A Note from Fatty: This is Part III 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.
My sense of time got all jacked up during the Rockwell Relay. I mean, when we started, it was early Friday morning. Then I did some driving and racing, and it’s suddenly the hot part of the day. And then it’s Kenny’s turn to race, and…then it’s my turn to race again, but now — even though it feels like it should still be morning — it’s getting on toward night.
It’s amazing how fast night comes on.
I mean, when Kenny started his lap, it seemed the smartest thing in the world to wear a sleeveless jersey. It was blazing hot out there.
By the time he finished and handed off the slap-bracelet to me, though, it was cold. And starting to get dark.
Clothing and equipment were tricky for me for this leg of the race: riding up into the Boulder mountains, and then dropping. For one thing, I’d be starting the ride in the semi light, doing a big climb — where I’d definitely be heating up — followed by a big descent, where I’d definitely be in the cold, total dark of a mountain night.
My solution? Pure brilliance, as you’d expect. I suited up as you see above: shorts and short sleeves. I had my handlebar-mounted lights on and ready to go.
And here’s where the clever part comes in. Pay attention, please.
I told my team that I would want a jacket to wear once I got to the top of the climb. And that I would want more light power then, too, and so I’d want them to plug the battery in to my brand-new NiteRider Pro 1400 LED light I had mounted to my helmet, giving me a huge lighting (and confidence) boost for for the descent.
I know, I know. I’ll give you a minute to consider the elegant brilliance of my plan.
Wherein My Bacon is Saved
Having secured the Slap-Bracelet from Kenny, I took off at full tilt, happy to find that during the eight hours that had elapsed since my last leg (I had finished my first leg at 12:59pm and was starting my second leg at 8:53pm), my legs had recovered. I felt fine. I wanted, once again, to experience the euphoria of passing another cyclist.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Kenny was laying in the parking lot where the Exchange happened, crying genuine tears as his legs cramped up more severely than he had ever experienced in his life.
Of course, if I had known, I would have lent Kenny a hand, in the form of valuable advice such as, “Eat a banana. Or drink something.”
But, as I mentioned, I did not know.
And that was not all I did not know.
For example, I did not know that, as I pedaled my little heart out, head down, mind focusing on turning the cranks in beautiful sine waves, I had blown right through a left turn in the course, and was now officially riding off toward a destination unknown.
Luckily — indeed, incredibly luckily — for me, another team caught site of me before I got too far away and drove up alongside me, saying, “You missed a turn. You should have made a left about a half-mile back.”
I admit: I searched their faces for signs of treachery. For deceit.
Then, having found no such signs, I thanked them, made a U-turn, and started pedaling doubletime. No longer trying for a perfect sine-wave cadence. Mashing in anger.
I have since wondered, several times, how far I would have ridden if this team hadn’t caught and corrected my mistake. The fact is, I don’t even know which team it was. But I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
Like I mentioned before, everyone competed on the bikes. Once off the bikes, though, everyone acted like incredibly good neighbors. I was glad to be in the middle of such good people.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t want to outride them.
Fueled by embarrassment and the realization that I was now a full mile behind where I would have been if I had been paying attention, I got into the drops and resolved to give everything I had on this leg of the race. I would climb so hard that I got tunnel vision. I would descend on the very edge of recklessness.
I would make up the time, somehow, I had lost.
And that’s how I very nearly crashed out of the race.
I was riding on a nice, moderate descent — a good, working descent where you can get into your biggest ring and find out how fast your legs will really take you. I had taken to the middle of the lane, wanting the blinking red light to be as obviously centered in any motorist’s sight as possible.
Watching the wash of my light setup. Intrigued at how tiny my universe had become: my legs, my bike, the 30 feet in front of me and the eight feet to my left and right.
And I was hauling. 38mph, plus or minus a couple mph’s.
And that’s when the deer sprang out in front of me.
I locked my rear brake, giving my front brake considerably less of a squeeze — later, I would think about the kinda cool fact that twenty years of riding has given me a conditioned reflex for the right amount of brake to tug in an emergency.
The rear of the bike fishtailed left, then corrected true as I let the rear brake off a bit.
The deer bounded by. I’d say I missed it by two feet.
Later, I’d hear that another rider hadn’t been so lucky — he also had an encounter with a deer, resulting in a broken collarbone.
Which makes me wonder: how is it possible any deer hunter doesn’t come home with a truckload of venison every autumn?
Now fueled by 2.5 quarts of adrenaline flowing through my veins, I rode furiously up the mountain, climbing the 3500 feet to the summit without really feeling the climb at all.
Each time my team passed me, they’d yell encouragement. I’d yell back.
It felt great to be alive, fast, on a bike, on the right course, and not T-boned by a deer.
Then, as I got near the summit and stopped, so Heather and The Hammer could help me get my jacket on and battery pack plugged into my NiteRider helmet light, I asked, “Where is everyone?”
The question was plaguing me. I had been riding so hard. But I had not seen a single other rider. Nobody had caught me. I had caught nobody. Were we the only team riding through the night?
“There’s another rider about two minutes ahead of you. You keep up this pace and you might catch him,” The Hammer told me.
It was all I needed to hear.
I tore off again, wanting desperately to catch somebody on this leg of the race. To show that, even with my big turning error, I was still adding value to the team’s standing.
And, almost at the exact moment I hit the summit, I caught him.
I was unable to contain myself; I howled. Literally. And then, with my lights blazing, I turned downhill.
I had 3500 feet of altitude to shed, and only eight miles to do it. No time to waste.
It was during this eight miles that I fell in love with the NiteRider Pro 1400 LED setup (Full Disclosure: NiteRider provided this light setup at no charge for my use during this race, but now I’m totally going to buy one). It was so powerful. So bright. The light covered such a large area, and so evenly. It felt better than car lights.
“This is amazing,” I thought. “I had no idea bike lights could be this good.”
And then I realized: I had only turned on the “flood” light. This thing wasn’t even going at full power. I pressed the switch again until it was burning at full brightness, at which point the leaves on all nearby trees burst into flame.
My teammates, now concerned about kamikazeIt deer at nighttime, decided a good deer interception strategy would be to drive the van a hundred yards or so in front of the bike. If something was going to hit a deer, better the van than a bike.
This served an awesome dual purpose: it let me know which way the road was going, letting me know early where the curves were coming from.
So I bombed the mountain descent. In the wind and the rain that had just started. With my lights blazing me a perfect view of what was coming up immediately, and the van giving me a good idea of what was coming up next.
Forty-five, fifty miles an hour. Down a mountain pass. At midnight. Laughing all the way.
When I reached my Exchange point, about an hour earlier than we had anticipated, I didn’t even wait for anyone to ask how I felt.
“That,” I said, “Was the single best ride I have ever had on a bike.”
PS: While I was having the time of my life on this leg of the race, not everyone was so lucky. Callahan Williams, the honcho behind Team Give — the charity funding treatment and research for children with rare neurological disorders — hit a cattle guard wrong on this leg and crashed hard; he had to be life-flighted out.
Yesterday, The Hammer, while rounding at the hospital, caught up with Callahan.
His neck is badly injured and he’s scheduled to have surgery later this week.
So, if you would, take a moment to send a good thought or prayer Callahan’s way. And remember that things can go sideways in life at any time (on the bike or off); tell your family you love them often.