A “This Post Makes More Sense in Context” Note from Fatty: If you haven’t been to this site this week, you may want to back up a little bit. I’m right in the middle of my writeup of the race I did last weekend, The Crusher in The Tushar. Part 1 has my video recap. Part 2 is my writeup of the first 23 or so miles of the race.
The enormity and freakishness of the descent down into Piute Valley — 4000 feet of elevation loss in eight miles — didn’t hit me all at once, because it doesn’t start by dumping you over the side of a cliff.
No. That comes later.
Instead, the descent starts easy. And fun. and smooth. And straight.
It’s only after it’s lulled you into a false sense of well-being and descending accomplishment that it starts hucking ridiculous hairpins riddled with gravel and boulderettes (i.e., very small boulders) at you, with a side of terminal exposure. Just for fun.
But none of that matters. All of that stuff is normal. What really gets you — especially if you’re riding a bike with hard, skinny tires and an aluminum fork — are the washboards.
Miles and miles of washboards.
I would wander from side to side of the road, looking for any line I could that didn’t have washboards, or at least not as extreme of washboards.
I tried descending faster, thinking that eventually I’d start skimming along the top of the washboards and things would smooth out. And this was maybe even theoretically possible, but it must happen at a speed greater than I was ever willing to go.
That’s my problem: I’m not willing to commit to suicidal speeds.
But you know, it could have been worse. It could have been raining hard as I descended (it wasnt raining at all when I descended), and I could have been wearing a bright yellow trash bag balloon / parachute.
Like the IT Guy was:
Photo courtesy of Zazoosh
By the way, everyone who ever sees this photo: is this not the best, most awesome photo that has ever been taken in the history of the universe?
I submit that it is.
Eventually, I found someone whose line I could follow, and I just settled in behind her: Tammy Jacques, who races for Honey Stinger and would eventually finish second in Women’s Pro.
Even more eventually, I got to pavement. Never ever ever in my life have I been so glad to be done with a descent.
I considered that really, almost all of the rest of the day would be climbing, and how peculiar it was that I was grateful for that prospect.
Which means, obviously, that I need to get better at riding this bike before next year.
A Train, Derailed
I rolled through the next aid station, now 31 miles into this race, and having not yet needed to stop for anything. As I did, I looked back and made what I consider to be the very first smart strategic move I have ever made in a race.
Specifically, I saw a guy about 50 feet behind me, and I slowed to let him catch me.
Yes, believe it or not, in spite of all my instincts, I slowed down and let a guy catch me.
We then commenced to take turns pulling. And as luck turned out, I had joined forces with a guy who was a fantastic rider to work with. We began picking up more and more riders, ’til our train was six (or more) people strong. Hammering along the pavement at a fast-feeling 20-22mph.
We flew by Kenny, who, no matter his biggish singlespeed gear, was never going to be able to hang with us. “Aren’t you Kenny, that guy from the FatCyclist.com blog?” I asked as I went by.
And then, during one of my turns pulling, I noticed that my speed was dropping. Was it because we were climbing?
Was I tiring?
No. I felt fine.
And then I felt the rear of my bike, sloppily moving side to side with each push of my pedals.
My stomach sank, knowing what this sensation meant, but I looked down to confirm right as someone from me called out:
“Guy in front, you’ve gone flat. It’s been coming on for a while.”
I pulled over and hopped off my bike. The tire wasn’t completely flat — just mostly. I assumed — rightly, I think — that the seal I had been worrying about before the start of the race had slowly leaked.
But it had taken literally half the distance of the race — right around 35 miles — for it to happen.
Maybe — just maybe — I thought, I could just put some CO2 into the tire and I’d be OK for the second 35 miles, long enough to get me across the finish line. Or even if I had to stop one more time, that would be OK, too.
Suddenly, I was really glad I had brought along a total of five CO2 cartridges.
I dug out a cartridge, then dug out the threaded adapter. As I did, Kenny rode by. “You OK?” he asked.
“Yep, just working on a flat,” I called back.
I Stop Racing Before The Race Ends
A few minutes and one spent cartridge later, I was back in business. But this time, I was on my own.
Then the road turned right and we were back on dirt. And then it began to rain.
I pedaled on, doing my best to make up for the time I had lost putting air in a tire.
The road turned uphill — one of those tricky uphills where it doesn’t look very uphill so you’re wondering why you’re going so slow — and loose.
A woman racer caught me and said, as she latched onto my wheel, “Wow. You are so fat.”
“I know,” I said, sadly. “But I’m trying to get better.”
Then, a minute later, I felt a now-familiar squashy feeling coming from the rear of my bike. “Is my rear tire flat?” I asked the racer behind me, not wanting to look down and confirm what I feared.
“I’m afraid so,” she said.
Clearly, my tire wasn’t going to just go and politely hold air for me for another 33 miles. Wonderful.
It was time to put a tube in.
Time stretches on in a strange way when you’re fixing a flat during a race. People ride by constantly, asking — politely and sincerely — whether you need any help. As you reply in the negative, you’re thinking — each and every time — “There goes another person ahead of me. And another. And another.”
Meanwhile, for the same reason it’s hard to type when someone’s looking over your shoulder, you find you are doubleplus clumsy. Instead of the change taking five or seven minutes, it takes thirty.
OK, maybe it only feels like thirty minutes.
In any case, I made mistakes — like threading the adapter onto a CO2 cartridge that was already spent. And taking forever to get the tire bead seated on the rim, chasing it round and round the wheel five or six times.
The Benny Hill theme played in my head.
Finally — finally — I got the tube in, the tire on, the air in, and the wheel seated. I swung a leg over the bike and got to riding again.
But I found that I was no longer racing.
