Before I even started the KTR, I knew there would be three sections that would test my limits: the climb from Dewey Bridge to 5 Mile Mesa (or is it 7 Mile Mesa? I can never remember), the climb from Fisher Valley to North Beaver Mesa, and the climb up to the La Sal mountain.
The thing is, those climbs come one after another, with descents that either are so technical or are over so fast that you don’t have any time to recover.
Consider it: 11,647 feet of climbing, over 64 miles. The below profile chart gives you a pretty decent idea of what the trip is like. (You can see the route and all the stats for this part of the ride by clicking here.)
Which is to say, the second half of the KTR is brutal. And there are none of the easy bailout options that present themselves during the first part of the race.
But at least it’s a downhill finish, right?
Greg, Part 1
For the entire race, I was too cautious about water. My basic rule was that any time I got down to two full bottles, I would take the next opportunity to find and filter water, completely loading up, just in case it took me a long time to get to the next water crossing — or just in case the next water crossing, wasn’t.
Following this rule, I began the first big climb to 5-Mile Mesa (look at mile 0-10 in the profile chart) completely loaded up with water. Within a few miles, I felt like a fool — there was a stream: a much clearer, cooler, more convenient water crossing than the muddy Colorado River I had just filled up at. I hadn’t needed to pack that heavy (and believe me, it felt very heavy gallon of water all this way). Oh well.
Incidentally, there was a cyclist laying down in the stream.
I stopped, pulled my earphones out, and said hi. Greg — for Greg was his name — sat up, said hi, then ducked his head in the water one last time and got ready to roll.
Here’s a biking axiom: a funny, nice riding buddy can reduce the pain quotient of a climb by 35%. And, thanks to my Twin Six Deluxe socks, it didn’t take long for Greg to put the pieces together and we talked about the upcoming special pink edition of the jersey, how it’s possible that the Twin Six guys seem to know every cyclist in the universe, and the fact that Greg’s a Twin Six rider. Love his team bio.
Unfortunately — for me — eventually I just couldn’t keep up with Greg. He tried to slow down for me, but the reality is, when you’re deep into an endurance ride it’s almost impossible to speed up or slow down your pace. The speed you’re going is the speed you’re capable of going.
That’s why, no matter how many times I’ve planned epic rides with friends, once we get on the trail, everyone eventually winds up riding big pieces of the course alone.
It’s as it should be.
Heat of the Day
So I continued on alone as the day started getting hot. Really hot. I wished, over and over, two things:
- For a lower gear
- For my feet to stop hurting so bad
With regards to the latter problem, I finally had a knuckle-headed epiphany. Why, it turns out I was packing a full bottle of ibuprofen! Duh. Four capsules sounded like a good number, and half an hour later I was able to beat the pain in my feet into the background of my thoughts.
It was during this climb that the only Bananarama song I have on my iPod — “Cruel Summer” — got randomly shuffled into play. I actually laughed out loud.
I remembered Al Maviva quoting Eric Rasmuson as saying that climbing isn’t as hard if you just look at your front wheel. So I just stared at my front wheel.
It was no easier.
I passed two cyclists, neither of which was moving. No, they weren’t dead, they were just resting under available shade. At least I hoped they were just resting.
Then between eight and ten Land Rovers passed me, each with a male driver and a female passenger. Weird. Do Land Rover clubs have a men-with-female-companions-only membership rule?
And no, I wasn’t hallucinating.
That came later.
Greg, Part 2
As I neared the summit of 5 Mile Mesa (or is it 7 Mile Pass? I must find out someday), I finished off the last of the water in my Camelbak. By my rule, that meant I needed to stop at the next water crossing and fill up.
I was hot. I was tired. I was a little bit thick-tongued and mentally addled. More than usual, I mean.
Then I saw another rider trying to get some shade under a bush. He stood up as I approached. It was Greg.
“How’s it going?” I asked, slurrily.
“Oh, I’m just looking forward to getting some water,” he said.
“Tell me about it,” I replied, and kept going, figuring he’d be riding with me.
But when I looked back a few minutes later, he wasn’t there.
And then, half an hour later, it occurred to me: he may well have been asking if I had any water to spare, without wanting to come right out and ask.
Like I said, I was thick tongued and addle-brained.
Greg, if you’re still alive and you read this, please accept my apologies. I didn’t get the clue, or I wouldn’t have left you to die, under a bush, at the top of 5 Mile Mesa (7 Mile Pass, whatever). I still had two bottles, and if you would have asked, you could’ve had one.
