Tainted Glory 2: I Teach Rick and Dug a Thing or Two

02.27.2006 | 10:29 pm

The day after the first time I ever rode the Alpine Gauntlet  (77 miles, 9350 feet of climbing) was a regular workday. I was tired and planned to do an easy, short, flat spin on the road at lunchtime to keep my legs loose. A recovery day.

And so, of course, Dug and Rick suggested the three of us do the Alpine Loop together: 42 miles, 2700 feet of climbing. Not exactly a recover ride.

I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to turn down a ride with my friends. And so I didn’t. I did, however, ask them to take it nice and slow. I was wiped out from my big ride the day before. They said that would be fine.

So we rode up Provo Canyon together at a nice, easy clip. Nobody shot off the front; everyone took turns pulling. And since it was just after noon (the Provo Canyon wind predictably blows South in the AM, North in the PM), we even had a bit of a tailwind.

My legs felt a little wooden, but I figured that as long as we stayed at an easy pace like this, I’d be OK.



The hardest part about riding the Alpine Loop (starting from the Provo Canyon side, that is — starting from the American Fork Canyon side is a completely different set of obstacles) is the first 2.3 miles after you turn out of Provo Canyon and ride up to the Sundance (yes, that Sundance) ski resort. It’s just brutal. At my best, I’ll go into the second and third gears for parts of it — and that day I was not at my best. I dropped into my granny and tried to spin as easily as I could, not worrying about the fact that I was going no faster than 6mph. I still took my turn up front, but I was in no hurry.

And that, of course, is when Dug and Rick attacked.

Together, they stood up, ratcheted up two gears, and shot around my left, working together. Taking fifteen-second pulls, they quickly put an enormous gap on me.

I admit it: I was demoralized.


The Tunnel

As Rick and Dug built their lead, I saw three options: I could turn around and go home.


I could continue at my current pace and see them when they wait for me at the top.

That might be OK.

Or, I could “enter the tunnel,” as I called it. That year, I had learned that I could push myself much further than I had ever expected. Specifically, I had learned that pain in my legs didn’t mean I needed to back off. I had learned that hearing blood in my ears didn’t mean I needed to back off. And in fact, I had learned that getting tunnel vision didn’t mean I needed to back off, as long as I didn’t let the tunnel get too dark.

The tunnel is a fast place, but it isn’t a happy place. I don’t think in words when I’m in the tunnel. I think in whimpers and pain.

Anyway, I shifted to fourth gear, stood up, and pedaled into the tunnel.


Fine. Be That Way.

I’m guessing that if Dug and Rick had seen me coming, they could have held me off. But the attack had taken it out of them, and they had backed off. And they didn’t expect me to try to bridge. So when I ripped by them — way on the left side of the road, so they couldn’t hop on easily — they were caught off guard, and without a sufficient quantity of whoopass jam to counter.

I kept on going, staying in the tunnel until I got to Sundance, then I backed off enough that I wouldn’t completely blow up and soloed, victorious, to the top of the Alpine Loop.

When they arrived, we did not speak of the attack. To acknowledge an attack even took place on a friendly ride would be poor form.

But I had triumphed. Big time. On the day after I had done a big ol’ epic ride.


The Part of the Story I Don’t Tell

While I didn’t expect Rick and Dug to try to blow me away on the climb, I did take some precautions so I wouldn’t fall too badly off the back. You see, this all happened back when I was experimenting with ephedra/caffeine/guarana/aspirin stacks. So before we took off, I doubled up my dosage, meaning I doubled beyond the already mind-blowing quantities of stimulants I normally took.

So while it’s true I beat Dug and Rick to the top of the Alpine Loop, it’s also true that I was unable to stop shaking the rest of the day, or get to sleep until about 3:00 AM.


Tainted Glory 1: Racing Mr. Jones

02.25.2006 | 12:28 am

Riding into work today, it occurred to me: almost all my friends are in their 40’s now. This was followed by an even more shocking realization: I’m less than a third of a year away from being 40, myself.

