Close But No Cigar, Part III: Rise and Fall

08.14.2007 | 8:05 pm

If you read parts one and two of this story, you are no doubt wondering the following things:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Big Climb
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:

  1. It is actually at the midpoint of the race.
  2. You climb from the lowest point of the course — 9000 feet — to the highest point of the course — 12,600 feet — in ten miles.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Let’s continue.

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.

Sorry, Susan.

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.


  1. Comment by dug | 08.14.2007 | 8:16 pm

    you know what’s weird about time? picking it up is harder than losing it. this is not relative. it just is.

  2. Comment by Glenda | 08.14.2007 | 8:29 pm

    You and Susan ROCK Fatty…can’t wait for the rest of the journey! :)

  3. Comment by monkeywebb | 08.14.2007 | 9:29 pm

    Fatty- Your mortality is distressing. I already know your finishing time, and your story is leading in an obvious direction. However, I still choose to believe that I’ll find out that what I think I know is all an elaborate hoax, manufactured to elevate the suspense and provide an appropriately dramatic story arch. I look forward to the final act.

    And, by the way, my wife said she’d look past your attempts to make our relationship look sad (see comment on previous post) if you helped her win a computer. Click below and vote “5 cones”. Yes, that’s really her. Yes, that’s really a lobster trap. She’s back at home healing nicely now. I don’t think I can ever let her go back to RI.

  4. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 08.14.2007 | 10:18 pm

    You’re obviously suffering from PLSD (Post Leadville Stress Disorder). “Sorry Susan” is a fairly small contribution to the repair process. I hope that you’ve also written a macro so that your wife’s computer spits out a dinner and flowers voucher with the Brad Pitt look alike of her choice. And a hug and a kiss and a few more sorrys.

    And have a closer look at that black arm band… if all that stands between 9 hours and the bonk is margarita shot blocks, I’d take the margaritas. Hell, I’d take moose turd flavoured breakfast, lunch and dinner if I’d worked as hard as you have and saw it slipping away.

  5. Comment by buckythedonkey | 08.15.2007 | 12:04 am

    Argh! The suspense is killing me!

    Did you ever try Ergon grips? My dodgy hand has stayed awake ever since I got mine.

  6. Comment by Philthy in Oz | 08.15.2007 | 12:13 am

    Hey Fatty,
    HTFU you whinger. ;-)

  7. Comment by bikemike | 08.15.2007 | 1:38 am

    at this point, i’d probably be doing a Huffy Toss of the
    ol’ single speed off the side of the mountain.

  8. Comment by Born 4 Lycra | 08.15.2007 | 1:53 am

    Pictures can’t wait for the pictures.
    Scuse my ignorance these margarita shot bloks are they supposed to taste the same as the drink?

  9. Comment by cheapie | 08.15.2007 | 4:16 am

    for the life of me, i can’t understand why someone would ride a fully rigid bike when descending is such a huge part of the race! i’m sure you know what you’re doing but…i’m not sayin’….just sayin’.

  10. Comment by DGage | 08.15.2007 | 4:47 am

    I’m with cheapie on this one! Suspension bikes were invented for a reason!

  11. Pingback by » Links Of The Day: 15 August 2007 | 08.15.2007 | 5:01 am

    [...] Close But No Cigar, Part III: Rise and Fall [...]

  12. Comment by rz | 08.15.2007 | 5:23 am

    Oh, Fatty. So close…so close.

    I have a question. Does cantaloupe replace the grapefruit as the magical fruit?

  13. Comment by UltraRob | 08.15.2007 | 5:38 am

    I told you before the race I’d guess your time at 8:33 if you weren’t eating Shot Bloks. I added 10 minutes for them. Although I don’t know the whole story yet, maybe they accounted for me than 10 minutes. I got a couple pictures of you out on course and yelled at you a couple times. You were still riding fast then.

  14. Comment by DocB | 08.15.2007 | 5:50 am

    My first post to the site after lurking for quite a while but I couldn’t resist anymore. Your latest Leadville recap is the best ever, the suspense is amazing. It’s killing me right now to think that I may have to wait several days for the end (after I get back from a business trip with limited net access). IMHO–your “close but no cigar” finish is still awesome and something to be proud of. For the numb hand, have you ever thought about swtiching the brakes to the rear is on the hand that feels. It takes some getting used to but it also keeps unauthorized riders from using your bikes (at least for very long).

