Before I start my story of Ride Around White Rim in One Day (RAWROD) ‘06, I feel compelled to set your expectations appropriately, so you don’t feel let down at the end.
- There is no twist ending at the conclusion to this story. The arc progresses to its natural conclusion.
- I do not emerge triumphant. There is no cheering crowd at the finish line.
- I do not win a moral victory, nor do I have any startling epiphanies.
OK, let’s proceed.
The Night Before
It seems that every time I go on an epic ride, someone suggests that we camp the night before. “That way,” they always say, as if there’s some sort of script these people share with one another, “we can just wake up and take off!” Brightly, they continue, “And we’ll save money on hotel rooms!” Then, triumphantly, they conclude: “It’ll be fun!”
In the past, I have always argued that we should stay at a hotel instead. I like sleeping in a bed the night before a long ride. I like coming back to a room with a shower and a bed after a long ride. I like the way the temperature in the room can be controlled. And—without going into detail—I like having a toilet available both before and after a long ride.
This time, though, I didn’t argue. Since I was coming from out of town, I didn’t have my own vehicle, so I didn’t have any leverage, anyway. “Fine, let’s camp,” I said, agreeably.
Next time I go on a long ride, I will know better.
Don’t get me wrong. Right up until the point where you actually go to bed, the camping was great. Kenny had thoughtfully brought along enough bratwurst for all 60 people (!!!) who were doing this ride. I had two, with horseradish on the delicious homemade bread Kenny had baked and brought.
Eventually, though, I had to go to bed. Dug had arranged for a really nice cot for me. He had also arranged for a sleeping bag, though I could see there would be problems when he handed the bag, still in its teeny-tiny stuff sack, to me. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: “Thanks. Is this the pillow?”
Dug: “No, it’s your sleeping bag.”
Me: “The stuff sack is approximately the size of a sock.”
Me: “So, is there a special ripcord or something I pull to make it suddenly inflate, at which point it will have magically have some high-tech insulating properties?”
Me: “Or maybe you have special information about the weather and how while the temperature seems to be plummeting right now, it will shortly rise back to about 50 degrees and stay there?”
Dug: (Walks away, no longer interested in this conversation.)
So, I did not get much sleep. And the sleep I got was poor. And I was cold. And the wind made the tent flap. And there was very little indoor plumbing the morning before the ride (which is a really really really good time to have indoor plumbing).
Next time I go on a big ride, I’m not going to argue about whether we should camp before. I’m staying at a hotel.
OK, I’m done whining.
No, wait. That’s not true. I’m done whining about camping. I haven’t even started whining about the ride itself, though.
With 60 people starting this ride, there was no way in the world we’d actually get started by the stated start time of 6:30. Brad, Dug and I were the first to roll out at 7:10AM. We rolled down the nicely graded and groomed Horsethief trail, getting passed by Mike Young—who would ride pretty much the whole day by himself, a victim of his own superiority. In fact, the only time anyone would see Mike that day would be at the designated group photo spots.
Here’s Mike, posing heroically.
At first, a lot of people were riding together—after all, there were 60 of us (!!!). And as we rode through several patches of deep sand, I noticed something: Those of us on 29” wheels rode through, no problem. Those on 26” wheels got off and walked. It was pretty much that cut and dried.
After the first group photo at the bottom of Horse Thief, Brad, Dug, Mark Warner and I hooked up and rode together for the first 50 miles, ‘til we got to the top of Murphy’s Hogback, the designated lunch spot.
The weather was warm—not yet hot—and mild, we were chatting, and I felt strong. I was having a great ride. As we got to Murphy’s Hogback—the second longest sustained climb of the day, my knees were starting to hurt, but not bad. I cleaned the climb without particular difficulty, then sat down with Brad and Dug in the only shady area for miles around, and started heckling others as they finished the climb. Most people ignored us, a few people laughed along with us, and a few (foolishly) even followed our advice, a sampling of which follows:
- No, that’s not how you do it! Stand up!
- No, that’s not how you do it! Sit down!
- No, don’t ride to the right! Ride straight up the center! The center is the only way!
- Oh, you were so close! Go try it again; I’m sure you’ll make it next time.
- What, you’re not going to try it again? You know, your wife cleaned it her first try.
Misery Hates Company
We had a delicious lunch—chicken and stars soup and clif bars for me—followed by cake and singing a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Racer, who had unfortunately chosen not to come. Oh, and let’s not forget the group photo:
Then it was time to ride again. This time, Kenny hooked up with Dug, Brad and me and we rode together for almost five minutes before Brad discovered he has the strength and endurance of ten men and shot off the front. Dug, feeling good, followed close behind.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t feeling so hot. My knees were hurting worse, and I just couldn’t work up any energy. Kenny, who is one of the nicest and most decent people I have ever met, stayed with me for at least 15 minutes as person after person passed us. Eventually, though, it became too much and he shot on ahead, playing gracious host to others in the massive party he had coordinated.
The truth is, though, I no longer really wanted any company. I was descending into the eleventh circle of hell (yep, there are eleven now), and was building a list of things I didn’t like at all. The list was extensive and I’m afraid I can’t remember everything in it, but here are the parts that I recall:
- I didn’t like people who rode by without saying anything: Look, we may not know each other because this is such an enormous group ride (60 people!!!), but we’re still riding the White Rim, in the same direction, on the same day. Would it hurt to say “Hi” as you went by?
