A Note from Fatty: This is Part I of a long series about the 2011 Moab to St. George: Rockwell Relay race. Here’s what you’ll find in each installment:
- Part I: A little about the race, team philosophy, pre-race excitement, and the first two legs of the race covered.
- Part II: The Hammer rips up her first leg of the race, The IT Guy gives Heather motivation to continue by using a novel technique.
- Part III: The night laps begin. I turn off course, nearly hit a deer, and nevertheless love riding this race.
- Part IV: Night laps extract their toll on the team; The Hammer works with Jerry to both their benefit; I show off my Superman jammies; Kenny does a hard climbing lap on a singlespeed.
- Part V: We finish our final legs, going from cold to hot in record time. We collect our prizes and catch up on sleep. We announce our intentions to defend our title next year.
Moab to St. George: Rockwell Relay, Part I
By and large, I’m a comfort-zone cyclist. I ride the same routes all the time. I do the same races each year. And — more or less — I’m happy with that. For me, biking is mostly about the act of riding itself, rather than the location of where I’m riding, or the novelty of racing in a different place.
Hence, I am clearly middle-aged and need to shake things up.
Which is what the Moab to St. George Rockwell Relay did. Big time.
A Little About the Race
Until last weekend, I had never done a bike relay and knew nothing about how they work, so I’m going to assume that you have also never done a bike relay, and know nothing about how they work. Because you and I are exactly alike. I sense this.
So here’s a really quick overview of what a road bike relay — at least, the one I did — is about.
A team — four people, in this case — takes turns riding their road bikes from one official exchange point to the next. As one person rides their leg of the race, the others drive, leapfrogging their rider on the road and acting as crew for the rider.
Then, before the rider can get to the exchange point, the car shoots ahead and the next rider gets out and gets ready to ride, hopefully just in time to get the team baton (in this case, a reflective slap-bracelet) and start the next leg of the race.
The Moab to St. George Rockwell Relay has a total of 12 legs, meaning each rider gets three turns riding. The rider order — in this particular race (I understand this varies from race to race) — stays the same through the entire race. You can substitute order if your only objective is to complete the course, but not if you are competing for a podium spot.
The course is 520 or so miles long, and winds along the backroads of Utah, going from Moab to St. George:
Even the fastest teams will take more than 24 hours to complete this race.
I’ve never been one for big surprise endings, and the chances are — if you’ve looked at recent blog posts — you already know that Team Fatty won the Coed division (meaning that we were the first team with both women and men to cross the finish line).
So this story isn’t so much about our race position or who we competed against or stuff like that. It’s more about the ride itself, and the surprising fact that we all had an amazingly good time.
Personally, I think this comes from the fact that Kenny, Heather, The Hammer (formerly known as “The Runner,” but henceforth known as the Hammer, since “The Runner” doesn’t exactly capture the fact that she is kinda killing it on the bike this year) and myself are already all really good friends, and we tend to approach races the same way. Namely, we were all dead serious about riding our hearts out when it came to be our turn to race, but we were entirely relaxed, casual, and probably even slovenly when we were not on the bike.
And in short, we rode hard and otherwise were just there for the fun of being with friends and having a new experience.
In the Beginning, There Was Ebullience
The Rockwell Relay is still a young race; there were only ~160 riders (40 teams). That means that when we rolled up to the starting area on Friday morning, there was no line for packet pickup. We just grabbed our jerseys, t-shirts, and the “Race Bible” — the booklet containing course information, directions, distances, and elevation profiles.
We didn’t realize it yet, but over the course of the next thirty-ish hours, this booklet would become the most important thing to us in the whole world.
And then we sat down to the pancake breakfast.
Have you ever noticed how happy I look when I’m about to eat? ‘Cuz I have.
The race started at 8:00am sharp, with Kenny taking the first leg. As a team solidarity thing, the rest of us rode along with him for the first couple of miles, which was a police-escorted neutral start. Then Kenny — who, as usual, was riding his single speed modified track bike with 50 x 18 gearing, started ramping up the speed, looking to join the lead pack.
