What if You Get a Wake Up Call…But it’s Too Late to Wake Up?

07.29.2005 | 8:36 pm

You know what I like best about big ol’ endurance rides like yesterday’s RAMROD? The day after. I feel so mellow, so entitled to burritos and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, so absolutely unashamed that I did not ride my bike to work today.
But, this time, mixed in there with that post-big-ride mellow groove is a nagging little piece of information I discovered while riding yesterday:
I have become a miserable climber.
This shouldn’t surprise me. After all, unlike back in Utah, most of my rides here (basically, just extended-dance-remix versions of my commute) have more rolling and flat terrain than actual climbing. And the climbs don’t last long. So of course I’m a miserable climber. But since a big chunk of my biking identity is wrapped up in being a strong climber, it’s just a little bit humiliating to be passed by so many people on the climbs.
And with the Leadville 100 MTB race – 11,000 feet of climbing, all above 9,000 feet — two weeks away, I’m scared to death. Even with the weight loss, I am in for a world of hurt.
Still, though: what an epic ride yesterday. Let’s bust out the highlight reel:
Having Done About 30 Endurance Races / Events In Nine Years, I Have Not Learned Anything
Nick Abbott and I started the ride at 5:10AM — it was still a little dark, and cool outside. Since the first 20 miles of this ride are downhill, we got up to speed fairly quickly and before long had assembled a nice long train of riders — 15 or so — cruising at around 25 mph.
I was the leader of this large train, and took great pleasure in taking long pulls — I felt so strong. After my turn at the front, I’d usually just drop back a couple places, so I could take another turn and keep the pace up. Mist draped the farmland and countryside as we whizzed by. Mount Rainier, looking massive even from dozens of miles away, was white and gorgeous. We had the promise of perfect weather. I felt invincible, and was confident I could keep up this pace all day.
"Don’t burn yourself up so early," Nick warned. Pfff. Clearly, I was going to be towing his sorry butt the whole day.
Oh, Very Funny
After 35 miles of rolling along, the road turns upward, and I knew it wouldn’t turn down again for another 45 miles. That’s a long time to be climbing, but I was enjoying the incredible scenery — it became commonplace to be riding in a corridor of big evergreens, through which you could see a green lake off to one side.
And then I saw what I consider to be the best sight gag of all time.
At around mile 50, Nick and I saw a guy in his late 50’s, jogging up the road. As we got closer, we noticed he was carrying a stick of some kind. A little closer and we could see it was a…croquet mallet? And then, just before we passed, I saw he was wearing a homemade race bib:
Croquet Run Around Mount Rainier in One Day
It was as if we had been briefly transported into a Monty Python sketch. Genius.
Living Hell on the Way to Paradise
Nick and I kept taking turns pulling each other — I’m not sure if there’s any advantage to this when you’re only going 7-8mph — as we spun along the climb, knowing that at mile 80 we’d be at the highest point of the day, "Paradise," at 5420 feet. However, it was clear Nick was riding with me out of kindness or pity — he’d start pulling away every time it was his turn to lead. Then he’d apologize and drop back. Finally — mercifully, really — he couldn’t hold back any longer and rode away, and I slowly churned my way on alone. Dozens of people passed me. I passed nobody.
I thought dark thoughts, mostly along the lines of, "This is how it’s going to be at the Columbine Mine climb in two weeks, too." I also concocted excuses for why I was slow. None of them are true, but it seems a shame not to trot them out, since I worked so hard on making them up:
  • I’m still recovering from my cold
  • The Nyquil I took an entire week ago is still slowing me down
  • Climbers are stupid. I’m more of a time trialist.
Eventually I reached the top, where Nick looked well-rested. We zoomed down the next eleven miles, shrugging off 3000 feet of altitude in very short order.
Cayuse: Not So Bad
On the way up to Paradise, one of the things that really got me down was the way a number of people kept saying, "Oh, this isn’t really the hard climb. Cayuse is steeper and harder. That’s the one that will kill you." But you know what? I felt a lot better on Cayuse (climbs from 2200 feet up to 4700 feet in about 8 miles) than I did on the climb to Paradise. I was even able to hang with Nick for most of it, and passed a couple of people (one of those people was an old man who had an oxygen tank strapped to his walker, but I don’t think that’s really relevant).
And then we just had 40 miles to go — all downhill, but into a headwind.
Let’s Eat
After the first ten miles of dropping, we got to the last aid station — the best I have ever been to at any race or event. It was called the "RAMROD Deli" and they made you sandwiches to order. I had a turkey and swiss on white, with extra mayo, mustard and tomatoes. And a Diet Coke. It was the best food I’ve ever had in my life.
Nick and I then started taking turns pulling. I expected it to be easier since it was all downhill, but the headwind was enough to make it feel like we were on flat ground. Before long, though, another guy — a serious IronMan type — hooked up with us and we began taking one-minute pulls, pretty much the rest of the way home. It worked great — we cruised at 21-24 mph — though I was right at my limit, and Nick finally paid for his superhero antics and blew up for like 30 seconds.
We rolled into the finish line at 3:40 — 10:30 after we had started. I have no idea whether that put us toward the front, middle, or back of the pack.
Nick headed home with his family, and I went to the nearest Texaco, where I bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Mint and Cookie ice cream.
It would be gone before I got even half way home.
Nick’s Bottom Line
In email to coworkers today, Nick kindly avoided mentioning how he put the hurt on me all day, instead saying:
"We beat skinnier people with shaved legs and more expensive bikes, and that is the main thing."
To which David Lazar replied:
"Hairy fatties with cheap bikes RULE!"
Elegantly put, guys.
Today’s Weight: 164.5. Evidently, I was still really dehydrated when I woke up this morning.
Bonus Excitement: www.cyclingnews.com has published the 2005 Tour de France Final Exam, a piece I wrote for them early this week.
More Bonus Excitement: I’ll be writing something for Cyclingnews every other week — at least until they get sick of me.