I can feel it: I am rapidly approaching the age where I do little but sit around and tell stories of my glory days.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what this whole blog is for already.



I Shall Briefly Attempt Honesty, Just to See What It’s Like

The problem with my glory days is that almost without exception, they’re only glorious if I leave certain key facts out.

Over the next several days — until I get tired of it, basically — I shall tell you of some of my most glorious moments on the bike, in much the same way I tell these stories to people at work, at parties, and on planes.

And then I will tell the part of the story I normally leave out: the part that makes my story of glory rather less glorious.

Any questions? No? Let’s begin, then.


The Day I Beat Kenny Up Squaw Peak

Riding mountain bikes up Squaw Peak road to Hope Campground is an ideal training ride. You peg your heartrate during the 4.3 mile stretch of paved road, climbing 1800 feet. Then, as a reward for your hard work, you get to descend on a straight-down stretch of terrifying singletrack, hanging your butt off the back as far as you can in order to not flip over the front, and releasing the brakes to the extent you dare. It’s a huge adrenaline rush.

The first person to the top gets to be the first person down, and that person was always Kenny Jones. Now, I have never been as light or fit as the years Kenny and I rode together. If you ride with Kenny, you just have to learn to be fast. No matter how much I improved, though, I could never beat him to the top of a climb. He has the ability to put his head down, dial up a massive gear, and then just hammer away, suffering like he loves to suffer, leaving me — and everyone else — in the dust.

But once, I beat him. I beat him bad.

We started the climb as we always did, riding together at a medium pace. We went along, slowly driving up the pace, ratcheting up higher gears and inching ahead of the other guy to test for weakness.

It’s usually mile three that Kenny would start to pull ahead. He’d never just shoot off the front. He’d just inch a half wheel ahead of me, and I wouldn’t pull up alongside. Then he’d be a wheel ahead of me. Then a bike length. Before long, he’d be 20 feet ahead of me, and I’d be fully at my max, trying to bridge.

Then he’d be 30 feet ahead of me, and I’d crack. Dropping several gears and reducing my cadence by half, I’d drift backward while Kenny shot ahead.

This time, though, was different. At about the point I usually started falling back, I instead stayed with Kenny. And then I inched ahead.

I listened for the inevitable sound of him shifting up two gears. It didn’t come. I shifted up a gear, stood up, and attacked.

He didn’t respond.

In fact, he cracked.

Victorious, I distanced him and rode ahead, getting to the top of Hope Campground a minute or more ahead.

This was my one and only victory over Kenny, and so I treasure it to this day.


The Part I Don’t Include

Of course, what made my victory possible was the fact that Kenny had just returned from a two-week vacation in Mexico, where he had:

  • Drunk an awful lot of beer
  • Eaten a lot of heavy food
  • Exercised not even a little bit
  • Contracted a stomach virus that gave him acute, persistent, intestinal distress

So the fact that I beat him isn’t really the story. The real story is that Kenny, in spite of all this, still very nearly outrode me.

In which case, you can bet that I wouldn’t be telling this story at all.


Bonus: Winner of the Banjo Brothers Bike Bag Giveaway

Karen sent me a picture and email that I just loved. I love that her husband actually has exactly the tattoo I’ve described. I love that he’s in his 50’s, is so fast, and has a tattoo. And I really love that his wife totally brags about her husband like this. Check it out:

I had to send you this pic of my 56 year old hubby, who has spent most of his life working and playing on various sprockets. He raced motocross for many years, taking the New England championship for three years. Now he is a radical mountain and road biker – rides with guys half his age, and usually kicks their butts (although he will tell you that he ‘rides a little bit’).  He’s participated a lot in the Vermont 50 and came in second in his class a few years ago, when there was not a separate class for anyone above 50 — so he was riding with the youngsters.  Now he would rather get up at 3 or 4 a.m. and pre-ride the course.  His trails are some of the most beloved and fun in Vermont….not that I am partial or proud of him….

He got this tattoo several years ago, and when combined with some of the grease off his sprocket, I thought it made a good picture.  And I love to tease  him about his Cat5 tattoo, while many have regretted assuming that the tattoo meant he’s a beginner.