- I didn’t like people who said encouraging things as they rode by: Don’t tell me I’m looking good. If I were looking good, you wouldn’t be able to pass me. When I’m looking good, I can clean your clock. And don’t tell me it’s a beautiful day for a ride. It’s a beautiful day for not riding, that’s what it’s a beautiful day for.
- I didn’t like people who asked me how I’m doing: I’m going four miles per hour on an easy flat stretch. Isn’t it pretty clear how I’m doing?
- I didn’t like how I was feeling: I was beginning to suffer some distress that only a latrine would cure. And there wasn’t a latrine for miles and miles and miles yet.
- I didn’t like my bike: I thought I had set my bike up to have the saddle like on my other bikes, but I guess I didn’t get it right, because my knees were hurting like crazy. Both of them, right along the top. The main thought in my brain for about five hours was, “Does this pain mean my saddle is too high, too low, too far forward, or too far back?” The accompanying thought was, “And does it really matter, since I plan to never ride a bike again as soon as I finish this thing?”
- I didn’t like the terrain: From mile 65 – 85, you’re riding on a choppy, rocky surface that just batters you constantly. It’s like riding on cobblestones, except the cobblestones are made out of sandstone. And there are giant potholes everywhere. And the cracks between cobblestones are about eight inches wide. And every alteranate cobblestone sticks up about four inches higher than its adjoining cobblestone.
- I didn’t like being called “Fatty.” At all.
I was living with all this, though, because of a memory: there’s a ten-mile rolling section that always has a tailwind. You can cruise that section at 25-30mph. It’s wonderful.
This time, though, there was a headwind.
Yes, a headwind. I’m still outraged at this audacious betrayal.
I rode it at about 10mph.
And internally, things were not getting better.
I arrived at Musselman Arch—the last place everyone was supposed to gather for water before finishing the ride—completely blown. However, I did still have plenty of water—my camelback felt like it was a third full, and I had a full bottle besides. And I really needed to get to a toilet.
So I rolled in—by my estimation, I was one of the last ten people to arrive—and saw Brad, Dug, and Bry taking shelter in what shade they could find.
Dug did not look good.
I’ll let Dug tell his story tomorrow.
Bry and Brad, on the other hand, seemed happy as could be. “Hey, Fatty, where’s your big smile?” Bry—who is, I should point out, an incredibly nice guy who has never said anything mean to me, even when I stupidly caused him to crash a few years ago—asked.
I flipped him off.
To get a sense of how I felt at the time, consider: this is the first time I’ve flipped anyone off in my adult life.
I headed back onto the trail. I knew there was a toilet no more than five miles away.
I will not go into the details of my time at the latrine at the bottom of the Shafer climb, but I will say this: I would previously not have expected it to be possible to be overwhelmed with joy at the sight of a toilet.
Then it was time to do the big climb up Shafer.
The best way to not get demoralized by Shafer is this: Never, ever, ever take a good look at it. It’s just a cliff—a big cliff that switches back and forth for pretty much ever. It’s steep; it’s loose. It’s evil.
It’s the only way out.
I knew I wouldn’t be climbing fast, so I intentionally started the climb in my granny gear, and just stayed there. This was not a bad strategy; I managed to ride practically the whole thing. I just ignored the people passing me. Pretended they weren’t there at all.
And then Bill—the only person in the world who may be a nicer, more decent guy than Kenny—caught me.
“Man, I am so slow!” he said, as he easily passed.
I will not repeat what I said to Bill, but you can safely assume that it was out of character, and was very likely nastier than events warranted.
Eventually—oh, so eventually—I got to the top of Shafer. All that was left to do was ride the nice, rolling pavement for about seven miles back to the tent , where—instead of taking a nice shower and laying down on a bed, like I would if we had a hotel room—I’d need to break camp. Grrrr.
Here’s the thing, though: That pavement was endless. And it didn’t roll, either. It just climbed and climbed and climbed. It was the most dispiriting part of the whole ride.
And then, from out of nowhere, Kenny pulled up ahead of me. “Let me pull you for a while,” he said. I got in as close as I could, hunkered down, and drafted my little heart out. I noticed Kenny was frequently looking off to the right where he could see our shadows, then feathering his brakes whenever he saw I was starting to drop back more than a foot or so.
I tell you, Kenny is the nicest, most decent guy in the world.
PS: The King and Queen of Shafer
Kenny asked me to choose a King and Queen of Shafer for this edition of RAWROD. I figure I’d still be out on that road if it weren’t for him, so here are my picks.
- The King of Shafer: Linde Smith picked RAWROD 2006 as his first 100-mile MTB ride. And he did it on a singlespeed. And he has MS. Personally, I think it’s a little bit of overkill to contract MS to get the title “King of Shafer,” but that’s just me.
- The Queen of Shafer: Serina Warner did the whole ride on a singlespeed. And she’s really nice. And she did the ride with a big ol’ swollen arm, due to the bee sting she had got the day before. And she didn’t sing opera at all during the whole ride. Which counts for a lot.