Friday, traditionally, is the day when I write free verse. Which is to say, I ratchet the pretentiousness of my writing up about 3% (because, hey, I’m already pretty pretentious to begin with) and put line breaks in the middle of my sentences.
Yeah, I know you know that’s all my free verse is. I just wanted you to know that I know you know. You know?
And I was kinda half-sorta thinking about writing my next installment of my 2013 Rockwell Relay saga as free verse. But then I came to an important realization: I don’t want to.
So I’ll pick up the story on Monday. And — this time, I triple-swear — I’ll finish the story by the end of next week.
I know, I made a similar promise that I’d finish it by the end of this week. But here’s what happens. I sit down in the early morning and type a list of standout moments I want to be sure to cover in the post for that day. And then I start writing, deleting items from the list as I mention them, and adding new items to the list that occur to me as I write.
But for this story, when I get to what feels like a good stopping point for the day (about the right length, a good lead-in for the next major development in the race) I find I usually have about half of that list still to write about.
So let me revise my promise of finishing next week to: I’ll finish the story when it’s over. But I kinda think that next week sounds about right.
Even with a day off for Independence Day.
Rockwell Relay Race Reports, Elsewhere
Meanwhile, it’s not like I’m the only one who’s been writing about The Rockwell Relay. I’m aware of at least three other good race reports. Check them out:
Oh, and just in case you haven’t had enough, the Rockwell Relay guys did a cool video recap of the race; see if you can find Team Fatty in it (hint: we’re in it a lot):
If that’s not enough for you, there’s a much-longer version you can watch, too.
A Couple Other Interesting Tidbits
You may have heard that there’s gonna be a new TV show starting tomorrow. If I understand correctly, it’s about a bunch of friends on a cycling tour of France and surrounding countries. It sounds OK, if you’re into that kind of thing. During the commercials, you might want to read these interesting things, neither of which are about me, but both of which I am tangentially connected to:
- Luke Allingham’s interview with Levi Leipheimer. Luke is a 15-year-old kid who’s making a name for himself interviewing cycling bigshots. My connection with this story is that I introduced Luke and Levi and helped set up some of the logistics of the interview.
- The Missing Kimmage Defense Fund. Joe Lindsey reports on the intriguing tale of bikes, freedom of press, charity, deceit, naiveté, and fundraising gone horribly wrong. My connection with this story is that I’m mentioned at the bottom of the second page.
Have a good weekend, and feel free to comment in the form of free verse.
A Note from Fatty: I know, this is getting ridiculous. Still, this is part eight of my 2013 Rockwell Relay race report. If you’re not caught up, you should read parts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven first.
I want to start this installment of my race report by talking a little bit about Team 91 — Lifetime’s Beauty and the Beasts.
For one thing, they were an incredibly strong team, one that never ever let us rest easy and say to ourselves, “Hey, all we have to do now is get to the finish line.” Thanks to them, Team Fatty was energized and focused, enjoying the most dramatic and hard-fought Rockwell Relay, ever.
Next, I want to say what those of you who read the comments have already noticed: they’re an incredibly friendly team. I got a chance to hang out with Tommy for a few minutes before stage 5 and again before stage 11 (I haven’t talked about that yet), and he’s been actively commenting (while being very cool about not spoiling anything) during the telling of this story. In every instance, he’s been a remarkably positive and friendly guy (who can also clean my clock on the bike). I haven’t really had as much of an interaction with the rest of Team 91, but you kind of get a sense from the comments they’ve left that all of them are fierce on the bike, and friendly off it. Which is just how I like it.
And finally, I want to point out that while all three of the men on Team 91 were obviously extremely strong and seasoned riders, the woman (whose name I’m afraid I don’t know), while clearly a fit athlete (a runner, I think), was actually very new to racing the bike. In fact, she had started riding and training only very shortly before the Rockwell Relay. So the fact that she finished — and in fact raced — all three of her stages is a major testament to her.
There’s something about doing a big full-day-plus race like this: you get to know a little bit about the character of the few teams you’re jockeying with. In every case, I found myself liking and respecting the racers in the vans and cars and trucks and RVs around me more and more as the day went by, even as I openly wanted to beat them on the road.
It’s a pretty cool feeling to have.
OK, now back to the story.
I can’t help myself: whenever I talk about Heather’s stages of the race, I get this urge to dial her up and apologize. Her first stage was the absolute hottest, windiest, most miserable ride it could possibly have been: a physical and psychological beatdown if there ever was one.
