Last Saturday, I did something I have never done before. For the first time since I have begun riding about fifteen years ago, I embarked on 100-mile mountain bike ride with no objective other than to enjoy myself.
I would not worry about who was behind me and catching up. I would not care how long I was out on the ride. I would not worry about whether I was eating the right food, or what my heartrate was. I would not, in short, treat this ride as if it were a race.
And the day was spectacular.
The Night Before
Most people don’t realize how simple it is to make people think you are a wonderful human being, so I shall reveal the one infallible method to do this:
Boil a copious quantity of brats in a beer-and-onion stew for 25 minutes. Grill over an open flame. Serve on Kenny’s homemade bread with mustard.
That’s it. That’s the whole thing. I took charge of boiling the brats, Kenny handled the grilling and the bread. Lo and behold, we were both recognized as marvelous people by one and all.
Everyone stood around the campfire right at the top of Horsethief — the beginning and endpoint of the ride we’d be doing tomorrow, as well as the campsite for the night — and ate their fill (ranging from 1 to 4 brats per person — I had 2), then just chatted.
Slowly but surely, I’m being won over by this camping thing.
By about 10:30, the group broke up and I headed off to the tent, where I had set up a cot. For extra insulation, I had brought a second sleeping bag. I didn’t really need it, though; it was strictly a 1-bag night.
BotchedExperiment — who was sleeping outside the tent in this homemade all-in-one canvas/mattress/sleeping bag contraption he has created — loaned me a pair of earplugs. These proved to be invaluable, since everybody in the tent (including me, from what I’m told) snored a bit.
Even without taking Ambien (or anything else), I slept fine.
The next morning, Dr. BotchedExperiment admitted he had had a miserable night. When he had packed, he had neglected to include an important component in his all-in-one sleeping contraption: the sleeping bag part.
I can scarcely describe my pleasure in telling Botched that I had brought an extra sleeping bag he could have used, had he only asked.
Poor Botched. Hahahahahaha.
Around 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning (I wasn’t wearing a watch), we started rolling. Normally, I would have made sure I was one of the first ones going, and would have made a point of staying with the lead pack.
This time, I left toward the back of the group, and before long was even further in the back. This would be an emerging pattern, and one that I became increasingly comfortable with.
The place we started from (top of Horsethief) and direction we rode the White Rim Loop — clockwise — meant that the first thirteen miles are on a gently rolling climb. This was a brilliant idea: instead of a hair-raising descent or brutal climb, how about beginning the day with a nice warmup on a wide dirt road? Here’s Brad (sporting the sleeveless jersey plus armwarmers look), Dug, and others tooling on up the road.
And continuing on…
Big, Bad Drop
After a relaxed cruise up the dirt road and a few miles of pavement, we were at the top of Schafer, a switchbacked, rutted out, dusty, rocky 2000-foot descent down the face of a cliff.
This was, essentially, the only time during the day I did not enjoy myself.
My left wrist hurt during the descent, threatening to buckle, which could have mean a catastrophic (i.e., fatal) fall. I was nervous and, frankly, resentful.
The good news, though, was that I wouldn’t have to climb it. Which is good, because Schafer was in bad enough shape that there’s no way I could have climbed that road on my Superfly, much less the single speed.
Brad is a Genius
As the worst, most nervous, twitchiest descender in the world, I had dropped way behind my friends by the time I got to the bottom of Schafer. To their credit, they rode a nice, pokey pace until I caught up, and then we were at the first re-grouping of the day, about 25 miles into the ride: Musselman’s Arch.
And this is where I noticed, for the first time, that Brad’s CarboRocket energy drink deserves to be a huge success. Brad had brought along a couple of big coolers filled with CarboRocket, and that’s what everyone was lining up to fill their bottles with.
I drank it all day, and never got sick of it. Others were saying the same thing. It is seriously the best energy drink I have ever tried.
Kenny likes it too:
And here’s Brad, the genius behind CarboRocket:
Uh, Brad? You’ve got something stuck in your teeth.
This Place is Huge
Shortly after I arrived at the first regrouping spot, I saw a bunch of people take off, in a hurry to set a personal best, or to race someone to the finish line. I recognized that usually I would have been one of those people.
This time, though, I was just riding a comfortable pace and taking in the view.
And I was loving White Rim like I’ve never loved it before.
I didn’t worry much about whether I was going fast or slow enough to stay with a group, and as a result I sometimes rode with a good-sized group of people, sometimes nobody at all.
And I had plenty of time to take in the sheer enormity of White Rim. And you know what? It is huge. Mind-bogglingly big, really. It’s enough to make you feel tiny. Here’s Botched, for example, way off in the distance, all by his lonesome.
Isn’t he tiny?
And here he is a few minutes later, evidently happy to see me:
Someone should tell him his bike would go faster if he pedaled it.
Let me take a break from my own narrative to point out that just a few minutes after leaving Musselman’s Arch, Dug’s brother-in-law, Sleepy, crossed a major milestone: thirty miles into the ride marked — both in time and distance — the longest he had ever been on a bike.
