Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Sep 08 2012 12:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: One wrong turn makes bike ride a trip to hell

By The Bakersfield Californian

This wasn't the first time I'd gotten lost on a bike ride. I have a reputation, and not a good one.

Two Saturdays ago, I rode the Legacy Century. A century is 100 miles. A legacy is a legacy.

Century riders have something in common with marathon runners. At around mile 16 for marathon runners and mile 60 for cyclists, each of them wonder what they were thinking. It sounded good when you told people at work how you were spending your weekend but now this was the payment for that pre-event puffery.

The ride started and finished on Tejon Ranch, which consists of 270,000 acres and more oak trees than you can shake a crooked stick at.

Glenn and I got lost after exiting I-5 in Lebec. I should have seen it as an omen. We were meeting four friends at Castac Lake, the first lake you see on your left heading south near Lebec.

The first time I got lost on a bike ride was several years ago during the second lap of a race near Porterville. I had ridden the first lap successfully but I made a wrong turn on the second lap.

I ended up near an Indian reservation. I was so lost, I thought maybe I'd gone back in time and the Indians hadn't heard that the war was over. That left turn cost me an extra 20 miles and years of commentary from friends.

At 7:15 a.m. we rode northeast from Castac Lake. Six friends, all for one and one for all. Spirits were high.

We flew by huge oak trees. Two large pipes turned out to be the California Aqueduct. It was a nice cool day. How could it get any better?

By the time we had flipped around at the southern edge of the Tehachapis and returned to Castac Lake and the aid station, I had fallen behind my friends. We regrouped at the lake and put down bananas, strawberry yogurt and electrolyte drinks.

Electrolyte? What does that mean? I'll tell you one thing it means, five miles after you drink some, you're going to be doing reruns.

As we headed toward Lebec, the pace was rigorous. I did the math. Eighty more miles at this pace? I said my first cross words to the group. I was not only slow but I was working on a bad attitude. There is always one in a group, and I was the one.

After winding our way through Lebec, in and out of Gorman and onto 138, we made a right on the old Ridge Route and climbed Bald Mountain.

I felt like I was in a movie made in the '30s. It wouldn't have surprised me if a Model A had pulled out of the bushes with Clark Gable behind the wheel and a flapper riding shotgun.

My friends rode ahead. I was alone with the squirrels and the birds of prey.

Riding by yourself can be fun. However, after awhile you want to see people again. I saw people but those people weren't my people. Finally, I reached the stop for lunch at the Neenach Bible Church.

"Why didn't you guys wait for me?" I said, to my ex-friends who were feasting on pasta, turkey and potato salad. "I thought we were going to ride together. What if I had gotten lost?"

I had meant to let it go, take the high road, but when you're tired, the low road beckons. I threw a tantrum that would have made a 2-year-old proud.

I was so mad I only ate two pieces of watermelon for lunch before I grabbed my bike and announced, "I'm going to ride alone."

I'd thrown down the gauntlet. I'd show them. A hunger strike and out on my own. I asked somebody where the ride went and he pointed east toward Lancaster and so east I went.

The next 10 miles were glorious. Downhill, wind at my back. I didn't need people. I could go 25 mph by myself.

Mistake. I whizzed by the colorful arrows indicating a right-hand turn toward the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. At this pace, I'd be in Nebraska by sundown. I could have consulted the ride guide, but the print was so small that my reading glasses would have had to have been thicker than the Palomar telescope.

I was lost. I stopped at a market and saw a woman with a low-cut halter top and a huge butterfly tattooed across her chest. I pointed to my map and asked her if I was going the right direction.

"You're going the right way," she said, her speech soft because her words weren't bouncing against teeth on the way out.

Two miles later, I saw windmills. I didn't know if the windmills were a mirage or if I had become Don Quixote.

This couldn't be right. I flipped around and headed back toward the Neenach Bible Church. Now, I was alone, riding uphill and bucking a 20 mph headwind.

Yes, I'd shown my friends. I'd shown them I was an idiot. A lonely idiot.

I was one with the horned toads, the windmills and my turbulent thoughts.

An hour later, with pickups pulling boats and general joy riders racing by, I reached the Neenach Bible Church. I remembered the last thing Susan, a fellow cyclist, had said after lunch, before I'd gone on this jaunt.

"Herb, you need to go in that church and pray. I'm worried you may be going to hell."

Going? I was there. The only good news was that they let me bring my Colnago along with me.

I started to cramp. First the messenger cramps in the quadriceps. The cramps that say reinforcements are on the way and they're going to lock you up.

I got off my bike four times and walked. I passed a heavy man on a large bike going up the hill to Gorman. I was solicitous and asked him how he was doing.

God must have looked into my black heart because minutes later he sent cramps again and I had to walk up the hill in my bike cleats. The big man rode by and gave me a parade wave.

North of Gorman, I pulled up to Molly Clark, the wife of one of the guys with whom I had been riding. She was hurting. I offered her my help but I had no intention of helping her unless she was felled by an arrow.

Finally, I arrived at the gates of Tejon Ranch, where I cramped for the final time. I looked up and saw a bouncy house near the finish line. A bouncy house? This was a fundraiser for the Foster Children of Legacy Family Services and Kern County,and the kids were enjoying a day on the ranch.

I tried to get in the spirit of bouncy houses and foster children but right then a foster child could have come up and strung a lei around my neck and I probably would have barked at him.

You care more about foster children when you are fresh, nourished and haven't ridden 100 miles, the last 40 alone and against the wind.

My friends returned a few minutes later. They had followed the map and had wisely stopped at all the rest stops. That's OK for them. I'm working on my legacy and it's coming along just fine.

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