead stop and beats a fast retreat.

That's what guardian angels are there for. Never again shall I doubt!

With new-found strength, fueled by an ample dose of adrenaline, I pound my pedals, invigorated and elated.

One more hill  and there it is: Lake Texoma, which forms part of the border to Oklahoma.  


A Bridge too Far
Just before the bridge Evan and the pony are waiting at a rest stop.  
I almost miss it, Oklahoma is calling too loudly.  Fill up the Camelbak with Gatorade again and I am ready to cross the bridge.  Only two lanes, so I better go fast and don't hold up traffic.  
As I venture deeper into Kiowa country, the hills are getting steeper and more frequent.  After a while, I imagine seeing a plaque embedded in the road at the foot of each hill:
"Capitol Hill - The hardest hill to climb..."
The motto of our ride!  It could not be more true.
Eventually I arrive at the 53 mile mark, an abandoned way station in the middle of nowhere,
briefly brought back to life by the presence of our purple pony.  Time for lunch and a refill before I continue on to mile marker 62.  Dark clouds on the horizon mark the thunderstorms that await us ahead.  The humidity is rising and the heat is now getting really oppressive.  As if that were not enough the route is steadily leading up a long hill.  I am now down to 11-12 mph.  I begin to wonder whether the day will ever end.
Suddenly there is lightning ahead and I have to get off the road and into the shelter of a car.  Just in time before the sky opens up and the floods are coming down on us.  Niculin had been waiting for me and we wait out the rain and lightning in our truck.  As the clouds pass, I am glad that he will be riding the last 30 miles to Wynnewood, the end of today's segment.  I trade the bike for my camera and take pictures and videos along the route.  
Cruising along with frequent stops, as our ride affords us with, is a great way to see Small Town USA - images one never sees rushing from A to B along an interstate.  
Shortly after 5 pm we arrive at Wynnewood,
load up the bikes and continue to the Holiday Inn in Paul's Valley, where we have dinner at a local Mexican diner.  There is barely enough time to catch up with the most pressing emails before I need to shut the electronic torture device to catch some much needed sleep for our last day of our leg on this ride across America.
From Whitesboro, TX to Paul’s Valley, OK
Tuesday, August 17, 2010