Today’s weight: 167.6


Permanent Statement

02.22.2006 | 6:18 pm

Yesterday, I talked about getting a rookie mark tattoo, as a permanent acknowledgment that I am a permanent rookie. I always reconsider, though, thinking that it’s not something I’ll necessarily think is quite so hilarious when I’m living in a nursing home.

That, however, is not the only tattoo I have thought about for my calf. For years, I have privately promised myself that if I finish the Leadville 100 in under nine hours, I will tattoo my finishing time and the year I did it on my right calf, for all the world to see. Because that is something I’m pretty sure I’d be happy to talk about forever (whether I was asked to or not).

Since this year is pretty much my make-or-break year for getting that sub-9 time, maybe we’ll see if I follow through. I think I would.

Sure, I’d be laughed at for the rest of my life for getting my first tattoo at 40, the age at which most people finally know better and are looking into getting those tattoos they got at age 19 removed.

But I’d still wear it proudly.


Banjo Brothers Weekly Bike Bag Giveaway Question

What bike-related tattoo would you get, where, and why? Or better yet, what bike-related tattoo have you already got? Where and why? Bonus points if you’ve got a photo; email it to me: fatty@fatcyclist.com.

Oh, and by the way, congrats to the Banjo Brothers for getting some serious airtime on a local news program. Check it out here.


Today’s weight: 169.0

Mark of the Rookie

02.21.2006 | 8:39 pm

There’s an easy way to gauge another cyclist’s experience and ability: Check his right calf. If there’s a greasy chainring-shaped mark on it, be confident that you can outride him.

Unless, of course, you have a similar mark on your own right calf.

This mark — sometimes called the “Rookie Mark”  — tends to get pressed into your leg when you do either of the following:

  • Stop  and rest while straddling your top tube, inadvertently pressing your calf up against your chainring, which is — sadly — lubed with an overabundance of greasy kid’s stuff. This produces a nice, sharp, tattoo-like rookie mark.
  • Fall over while still clipped into your pedals. This produces a somewhat less aesthetically-pleasing rookie mark, because the grease gets smudged as you thrash around like a trapped otter.

With Experience Comes Wisdom. Usually.

As you ride more, you’ll find you get the rookie mark less often. You’re not overlubing anymore, you’ve learned not to lean your chainring against your calf, and you’re not falling over on your side like a keystone kop.

Unless you’re me, in which case you still come home with a rookie mark after pretty much every ride, in spite of the fact that you’ve been riding for ten years or so.


I Nearly Embrace My Inner Fred

In acknowledgement of the fact that I will likely forever be a clumsy oaf, I have actually thought about formalizing it, by having a rookie mark tattooed on my calf. I’ve never followed through, though. I always chicken out, thinking, “Will my sense of humor be the same when I’m 75 as it is today?”

I just can’t quite envision explaining my rookie mark tattoo to my grandkids, at least not without an accompanying vison of their parents later having a quiet talk about visiting the insane gramps guy a lot less often.

So, no tattoo. Yet.


A More Emphatic Rookie Mark

The thing is, as of last Saturday, a rookie mark tattoo may be beside the point. Nick and I were riding at Soaring Eagle Park, doing our three tries on log moves, as required by law.

We were trying a log I had never done before: it was about eight inches in diameter, but was not touching the trail. I’d guess it was resting about six inches above the ground where it crossed the trail.

That’s not what made it tricky, though.

What made this move tricky was that it was downhill, a much more difficult position to start the wheelie from. And the exit was an immediate sharp right turn, if you didn’t want to roll down a bank into blackberry bushes.

I missed on my first try; basically, it was nothing but a chicken-out. On my second try, I got high-centered and bailed out. On my third try, I went for it and very nearly cleaned it, then fell forward, over the bike. My chainring dug in.

I was wearing tights (very manly black mountain biker tights, mind you), which did not seem to be ripped. I dealt with the pain and we rode on.

When I got home, here’s what I found:


My fondest hope is that it will form a really cool-looking scar. Like a rookie-mark tattoo, but earned, instead of bought.