An interminable hike-a-bike down a boulder ravine (interminable because the hike was long, the day was hot, my feet were in pain, and I was beginning to feel really exhausted) brought me into Fisher Valley. I was now down to one bottle of water, and was beginning to worry. Would I run out of water before the next water crossing? I thought there was one just a few miles away, but couldn’t be sure.
On the other hand, I could see that the ranch in this valley was currently watering its alfalfa fields, mocking me.
I decided to take a side trip toward the ranch and pick up some water there, rather than trust there’d be a water crossing on the trail.
The thing is, the longer I rode toward the ranch, the further it seemed to get away from me. And the hoped-for irrigation ditch never materialized.
So, after ten minutes (or fifteen or twenty — hard to say) I gave up and headed back onto the trail, figuring I’d trust to finding water where everyone else did.
Nothing like putting in a few extra miles on a 140 mile bike ride.
Time for the Big Climb
Sure enough, after a quick climb (well, “quick” may not be the correct adjective) and descent, I came across the water crossing, just where I remembered it. So the detour really was a waste.
And there were two riders, sitting at the stream. We talked a bit while I filtered. One of them was named Jesper, and he was currently lamenting that he had picked too steep a gear for his singlespeed.
“Oh, and the fun’s just beginning,” I said.
“Have you ridden this trail before?” he asked.
“Not in this direction, but the uphill we’re about to do takes about 45 minutes when you go downhill.”
“How long of a climb is it?” Jesper asked, visibly worried. And rightly so.
“It’ll be nine miles before we get any kind of break at all.”
As it turns out, you’re climbing pretty much nonstop for about fifteen miles (check out mile 22-37 on the elevation profile).
Better get started.
I Do Not Think I See What I Think I See
It was during this climb up to North Beaver Mesa that I began to hallucinate.
I started seeing things on the side of the road that would turn out — as I got closer — to be nothing more than rocks, logs and flowers.
The following day, as we drove home and I relayed this to my friends, Adam Lisonbee chimed in, “I was hallucinating on that stretch, too!”
We compared hallucinations:
“I saw a lawnchair,” said Adam. “I was so disappointed when it turned out to be nothing but some wildflowers.”
“I saw an ice chest,” I said. “I had no problem with raiding it either. I was really ticked off that it was just a stump.”
“I saw a real estate sign,” Adam said. “I was thinking, ‘How come North Beaver Mesa is for sale?’”
“I saw people sitting on the side of the road. They always turned out to be trees. And I saw an armadillo. And a hedgehog.”
When it comes down to it, I think I may have hallucinated more than Adam.
Amazingly, the climb to North Beaver Mesa eventually ended. At the top, there was Adam, sitting in a stream (since he confirmed he was really there, I believe I can confidently say this was not a hallucination). Adam saluted, I asked for a bullet to kill myself with, and Adam replied he had already used the only one he had.
We were very funny.
A five mile descent on pavement (mile 37-42, if you’re looking at the elevation profile) brought me to the final big climb of the day, up to the La Sal mountains. This climb was on pavement, has multiple switchbacks, and was just incredibly boring.
You know what the problem with “boring” is when it’s Saturday afternoon, you haven’t slept since Thursday, and you’ve been on your bike for eighteen hours?
You get sleepy. Verrrrry sleeeepy.
I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was turning the pedals, but my head kept snapping forward, and my bike was veering all over the road.
The hallucinations were getting more common, too. I saw a train of 8-10 Miatas coming down the road. Once again, each car had a male driver and a female passenger (usually looking bored).
Or were those real? Hard to say.
Somewhere along the way up, it occurred to me: maybe the music was making me sleepy. I pulled out the iPod headphones, and that did seem to help.
A little bit.
When I finally got to the top of that road, knowing that it was all downhill from there (seriously, check out the profile from mile 50 to the end of the race), I laughed aloud.
I knew I’d make it.
After a hard day of climbing, ten miles of fast, easy downhill feels so good. I didn’t pedal at all. Just coasted. It was time for gravity to pay me back.
And it was still light — barely — which was good, because I had used up all my batteries earlier in the day, back when I thought I’d do this race in 18 hours. Oh, the naivete of youth!
And then I was in the parking lot. Botched Experiment found me a chair. Mark Albrecht brought me some ice cream sandwiches (the best food I have ever had in my life). Kenny looked relieved and said my wife and sister Kellene had been calling, wondering if they ought to send out Search and Rescue.
I finished 25th (or so) out of 60 (or so) starters and 35 (or so) finishers. Mid-pack at best.
And, without question, this was my proudest mountain biking moment, ever.