Sunday, July 27, 2003


Friends: I arrived at the Blonduos Tourist Office at 1:42, twenty minutes before Lance was due in the starting gate for his 30-mile time trial. This was the moment I, and the bicycle-racing world, had been looking forward to for days. This was the stage that would decide if Lance would join the elite ranks of those who had won The Tour five times. I felt triumphant to have timed it so well to have reached an outpost in this sparsely settled land that promised the Internet, enabling me to follow all the action.

As I rushed into this small town's Tourist Office, I was relieved to see no one was there but the woman in charge. When I didn't immediately spot a computer, I asked where it might be. Then she delivered the sorry news that this was a rare Tourist Office that did not have a computer for tourists, just staff. Another such Tourist Office had a similar arrangement, but let me check in on The Race, so I wasn't quite ready to slit my wrists. I told the woman with desperate, genuine passion how eager I was to learn the outcome of The Tour de France. I told her it should be decided around three, and asked if I might have a minute at the computer then. She said that would be OK. That was just barely OK with me, but I was happy to at least have that.

I had been in high anticipation all day awaiting the moment of getting on the computer at the same time that Lance was getting on his bike. It would be an hour of high drama awaiting the time checks to compare how he was faring against Ullrich, who would start three minutes before he did. It was a major letdown to miss out on that, forced to remain in suspense for 80 minutes before being able to connect with the proceedings and to learn their outcome. At least it would give me time to eat, to really load up so I could ride another 50 miles or so after The Race. I'd already come 43 miles, which included a six-mile climb up to 1500 feet, one of the longer climbs of the trip. I'd had an even higher climb yesterday, just the second of the trip that posted the height of the summit at the start of the climb. It was 540 meters, an ant hill compared to those 5,000 meter climbs in Bolivia, but still an hour of sustained effort in my lowest gear.

Just over the summit was another of those bright orange emergency huts. It was easily seen, but there was a sign right along the road with an arrow pointing towards it announcing a distance of 45 meters. Such is the peril of white-out conditions, something that can engulf the countryside at any time. Fog and low-lying clouds have reduced my world several times to little more than being stuck inside a ping pong ball. In the snow months, nine or ten months of the year, and in the winter when dark is the norm, it doesn't take much to reduce visibility to cotton balls pressed against the eyeballs.

It was 7:15 p.m when I came upon the emergency hut. I was slightly tempted to take advantage of it as I had of another several days before, but I preferred to push on. Down it was for six miles into a vast river valley. I considered continuing on for 15 miles more to within 30 miles of Blonduous and the Internet, leaving me the same distance Lance would be riding in the day's time trial. It would be interesting to compare times. The challenge for me would be to do it in less than twice the time it would take Lance. What a joke a split screen of our two styles would be--he with his aerodynamic helmet and skinsuit, and me with my baggy clothes and fenders catching the wind, not to mention my 60 pounds of gear, and he on his 15-pound bike and mine closer to 30 with a kryptonite lock and three water bottles.

I chose though not to make a race of it and began looking for a place to camp well before the 30-mile mark. I could still time myself for the first 30 miles of the day if I felt like it. Before long I came upon a solid-walled corral for horses just a little ways off the road. Its walls were about the height of my tent, not that I needed to be hidden. My one concern was that it might be pocked with piles of dung. I was happy to discover it was overgrown with weeds and had no indication of being used in months. I could nuzzle up to a wall and be protected from the wind as well as the eyes of passing motorists, not that I felt any concern of being seen. I have on occasion seen tents pitched in plain view with no pretense of trying to be discreet. Camping anywhere is accepted practice. Oddly enough, this was the first night that someone did come upon me as I slept. About two in the morning I heard the clomp of a herd of horses and the chatter of several cowboys. Could they possibly be rustlers out at this hour or just some pokes working late? I didn't feel any alarm, just charm at this moment. They doubtlessly noticed me, but just continued on their way.

Later, George

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