    Hope you and Susan got the postcard I sent you earlier in the summer from southern Italy, which I think is an overlooked part of the country (Tuscany gets all the really good press). If you are ever headed down to southern Tennessee, let me know. We have over 50 miles of absolutely fabulous trails and infinite road riding right out my front door.

  15. Comment by Al Maviva | 08.15.2007 | 5:58 am

    I’ve said it before, will say it again – short rides under 6 hours, you can squeak by on Clif Bars, gels and shot blocks. Longer rides – you need some real food, provided your stomach can take it. Turkey on whole wheat with tomatoes, mayo & pepper is like steroids when you’re deep in the hole. Peanut butter & jelly is awesome. Peanuts, almonds… mmmmm…

  16. Comment by TWL | 08.15.2007 | 6:11 am

    I would have taken this all very philosophically.

    Probably Heidigger’s existential nihilism.

    Just sayin’.

  17. Comment by Bitter (formerly known as Lissee) | 08.15.2007 | 6:29 am

    I’m thinkin’ that next year with better food you’ll definitely make a sub-9 ride.

  18. Comment by Mike Roadie | 08.15.2007 | 6:32 am

    First, Monkeywebb, I voted for you, so please “vote” for me:

    Second, I totally agree on the suspension bike AND on solid food for longer events (runs, too, not just rides). There used to be guy handing out PB&Js at mile 70 at some of the rides….that was like manna from heaven…..

    Maybe you should do no Shot Bloks at all, then the hunger would drive you to finish early…..if the climbs don’t kill you first.

    And, yeah, you DO owe Susan BIG TIME……I’m not sayin’…….I’m just sayin’…..

  19. Comment by sans auto | 08.15.2007 | 7:25 am

    This from a man who supplements with salt licks? How could you not handle a little extra sodium in the shotblocs and turn down a can of sodium soup? Great results this year and I think sub-9 is a piece of cake for next year… maybe cake is the answer for your nutritional needs. It doesn’t carry well, but it’s got plenty of calories and it goes down pretty easy. I can see it now, you crossing the finish line covered with chocolate frosting like a kid on his first birthday.

  20. Comment by Rick S. | 08.15.2007 | 7:30 am

    i saw a lot of half eaten shot bloks all over the course. I did the same thing. I’d pop a single blok in my mouth and would about hurl every time. I had to let it sit in my mouth and dissolve.
    I was half tempted to insert my food in any other oracle on my body. I know that sounds gross but at the time, it seemed like a good idea.

  21. Comment by TimK | 08.15.2007 | 7:34 am

    Wasting away again in Margaritaville searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt,
    Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame . . .
    But I know it’s your fault for eating Sh*t Blocks.

    Sincere apologies to Mr. Buffet. But hearing “Margarita” so many times got my head going.

    Al M, the triptophan in Turkey doesn’t make you sleepy? I met a guy while back who boiled, then froze eggs and would eat those on a ride. Definitely not one to draft off.

  22. Comment by born4felt | 08.15.2007 | 7:37 am


    maybe you would have gone faster if you weren’t riding with that oracle on your bike! oh well, at least you knew what was going to happen.

  23. Comment by FatPaul | 08.15.2007 | 8:04 am


    “Any other oracle”, Rick must have had more than one. What a monster! riding with one oracle is a feat that must be celebrated, but multiple oracles, Wow!

  24. Comment by buckythedonkey | 08.15.2007 | 8:14 am

    Rick, I strongly recommend spalming your other oracle before putting it to the use you suggest.

  25. Comment by Kathy | 08.15.2007 | 8:15 am

    Cantaloupe is the fruit of the gods. I was lucky enough to find someone selling cantaloupe slices during RAGBRAI and I think it was my best food stop of that particular day. I ate it in the shade while reclining in a lawn chair with my feet up and the juice running down my arms. Delicious!