Lisa, Heather, and I took this as our cue to turn around and head back to the van. There, we packed and went grocery shopping before driving out onto the course, looking for Kenny to see how he was doing.
As it turns out, he was doing great.
In fact, in spite of the fact that he was riding a bike with gearing that was too light for flats and descents, while being too heavy for hard climbing, Kenny was right with the lead group. We pulled ahead and — for the first time of what would seem to be hundreds of times — we got out of the van and did a bottle handoff.
Here’s Heather, ready to hand off the bottle:
And here’s Heather, right after handing the bottle off:
Unfortunately — camera-wise — I’m evidently slow with the trigger, and totally missed having the actual bicycle rider appear in either of these shots.
You know those blogs that have an awesome combination of well-written stories and beautiful photography? This is not one of those blogs.
Anyway, Kenny hammered away, unaware that he was too fast to be photographed. Those of us in the van shot on ahead, and in fact shot right by the first Rider Exchange area.
We figured out our mistake, using the “Well, we’ve driven right through the entirety of the city where the Exchange is supposed to be, so do you think we should turn around?” checkpoint-location method. Highly effective.
This would not be the only time we used this method during this race.
It was my turn to ride. I suited up and posed for a shot at the Exchange:
Kenny arrived, riding hard. We had meant to do a fast baton exchange, but when it came right down to it, the team slap-bracelet-baton talisman thingy wouldn’t come off Kenny’s wrist, and we wound up doing a standstill version of the baton handoff.
Both of us panicked, a little bit. Here we are, trying to successfully (and quickly) make the handoff:
As if, somehow, five extra seconds would affect our standing.
Once I got the bracelet, I took off, riding as if I were going to be going for 4.5 miles, instead of 45.
Within a couple of blocks, though, I was overtaken by a rider. So consumed was I with the fact that I had been passed within two minutes of my first race leg that I didn’t say a word. I just noticed that he was lean, his legs were shaved, and his Cannondale was pristine.
I did the mental math and figured he was a fast guy. I figured the best thing I could do would be to work with him.
I jumped and caught his wheel.
We took turns pulling, but he was clearly anxious to go faster; every time I took a turn pulling, he’d move back to the front within fifteen seconds.
That was OK by me.
Before long, we saw a guy on a Delta 7 road bike, working his way up our first real climb of the day. We reeled him in.
Climbing is kinda my thing (at least, when I’m not 20+ pounds overweight), so I moved to the front, figuring I’d take a good hard, long pull. I didn’t mind doing more than my fair share here, because I planned to sit on the back when we got to the flats.
I didn’t turn around ’til the top of the climb.
They were nowhere in sight.
Expecting they would catch me on the fairly flat-to-downhill stretch in front of me, I metered out my pace to something I thought I could do for the next couple of hours.
And then my iPod changed my plan, by serving up two of my power songs in a row. Just because I know you care, these two songs are:
- Le Freak
- Renegades of Funk
Then it served up a twelve-minute remix of Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France,” and my fate was sealed. I was going to ride my brains out.
I caught a guy. Then dropped him before he had a chance to grab on.
And then my team caught up with me, hollering and yelling and just generally making my energy levels surge through the roof, through the atmosphere and punching a hole through the moon.
Here’s a shot they took of me from the van (a 2001 Honda Odyssey, because I know you’re interested in what kind of vehicles I own).
My mouth may be open in this photo due to me breathing as hard as possible, to singing, or to yelling along with my team.
Maybe it’s because my team was there and could see how I was racing. Maybe it’s because I had gotten a taste of speed and had clawed our overall placing to sixth. Maybe it was just the pure joy of an intense effort. Whatever the reason, though, I gave it everything. In the climbs. In the descents. For myself. And for the team.
By the time I finished my leg, I had moved us into fourth place, overall. And I had never enjoyed racing more.
I scanned the Exchange area, looking for Lisa, ready to hand the baton/slap-bracelet thingy to her.
But I couldn’t see her anywhere.