A Note from Fatty: This is part of my race report for the the 2012 Breck Epic. My writeups for all parts of this story can be found here:
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
If I had known it was going to be a day like this, I’d have stayed in bed.
In fact, I nearly did anyway. My knee felt ok — I could walk with only a slight limp — but it sure didn’t feel great.
We checked the weather: 40% chance of rain, pretty much through the day. That was actually good news, for two reasons:
- 40% was lower than the 60% the forecast showed when we went to bed the night before.
- 40% is better odds than a coin toss.
So we started getting ready. We put food and rain clothes in each of our two drop bags, figuring it was best to be safe. We made breakfast burritos, again, hoping they would be easier to eat that day.
They were not.
The profile and distance for the day weren’t too dissimilar from the first day of the race.
42.4 miles of singletrack, with 6322 feet of climbing.
We got to the starting line, which today was in the heart of Breckenridge.
We stared at the sky, which was dark and grey. In my mind, I increased the odds of rain sometime during the day to 100%. The only question was when. And how much. So I guess that’s actually two questions.
The starting time arrived. And then it passed (the only day the race started late). We continued to look at the sky, worried.
It began to rain. Big, slow drops. The kind of rain where you don’t get hit often, but when you do you can feel it.
The Hammer and I decided we’d better get the windbreakers (because we each have two rain jackets, which were in our drop bags) we had with us out and put them on.
As we did so, the race started.
And so we got to have the peculiar experience of standing at a starting line, struggling into jackets, while watching every single other racer ride away from us.
To Aid Station 1
The first few miles of riding in the rain are always wonderful, because they allow you to picture yourself being hardy and steely-eyed.
The Hammer and I found ourselves in a good-sized group of people, all laughing about how muddy and wet we all were already, as well as how grity our drivetrains already sounded.
None of us were thinking — at least out loud — about what the day would be like if this rain continued. And especially, none of us were talking about what it would be like if it got worse.
And why would we? After all, the rain was letting up a little bit, to the point that The Hammer and I took off our semi-soggy windbreakers and ride in short sleeves. We were wet, sure. But we were climbing, so we weren’t cold.
As for my knee, well, it was doing OK. I wasn’t riding fast, but I was riding. Plus, I had loaded up on Advil, and had more in my jersey pocket. Which I would take later in the day, kidneys be damned.
Then, shortly before we got to the first aid station, the rain picked up. So we arrived at the first aid station completely soaked. We swapped out to our full-on rain jackets. Unfortunately, because we thought that rain would become a worse problem later in the day, we had put our best rain gear in our second drop bags.
For example, the gloves I had put in this drop bag were $10 semi-winter gloves I had bought at Kohls a couple years ago. And the jacket was something I had bought at a tourist trap during a hiking trip about ten years ago.
To Aid Station 2
We headed out of the first aid station . . . and into hell. A very, very wet hell.
The rain went from “hard” to “torrential.” People’s faces were completely black from mud. Several times I was especially glad that I had two eyes, because a gob of mud would fly into one eye; I could blink blindly with that eye until vision cleared, while I used the other eye to continue riding.
Because we never stopped. We just didn’t ever want to stop.
Somehow, we knew that if we stopped, we’d become even colder. That the shakes would hit us even harder. That the rain would feel even fiercer.
So we kept going, actually passing a lot of people that day. I noted to myself — more than once — “that person looks even more miserable than I feel.”
Now that I think about it, though, I expect other people were thinking the same thing about me.
My knee began hurting. The rain came down, harder. The climbing remained steep, and technical singletrack became running streams.
And I confess: I began to complain. But only in my mind. See, I would have complained out loud, but The Hammer was still smiling and being positive and riding along like this was some kind of exciting adventure. Even though she was just as wet and muddy as I was.
And she was quite a bit colder than I was, judging from her shaking and chattering teeth.
Yet, The Hammer abided, riding strong and staying positive.
So I kept my trap shut. Most of the time.
We made it to the second aid station. The Hammer quickly switched into her better, warmer, drier rain jacket.
I did not.
Nor did I change into my water-resistant gloves.