And he was doing the whole thing on my old Gary Fisher Rig, a fully-rigid single speed. In other words, Sleepy did his first 100-mile ride, his first 2+hour ride, his first mountain bike epic, and his first rigid singlespeed endurance ride, all at the same time.
Dug does a good job of telling the story over at his blog (yeah, Dug has a blog now. We all knew he’d get one eventually).
Here’s Sleepy, contemplating the grandeur of the White Rim.
It’s also possible that he’s just wondering about whether he could end his life painlessly by riding over the edge.
Oh yeah: Dug wanted me to take a picture of him at that spot. Here you go, Dug:
The sad thing about this picture of Dug is that you can’t really see the knee-high black socks he’s wearing. Which is too bad, cuz they go great with the pink-and-white basket and the plaid shorts.
Something Is Wrong
Around lunchtime, I noticed something very peculiar. Specifically, I noticed that I felt fine. I wasn’t exhausted, I wasn’t twitchy, I wasn’t half out of my head with race-induced dementia.
I was, in short, enjoying myself.
Also, I noticed that the temperature was bizarre. It was no warmer than 70 degrees. I had a hard time resolving the incredibly comfortable riding conditions to the parched-desert look of White Rim. To have a clear, sunny day, mild breezes (with occasional gusty headwinds), and the exact temperature I set my thermostat to at home just seemed out of character.
I am not complaining.
Lunchtime is, by the way, the traditional time where we take the group picture:
Kenny sure knows how to put together a group ride. (Bonus: How many Twin Six jerseys can you find in this group shot?)
Two Different Rides
There’s a weird thing about riding the White Rim: it’s like two different rides. From Shafer to Murphy’s Hogback, it’s all wide open desert riding, with cliffs off in the distance. Then you cross over and from the Hogback to Horsethief, and you’re right in the middle of the cliffs and canyons, with the river right beside you.
Oh, and there’s a lot of sand, too. Which, by the way, never forced me off my bike. 29" wheels = good.
As I rowed my way through the sand, now 75-80 miles into the ride, I could really feel my left wrist starting to ache. Not bad enough to whine about it, but I whined anyway.
But I was still having a terrific time. At one cliff, about five guys got a big sandstone boulder and rolled it off the edge. It fell for about a five-count, and then exploded into dust, while many of us looked on, laying on our bellies and peering over the edge at the drop below. I was a fool and didn’t get a picture of this, but KanyonKris did, and it really gives you an idea of how far down that boulder had to fall.
From the left, I’m the third one on his belly. The one in the orange jersey. (I hope it’s OK that I stole your photo, Kris — it’s extraordinary.)
KanyonKris, Adam Lisonbee, and I climbed Hardscrabble together. I pushed a lot, and so did Adam. However, Adam had a better excuse than I did: this was the second day in a row he had done this 100-mile epic.
Kris, meanwhile, was on a mission to climb the whole thing. I encouraged him as best as I could by singing "Eye of the Tiger." This was highly effective, mainly because it made him want to get away from me.
I wondered aloud to myself, "On a 100-mile ride, from mile 90 on all I can think about is the finish line. If this were only a 90 mile ride, I would have spent miles 80-90 thinking about the end. Why can’t I just enjoy the whole ride for what it is?"
To me, this seemed like a very sage question, and worthy of sharing. Mostly, people shook their heads and said "whatever." Pfff.
At the top of Hardscrabble Hill, Dug gave me half of his ice-cold Diet Coke with Lime, making him the best friend that has ever lived.
Moment of Strength
The way we had set up this ride, the last thing you have to do is climb up Horsethief. I’m not sure how long of a road it is — maybe 1.5 miles? — but it’s steep and it switches back over and over and over. Here’s a great shot of it by Adam Lisonbee:
For some reason, I wanted to show that I could clean it. On my singlespeed.
And I did it. I cleaned that road on my singlespeed. But it wasn’t so much a ride, as an exercise in rowing and ultra-slow-speed balancing. Several times I came either to a complete or near-complete halt, with my cranks in the 6 and 12 positions. It was more a matter of luck and fear of embarrassment that I didn’t fall over. Magically, Adam managed to get a picture of me doing this climb in such a way that it looks as steep as it felt:
Plus, Kenny and Brad were yelling encouragement from the top. Which helps. A lot.
After finishing this ride, I felt something unique and new: I felt fine. I have never finished an epic without needing to sit and sip water and basically baby myself. But this time, not having killed myself during the ride, I felt tired — worked over, even — but not demolished.
I liked it.
We loaded up — Dug, Sleepy, BotchedExperiment, and me in my BikeMobile — and headed home, planning to gorge ourselves at Ray’s Tavern in Green River. A perfect end to what I would consider a perfect day.
But we had to stop for a moment to let BotchedExperiment throw up.
And then we had to stop for a moment for BotchedExperiment to throw up. Again. But that’s his story to tell.
And I hope he will.