A Note from Fatty: This is part 2 of my 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race report. Read Part 1 by clicking here.
With Austin out of the picture, our team had to scramble. Could we substitute in another racer (i.e., steal one from the eight-person IMBA corporate team)? No, as it turns out we could not. If we wanted to stay in the race, Austin had to get certification from the medical tent that he was injured, at which point we could stay in our existing category: Five-person Co-ed 200+ combined age.
So, we figured out a new plan. We’d continue doing one lap per person until we got into the late night, at which point we’d switch over to double laps — making it so everyone got a longer rest during the night.
Stan was our second racer (and with Austin’s exit, now our first and fastest), and turned in a blistering 1:06 lap — the fastest lap the team would turn in during the race.
While Stan was out, Bob Winston — Chief Executive Honcho over the Board of Directors at IMBA (not his real title) as well as our team captain — warned us that he wasn’t a fast guy, and was just out here for fun, and that we shouldn’t expect too much.
Which just goes to show that Bob (who is 50+ years old and looks 38) is a total sandbagging anti-trash-talker.
He turned in a freakishly fast time of 1:11.
It was official: our team was here to race. Which is just the way I like it. Play when you’re off the bike, hit it hard when you’re on.
As it got to be close to the time Bob should be getting back in, The Hammer and I went to the baton exchange area. There, she stood with the rest of the racers waiting for their teammates to come in, waiting for their team number (ours was 409, which was super-easy to remember). The Hammer gave me a thumbs-up:
She was ready to race.
Her number was called, she ran to the table, signed in with the volunteer (major kudos to the volunteers for doing an incredible job in the exchange tent for the entire race), got our team baton from Bob, and she was gone.
I walked back to our camp, changed into my riding gear and headed back to the exchange tent and started looking for The Hammer. My guess was that she would turn in a 1:15 riding time.
I was wrong. 1:14. But as she came in, I could see she was very dirty and her chest was covered with little spiky quills.
“I had a crash,” The Hammer simply said, then gave me a kiss, handed me the team baton, and wished me luck on my lap.
Which is when trouble began for me.
Wherein I (Once Again) Show What A Complete Dork I Am
I think I’ve mentioned before that when I’m racing, I am not the same person I normally am. Which is to say, the bloodlust overtakes me and I want nothing more than to completely ruin myself, while hopefully crushing all those in my line of sight.
I am not a strategic racer. I’m not even tactical. I’m pure, unadulterated, 100% attack dog, no longer even thinking in words, but rather simply in targets to aim for and obstacles to avoid.
This way of thinking — i.e., not thinking at all — became a problem for me before I even got on my bike.
After getting the baton from The Hammer, I ran out of the tent to where, along with every other racer, I had set my bike in a bike stand.
Except I couldn’t remember where I had put my bike.
I ran back and forth, looking for my red-and-white S-Works Stumpjumper (I was racing a geared bike, though I had brought a singlespeed as a backup).
I couldn’t find it.
Running back and forth, I scanned the rack again. Then ran and looked at the next rack, even though I was pretty sure I hadn’t put my bike that far away.
Still couldn’t find it. Had someone stolen it?
And then: there it was! A red and white Specialized S-Works! I grabbed it, threw a leg over, and then…realized it was a full-suspension bike and was therefore definitely not mine.
And that’s when I realized that while I had been looking at bikes on the racks to the right of me, I had placed my bike on the rack to my left.
And with that little adrenaline rush out of the way, I jumped on my bike and took off, charging at maximum speed, hoping to catch all the people who had calmly gotten on their bikes and started the race while I ran back and forth like a headless chicken.
Say Hello to My Little Friend
The 16-mile course starts with some fun, twisty, flat singletrack to get you warmed up, after which you get to make a decision:
Do you want to ride The Bitches?
You see, in this context, “The Bitches” are a set of seven (I think) short but steep hills, one after another. Hitting them at race pace takes a lot out of you. And so you have the option: go around The Bitches. But you should know: it’s a longer trail to go around.