  26. Comment by Philly Jen | 08.15.2007 | 8:18 am

    Eugh, I have to deal with Oracle products all day at work — I can easily see how they could be confused with a certain bodily orifice (and it’s not the one where the Sh*t Bloks go IN, dear friends)…

  27. Comment by Mocougfan | 08.15.2007 | 8:25 am

    I’m with cheapie and others. I’ve ridden when my shocks stop working and I’m forced to ride a rigid. I absolutely hate it. I go slow because of the pain to my hands. I have the nicest shocks I can afford on my Mtn bike because of the fear of them not working.

    When I rode the Triple Bypass a few weeks ago I was doing great the first 4-5 hours on hammer gels. Then I really needed some real food. Of course I am fat and out of shape. And I suck at climbing that long.

    Fatty…. great ride, great story. Lightens my day as always. Thank you.

  28. Comment by Errorista | 08.15.2007 | 8:36 am

    great story – i’ve not called you on purpose because i’m enjoying this read so much. can i have your htfu bracelet? i think roan would rock it really proudly, and in this hood, it might just do him some good……

  29. Comment by Bob | 08.15.2007 | 8:41 am

    It surprises me that you couldn’t stomach the shot bloks after having eating nothing else during your Kokopelli ride. As for me, I was able to eat the bloks, but I couldn’t stomach the Stingers. I regret not having brought more old fashioned power gels and Clif bars… and not losing fifteen more pounds… and not doing more altitude training…

  30. Comment by KT | 08.15.2007 | 10:03 am

    Hmmm… Bob has the right of it, although I would have thought you would have stuffed your pockets with Stingers and Bars instead of Blocks.

    Rick S (not your real initial): Wow, where did you pick up your oracles? Delphi? Where did they ride? Did they help push you up the hill and isn’t that cheating?????

    Great story so far; maybe Susan will forgive you someday for being so short.

    Oh, and Fatty: NEVER TURN DOWN THE SOUP. Sheesh.

  31. Comment by Stephanie | 08.15.2007 | 10:34 am

    i live for shot blocks… until i’m hurting on a ride/run… then they’re the last thing i ever want to see or taste again.

  32. Comment by cheapie | 08.15.2007 | 11:13 am

    part of my problem w/ss and fully rigid bikes is that the people that seem to get them are dudes that are already fantastic riders and appear to be just bored with their current plush setup.

    i think fatty rode the less comfortable bike on purpose so that he would just barely miss the 9-hour mark. since we’re all so emotionally involved with his quest we all were checking here to see if he broke it. if he had, we’d be like…sweet… lets check something else out.

    since he didn’t, we’re now on the hook for another year and we’ll follow his training progress for another 12 months….driving page views through the roof and making fatty a rich man. hahahaha!


  33. Comment by Clydesteve | 08.15.2007 | 11:59 am

    Well, I tried to comment last night, but my home computer would not cooperate… What the heck happened to the Peanut Butter Honey Stingers? I thought all Shot Blocks all the time was Kenny’s thing.


  34. Comment by axel | 08.15.2007 | 12:07 pm

    isn’t it ironic that the core team of the fat cyclist group has trouble with eating during races? Food is supposed to be y’alls strong point. Next year, serve up the Bratwurst at twin lakes dam. Cake, Icecream, turkeylegs, cheesepuffs – fat and protein, not just those carbs from gel’s and shotblocks.

    But it is amazing how realistic those new flavors are – after 10-12 real margaritas I usually want to throw up, too.

  35. Comment by MTB W | 08.15.2007 | 12:14 pm

    Fatty, great writeup! Really enjoy the suspense – were you a soap opera writer at one time? BTW, did you know that Landis spent several weeks at Leadville training b/f the race? Maybe you should get there a week early next year to acclimatize. On a separate note, not to question our fearless fatty, but why didn’t you have several food items at each aid station, in case one thing didn’t sound good? and, yes, those cantelope sound delicious!