And now it was 3:12 in the morning, the absolutely most difficult hour there can be for someone to get on your bike and race. The hour when when it’s coldest and darkest and loneliest. And your body just wants to go to bed.
And yet, Heather happily bundled up (but not heavily; it never got really cold this year), got on her bike, and set off racing the eighth stage of the race, which has an elevation profile that looks like this:
It’s not a super-long stage — 36 miles — but from mile four to fourteen, you’re doing nothing but climbing.
Luckily for us, Heather is an awesome climber. And while I admire the woman from Team 91’s spirit, during the race I was really glad that Heather has a lot of endurance riding experience, including experience riding in the dead of night, with lights.
Because Heather was having fun. With her bike working properly and much better weather conditions (no crazy wind, mildly cool temperatures), there was no comparison to her first stage.
It made a big difference.
Before long, Heather ate up the three-minute advantage Team 91 had, and — for the first time since my ill-advised solo breakaway in the first stage of the race — we were the lead coed team.
Kenny and I had a conference (The Hammer, meanwhile, absolutely cooked from her monster effort, half-slept in the back of the van).
“At this rate,” I said, “Heather’s going to finish this stage with a fifteen minute advantage on Team 91.”
“Yeah, but we don’t know if this is going to hold,” Kenny cautioned, but I knew he didn’t mean it. “The question is, will the other racers put enough time into us that they can erase Heather’s advantage?”
“Well, Tommy’s been faster than me by a few minutes in the first two stages,” I said. “He’ll be probably be faster than me in the last.”
“The guy I’m racing against was a couple minutes faster than me in our first leg,” Kenny said, “but slower in the second. Let’s figure that he and I are a wash.”
“And the guy racing against Lisa put a ton of time (seventeen minutes) on her in their first leg, but hardly any time at all on her (one minute) on their second stage. So let’s figure he’s stronger in the flats. Their last stage is pretty flat, so he’s going to put time on her again.”
“And figure that Heather can beat their woman in the next stage, since Heather has the endurance edge.”
“So,” I figured, “If The Hammer and I can limit our combined losses to be less than Heather’s gain on this leg, we should start the final stage of this race either ahead of or only slightly behind Team 91 when Heather starts her final leg of the race. If we can do that, we’ve got it.”
We were both seeing, for the first time in hours and hours, a path to a Team Fatty win.
“Hey Heather,” I called out the window, “No pressure, but the whole race is going to come down to you.”
“Doesn’t it always?” Heather replied.
With the excitement of this pass — and I think there might have been another one, but I’m not sure because, well, it was 4:00am and at this point I had been up and either riding my bike or crewing for others as they rode their bikes for 23 hours — we settled into our routine.
Kenny was driving, I was crewing, The Hammer was temporarily incapacitated, lying in the back of the van, groaning softly.
We were playing the now-familiar game of leapfrog support, and most of it is a blur to me.
But I do remember one handoff in particular.
Kenny had suggested that Heather, at some point, might like a Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso. The combination of caffeine and calories in a non-sweet, easy-to-drink little can make it a popular alternative to yet-another energy bar (just so long as you don’t drink too many at once).
I offered her one. She turned it down, saying, “Maybe later.”
In a few minutes, Kenny said, “Offer her one again.”
This time, she accepted it. I popped the top and handed it to her. She took one sip, made a face, and handed it back. “It tastes weird.”
Thinking that her taste buds had just been overloaded on sweet gels, I took a sip.
And promptly spat it out.
It didn’t taste “weird,” it was full-on curdled. As in, it would hardly pour out of the can.
I’m not sure how, but I really want to somehow pin this on Heather’s misuse of The Secret. I’ll get back to you once I figure out how.
Heather climbed through the night, her pace steady as a metronome. Meanwhile, I started eating again and changing into my riding gear — shorts, a long-sleeve jersey over a short-sleeve jersey, making it easy for me to peel and discard layers after the sun came up. I’d be starting in the dark, but would be riding during sunup and beyond.
And I started getting nervous. This would be my last stage of the race — a very climby one at that — and if I was not fast, I could put our team in a bad position. I could, in fact, guarantee a loss.
I knew I’d lose some time to Tommy. But I just couldn’t let it be much. I needed this to be the fastest, strongest ride of my life. I needed to race like I was being chased.
Which, in fact, I would be.
I needed to poop.
Luckily, I knew there was a bathroom in the school across the street from the exchange point, and that the school was kept unlocked for this purpose.