Oh sure, I was still racing in the abstract. I was even riding hard, but not at my “I’m incoherent and just barely not barfing” limit. Since my goal to finish as fast as my legs would take me was no longer possible, I was going to have to settle with just . . . finishing.
But in a race like The Crusher, that’s still no small thing.
Hard Climb, Made Harder
I stopped at an aid station to refill my bottles, and was served by a kid who made it his personal mission to get me everything I needed, in record time. I just handed him my bottles and he ran — literally ran — to fill them up, while I stood at the food table and ate approximately half a watermelon.
Then I got back on my bike and began the second — and last — climb of the day.
A climb that would go on for pretty much ever. Or at least enough that the climbing total for the day would be right around 10,000 feet.
For me, though, the problem wasn’t really the amount of climbing. I had that in me; I’ve done that amount of climbing lots of times. It wasn’t even the steepness of the climb. OK, that’s a lie. The steepness of the climb forced many riders I could see off their bikes, and the only reason I stayed on was sheer stubbornness.
And riding was faster than walking up that steep mountain. I’d pass people walking. Eventually. And slowly.
But the real problem for me was that with the skinny tires and loose road surface, I just couldn’t stand to climb. And lately — thanks to a ton of singlespeed mountain biking — I have become a real standing climber.
So I’d stand to power up a steep section. Then I’d spin out and sit down. Then I’d pedal. Then I’d reflexively stand to power up the next steep section.
This went on endlessly. So endlessly, in fact, that it’s still going on. I’m actually still out there, repeating this stand-spin-sit cycle right this very second.
Please rescue me.
A Better Choice
Once I hit the KOM mark — which meant very little to me, since I was nowhere even near the zip code of winning the KOM at this race — I figured the climbing would settle down a little. And to my immense relief, it did. There would be sections of hard climbing, followed by sections of easy climbing. And even — huzzah! — the occasional burst of downhill.
Oh, and there was one last aid station. I rolled through, accepting a water bottle. But then, as I continued on, I saw my error: I could have taken a full can of Coke instead.
I dropped the water bottle as if it were full of a lukewarm sports drink I didn’t care for much in the first place and had come to actively dislike during the course of the day. Which is an amazingly accurate metaphor, by the way. And may even be a demonstration of the reflexive property, although my recollection of college logic classes is pretty hazy at this point.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Dropping the bottle.
Now with a free hand, I took the Coke and sucked it down with such alacrity that the aluminum can crumpled even as I drank it.
What is it about Coke that makes it such a magnificent drink during a massive ride? I mean, apart from the fact that it’s cold, wet, sugary, caffeinated and delicious?
Drama at the End of the Dirt Road
Just as I got near the end of the last dirt section (which leads to the final four miles of the race: climbing on pavement), I was very nearly taken out. By a bottle. Somehow it knew where I was and rolled toward me at exactly the perfect pace to come under my front wheel (you can see it happen beginning at 3:14 in my video recap).
In my mind’s eye, I could picture what was going to happen: I’d hit the bottle. It would roll under my front wheel and make it slide out to the right. And I’d go down at 30mph (my estimated current speed).
I hit the bottle. The lid popped off and the battle squashed beneath me. I continued on without further incident.
So I guess I just put that in this story for a little extra bogus drama or something. Sorry.
At the Finish Line
The final mile of the race is a brute. 450 feet of climbing in a mile. That’s steep. Especially when you consider that I was already quite tired from my day of racing / riding.
I could see four or five people ahead of me. Thinking that maybe I could try to finish with a bit of panache (because I am all about panache), I stood up and started passing them.
And then the announcer started shouting to all the other racers that there was a guy passing them at the finish line, and were they going to let them do that?
Well I kind of hoped they were.
But one guy — the last guy I had to pass (you can see this happening on my video recap beginning at 3:22) stood up and denied me my final pass.
Which left me disappointed for almost another whole second.
And then I asked the volunteer whose job it was to make sure I didn’t keel over if I could possibly have a Coke.
Photo courtesy of Zazoosh
Best moment of the day, right there.
My finish time: 6:28
After my Race
I went and found my drop bag and got changed, moving as quickly as I could, because I didn’t want to miss The Hammer’s finish, and I had no idea how soon that would be. Based on previous races we’ve both done, I figured I had at least half an hour, though.
But that was before The Hammer well and truly became The Hammer.
She finished nine minutes after me. Nine. That’s it.
Photo courtesy of Zazoosh
But that’s her story to tell (which, by the way, she will do tomorrow).
We then hung around for Heather’s finish, as the first and only woman single speeder:
Behind her, you can see Kenny trying to run alongside her, and I would like to point out that watching Kenny try to run is perhaps exactly at the opposite end of the spectrum of awesomeness that seeing him ride is on.
Here he is after she dropped him and he gave up running:
Then we waited for Blake to finish, but I’m going to leave that part alone for now, because The Hammer tells that part of the story much better than I do.
Even More After The Race
The Crusher in the Tushar provides dinner a short (and, mercifully, exclusively downhill) bike ride away, at the Eagle Point ski resort lodge. I believe I ate enough to completely negate my calorie expenditure for the day.
And then there’s the shuttle ride, taking you back from the resort to resort to the starting line. Unfortunately, the shuttle runs on a 90 minute schedule, which meant a pretty long wait, by the end of which I was hungry again.
Oh, and there’s no separate space on the shuttle for bikes, so the dozen or so of us on the shuttle had to stand our bikes up, hug ‘em tight, and hope like mad that we didn’t wreck:
The whole way down, everyone joked, told stories, and laughed about the day. It was the best shuttle ride ever.
Way Before The Race
After every race, there’s a question, one you aren’t sure you should be answering yet, but can’t help asking:
Will I do this race again next year?
The answer, for me, is pretty easy in this case: Yes.