    Bob, congrats on finishing! I can’t believe you fought thru the demons and the devastating bonk to keep going. 15lbs? Does this mean you are doing the B9 next year? (last year it was the b5, this year b7, so next year must be b9). BTW, I would have posted this on your blog couldn’t figure it out – yeah, I know, a 10 year old could figure it out. Well, that’s good b/c I mentally, I am only about 8 yrs old.

    Dug, bummer about your crash and bike issues. Can’t wait for your (hilarious) write up of the race – “The Leadville 100 According to Dug” alternatively titled “@#$@#$ cranks”

  36. Comment by Boz | 08.15.2007 | 12:39 pm

    Maybe Fish shoulda been grilling brauts & kraut, chedderwurst, buffalo wings, fries, cheese curds ect. Then you could have ridden hard, puked, then had room for the shot blocks. Works for me.

  37. Comment by botchedexperiment | 08.15.2007 | 2:05 pm

    dug and i had an im conversation the other day that dealt with the other-dimension-fog-of-war-alternative-realityness of endurance racing.

    It’s like riding on the road at 8 mph. If you’re feeling good, you can literally do that with one leg while singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of your lungs. During a bonk, 8 mph requires a force of will.

    Margarita shot blocks are delicious — but in the middle of an endurance race, it may be come physically, literally, and utterly impossible to even THINK of them without gagging.

    Oh, AND you become really stupid. “Letsseeee, I ate 4 packages of shotblocks the first two hours. . . I have two more hours to the next aid station. . . I’m sick of shotblocks. . . Yeah, I can make it the next two hours without eating, I’m outta here.”

  38. Comment by spbarnes | 08.15.2007 | 2:14 pm

    Hey all

    I have to agree with Al M about eating.

    After about 3 – 4 hors, I have to eat real food.

    Thin sliced turkey on wheat bagel…a little lettuce
    for texture, and I am good for another two hours.
    Banana. Fig bars. Grapes. You know, FOOD.

    Otherwise, it is misery living on gel and bloks and
    other race food. yick.

  39. Comment by Boz | 08.15.2007 | 3:58 pm

    Another thought – has anyone tried eating their favotrite breakfast cereal at an aid stop? I rode down to th Casa Del Boz (our camper), 55 miles away the other day, and the first thing I ate was a bowl of Great Value Nature’s Grains cereal. Ya, Walmart generic brand for a buck 88 a box, but now my favorite cereal. It went down easy. I know it’s not Coco Bombs or Captain Crud, but it works for me. After all, variety is the splice of life, so mixing in some different, high quality, slower releasing carb sources may do the trick. One wonders what Landis types eat. I know the Tour riders do eat a mix of different foods, depending on how they feel, and what they can stomach that day.

  40. Comment by sasquatch | 08.15.2007 | 8:18 pm

    I’m beginning to think nothing really bad happens in this story, other than you didn’t go fast enough to meet your gonzo goal. So far it sounds like a really strong ride, which it had to have been all the way through to have the time you had.

    Are you really saying that 15 measly minutes is the difference between sweet and bittersweet at the finish line of such an epic effort? You’re strong as hell, dude. Celebrate.

  41. Comment by HEATH | 08.15.2007 | 8:50 pm

    damn you. I thought you’d be there with me. Glad I said hi before the race, Bummed I didn’t yell out WTF get movin, when I saw you climbing P L. I couldn’t think fast enough at that point, sorry. Yeah, I saw you fatty with the brat afterward, you deserve it. Nice job cutting off time from LY….you early morning parking lot neighbor, 2008?

  42. Comment by Dobovedo | 08.16.2007 | 7:54 pm

    Even though I don’t know you (other than reading your website) or Leadville at all, I am loving your telling of this tale… can’t wait to see how it continues.

    Anyway, I saw where you wrote: “Seriously, after a few minutes I can no longer feel the brake lever at all. It’s not a helpful attribute to have.”

    This may be a stupid question, but is it feasible/practical/possible to swap the brakes? I know nothing about mountain bikes, but wouldn’t it simply be a matter of re-routing the cables? Of course you’d have to re-train your brain. I figure it would only take 2 or 10 flips over the handlebars and you’d start to figure it out!

  43. Comment by Jaylon | 08.18.2007 | 5:12 pm

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    hi i enjoyed the read

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