I’ve always loved having visitors over, but now I love it for a completely different reason. Which is to say, when family comes over to stay for a few days, I now assume they are here to give me a break. To let me take a ride. To, in short, revert back to my natural ways of laxitude and irresponsibility.
And so it was that as soon as I found out my Ma-in-Law was going to be staying with us through the weekend that I IM’d Mark and said, “Hey, remember how you were talking about riding a Nebo loop (more about past Nebo rides here, here, and here) sometime? My Saturday just opened up.”
And within a couple hours, we had a ride plan established. Eventually, nine of us would start the ride: Me, Kenny, Jon, Jon’s brother Paul, Mark, Mark’s brother Steve, Chucky, Linde, and Vince (joining us at Payson Lake).
A Little About The Ride
You should know that the Nebo Loop is in contention for the coveted “Best Road Century in the Entire World” prize, having easily captured the local version of this prize (“Best Road Century in Utah”). It begins with a twenty-mile spin-up, giving you a chance to get warmed up and to chat with the group.
This is followed by a twenty-mile climb up an incredibly scenic, winding mountain road. About halfway up the climb there is a good spot to refill water bottles and regroup: Payson Lake.
The second half of the climb messes with your head, because there are at least six or seven places where you could swear you have reached the summit. But you haven’t. Mt. Nebo is the king of mindgame epics.
Once you (really, finally) summit and regroup, there’s the descent — which, just to show you who’s boss, still has three steep climbing pitches in it. Once the descent begins in earnest, it winds and turns at the top, then straightens out into a working descent. If you manage to form a group for this part of the ride, you can build a huge gap on those who find themselves soloing it.
Oh, by the way, right now there are several places in this descent where the pavement has been torn out. Just two feet long, but spanning the width of the road, presumably to put down cable or pipe.
Which means you get to decide whether you are confident doing a high-speed road bunnyhop over two feet of gravel.
It turns out that I am not.
As proof that I am not fast, light, nor strong, I got shot right out the back of the group as soon as the road turned upward. For a while, Mark and Chucky rode with me as a shepherding move. Then, finding it difficult to ride so slowly, they went ahead.
I would be alone with my thoughts until we regrouped at Payson Lake, where Vince and Linde caught up with us.
For your information, by the way, my thoughts primarily took the form of, “Wow, I’m slow. And I hurt. And I’m fat. And I’m slow. It hurts to be this slow when you’re fat.” And so on.
Once we left for the second half of the climb, I was — again — shot out the back. Almost as if I were not as good a cyclist as the people I was riding with.
The difference, this time, was that Linde — resplendent in brilliant-white Assos clothing, head to knee — was in the back with me.
A side note: As much as possible, I avoided looking at Linde, because his clothing was so brilliantly white — or was it actually luminescent? — that I would see a Linde-shaped purple afterimage after looking at him.
From time to time, though, Linde would surge ahead, making me think that he was about to drop me. But then — every time — he would drop back and I would catch him, after which he would tuck in behind me.
Then it occurred to me: The Surge-Sag is Linde’s “Tell.” He was doing those mini-attacks to make me think he was strong, when in fact he was actually suffering. So of course I did the neighborly thing: the next time he did a mini-surge, I kicked up my speed just a hair. When Linde dropped back, he found that he couldn’t hold my wheel, and he was gone.
I buried myself a little bit, wanting this attack — yes, I was attacking a friend on a friendly group ride — to stick. And there, up ahead, was Mark. I could see him.
And I could see that he was suffering. Because Mark had a Tell, too. Where he had been riding smoothly earlier in the day — his legs spinning, his shoulders flat and steady — he was now mashing, and his shoulders bobbed up and down as he pumped the bars.
I got the exact same feeling I get when I’m swimming in the deep ocean and smell blood.
I then exhibited one of cycling’s exceptions to the laws of physics: I gave 110% of my maximum energy output. Yes, I knew — even as it happened — that I would pay for it later, but at the time that seemed like a reasonable trade.
Twenty minutes later — I’m lucky it’s a very long climb — I caught Mark.
Apologetically, he stepped up the pace, at which point I begged him to back off, because I had just given everything I had to catch him and needed a few moments to revel.
As Mark and I rode, we could see Jon, tantalizingly close — maybe just 100 yards or so. And you know what? Jon was showing off his Tell, too. Evidently, when Jon’s tired, he locks his elbows, rests his hands flat on the bars, and lets his head slump forward.
You know the look.
And Mark knew it too. He pulled away from me, hoping to bridge to Jon. After all, we were getting near the summit, and Mark surely did not want to finish the climb with the slow guy.
Hey, if I could have finished with someone besides myself, I would have.
Fortunately for Jon, this was not a concern for him. Tell or no Tell, I was not up to another push.
As I finished the climb, I asked myself: “So, what is my Tell? How does my riding change when I’m cooked?”
All I needed to do was look down to get the answer. I was on the double yellow line. You see, my Tell is not only the most obvious one in the world, it’s actually deadly. Which is to say, my Tell is: I drift left.
I don’t know why I drift left when I’m tired, but I do. Reliably and predictably. And I’m generally not aware of it until a car honks at me or I cross the divider line.
Note to everyone who ever rides with me: try not to be on my left once I’ve bonked.