A friend is a person you haven’t seen in a long time who you can call up and ask for help knowing that when he picks up he will sound like he was expecting you to call JUST THEN.
That guy was Sam Ames, and I was in a bit of fix, having been taken off course to Visalia and now trying to figure out how to get to Tehachapi. The obvious course was through Bakersfield.
“Can I camp in your yard?”
“Doubtful but we have a spare bedroom and you can certainly sleep there.”
“That would be amazing.”
“Any particular food you don’t or can’t eat?”
“Nothing that’s nailed down.”
“See you when you get here.”
“Here” was 75 miles down the 65 with extra credit if I tacked on 15 miles and rode to Exeter. It was longer if I eschewed the straight shot and did Hs and Zs through the farm roads. I was feeling confident and shall we say cocky as I thought about the flat roads. “This is gonna be my easiest day yet.”
And it was. At the beginning.
The temperature was in the low 60s and the sky was overcast, ensuring that the coolness would stay for a while. And the roads really were flat. I got to Exeter in a little under an hour and began heading south to Bakersfield.
After a couple of hours I was hungry for my hobbit’s second breakfast and I passed a small store, the first I’d seen. It was going to be the only one, but I didn’t know it. I got a pint of milk and a family size pack of Oreos, the kind that if you eat you will soon be the size of a family.
I snacked leisurely and continued.
I also got reacquainted with something from my earliest riding days, the farm dog sprint. House after house had unleashed mutts of every size with the only common feature being a 500-yard sprint, bared fangs, and a hatred of all things bicycle.
Think a 60-lb. bike with panniers can’t sprint? Unleash Fido the pitbull-shepherd mix and watch the KOMs topple.
Things went well after that only slower, as I was having to stop a lot to check my turns. The roads were straight but none of them went through. By noon the sun was blazing through and the wind had picked up, and I started having flashbacks to Vlees Huis road race, Sam’s signature bike race that for ten years set the standard in SoCal road racing misery.
Hilly. Windy. Hot. Hard, hard, hard.
Now I had all of that minus the hilly. I pulled up under a lone tree and ate more Oreos. They didn’t help much, drops of water dropped on the surface of the sun. My fearsome 15 mph pace had dropped to 8 or 9. I was making wrong turns and ending up on dirt roads.
I got to the freeway but it was the wrong one, the 99, so I went down a feeder road marked “Dead End.” Surprisingly, after a mile it was a dead end.
The wind was blowing hard but since I was h-ing and zigging, half the time it was a crosswind. Now it was getting late and Bakersfield was still a mirage. I ran out of water about the time I reached Lerdo Highway. A few miles into a hot crosswind with no water while bonking will make you appreciate the true essence of Bakersfield.
The highway I’d avoided in favor of the farm roads, the 65, was easy, lightly trafficked, and came attached to a huge tailwind. As I dried up into dust I passed a burger joint on James Road. Inside the fountain said “Limit 1 Refill Please.”
Refill? I’d have gladly paid for a dozen of those bucket-sized drinks.
I got a huge Dr. Pepper and sat down under an awning, combing heat stroke, bonk, and mental collapse all in one special moment. After downing my refill I got my next nasty shock: Bakersfiled is huge and hilly if you head east. Where did Sam live? East.
It took another hour from the drink shack of hilly, hot, ups and downs until I got to Sam’s place. “This looks familiar,” I thought, and indeed it was. Sam lives a stone’s throw from the start of the old Vlees Huis race.
He was waiting for me. He fed me. He listened to my stories. He tucked me into bed. “Coffee at 5:30,” he said.
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