My thoughts increasingly turned to this school as we left Heather and drove to the exchange point.
Once we got there, I yelled to Kenny, “Get my bike out, OK?” and I rushed to the school.
I went to the guy at the Exchange point and he said, “They were supposed to unlock it… but they didn’t.”
“Kenny!” I yelled. For some reason, whenever there’s trouble, everyone on our team yelled at Kenny. ”Drive me to the nearest gas station, now!”
Luckily, that was just down the road, and Kenny needed to fill the tank of the van anyway.
I took care of my business as quickly as I could. Which was not quick enough for Kenny, who said, “We gotta hurry. I don’t want to have Heather pull into this exchange without any of us there, like we did in 2011.”
We got back to the exchange point, I put on my helmet, reflector vest and blinky light (it would still be dark for another half hour or so, and — within moments of my being ready to go — Heather pulled up. 5:29 am, for a total time of 2:16. This was the fastest Heather had ever raced the leg, by eight minutes (she had done this leg in 2:24 in both 2011 and 2012).
I took off, racing at my limit. I didn’t know how much time I had in front of Tommy.
I just knew I was going to do my absolute best to not let him catch me.
A Note from Fatty: This is part seven of my 2013 Rockwell Relay race report. If you’re not caught up, you might want to read parts one, two, three, four, five and six first.
If you were able to eavesdrop on Kenny and me talking sometime, you’d find us adorable. See, he and I agree that our women have — for whatever reason — taken on the most difficult legs of the Rockwell Relay Race: The Hammer with the third leg, Heather with the fourth.
On paper they don’t look like they’re the hardest legs; they have less climbing than legs one and two. But how these legs appear on paper and how they work out in real life is vastly different.
Here, let me show you what I mean with a handy informational table, wherein I describe nice ride attributes in green, and nasty ride attributes in red:
Cool, sunny, possibly windy
Dusk into night, warm to cool, possibly windy
Cool, sunny, calm
Warm, sunny, calm
Night, warm to cool, calm
Sunny, cool, calm
Dead of night, cold, windy
Sunny, hot, windy
Sunny, brutally hot, brutally windy
Dead of night, cold, windy
Sunny, brutally hot, windy
Now, for the first — and maybe even the second — time we did this race, I think this mistake is completely understandable. But we’re into our third riding of this race now, and Kenny and I — well, we both felt kinda bad about the fact that our respective partners still each had two hard rides to do, in the harshest conditions of the ride.
But you know, we had urged The Hammer and Heather to trade with us, to take the Racer 1 and Racer 2 positions. But they had refused; they wanted their traditional spots.
[Note: the conditions shown in the table above apply only to teams racing at the speed Team Fatty goes. A much faster or slower team would have a different chart.]
Women can be stubborn.
So anyway, The Hammer had taken off at midnight — exactly at midnight, oddly enough — with a mere two minute gap between her and the rider from Team 91.
Of course, during his first turn, the rider from Team 91 had put seventeen minutes on Team Fatty. So our hope was that The Hammer would just limit her losses as best as she could.
But The Hammer did not know this, and was too busy to care. She had things to do, like putting on a clinic on how to climb blindingly fast, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with a huge smile on her face.
Really, I wish I had a photo of it. Or of anything from this part of the race. Unfortunately, I am not a good photographer under any circumstance, and when I photograph someone — who is shining three bright lights at the camera and is wearing a reflective vest over her otherwise entirely black outfit — in the middle of the night, well, I’m just not going to even try.
The New Normal
The seventh leg of the Rockwell Relay starts with a big descent — which The Hammer completed before we caught up to her — and then has two big climbs before it rolls with a big working downhill to the next exchange point. Like this:
According to The Hammer’s Strava of this section, this is 56.7 miles of riding, with 3752 feet of climbing. Which means that, by the time she finished this stage, she’d have ridden 113 miles and climbed more than 6000 feet.
And she flew for the whole thing, saying afterward, “I felt like someone was pushing me the whole ride.”
In short, The Hammer had a fantastic ride, which made crewing for her a real pleasure. We kept up our leapfrogging pattern — pull alongside the rider and give her whatever she needed, drive to the next place we could find to pull over, then climb out of the van and cheer her on.
But doing this during the night was a little bit different than during the day.
