A Note from Fatty: This is part 2 in my telling of this year’s Park City Point 2 Point race, a (normally) 78-mile, 14K-of-climbing MTB race, almost entirely on singletrack. Click here to read part 1.
The question arises: Why does everyone who has done the Park City Point 2 Point speak of it with such reverence? And terror?
Well, that has to do with cheesecake. Singletrack is a lot like cheesecake.
I will explain.
When you eat your first slice of cheesecake, you’re thinking, “Wow, this is better than anything I have ever eaten. It is in fact the thing that I wish I could eat, exclusively, for the rest of my life.
And so the PCP2P says, “Well, that’s awesome because I’ve got another slice sitting right here, ready for you to eat.”
And so you dig in.
And while you’re eating you say, “Seriously, this cheesecake is really good. Just totally delicious.” But as you finish, you’re thinking that it was a little harder to get the last few bites of that second piece of cheesecake down than the first few bites.
At which point, the PCP2P says, “Well, I’m really gratified you enjoyed that, because I’ve got another piece of cheesecake right here for you.”
So you answer, as diplomatically as possible, “Hey, thanks. This is truly delicious cheesecake. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had any better. But I’m pretty full now.”
And the PCP2P replies, sweetly, “Oh, don’t be silly. Have some cheesecake. Here, I’ll put some raspberry stuff on it.”
Then the PCP2P cuts you a nice, big piece of cheesecake and puts it down in front of you. And you know, it might just be in your mind, but it seems to you that maybe it put that cheesecake down with just a touch of menace.
But you eat it. Because hey, you came here to eat cheesecake, right? And eventually, you finish it. And you’re proud of yourself for finishing that third piece of cheesecake, but it stopped tasting good at all toward the end, and now you just want to go lie down.
“Have some more cheesecake,” the PCP2P says.
“No thanks,” you reply. “I’m stuffed.”
“Oh, come on,” says the PCP2P. “You love cheesecake.” And it puts down another slice of cheesecake in front of you.
So you eat it, barely. But you’ve stopped thinking about the smooth texture of the cheesecake and how it contrasts so nicely with the crunch of the crust. You aren’t thinking about the mild, sweet flavor and the raspberry topping.
All you’re thinking about is chewing and swallowing. Getting this sucker down.
“I think I’m gonna hurl,” you say as you finish.
“Just one more slice,” says the PCP2P.
“Please, no more. No more cheesecake,” you plead.
“EAT THE DAMNED CHEESECAKE.”
And so you do. And you finish. Maybe. Or maybe you don’t. Regardless, you’re thinking, as you slowly chew, “From this point forward, I shall never eat anything but celery.”
So that’s kinda how the PCP2P is.
Small Omission, Big Consequences
There’s something to be said for going from “not gonna race” to actually being racing, all within half an hour. You don’t have time for your stomach to knot up and suddenly decide it needs to poop one more time.
You don’t have time to fret about whether your bike is set up properly.
You don’t have time for anything, really, except getting on your bike and going.
Unfortunately, in my case, it also meant that I didn’t remember to start my bike computer until I had been out for a while. Of course, as soon as I remembered this, I started it, but the damage had been done.
How long had I been out? How far had I gone? I wasn’t sure, and I knew it didn’t really matter. All that mattered was that I stick to my very well-considered race strategy: go as fast as I could until I crossed the finish line, at which point I would stop.
This, by the way, is a really great racing strategy, and it’s taken me years to develop it. I should keep it secret. But because I care about this sport and love to share, I hereby authorize you to use it yourself, as long as you give me proper attribution. Thanks.
I Commence to Get Very, Very Muddy
We did a quick lap around a bluff, circumventing the sticky mud in the Round Valley loop, latched on to a short section of road, and then got onto the first section of singletrack that would let us know what the next five or seven miles would be like.
Which, in short, was very slippery mud.
I wouldn’t stay this clean for long. Photo courtesy of Zazoosh.
Within a few minutes, my legs — front and back — were covered. From the number of splats I felt on my face, I figured it was just as muddy as my legs.
photo courtesy of Zazoosh
And a very small rock got into my left shoe.
I learned to hate that rock.
Sometimes that little rock would work its way back so it was under my arch and I’d forget about it altogether. But then it would come forward and get so it was right where I push down on the pedal, or right under my big toe. And then I’d wince and, often, say something aloud, like: “Stupid rock.”
Now you might think that since I was approximately thirty minutes into what was going to be — at a minimum — a seven-hour ride, I would have had the sense to take the twenty seconds necessary to stop, take off the shoe, empty the shoe, and put the shoe back on.
I am happy to report that I left that shoe on for the duration of the race.
One of the reasons I tried — but failed — to get as close to the front of the starting line as possible before the start of the race was that I knew that otherwise I’d be held up in lots of long lines during the first 25 miles or so of the race, before it spread out.
But since I didn’t get up front, I had a choice: be cool, or be a dork.
