- How many more installments is this story going to have, anyway? I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m really not trying to be a tease; I’m just writing as much as I have time for each evening. I click publish when I’ve taken close to as much time as I have and have reached a reasonable break point.
- Is it actually possible for a story describing a race to be longer than the race itself? Almost certainly. So far, for example, I’ve described 2:40 of the race, but it’s taken me longer than that to describe it.
- Up until this point, Fatty’s race seems to have gone accordingly to plan. So when did things start going wrong? Pretty much from this point forward.
Everyone who signs up for the Leadville 100 knows that it’s really all about two things: climbing to Columbine Mine, and climbing the Powerline. And Powerline is only important because you’re so tired from having climbed Columbine.
There are three reasons why the Columbine Mine climb is the centerpiece of this event:
- It is actually at the midpoint of the race.
- You climb from the lowest point of the course — 9000 feet — to the highest point of the course — 12,600 feet — in ten miles.
- The last three miles of this climb are so steep and rocky that you wind up walking a lot of them.
There’s a two mile stretch of rolling dirt road before the base of the Columbine Mine dirt road turns sharply upward. Brad, Rick, and I started on this section together, but it didn’t last long. Brad shot on ahead and Rick — who is completely unable under any circumstance to resist the urge to give chase – gave chase.
Well, I’ve said it before: everyone climbs alone.
But first, I had to pee.
Or I thought I did.
Hm. Nothing seemed to be happening.
After standing, futilely, for a minute, I climbed back onto my bike and continued. For the rest of the day, I would regard the urge to pee with suspicion. And a little bit of discomfort.
I resolved myself to the likelihood that I would never catch Brad or Rick again, shut my brain off, and pedaled.
When I climb the Columbine Mine each year, I always play the same three games:
- This is the Last Switchback: At each switchback, I tell myself it’s the last one. I even tell myself this at the first switchback, just to jerk myself around a bit.
- Catch the Next Guy. Except for on the Columbine Mine road, I don’t care at all about when I pass someone or get passed. I’m racing the clock, not people. On the Columbine Mine road, though, I constantly find myself pushing a little bit to see if I can catch the guy ahead of me. Somewhere along the way, Rick Sunderlage became that guy. He said, “You’re riding strong, Nelson.” I didn’t reply, because my higher brain functions had shut down for the duration.
- Guess Who’s First. One of the things that’s fun about the Leadville 100 is that it’s an out-and-back course, which means you get to see the race leaders tear down the course long before you get anywhere near the turnaround point. I like to guess what time I’ll see the race leaders, and who will be out front. In this case I was about five minutes off on my guess of when, but guessed the top two racers — though I got them in the incorrect order (Floyd Landis led Dave Wiens at the time, by about five seconds).
Note: I don’t know why I seem to be telling this installment of my race recap in lists of three. I just write what the voices tell me.
A Farewell to Margarita Shot Bloks
It was during the climb up this road that, for the first time since the beginning of the race, I ignored my bike computer when it told me it was time to eat again. Food just didn’t sound good.
By the time the chime went off again, though, I knew I had better eat, even though I was pushing my bike up the hill at the time.
I stuffed a packet of Margarita Shot Bloks into my mouth and started to chew.
My throat constricted. My stomach convulsed.
I was gonna hurl.
Quickly, I reached into my mouth, grabbed the Shot Bloks, and threw them as far away as I could (I would’ve spat them out, but simply didn’t have the wind for that kind of thing).
I knew at that moment that I would not / could not eat another Margarita Shot Blok for the rest of the race.
I regretted the fact that this was the only kind of food I was carrying with me at the time.
So I just kept going, figuring I’d grab something to eat when I got to the Columbine Mine Aid Station at the top.
Ode to Cantaloupe
I made it to the top of the Columbine Mine climb, just barely holding on to the outside limit of my sub-9 split times: 4:35.
And then I saw the cantaloupe.
A giant, silver bowl full of slices of ripe cantaloupe.
I swear, I heard angels.
I dropped my bike, went over to the table, and began grabbing handsful. I ate between six and sixteen slices of cantaloupe. It was, somehow, exactly what I needed.
I then jumped back on my bike, feeling much better, and started down the mountain I had just spent so much effort climbing.
How to Lose Time
I have said before that I have become comfortable riding a fully rigid mountain bike. But I’ve never said that I’ve become fast at it. So before I got down the rockiest part of the downhill, my good friend Bry — who I was two minutes ahead of at the turn around point — caught and passed me (Bry was riding a bike virtually identical to mine, so it’s a matter of skill, not equipment, that allowed him to distance me).
By the time he got back to the Twin Lakes Dam aid station, 10 miles away, Bry would be four minutes ahead of me.
I am not kidding when I say this: If I were as good a downhiller as my friends, I would have finished this race in under nine hours. Curse my timid constitution! Curse my pantywaisted timidity! And above all, curse my right hand, which — due to accumulated injuries — falls completely asleep whenever I downhill for more than five minutes.
Seriously, after a few minutes I can no longer feel the brake lever at all. It’s not a helpful attribute to have.
Hi to All My Friends
If you’re having a good, fast year, the descent down Columbine Mine road is a lot of fun. You get to zoom down, briefly seeing your friends as they continue to climb up. There’s Bry. Rick. Riley. Jolene. Nick. Lisa. Mo. Scott. Dean (Hey, what’s Dean doing so far back? He was supposed to be working toward a sub-9 with me). Dug (sitting on the side of the road — I thought he must be resting, but now know that he was, for the umpteenth time, repairing his cranks). Bob. A guy I’ve never met but who’s wearing a Fat Cyclist Jersey. Awesome.
I have a lot of friends who do this ride. I’m a very lucky guy.
Doubt Creeps In
As I pulled into the Twin Lakes Dam aid station for the second time, Susan was right there, and got to work.
She wasn’t happy with what she discovered in my jersey — lots of uneaten Margarita Shot Blok packets. “I can’t eat those anymore,” I said. “Maybe I’ll never eat them again.”
Susan looked down at the Shot Bloks she had prepared for my next leg of the race. Just as I had earlier requested, they were all Margarita flavor. “Give me all the Raspberry ones I have left,” I said.
“There are only four packets of that kind,” Susan said.
“That’s plenty. I need to get moving, and you need to hurry to meet me at the next aid station.”
“Drink some soup,” Susan urged.
“No. No salty food. I hate salty food. I will never eat salty food again,” I said. It’s weird how fully irrational you can become when racing.
“At least take some extra Shot Blok packets with you,” said Susan, “in case I don’t make it to the next aid station in time to meet you.”
“No. Don’t miss me. I’m going.”
It occurs to me that I was a jerk to my wife, who was crewing for me all day in the hot sun between weekly chemo sessions.
I took off, riding as hard as I figured I could sustain. Even as I did, though, I couldn’t help but think: I was now outside my projected splits times to finish under nine hours. Things were not looking good for me.
To my credit, though, I did not back off. Instead, I thought to myself, “No, the race isn’t over. I’ve lost time, but I can also pick time up. I need to go faster, not give up.”
Forty miles to go.
I should be able to tell forty miles of story tomorrow, I think. And maybe a little bit more.
Oh, and pictures. Lots of pictures tomorrow. Including one that I think is pretty darn cool.