For one thing, we were all getting pretty tired. So Kenny, who was driving, would cheer her on from the driver’s seat. Heather was getting some rest (and later getting dressed and prepared for her next ride) in the back of the van. So whenever I saw The Hammer’s lights appear, I’d jump out of the van and would start ringing the cowbell, always totally conscious of how odd it was to be out in the exact middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, ringing a cowbell.
Sometimes I’d look up while I waited, amazed at the stars on this cloudless night, away from all the lights. Just another reason to love this race.
The Hammer would then come by, usually giving me a “Woohoo!” as she went by. And sometimes a high-five.
And then it was back into the car for me, to rotate through the process again.
The Secret of My Success
Between the brief moments where we’d be cheering The Hammer on, everyone had their things to do: Kenny was driving, Heather was resting and getting ready to do her next ride, and I was…eating.
I wasn’t eating because it was the nutritionally smart thing to do, or because I’d be riding again before too long, or for any other reason that I was hungry. Without fail, a couple hours after I finish a big ride, my appetite wakes up. And it does not go back to sleep easily.
So, I was wolfing down slice after slice of pizza, along with probably half of a Subway sandwich. Just eating the food I like to eat. Drinking when I felt like I wanted a drink
I think this, along with the way that every fifteen minutes or so I was getting out of the van and thus keeping from ever really stiffening up, was a big part of why I never felt stiff or nauseous or otherwise discombobulated during the race. I stayed awake, stayed fueled, and stayed in motion.
There’d be time for sleeping later.
As we played our game of leapfrog with The Hammer, we were starting to see another rider. Was she gaining on him? At first it was hard to tell. And then it was clear: yes. The Hammer was closing the gap.
Should we let her know?
I decided against it, based on years of experience of riding with The Hammer. She rides at her pace, and is motivated by her motivation. When we’re going hard in our daily training, I used to give her pep talks and urge her on; I’ve since learned better. She likes me to be her riding partner, not her coach.
She’d see the guy when she saw him. She’d catch the guy when she caught him.
Which she did. And as she passed, the racer on the other team stood up and did his best to grab her wheel. A futile effort.
The next time we pulled alongside The Hammer, I said, “Roadkill count: one” — a reference to what racers in RAGNAR call people they pass.
And then, about ten minutes later, she passed another. Roadkill count: two.
Were either of these racers from Team 91? I’m afraid not. But one of them — I’m not sure which — was Mike from team Betsy Was Right, who has written a fantastic writeup of the race from his own perspective. I hope he doesn’t mind me excerpting his account of when The Hammer passed, because it’s really good stuff (and in fact, his whole account is really good. Be sure to read the whole thing: part 1, part 2 and part 3, and encourage him to finish his story):
It was somewhere in this section that I could see headlights on the ground in front of me, which meant either my RV was coming up or someone was catching me. I was furious with myself. As the lights got closer, I could tell it wasn’t my RV. In the back of my mind I knew it was Lisa from Team Fatty, you know, The Hammer from the FatCyclist. I had headphones in so when she passed me I didn’t hear her encouraging words. I did pull them out because I hoped we could ride together a little but she had other plans at 2:30 a.m., like kicking my butt up the hill. Seriously. She rode away from me like I was the chupacabra looking for a midnight snack. I just remembered back to my dating life in college and her riding away seemed about right.
Where We Stand
When The Hammer had ten miles to go, we shot ahead to the Exchange point, to get Heather’s bike lights on and get Heather ready for her late night ride.
And then we waited to. But not for long. Team 91 — the Coed team we had been chasing — came flying in, sending their fourth rider — the woman on their team — out.
I started my stopwatch. In their first ride, the rider from Team 91 had put 17 minutes — a big gap — on The Hammer. How much time would he put on her this time?
I didn’t have much time to dwell on this thought, though. The Hammer came in three minutes later.
Team 91 had put one minute on us. Just one.
The Hammer had just done this 56.7 mile ride, with 3752 feet of climbing, in 3:13. That is an average speed of 17.6 miles per hour.
QOM, baby. Q. O. M. By nearly an hour.
Sorry about the boasting, but it’s a husband’s right.
The Tide Turns
The Hammer’s effort had given Heather an extraordinary carrot. Two-thirds of the way through a 500+ mile race between two fast coed teams, the difference between them was three minutes. That is about as evenly-matched as you can get, and it made for an incredibly exciting race for us.
Heather took off, and we set about getting The Hammer’s bike loaded, after removing the light setup — after all, the next time she’d be riding it would be in the middle of the morning and in the upper-80’s.
And I had a breakfast burrito, which the guys at the exchange point were making for everyone and anyone who wanted one.