Best. Crash. Ever.

02.20.2006 | 4:03 pm

The details leading up to the crash are fuzzy. Was it five years ago, or seven? Was it spring, summer, or autumn? I don’t remember.

I do remember the crash, though. Perfectly.

Our riding group was pretty large: Dug, Rick, Bob (visiting from Seattle, turning the ride into an event), Jeremy, Gary, and me. There were a couple others, too.

We were doing a semi-epic ride: Begin the ride by climbing up Frank. That’s about 1800 feet, right there. Then, instead of hanging a left and going down, keep going up Francisco. That’s another thousand feet or so. And then the Five Fingers: Drops into and climbs out of five ravines of varying difficulties. That’s probably another 1500 feet of climbing.

Which brought us to the terraces.


Left or Right?

The terraces are strange. Created as part of the WPA program back in the 30’s (ostensibly to stop erosion, but really just to give some people work) these giant stairsteps are now a more-or-less permanent feature on the grassy slopes of several mountains in Utah.

When we got to the terraces, we had an option. Turn right, toward Little Baldy, keep climbing for another twenty minutes, then drop down into Pleasant Grove Canyon. Or turn left and begin descending immediately, riding the ridges of the terraces, eventually winding up in Dry Canyon.

Either way promised to be a fun ride, but when presented with the option of climbing now or descending now, well, what do you think the group decided?

Of course, we turned left. We’d ride the goat trail along the terraces, then hook up to Dry Canyon.


Unfolding Drama

I’m the acknowledged slowest descender of the group, so I generally don’t even volunteer to ride sweep; I just wait until everyone else has started. Ordinarily, this means I’ll watch everyone else disappear as they distance me.

This time, though, it meant I got to watch something extraordinary.

Just about the time I got a full head of steam, Dug — riding first — hit a dip that had been well-hidden by the deep grass. That dip wasn’t bad enough to knock him off his bike, but it was bad enough to throw him to the left, off his line. And since we were riding on the lip of one terrace, that meant he got shot suddenly and immediately down the steep slope to the next terrace level, at which point he endoed, flying high over his handlebars and landing on his back.

And then, a quarter-second later, Rick did the exact same thing. Ride. Dip. Jerk. Flip. It’s like they were synchronized swimmers. 

Then, as fast as you can read this, Gary, Jeremy, and Bob. Each person landed with their own special sound effect. Each separated from his bike in his own way. And they all went down so close together that things started getting crowded. One would be wise to pick one’s landing spot carefully, which one would obviously do if one were at all in control of oneself whilst being thrown keyster over teakettle.


I Will Not Fall Down

Of course, I’m writing this with clear hindsight. I now know what caused everyone to get flipped off their bikes. While it was happening, though, it was the strangest thing I had ever seen. When one guy goes down, it’s no big deal. But everyone was going down. I swear, it looked intentional.

I slowed down, cautious. Already, I was forming a plan. I would pull alongside all these fallen riders, shake my head in mild amusement, make a “tsk-tsk” sound, and then continue ahead, in a most dignified manner.

Then, just like everyone else, I hit the dip, jerked off course, flew off the terrace, and flipped over my bike. Just like everyone else had. To my relief, I landed in a clear spot.

I had made it unanimous. Every single one of us had crashed in the exact same spot. Lemmings on mountain bikes.


Back on Your Bike, Soldier

So now, like everyone else, I was lying on my back in tall grass. I sat up, startled to find I was completely unhurt. It had been the rarest of crashes: a no-cost endo. I looked over at Dug, who was just now stumbling to his feet, unaware — I think — of what had happened to everyone else. Then he looked around, seeing the around a half dozen bikes and riders scattered on the ground.

Dug sat back down, laughing. And within moments, we were all laughing, sitting where we had landed. A passerby — had there been even a remote possibility of passersby up in the terraces — would have certainly suspected substance abuse.

But it wasn’t. It was just a bunch of guys caught up in the moment of what was without a question the Best Crash Ever.

Eventually, we’d finish the ride.

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