Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reflections on the Pony Express Trail

Riding the Pony Express Trail - Kansas

This Friday I’m running the Pony Express Trail 100. Running along the Pony Express Trail has special meaning for me in that back in 1989 Matt DeWaal and I bicycled the 2,024 length of the Pony Express trail: from Sacramento, CA to St. Joseph, MO in 10 days, the guaranteed delivery time of the original Pony Express.

A Section of the Original Trail - NV
The “Bicycle Express” as we referred to it was a grand adventure. We had spent the previous year researching the trail, securing sponsorship, and covering most of the trail in advance during numerous “recon trips.” We had a full support crew including a bike mechanic, dietitian, cook, historian, and drivers.  In the spirit of an original Pony Express rider, all Matt and I had to do was “ride.”

I’m not a particularly sentimental person. Much of the gear and memorabilia from the Bicycle Express has been sold at garage sales, repurposed, tossed, or misplaced over the years. Not a whole lot different from the original assets of the Pony Express enterprise. But, for some reason this past weekend I had an inkling to see what I still had and went in search of what I remembered to be a box of trail maps (more than 150 USGS maps if I remembered right), pictures and a diary. I believed that somewhere in the basement was a box of Bicycle Express “stuff.”

One of 10 Letters Carried from Sacramento to St. Joseph

I found the box and spent the next several hours reliving the memories. I’ll share a few with you…

Day-by-Day Progress:

Day 1 – 134 miles, Sacramento, CA to Genoa, NV
Day 2 – 189 miles, Austin, NV
Day 3 – 182 miles, Schellbourne Junction, NV
Day 4 – 149 miles, Simpson Springs, UT
Day 5 – 181 miles, Bear City, WY
Day 6 – 170 miles, South Pass City, WY
Day 7 – 188 miles, Glenrock, WY
Day 8 – 300 miles, Julesburg, CO
Day 9 – 263 miles, Hastings, NE
Day 10 – 208 miles, Seneca, KS
Day 11 – 78 miles, St. Joseph, MO

     - day #1 & day #11 began and ended respectively at noon

Some Miscellaneous Quotes from my Diary

Departing Old Sacramento
Day 1: “Best of Luck” admonished Peter Grande, Wells Fargo Agent as he handed us the mail (the 10 commerative letters we would carry the entire distance in a mochilla) precisely at 12:00 noon in front of the B.F. Hastings Building in Old Sacramento. Stashing the mail securely in the back of his jersey, Matt lead the way… heading east… on the Pony Express Trail.

Day 2: “I thought you ordered a tailwind,” yelled Matt against the gusting wind. “Maybe they lost my order.” I replied. An unspoken feeling of concern overcame us as we crept along at 7 mph pushing into the wind with only 150 miles behind us as the sun quickly set.

One of the Subaru Support Vehicles
Day 3: Both Matt and I looked at each other with that “What the hell?” expression. The red support vehicle was bouncing up and down as if in an overdramatized ad showing how exciting sex can be in the back of a Subaru. As we got closer we could see Joe (our trail historian) standing on the back floor, bent over at 90 degrees, with his back pressed up against the roof of the car, heaving his 200lb+ frame up and down. “What’s that about?” we asked our crew as we got closer. “We figured out that Joe could brace himself between the ceiling and the floor and press the floorboards back down after they get pushed up from when we high center.” (high centering on the deeply eroded double-track through NV and UT was an ongoing challenge for the support vehicles)

Note the Mochilla with Letters in the Jersey
Day 4: “Can’t we just pretend the trail went over there?” asked Matt pointing to the graded gravel road (the road Matt was referring to is the road that the PE 50/100 follows). Joe (our trail historian), sensing the sarcasm consoled Matt that the dried mud, pocked with the hoof prints of overgrazed cattle, would ONLY last three miles before the trail climbed out of the valley bottom. Three miles an hour later we had a new trail condition called “hoof holes” that went on the time-sucking blacklist with the likes of washboard, sand and mud.

Day 5: “Watch for the pipeline,” I told Matt, knowing that it would give us a clue as to our whereabouts. “How can I find a pipeline when I can’t even see five feet in front of me?” anguished Matt as he dragged his bike across the sagebrush covered hill. “Did you hear that?” “What?” I responded. “Shh, I think I heard a horn,” countered Matt. Sure enough, support crew to the rescue. Across the hill we saw the headlights of the Subaru as it broke its own trail across the hillside and guided us down to the river where we would camp.

A Rest Break at Hollenberg Ranch Station
Day 6: “I feel like I’m there,” said Matt as he carefully guided his bike through the deep wagon ruts that still exist. “This cold wind, the setting sun, the dirt we are riding on, and the overwhelming loneliness of this land are exactly the same as they were over a hundred years ago, “ he continued. I silently nodded to let Matt know I was listening, and slipped away into the fantasy of a Pony Express rider.

Day 8: “It’s the little things that get you through the day,” explained Matt as he dodged an Indian ambush staged by the support crew. And, I had found a new distraction. Crouching down low on my Scott aero bars I would capture unsuspecting livestock, cars and people into the sight created by a slight dimple in at the front-most end of the bar and… well… lay waste to’em.”

A Horse Escort into St. Joeseph
Day 11: The ultimate irony. After 9 days of focusing every minute on peddling as fast as possible, we now had to slow it down. Seventy-eight miles to St. Joe with a noon deadline to deliver the mail. “We only need to go 11.5 miles per hour according to my calculations,” said Matt. I sarcastically replied, “but what if the wind picks up and we have a tailwind? Will we really be able to go that slow?”

Some Interesting Stats
  • Avg Daily kcal intake – Jay 7,509, Matt 7,528
  • Avg Daily fluid intake (qt) – Jay 12.9, Matt 10.5
  • Weight  - Jay 132, no change. Matt 150, loss of 4 lbs
  • Bikes – 8 total (3 mtn, 3 road bikes, road tandem, mountain tandem)
  • Avg daily time on bike – 15hrs 38 min
Fort Churchill, NV - Riding the Mountain Tandem

Patee House, St. Joseph, MO - Eastern Terminus of the Pony Express Trail

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sunday Run in Utah

After Christian and I spent Friday night sleepless as a soigneur (crew) and domestique (pacer) at the Bear 100, we were not eager for an early start.  The initial idea was to run to the top of the Pfiefferhorn, but with a late start and other commitments, we settled for shorter run/hike up Maybird Gulch.  

Christian and Greg on a highway of a trail

Pfiefferhorn in the distance

Coming back down. 
Encounters with generous Utah wildlife.  Sunday morning... have a PBR! 
We all had a swig of PBR.  

Heading down through the fall colors.