When you go on an endurance ride, you’ve got to choose your partners carefully. You’ve got to have similar endurance and strength, sure, but that’s not really what I mean. You’ve got to pick people you are not going to get sick of. If you don’t like knock-knock jokes, don’t go riding with a guy famous for his knock-knock joke-telling prowess. If you don’t like complainers, don’t go riding with a guy famous for finding fault with everything.
Amazingly, my brother-in-law, Rocky, is one of those guys I can ride with all day. He’s interesting. He’s smart. He’s a good rider. He’s curiously devoid of annoying habits.
Above all, though, Rocky is a good guy to ride with because he has such remarkably bad luck that you know — know — something interesting is going to happen when you go riding with him. I’m not just talking about a tendency to have occasional mishaps. No, indeed. I am talking about a special gift for bad luck. The Bad Luck Continuum warps and shifts, just so it can find Rocky.
If you were fated to have bad luck today — your horoscope, fortune cookie, and priest all told you so — ride with Rocky. You’ll be just fine.
Kokopelli: Round 1
When Rocky and I first tried riding the Kokopelli Trail — a 142-mile desert trail connecting Moab, UT up to Mack, CO — neither of us had any endurance experience, so I guess we deserved anything that happened to us.
Within the first hour, we had missed a turn on Sand Flats road. We didn’t figure this out for about another 45 minutes, by which time we figured — wrongly — it would be better to continue on Sand Flats road until it connected up with the La Sals Mountain road.
Riding on a flat, road in deep sand is harder than a hard climb. We were both cooked by the time we got to the paved road, at which point we still had a long additional climb ahead of us.
And it was summer. I’d guess it was about 90 degrees.
Rocky was running out of water fast, because his superpower is to sweat faster than he can drink, but he didn’t complain. That’s not his way.
We kept going, and I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that Rocky was slowing down. Or that his speech was starting to slur. Or that he no longer was raising his head to look around. I was too busy having the best day of my life. I was discovering I loved long rides. I was discovering that the view from Beaver Mesa into Fisher Valley was impossibly beautiful. I was discovering that there was nothing I would rather do in the world than mountain bike in the wilderness.
Hey, where’d Rocky go?
To my credit, I gave Rocky half of what water I still had when he ran out. To my shame, I gave him the Apple-flavored Cytomax, which was just a flawed concept in sports drinks. So no extra good karma points for me, I guess.
Rocky got progressively worse as we rode toward Fisher Valley. By the time we finally got into the valley, he was no longer fully lucid. He couldn’t ride his bike anymore, and could only barely walk it. His head lolled.
This is, to this day, the benchmark I have for bonked-ness. Yes, Rocky is the gold standard by which all other bonks must be measured. For example, if you were very, very bonked, you might say, “Oh, I was pretty bad off. You could say I was at about a .82 on the Rocky Bonk Scale.” I have never ever ever seen someone as cooked as Rocky was.
Just bad luck, really.
Kokopelli, Round 2
The next year, we tried the Kokopelli again. This time, we had no trouble finding the turn we had missed the previous year, and the first day went swimmingly. Rocky, Bob, and I rode together in the lead group (quite a few people joined us this second year, in spite of how the first year went) and made it to camp without any problems. I think all three of us would agree it was about as perfect a day as could be had on a mountain bike.
Of course, we were all starved when we got to camp at Dewey Bridge. My dad was acting as support, and had everything all ready to go, including a massive spread of food my sister Kellene had put together for us and sent along.
I ate my share of the chicken enchiladas — and your share, too — but the salad looked a little . . . I dunno . . . wilted. I skipped it.
Rocky had three helpings.
He spent the night barfing, ‘til there was nothing left to barf.
Then, just to underscore his point, he spent the rest of the night convulsing in dry heaves.
I, on the other hand, slept better than I have ever slept while camping.
To my amazement, in the morning Rocky said he would continue on. And he really was something to behold. He was like the little engine that could. He’d ride for five minutes, stop, put a foot down, and heave. Then he’d continue on.
Then, just after passing the Westwater ranger station, Rocky sat down. He could no longer ride. He made a call, got a ride, and the rest of us continued on.
Man, that Rocky. He has some bad luck.
Kokopelli, Round 3
The next year, we tried again. This year, though, it rained. The whole day. Sand Flats road showed us that there was considerable clay under that sand, and jammed up our bikes. Then we froze riding down the La Sal road. Beaver Mesa was a soupy swamp. I finally made the no-go call just before we dropped into Fisher Valley, where we could easily have been trapped in muck without the benefit of a support vehicle.
Too bad about the rain for Rocky, especially, since he seemed stronger and better prepared for a long ride than he ever had.
Kokopelli Round 4
The next year, Rocky declined to do the by-now annual Kokopelli trail ride, saying it was cursed.
We completed it without incident.
Leadville, Round 1
I’ve gone on and on in this blog about my experiences with the Leadville 100, but Rocky’s are perhaps more dramatic.
Rocky and I tried the Leadville 100 for the first time the same year. We trained the same, and we talked about the ride constantly. We had agreed that we would ride together if we could, but wouldn’t make a big deal out of it, because we have different strengths — I climbed fast, he descended fast. If we each held up for each other, we’d be slower than either of us would be alone.
And so, after the first climb, I expected to see Rocky catch me on the first descent. But he didn’t. And in fact, I didn’t see him until we crossed paths on the Columbine climb.
Rocky looked cooked. It was that can’t-drink-as-fast-as-I-sweat superpower, coming out in force.
Dug, Brad, and I all finished the race with times pretty close to what we had targeted, which is surprising, since none of us had done the race before. Then we waited at the finish line, expecting each rider to be Rocky.
And we waited.
And we waited some more.
Then Rocky tapped me on the shoulder from behind and said, “Hey, guys.”
Evidently, at the final aid station — after he had ridden 75 miles that day — Rocky was so pale and dehydrated that the course official yanked him off the course, put him in an ambulance, and sent him off to the hospital, where they loaded him up with two bags of glucose and sent him on his way.
I tell you, Rocky has some bad luck.
Leadville, Round 2
That next year, Rocky came back to Leadville with a new Camelbak: the HAWG. It holds 200 ounces of water, which is way overkill for a race that has aid stations no further apart than every ten miles.
But Rocky was making a point: this year, he would not be dehydrated.
This was not the only new equipment Rocky brought to the table. He also had a bright yellow riser handlebar.
Dug noticed it immediately. “Where’d you get that Taiwanese piece of crap?” he asked. Dug’s gruff, yet curiously unloveable.
Rocky replied, but none of us heard him. We were all looking askance now at this strange-looking handlebar. Well, it’d be fine, right?
I contend that the handlebar would in fact have been fine if either of the following were true:
- Dug had not singled it out for ridicule.
- Anybody but Rocky were using it.
It almost seems beside the point to say that at mile 85 — yes, with only 15 miles left in the race, after all of the really hard climbs were behind him, Rocky’s handlebar snapped in half as he was descending the only singletrack — and there’s only ¼ mile of it — in the entire course.
Okay, can we all now agree that this is not just random chance? That Rocky, my super-nice brother-in-law, has somehow angered an evil, ancient spirit?
Rocky, I hate to tell you this, because you’re really and truly a great guy, but…you are a Karmic Black Hole.