Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tulsa Tough

It's been an interesting weekend.

Saturday, I was to work providing mechanical support for the Tulsa Tough on the century route. Jordan and I were to be in Ochelata. First, I forgot my box of parts and supplies. Oh, I had the tools, pump, and work stand, but no spare tubes, cables, etc. A quick call to Mike Schooling remedied that, though Mike did call me a dimwit but in a nice way. As it turned out, the only business we had was inflating a pair of tires. Jordan said he needed more 'action.' I think that sometimes the best action is no action.

Then the Ford's charging system light came on. I figured my alternator wasn't charging sufficiently, but the light went out on the way home. I thought that meant it charged the battery - until the engine quit a few miles later. Apparently, when the light goes out, it means THERE ISN'T ENOUGH VOLTAGE TO RUN THE IDIOT LIGHT ANYMORE, YOU IDIOT!!! It says this in the manual but it's in very tiny print. We called my friend Wade. He came up to US75 and SH20 and picked us up. I took the battery out since I had lots of tools on hand, and brought it home to charge. Then Lyndsay and I went back up there in her SUV to install the battery and bring the car home.

I can be thankful for one thing, though, and that's the fact that the system could have shut down somewhere out west of Ochelata where cellphones and radios don't work. We'd still be out there. It's the definition of desolate.

I gave serious consideration to hiding in the closet with a pillow over my head for the rest of the evening.

Sunday morning saw better organization. I transferred my equipment to Lyndsay's Blazer, being certain to include the parts box this time, and checked the map for the third or fourth time to be sure I knew how to reach the Keystone VFD. Jordan originally wanted to go along. He was to help me with the rest stop, then after it closed, we'd go to the start of the Tulsa Townie. He wanted to ride it with the kids he'd met at the BikeEd events. But he had a going-away party for a friend last night. All that free floating teen angst kept him up very late, so he couldn't find the energy to get his eyes open this morning. I pushed off alone.

At the VFD, we set up the sun tents and arranged tables. We iced down the drinks. Our amateur communications volunteer (sadly, I've forgotten her name and call sign) came over to tell us that a storm was bearing down on our location accompanied by 70mph winds and golf ball size hail. With a wary eye on the dark, ominous clouds, we hurried to finish setting up the rest stop. One of the firemen opened the truck bays and we hustled to move equipment inside. Last to go would be the tents. We collapsed the first one, but before we could get the other one down, the wind picked up and the hail arrived.

Sure enough, golf ball size hail stones slammed into the tent and the ground. A few were closer to baseball size. Big hail stones are very dangerous as they fall at one hundred miles an hour. These things can kill you.

So we were afraid to leave the dubious safety of the sun tent, at least until lightning was less than a mile away. Then the idea of standing directly under a bunch of aluminum tubing seemed just as precarious as the hail. One of the volunteer firemen put his helmet on and ran to the firehouse. Others put folding chairs over their heads. I used a clipboard.

We waited for the storm to pass. As soon as it did, we went about clearing off the twisted wreckage of the tent and began to anticipate the arrival of the first riders. It was not to be. The radio net announced the approach of another line of storms. The century riders were diverted east along the 100K route rather than west toward us. Most of the group decided to go backward along the route in order to look for stragglers and see if any assistance was needed.

The rain arrived along with high winds. Some low-lying areas were flooded and debris covered much of the road in places. I encountered a lone cyclist, Neal, who'd been separated from his group and somehow had continued west rather than east. Neal is from Enid. He was riding his first century. We loaded his bike into the Blazer and drove toward Tulsa. If Jordan had accompanied me, there wouldn't have been room for Neal and his bike. So it was a perverse sort of blessing that Jordan stayed home.

Driving was an adventure. At times, visibility was only a few feet and we crept along at a bicycle pace. Once, it was so bad we had to pull off the road and wait. I thought to put the Blazer inside a bay at a car wash, but apparently I wasn't the only one with that idea. Every bay was occupied.

And I did something very stupid. I drove through a flooded area, one that was probably too deep to cross safely. If the Blazer had stalled, we would have been in deep, um, water. I kept the engine revs up and we got through it.

Neal was on the phone with his wife. We met her in a parking lot and moved the bike to her van. They were off.

I drove home through gusty cross winds, the Blazer rolling from the wind forces. My neck and shoulder ached with tension. A cup of coffee and two ibuprofen were very welcome when I got home.

The weather caused the organizers to cancel the Tulsa Townie – the kid's event we'd been working toward since April. And most of the races were canceled except for the final three, I think. I would imagine that between the downed tree branches and other debris on the street, it would take some time to clear. Also, those police officers who were going to accompany the kids were likely re-assigned to emergency duties.

I'm looking forward to going back to work so I can get some rest!

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