I have no reasonable explanation for this, other than to try to describe what I was thinking, which kind of went like this:
- I’m really cold. And wet
- I wish I had my better jacket and gloves on.
- But in order to put my better clothes on, I’ll first have to take the (completely soaked and basically useless) coat and gloves I’m currently wearing off.
- If I take my jacket and gloves off, I’ll be even colder than I am.
- I don’t want to be colder than I am. Not even for a second.
- So I’m not going to change clothes.
Yeah, it’s possible I wasn’t thinking at my very very best at that moment.
As The Hammer changed and I stood around constructing addle-brained syllogisms, other cyclists arrived, some looking even colder and wetter and worse than I felt.
A volunteer got on the radio and made a call to Mike McCormack, the race director.
“Racers are starting to look kinda sketchy as they come in,” the volunteer said.
Mike replied, “Give them the option of pulling out of the race. If the weather keeps getting worse, we’ll make it compulsory.”
The part of my brain that still processed language noted how awesome it was that Mike had just used the word “compulsory.”
I looked at The Hammer to see if she had heard what was going on. She had.
“We’d stand around waiting and shivering and freezing longer if we stopped here waiting for a ride back to town than if we just finished the race,” The Hammer said, pragmatically.
So we kept going, hoping that the last big climb of the day — which was coming right up — would help us warm up. And it worked. We both felt warmer, although we had to slow way down because my knee was such a mess.
And then we hit the singletrack, which was now a fast-flowing river. The Hammer took a fall in this, splashing hard and smacking her hip into a rock.
Meanwhile, I could no longer use my left leg to pedal at all.
Then came the downhill to the finish line, chilling us both to the bone. But we made it. We got to the finish line.
The problem was, we then had to ride — downhill — another three miles to get to our condo.
It was the worst, slowest, three miles of my life. I could barely turn the cranks; The Hammer kept distancing me.
I began to wonder if I would make it back to the condo at all.
But we did. Somehow, we did.
Back at the Condo
So we parked our bikes in the underground parking, not even bothering to lock them up. Hoping, maybe a little, that someone would steal the bikes and let us off the hook.
We went up the hall to our condo, got out the little plastic keycard, and swiped.
I swiped again.
I swiped and swiped.
The Hammer got out her keycard and swiped.
Nothing continued to happen some more.
We began to fret. If our keys didn’t work, we’d have to bike to the center of town to get replacement keys. And we did not want to leave the house.
I started machine-gunning the card in and out and in and out and in and out of the key slot.
Finally, I looked at the card, which was wet and slightly muddy. Maybe if I wiped it off? Dried it?
But we had nothing to dry it on. We sere altogether soaked.
So I peeled up my bike shorts and rubbed the card on my relatively clean thigh, then waved the card around madly in the air for a minute.
I swiped the card, and it worked.
Never have two people laughed with more sincere relief.
We stepped into our condo. I planned to immediately strip down — get out of these freezing soaking clothes as quickly as possible.
“Wait, there’s the camera,” said The Hammer. “Let’s get pictures real quick.”
And I am so glad we did. Here they are. All of them.
What I love about all these photos is that The Hammer’s got her teeth clenched exactly the same in every single shot. Like her moth is frozen in that position.
We left our clothes and shoes and helmets on the kitchen floor, in a soggy muddy mess. Later, we’d take them to the carwash, where we’d hose them off, along with our bikes. And then we’d wash them (we had been smart enough to rent a condo with a washer and dryer). Twice.
For now, though, we just wanted to get warmed up, via approximately an hour in the shower. Thank goodness for a hotel-sized water heater.
Even so, we continued to shake violently through two episodes of Judge Judy. I refused to ice my knee, saying I would go near nothing cold until I stopped shaking.
We didn’t go out to eat, opting instead to stay inside and make spaghetti — which we both agreed was the best thing we ate that week.
“If it’s raining tomorrow,” I said, between mouthfuls, “I quit. I will not get on my bike.”
The Hammer did not argue.
PS: At the award ceremony that evening, I talked with CyclingDirt. Here’s the interview:
PPS: Did you catch my lie in the interview? Did I sound convincing?