I tried to go with the “cool” route. Which means that when I could pass, I would. When I could not, I wouldn’t sigh and moan. Instead, I’d use the opportunity to rest a little bit and go out hard when I got an opening.
To my delight, the field seemed to be full of people who were going with a cheerful, friendly approach to both passing and letting people pass. “Want by?” and “Come on by on my right / left” were absolutely common things for me to hear people say, well before I even had a chance to ask to come by.
In fact, I got to the point where, if I caught up with someone and just wanted to hang there for a bit, I’d say, “I’m behind you but not looking to pass. Can I suck your wheel for a bit?”
Not everyone took the long view, of course. I remember in particular when one person at the head of a longish train slipped out on a wet rock, dismounted and worked his way up to a place where he could get back on his bike, the guy right behind him yelled, “Dude, move aside and let me pass!”
Which seems like an OK thing to say, except if the dude moved aside and let the other dude pass, the first dude would have had to first accept the fact that he would be rolling down a rocky mountainside for fifty feet or so.
Which seems like a little much to ask.
I Say Hi To Friends and Then Crash
When the chime on my GPS went off for the third time since the beginning of the race, I knew that I had been being a bad boy and that I needed to make amends. You see, I have my GPS set to chime every half hour, which, during endurance races, is my cue to have either a gel or a packet of chews.
So far in the race, I had eaten nothing, which meant I was digging myself a deep calorie hole, and digging it fast.
The problem was, on steep, climbing singletrack with people both in front of and behind me, there weren’t a lot of good opportunities to take a hand off the handlebars and grab for something.
So I promised myself: as soon as I got an opportunity, I’d eat something. And I’d do my best to catch up on some of those calories.
I rode up to Erica Tingey (read her story of the race here), the pro MTB’r whom The Hammer now idolizes. I was about to feel all impressed with myself for catching her when she said, “I’m not having a great day. Mechanicals and my leg’s not healed up.”
You know, just once I’d like to catch a fast person who didn’t explain why the only reason someone like me could possibly be riding near them is that they’re having a bad day.
Oh, wait a second. That actually happened about twenty minutes later, when I caught up with Kenny. “How’s it going, Elden?” he asked.
“I can’t believe how good I feel,” I replied.
“Awesome. I’ll let you by and see you later,” Kenny said.
And Kenny did see me later. About two minutes later, in fact, because we finally hit a dirt road, which was a great chance for me to sit up, slow down, get a drink, and eat a packet of Honey Stinger chews.
While I did this, Kenny passed me again. Which is really too bad for him, because if he would have stayed behind me for just another minute, he would have seen something really interesting.
First, I followed the road around a bend and discovered it started heading downhill, sharply, as I rode my bike with just my left hand on the bar.
Second, I saw that I was coming up on a gate, quickly. The way for bikes to get by was to go around the gate on the right side.
Third, I found that I was going too fast, was not steering well one-handed, and wasn’t going to clear the gate.
Fourth, I grabbed a handful of front brake and endoed, right into the right-side gatepost.
The way I could tell I wasn’t too badly hurt was that my humiliation was the first thing to register.
I got up, righted my bike, and then finished stuffing the chews into my mouth, no longer trusting myself to ride one-handed down this steep road.
I then got back on my bike and saw that a volunteer, about thirty feet down the road, had seen the whole episode.
“You OK?” he asked.
“Sure, I’m fine,” I replied.
“Good. Just a couple miles to the aid station,” he said.
So it’s a good thing I had gone through all that for no reason whatsoever.
Things Are Different
I went through the first aid station in 2:34, which meant . . . well, it didn’t mean anything to me at the moment. You see, I’m not one of those people who understands things like maps and stuff. I’m in fact exactly the opposite. When The Hammer had, earlier in the week, tried to explain where we’d be going and which trail led to which ski resort and what happened next, I eventually just said, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to hope that the course is well-marked.”
Even more to the point, when I see things like this course map, my brain seizes up and in fact doesn’t thaw out for a couple days:
Which leads to the next point I want to make: my recollection of what happened when is a little murky.
Specifically, I remembered from the first time I did this race that after the first aid station, the climbing became freakishly difficult and that I had needed to walk huge chunks of it.
This time, that was not the case. I never needed to walk anything. It was never even close. In fact, while many riders would pass me on the downhills, on the climbs I don’t believe I was ever passed. Not even once.
Yes, I am almost always slack-jawed when I’m riding hard. Photo courtesy of Zazoosh.
Part of that’s because this time I could shift into a lower gear, but that wasn’t all of it, because after the race I said to The Hammer, “I think they changed the order of some of the parts of the race since last time.”
She just rolled her eyes. “No kidding,” she replied.
And that’s really kind of a sad fact for me and racing. When I’m going hard, I don’t see anything but the course. When The Hammer asked me about whether I saw the low clouds over a lake we went around as part of the race, I said, “We went around a lake?”