  1. Comment by Robert | 07.29.2005 | 9:17 pm

    Nice story. The altitude at Leadville is going to get you. I recommend leasing an altitude tent.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 07.29.2005 | 9:26 pm

    i recommend an oxygen mask, and a tank attached to your walker.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 07.29.2005 | 10:08 pm

    Leadville. You’ll feel like you have lead tires. It’s hard to ride up the mountain with a piano tied to your back.I predict you won’t be the red lantern though.Power to weight ratio, I hate that!That Ranier country is pretty country.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 07.30.2005 | 11:41 pm

    Congratulations. I too rode RAMROD…but it took me almost 2 hrs longer to get around the damned thing.I left Enumclaw at 0545 hrs riding solo and, like you, latched on to a fast group. Fun stuff…until about Eatonville when I began to notice a sharp pain behind my right knee. The rest of the day was — excuse the expression — downhill. I actually considered abandoning down around Ohanapecosh. I could hardly pedal. Gutted it out miserably, though, and pressed on. I likewise enjoyed the best sandwich of my life at the ‘Deli Stop’. Except I didn’t drink diet!Had several opportunities to paceline on back into the headwind but by then I could scarcely spin a low gear…and so limped on to the finish. Friday at work I could hardly walk. My workmates took turns chiding me about my athletic endeavors at my age (54). RAMROD may be like someone once told me about running a marathon: you do it once so you can talk about it later.Maybe, but I’ll be in the lottery again next year (with ibuprofen in my tool kit).Great blog.

  5. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 07.30.2005 | 11:49 pm

    Cris, finishing when you feel like quitting is where the really good stories come from. And — at least from my perspective — having a good story to tell is what epic rides are all about. Way to go!

  6. Comment by Unknown | 07.31.2005 | 3:54 pm

    Oh, and I meant to add in my earlier post — best of luck in Leadville!

  7. Comment by Unknown | 08.20.2005 | 8:08 am

    Loved the RAMROD story- it was in fact devised by some climbing buddies of mine who felt that the STP was not challenging enough. BTW, I no longer climb with these people, as I would rather be kicked repeatedly in the head. Oh wait…same difference. Well, good on you, love your blog. I can’t ride right now (bad knees from climbing Kilimanjaro) but I used to ride to work every day on the world’s heaviest mountain bike ever invented. With fenders. The Buick of Bikes. Good luck!


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