Almost from the beginning of Kenny’s 2009 Ride Around White Rim in One Day (RAWROD), I knew I’d be riding by myself a lot. After all, people rode away from me like they were trying to get away from me.
Except I knew they weren’t trying to get away from me (at least, I think not). I just couldn’t hang with their slowest acceptable pace. Nothing personal. I’ve been on that side of this coin.
And you know, there are worse things than riding alone on the White Rim: the biggest-feeling, most crazily sculpted place I’ve ever been.
I shall enumerate some of those things shortly.
Loading up the truck for a weekend riding with friends shouldn’t be a big deal. But for me, it was. My sister Kellene was in town to take care of my family, and so when Dug, Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) and Brad pulled up to my house to start loading their bikes and gear into the bikemobile, I briefly swooned.
I was on a roadtrip with my friends — a perfectly normal thing a couple years ago, but right now, a really big deal.
The adventure was beginning.
Oh, and also, I just love the fact that my bikemobile holds four people, our bikes and camping gear for a weekend of riding, comfortably and easily. It makes me feel all smug about my purchase decision.
Driving toward Moab, I had the weird, nonsensical reaction I always do when heading toward a big event like RAWROD or Leadville: every time I passed (or was passed by) another vehicle with mountain bikes, I’d wonder if they were headed toward the same destination. I’d look at the bikes, searching for clues. A heavy downhill rig? Probably not riding the White Rim. A 29″ hardtail singlespeed? I’d bet money they were headed to the White Rim, and furthermore riding with our group.
Anytime we head out to Moab, we stop at the Chevron gas station in Wellington, Utah. For me, there’s an important reason why: this is where I buy my food for the long ride.
You see, there’s a Subway sandwich place in the gas station, and I always buy a footlong coldcut combo on white with swiss cheese there. No veggies, no dressings. Just meat and cheese, and then I throw a handful of mayo and mustard packets into the bag.
And I am always so happy to have that sandwich the following day on the ride.
That tradition, of course, is trivial. The tradition that is not trivial, however, is grilling brats the night before the ride.
I believe that Kenny and I could do this competitively and come out pretty well. He brings the bread and grill, I brought the brats, onions, pot, gas stove, and Worcestershire sauce. We scavenge for beer.
I boil the brats in my beer, onion and worcestershire stew, then Kenny grills them over the glowing coals of a wood fire. Then he serves them up with spicy brown mustard on his justifiably famous homemade bread.
Even as I type this, my sense of longing grows.
Every time we prepare brats, some people are at first wary, wondering why we would be making such a fuss over “hot dogs.” These people, of course, have no idea what they are talking about. And once they’ve had a brat, everyone seems to see the light.
As everyone ate, I rolled out a cool surprise: Garmin-Slipstream sent over a couple big boxes full of their Camelbak Podium bottles — everyone in the group got one.
Those bottles are seriously my favorite bottles, ever. Easy to drink from, easy to clean, and they don’t leak or dribble.
It was a perfect night for eating and relaxing around a campfire with a bunch of friends: so warm that I didn’t even need to get out a jacket.
Oh, and it was Mark’s birthday, so he brought cake. I ate a third of it. Not sure how the other 70+ people split the other 2/3 of it. Someone suggested we sing happy birthday, which we all happily failed to do.
Then it was off to bed with an ambien giving me a better-than-fighting chance of sleep. For some reason, I do not recall what I said after taking that ambien, but I do recall that it was all very witty and smart.
And here we are, finally, at the beginning of the ride. I am so long-winded.
Anyway, as I mentioned a long time ago, at the beginning of this story, right from the beginning everyone was riding away from me. You can look at the video I posted yesterday to see what I mean. There we are, all together at the beginning, then a quick jump cut, and there everyone is at a distant point near the horizon.
And then, of course, are all the shots you’ll see in the video of people passing me, with virtually no shots of me passing them back. There are reasons for that, including:
- I am fat
- I am out of shape
- I was still fighting a cold
Anyway, even if I was a fat, sick slob, I was at least comfortable, due in part to the very mild weather.
And due in another part to my subcutaneous layer of blubber.
Regardless, I was warm enough that I started the ride wearing shorts and short sleeves. And why not? Everyone knows that White Rim becomes searingly hot by 10am this time of year.
So naturally I didn’t put my long sleeve jersey, arm warmers, vest, or jacket in my sag wagon bag.
Why would I?
Shafer and Beyond
As people passed me for the first 20 miles or so, I began to wonder: at what point would people stop passing me? It turns out, they’d stop passing me about the time I ran out of people to be passed by.
Which makes sense, when you think about it.
So I dropped down Shafer, an intense descent switching back over and over alongside the face of a cliff. Every time I ride down this, I wonder: how did people build a road into this cliff? It just doesn’t seem possible.
After a forever-long descent — taking the corners ever so carefully — I reached the bottom, where people would continue to catch me, ask how Susan is doing, and then ride away.
Once you make that initial descent, you’re in what amounts to the bottom of a giant basin for most of the day. Sure, there are climbs, but there are also giant sections that are so long and flat and straight that you can see the jeep road come to a point on the horizon. Combine that with the outlandish landscape of cliffs and spires and arches and you can’t help but feel like this must be the place where they film the Roadrunner cartoons.
