A Note from Fatty: Today’s story comes from Michael S, who is very mysterious. Which is to say, he didn’t send in a bio. A great story of suffering, though. Enjoy!
My list of things that went wrong that day seems endless. I’d gotten four hours of sleep the night before, special thanks to a fussy infant, and at 7 a.m., my wife and I had a nasty little argument we would later refer to as the “worst fight of our marriage.” But somehow our little family of four still found itself on the highway to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for the bike race I’d been planning that day, the Rendezvous Hill Climb.
Then, while I was warming up minutes before the start, I hit some loose gravel and went over the handlebars, landing on my knee and hip. I was bloodied, bruised and starved–I guess a bowl of Marshmallow Mateys four hours beforehand wasn’t the best nutrition strategy. I was almost hungry enough to actually pay for resort food.
The locals in Jackson Hole are all a bunch of semi-pro studs, and every time I race there, I feel a bit like a 5-year-old among Greek deities. The Rendezvous Hill Climb had been on my race wishlist for years, but I’d never done it before. I’d just read that it climbed 7.2 miles and 4,139 feet from the ski resort to the top of their aerial tram. But it wasn’t until I was standing there being dwarfed by this gargantuan mountain that I realized that this might be a little beyond my abilities. I nearly peed my chamois just looking at it.
Keeping with my Greek tragedy theme, I’d been a little hubristic going into this. Most of my “training” consisted of pulling my kids in a trailer for 6 miles around our rural neighborhood. Since I knew I wasn’t in great shape, I figured I’d take it really easy, so I showed up with sandals and platform pedals rather than my regular clipless pedals. I’d even worn baggy shorts. Dumb. Standing on the start line, I felt a sharp twinge of insecurity.
“Is anyone else doing this tourist-style?” I asked the 11 svelte, spandex-clad racers lined up next to me. One guy put his hand up and smiled. I felt better. Then the race organizers told us to go. And just like that, we hurtled ourselves at this towering giant like a bunch of stubborn Lilliputians.
Once we got going, it wasn’t so terrible–just rolling and rocky. I actually motored on ahead of some of the folks on the really nice bikes at the first rise. Things got a little steep, so I tried to shift into my granny gear, and, of course, my chain dropped completely off the chainring. “No problem,” I told myself, “I’ll just fix this and catch up.” But after I remounted and turned the next corner, something else happened that guaranteed I wouldn’t be catching up, and it wasn’t a mechanical.
It was a 25-percent gradient that lasted at least a quarter of a mile.
Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with 25-percent gradients, but I certainly wasn’t. “Is it really possible to ride up something this steep?” I thought as I dismounted and started pushing my bike up the slope. Obviously it was, since the other racers seemed to be managing it. I swung my leg back over the saddle as the pitch eased slightly, and I realized I was in for a long climb.
All the racers had left me behind except one lone straggler. I figured he must be sick or maimed or something. I rode up next to him and asked, “So, is this just a training ride for you?” His response: “I’ve only ridden my bike once this summer. I’m taking it slow because I know what’s up ahead.”
As the valley sunk beneath us, I actually managed to distance myself from him. When I looked down, the resort seemed like a distant ant farm.
The honest-to-goodness truth is that there isn’t much to tell you about the next 90 minutes. The fireroad coiled up through 7,000, then 8,000, then 9,000 and finally 10,000 feet above sea level. There was no shade, and the sun seemed to bear down hotter and hotter as the air became thinner and thinner. The road reflected the heat right into my face, and the mountain wasn’t shy about doling out punishment. I’d spin my granny gear until the gradient became too steep to handle (which seemed to happen pretty often), then hike, ride, hike, ride, hike, rinse and repeat-for well over an hour and a half.
Other than an occasional silhouette, I hardly saw anybody–not even a yodeling Swiss hiker. I was out there alone, and I soon found myself utterly demolished, completely out of water or nutrition, and becoming just a teensy bit delirious.
So, naturally, I started talking to myself like a schizophrenic. “I owe my wife an apology,” I told myself. “I just want to get this over with so I can hug my girls and get a burger.”
My introspective conversation was interrupted when I came across a guy sitting on a rock snapping photos with a large telephoto lens and looking a bit like a leprechaun guarding a pot of gold. He was a photographer from the local newspaper, it turned out, and he told me I didn’t have much farther to go. I thanked him, pedaled some more, hiked, rounded one more switchback, hiked again, then saw the tram dock in the distance–and took a gasp of relief!
As I got closer, I also saw three familiar apparitions, one of which had pigtails. I knew I wouldn’t have been the first guy on this planet to see blonde, female mirages, but these ones looked an awful lot like my family. “Great,” I thought. “Now I’m hallucinating.”
Then one of them yelled, “Dad!” and ran toward me. Then she tripped and fell on her face in the dirt. Luckily, instead of crying, she stood up and smiled. So I smiled back (or grimaced–I’m not sure which). “I love you, sweetie,” I told her in a sort of Sahara-desert-survivor tone. Then I churned the remaining 40 feet to the finish line. I finally released my handlebar death grip, elated just to be done. I could feel every inch of that mountain in my legs, and I could hardly walk to the tram dock.
Later, at the paltry awards ceremony, my kids-the only kids there-wouldn’t stop screaming at each other. My hip was still sore from my crash, and my wife was still mad at me (perhaps more than before). To top it off, days later, a photo of me would appear in the local newspaper next to some race results that would incorrectly and humiliatingly list me as dead last.
The next year, that race would cease to exist.
But on the upside, I’d managed to survive my own Greek tragedy, without marrying my mom. And at the end of the day, that’s a success, no matter how you toss it.