Okay, I had two. Yeah, I was still hungry.
Then we took off to catch up with Heather, hoping that her bike was working better than last time (Kenny had spent some time working on it after Heather’s disastrous first stage).
And it’s good we left when we did, because if we had dilly-dallied at the exchange point for another two minutes, we would have missed the moment Heather passed Team 91.
Which is where we’ll pick the story up tomorrow.
A Note from Fatty: This is part six of my 2013 Rockwell Relay
shaggy dog story race report. In case you haven’t already read them, you might want to read parts one, two, three, four, and five before reading this one.
“Let’s hurry up,” Heather said, as I loaded my bike into the van. “I reminded Kenny to look out for that left turn that comes just a couple miles into his ride, but I want to be absolutely sure he made it.”
I was glad Heather had reminded Kenny of that turn, since — in our first racing of the Rockwell Relay, back in 2011 — I had blown right by it, and had kept going ’til another team’s vehicle caught up with me and told me to turn around.
We made the turn, drove another couple miles, and — to our relief — there was Kenny, the blinky light clipped to his reflective vest rapidly bobbing up and down.
Kenny was turning an incredibly fast cadence, and flying up the steep incline of Boulder mountain.
Did he need anything? Nope. Want anything? Nope. He just had a focused look and the big smile of a guy who loves racing and is very, very good at it (plus, an open-mouthed smile is good for breathing).
I suspect that if we had kept tally, probably each of of us needed something out of the van maybe five percent of the time. That didn’t mean, though, that we didn’t appreciate having the van pull up and check those other nineteen-out-of-twenty times.
We rode on up ahead — and in just a few minutes, we passed a racer. We pulled over and started the timer.
“Just three minutes!” we yelled as Kenny went by.
“Just three?” he yelled back, and he stepped it up and went even faster. Which I would not have previously thought possible.
A carrot is a powerful force, and within the next fifteen minutes, Kenny caught the racer. There was never any question of whether the other guy would be able to hang; Kenny simply went by him.
And then Kenny hit the summit, after which it was all downhill in this shortish leg of the race:
He bombed down in the dead of night, his lights on full bright. Meanwhile, Heather drove ahead of him — at a speed I wouldn’t call “reckless,” but it was perhaps on the threshold of reckless. She was just trying to stay ahead, so if anything hit a deer, it would be the van, not Kenny.
And a good thing, too. At one point we did in fact startle a deer out of the road. Kenny maybe would have missed it, but it’s hard to say.
One Final Message
Once we got past the twisty-curvy stuff, our plan had been to shoot ahead of Kenny, leaving him to finish. But after driving for just a couple minutes, we saw a rider from another team, not far ahead.
His race plate said Team 91. The coed team we thought was definitely going to beat us, that we thought was out of range, suddenly…wasn’t.
So we pulled over.
As Kenny went by, we shouted, “Team 91 is three minutes up!”
Kenny found another gear. We shot forward, parked, and got the Hammer ready in record time. We stood and watched as Team 91 pulled in; their rider took off.
Then, just two minutes later, Kenny rolled up. It was exactly midnight, and The Hammer rode off like a bat out of hell.
“You’re two minutes behind the lead coed team!” shouted the exchange point official, as she pulled away.
The Hammer looked over her shoulder and said, “Not for long.”
As Kenny stood at the transition line, catching his breath, I said, “You just put twenty-five minutes into Team 91. That, my friend, is some serious gap reduction.”
At which point the racer from Team 91 said, “I missed a turn.”
Ah. The notorious left turn (you didn’t really think I referred to it at the beginning of this post without a good reason, right?). How much of the 25 minutes did that account for? In the absence of someone from Team 91 making a Strava segment of the off-course section he rode, we’ll never know (but I’m going to guess 10-15 minutes).
It’s amazing how anything can — and most likely will happen in a 500+ mile race. And you just don’t know who’s going to win — ’til someone crosses the finish line.
In any case, we were now halfway through the race (in terms of number of stages in the Rockwell Relay, not necessarily in mileage) and were separated by our closest competition by no more than two minutes.
This was going to be a race.
A Note from Fatty: This is — incredibly — part five of my 2013 Rockwell Relay race report. In case you haven’t already read them, you might want to read parts one, two, three and four before reading this one.
And now that most of the 100 Miles of Nowhere reports have been posted (a few more have trickled in; I’ll try to get to them this weekend), I’ll be doing Rockwell installments through all this week ’til we’re done. Cool? Cool.