And so — not wanting to be the only guy on the team to skip The Bitches, I went after them…and was glad I did. Because, at least on this first lap, I had plenty of energy to just rocket right up them, staying in my big ring, in fact.
A quick flat section then brought me to where the singletrack began. And where vigilance became absolutely necessary. You see, on the singletrack portion of this trail, there is always a cactus on one side of you or another. If you crash, you’re going to be a pincushion. If you drift off the course a tiny bit: pincushion.
If you try to pass where you shouldn’t: pincushion.
Luckily, the singletrack had lots of good places to pass. Very regularly, the trail would diverge for 20 feet or so, then reconverge. And — absolutely completely without exception in my experience — racers were astonishingly courteous about letting other racers by.
It made me happy to be among these people.
However, I was still wanted to pass often, and pass fast. And so, at one point, thinking I had room to pass, I shot around another racer, only to find — too late! — that I in fact did not have room to pass. I tucked in front of the racer I was passing, grazing some plant.
My right shin suddenly felt like it had been cut wide open.
I looked down, and there, embedded deep in my shin, was a golfball-sized, football-shaped little cactus ball.
I got queazy just from the sight of it.
Before the race, though, Kenny had told me, “If you pick up a cactus, just finish your lap with it, because there’s no way you’re getting it out without a comb.”
So I kept going. In fact, the pain focused me, and I went harder, looking forward to when I could get that stupid little hitchhiker out of my shin.
I noticed that it would hurt worse in certain situations. Like when I stood to climb. Or when I bottomed out in a gully. Or when a gust of wind caught the thing and tried to blow it around.
It kept me from enjoying the trail like I think I otherwise would have. I just wanted to get to the end and get that little intruder out.
So I rode harder. Standing for the climbs, even though that hurt, because it was faster.
A Whiskey Tree Miracle
As I rode, I wondered, “Do we even have a comb back at camp?” I don’t have any hair, and The hammer uses a brush.
How was I going to get this stupid thing out?
And then I remembered: The Whiskey Tree. During the pre-ride, we’d seen that there were lots of hair picks (combs) dangling from that tree. I started planning: I’d stop at that tree, grab one of those picks, and go. It would be worth the time lost.
If there were still any of those combs left.
Great luck: there were. I stopped, saw that one pick was at just the right height for me to grab. I saw that it was attached with nothing but a twisty, and so just gave it a hard tug to break it off, jammed the comb into my jersey pocket, and took off again, excited for the moment when I’d get to use that comb to get rid of that thing.
Another half hour of hard riding went by as I fantasized about no longer having a cactus stuck in my leg.
And there it was — finally — the exchange tent. I rolled to a stop, dismounted, and walked to the table where we made our exchanges. I handed the baton to Stan, who took off on his second lap.
1:08. Not too bad for a guy who lost his bike, picked up a cactus, and stopped to grab a comb off a tree.
But now it was time for me to see if I could get that stupid cactus out.
Which is when The Hammer walked up to me.
“You did great!” she said.
“Look at my leg,” I replied.
“Ooh. How are we going to get that out?” she asked.
I handed The Hammer the comb and — being a battle-hardened nurse of around 13 years, she didn’t say a word but just stooped, slipped the comb between me and the cactus, and popped it out.
She then set about pulling out the individual quills that remained in my legs. “This would be a lot easier if you’d go back to shaving your legs,” she muttered.
“I will as soon as I weigh 165 pounds,” I replied. “I don’t deserve shaved legs yet.”
Soon, my leg was a little bit bloody, but entirely free of cactus parts.
And I was left with a fine little souvenir:
Oh, what the heck. Let’s see that up close:
You can see blood on the spines.
One rotation down, four to go. It was time to set our bikes up for the night laps.
Which is where I’ll pick the story up in my next post.