When Nick Rico came flying right by me on the course about halfway through the race and said, “Did you see that moose?” I replied, “There was a moose?”
Racing, for me, is no way to see anything. Because when I’m racing, I see nothing but the trail, and only the next 20 – 50 feet of that.
So I continued riding along. Riding hard, feeling nothing but the intensity of the race. Over the past month or two, I’ve become pretty accustomed to that feeling, and I like it.
Sometimes it’s cold enough for me to pull my armwarmers up to my shoulders. Most of the time it’s not. I never have the need to pull out and put on my jacket. Not even when it starts to rain on me.
I’m feeling good, and almost to the second aid station, which will be roughly about two-thirds of the way through the race.
And it strikes me how amazingly different my race has been this year than the first time I did the PCP2P. The first time, I was hot. This time I always kept my armwarmers (and a jacket) at the ready. The first time, I was walking a bunch. This time, I rode all of it.
The first time, I was miserable. this time, I felt an intense calm. The first time, I was just surviving the PCP2P.
This time, I was racing it.
Special. So Special.
It’s not like I didn’t have time to notice things, though. For example, I noticed that for pretty much the entirety of the ride, I had Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” running through my head.
The problem (or at least the one I choose to focus on right now) is that I really don’t know that song, so I found myself improvising new lyrics around the existing lyrics:
Every rose has its thorn
Just like all farms in Kansas grow corn
Just like every teenage boy likes to watch porn
Just like that one famous tennis player had the first name “Bjorn”
And every 80’s hair band gets lots of scorn
Every rose has its thorn
Take this as a cautionary tale: Don’t listen to the the 80’s station when you’re about to do a big long bike race.
Luckily, there were many nice things to distract me from the horrible nonsense happening in my brain.
For example, the race course itself. It’s all singletrack. Really. Pretty much all of it. Like this:
Imagine, if you can, spending an entire day riding so much perfect trail that you are quite literally exhausted by it. Imagine riding, non-stop, through grassy fields, pine forests, and aspen groves. Riding so much good trail that you reach a point where you want to do the mountain biking equivalent of pushing back from the table on Thanksgiving and saying, “No more. This is all so good, but I just cannot eat one more bite.”
And now, consider that this is all happening just as the fall colors are just starting to come into play. So you’re riding along and the trees are green and the grass is green and there’s this overwhelming greenness all around you, and then you come around a bend and suddenly you’re in and under and over leaves that are so red and orange and bright they make you squint and suck in your breath.
That is the PCP2P.
Aid Station 2
I rolled into the second aid station, scouted out my drop bags, and started digging through everything. I needed to replenish my stock of drinks and food, but I wanted a Coke. Which I found, and started working on. Ignoring everything else.
At that point, three different people came up to help me.
“Want your chain lubed?” asked one. Why yes. Yes I did. I had been getting chainsuck every time I dropped into the small ring. I was dealing with it OK by backpedaling for a revolution after any downshift, but that’s not exactly a fun thing to do on a steep climb.
He took care of it.
“Want me to get your bottles filled up?” asked a second volunteer.
“Please,” I replied.
“Hey, need anything else?” asked a third person.
“Can you rummage through my bag for about four gels while I drink some soup?” I asked.
And she did.
Meanwhile I had finished my Coke and was now chugging down some Chicken and Stars soup, with no small amount of alacrity:
So if you were curious how dirty my face and legs were, that’s how dirty.
I then saddled up and headed out, completely oblivious that a storm was heading in, and that in a few hours this would be the very place where people were pulled off the course because of terrifying amounts of rain, lightning, hail, and wind.
Hey, when I was there, it was arm warmers-down weather.
From the first time I did the PCP2P, I remembered the final section as a truly miserable race.
This time, it wasn’t.
I had plenty of energy left. In fact, I remember thinking as I finished the last climb and began descending toward the finish line, “Oh, I’m at the end?”
photo courtesy of Zazoosh
I think that may be what happens when you spend too much time racing. And, of course, when the race course has been shortened.
Still though, I felt good as I crossed the finish line. I hadn’t cramped the whole day. Hadn’t bonked. I had ridden hard, and ridden reasonably smart.
I was proud of my effort.
It had started raining, so I sat down under a vendor’s canopy tent, drinking, cooling down. Happy.
Then it started raining hard. And then, harder than that.
I was no longer happy. Now I was worried. My wife was out there. In the cold and the rain.
Oh well, there was nothing I could do about it but watch for her.
So I found one of the aid station bags that had been brought back to the finish line, which contained a clean dry jersey and some track pants; I changed into those.
Then I saw someone had posted results. I went and checked:
I had taken third in my age group.
I walked around, stunned, wishing there were someone around I knew who I could tell this amazing news.
I had taken third!
Oddly enough, though, that is not where the story ends. In fact, that’s where it becomes very, very dramatic.
And it’s where I’ll pick up tomorrow.