I rode along, happy with the niceness of the day — windy to be sure, but no big deal — and the chance to be alone with my thoughts. My thoughts, by the way, were usually along the lines of: “I wonder why chocolate is so delicious?”
You must admit, it’s an intriguing question.
I got to Musselman Arch feeling good. I — for the first time ever — walked across the arch, and then, as I turned and watched — Kenny did a handstand on it.
I knew right then that would be my closing shot in my RAWROD video.
On to Whitecrack
Figuring I had enough video for a while, I swapped out my helmetcam rig and put on a lighter helmet.
Dug — who, like everyone else, had pulled away from me at the beginning of the ride and was waiting for me at Musselman Arch — said he’d ride with me for a while.
Yes, Dug had made a decision to slow down enough to let me ride with him. I am not going to eat again until I have lost thirty pounds.
As we rode, the wind started picking up: a headwind, naturally. Which is not unusual on White Rim. It’s a big big area and is almost always windy in one direction or another.
What’s weird about gusty wind in the desert is that you can see when you’re about to get a blast, because you can see the wall of sand approaching. It usually gives you just enough time to duck your head so it doesn’t hit you full in the face.
As if that’s going to change anything.
Lisa R — a former neighbor and longtime friend — caught up with us and she and I started talking about our kids.
Dug got bored and shot off the front.
Then after a while, Lisa couldn’t hold my pace anymore…and she shot off the front, too.
A pattern was beginning to emerge.
I pulled into Whitecrack, the next regrouping spot for everyone. It was getting windier and windier, with gusts so strong they would almost stall me out.
“You’re looking strong, Nelson!” someone shouted, encouragingly. Which made me think, right then and there, that it is never a good idea to say “You’re looking strong” to anyone. Those who are strong know they are strong. Those of us who are weak and pitiful know it too. So the “Looking strong” schtick serves either as unnecessary confirmation or (in my case) cruel mockery.
[Note to person who said "Looking strong, Nelson:" Sorry I slashed your tires.]
And then it began to rain. Just a little. Then a lot. Then it would stop. Then it would start again.
Standing in my damp shorts and short-sleeved shirt, I began to see how it might have been wise to pack some extra clothes.
At which point Dug loaned me a spare short-sleeve jersey and his knee warmers — which worked just fine as arm warmers, thanks. So now I’m conflicted: should I hate Dug for being faster than I, or be grateful to him for saving me from hypothermia?
What a tough ethical dilemma.
Luckily, I would have plenty of time while riding by myself for hours in hard gusting headwinds without anyone to take a turn in front and possibly give me a break to consider it.
After a while, the White Rim starts to blend together for me. Did I see this crazy sandstone spire before or after one particular eternal stretch of sandy road? I can’t remember.
But I never forget Murphy’s Hogback. It’s a devil of a climb.
And, I’m quite pleased to say, I climbed a surprising amount of it. Because I have a little secret: while I am as fat as a walrus right now, my legs are actually really strong, and I have the power to blunt-force row my way up a steep pitch.
And then, on Murphy’s, we regrouped for the traditional group photo shot.
No, wait a second. That’s what we were planning on doing, before the torrential rain convinced everyone that what they’d really like to be doing is getting back on their bikes to warm up and finish this blasted ride through rain, cold, and sandblasting wind.
As I rode in these conditions, I confess: I was not having much fun.
With the weather so bad, I didn’t really want to film, and for a while, I didn’t. But then it occurred to me: this is exactly the time I should be filming. So when the sag wagon truck came by, I grabbed my helmet cam and switched it on, leaving it on for pretty much the rest of the day (an 8gb card will hold about 6 hours of film, waaaaaay more than any sane person will want to collect on a given day).
Besides, the non-ventilated helmet was warmer.
Let’s Finish This
The more time you spend in the saddle, the more images blur together.
There was a lot of squinting into dust storms. There was Hardscrabble Hill: an agonizing push that I simply did not have even close to enough power to climb without some walking. And then some coasting. There was fishtailing in deep sand as Kenny took pity on me and rode for several miles with me.
And then, finally, there’s Horsethief Trail.
It does not blur together with anything.
I both dread and love Horsethief Trail. I know that it’s going to hurt. And this particular time, I didn’t even know if I was too weak and fat to do the climb without resting.
But on the other hand, this climb is majestic. You climb a cliff. On your bike.
Oh, and I love the pain of this climb. It’s a quiet, persistent rumbling pain, and while you’re doing this climb, there’s nothing else in the world. And really, how often do you get to have that kind of solitude and feel that kind of determination, while you are climbing a cliff on your bike?
Mark and I rode it together, trading turns being in front (but he finished ahead of me, which is what counts). He’s a good guy to do a hard climb with.
And after that, you’re done. You’ve just ridden a hundred miles over impossibly grand country, and you’re somehow back where you started. I’m sure people with a sense of direction see how that’s possible, but I don’t have a head for maps and am always boggled at how this huge long straight ride turned out to actually be a loop.
“What?” I want to ask. “Did we ride all the way around the world or something?”
Because it sure feels like it.