Heather handed me the baton and I stood up and sprinted up to speed, possessed with two notions. One of the notions was sensible; the other was utterly foolish.
- I wanted to catch the racer who had left moments before Heather had ridden in. From there, I would decide whether it would make better sense for me to ride with him, or to try to drop him. This was the sensible notion.
- I wanted to catch another team. In spite of the fact that — apart from the team that had just left, the nearest team to me was twenty-two minutes ahead.
But I didn’t want to think about the math. I just needed a carrot.
I Have an Immensely Powerful Mind
I had inherited the miserable heat and brutal headwind Heather had been riding in for the past seven to ten days, give or take a week. And that terrible heat was truly oppressive. And the wind was awful.
…For about fifteen minutes, after which the temperature dropped to a comfortable level, and the wind disappeared entirely.
And that, my friends, is what happens when you use The Secret correctly. “Heather could teach a seminar on how to use The Secret wrong,” I thought to myself as I pedaled along in the newly-ideal cycling conditions.
I didn’t have long to wait ’til I caught the racer that had taken off just a minute (or quite possibly less) ahead of me. “Our chances of catching the next group are probably better if we work together,” I thought, as I pulled by, yelling, “Hop on!”
He did, at which point I continued going at my “will probably need to throw up sometime soon” pace. After three or four minutes, I swung left, dropped back, and let him pull, which he did, gamely.
But after about a minute, I’d had enough. “I no longer feel like I’m going to throw up and my tunnel vision seems to have subsided, so I must not be going hard enough,” I thought to myself. And I surged ahead, taking another pull.
After five more minutes or so of riding, I swung left again, ready for him to take another turn. He was nowhere to be seen.
Some alliances are brief.
Now on my own, I played a new game, one which I think everyone on Team Fatty played on each of our legs: “How Far Can I Go Before the Van Catches Me?”
It’s a silly little game, and it goes like this: When it’s your turn to race, you go really hard and fast while you know the team is loading the bike up from the previous rider and getting moving again. As you ride, you think to yourself, “I bet they’re saying to themselves, ‘Has he really already gone this far?’”
I don’t know if the team ever actually said that to themselves as they chased me down. Somehow, I suspect not. Still, in the mind of an egomaniac, imagined adulation is almost as good of a motivator as actual adulation.
By the way, right now I am imagining you are simultaneously weeping and laughing, your hand over your heart, as you read this.
Even as I nurtured the fantasy of being so fast that I would get to within five miles of the next exchange point before my team caught up with me…my team caught up with me.
Sticking out your tongue makes you ride faster.
Did I need anything to drink? No. The day had cooled nicely. Did I need any food? No, I had enough Honey Stinger Acai & Pomegranate gels (my current favorite flavor) with me that I could take one every twenty minutes (which seems to be the right rate for me when I’m racing) for two hours.
Well then, did I need anything?
“Yes!” I shouted. “Go ahead ’til you come across another racer and then pull over and time my distance to him (I’m not being sexist by saying “him” here; there just weren’t any women ahead of me on the course at that time).”
“I love you!” shouted The Hammer as they took off. And honestly, I think that encapsulates a big chunk of why our team has such a great time each year. It’s a rare thing, having a team consisting of two happy, in-love couples, all four of which are really good friends, and all four of which love to ride and race.
But that’s our team — and it’s one of the most important reasons I like doing this race so much.
Anyway, they raced ahead and I was alone again. No bikes visible in front of me, no bikes visible behind. It’s amazing how this race spreads out over the course of five stages.
I rode on for about fifteen minutes ’til I saw the van, pulled over on the side of the road.
Whenever we stopped at exchange points, other teams would come ogle Kenny’s sprinter van and the remarkable job he’s done in turning it into the ultimate bikemobile.
“There’s nobody even close to in range of being caught,” The Hammer shouted. “You’re riding this stage alone.”
Well, that figures. I just can’t seem to ever manage to find a group that is willing to ride with me during a race. I’m beginning to take it personally, if you want to know the truth.
I rode on, the knowledge that I wouldn’t catch anyone not making me slow down at all. I just had to shift my thinking to the long game: while I might not catch anyone myself, if I rode my brains out I might set Kenny up to make a catch on his leg. And that sounded pretty good to me.
When I’m racing, I usually see nothing beyond the pavement and the white line painted on it. This leg of the race was a little different, however. The sun was setting, and as I took off my sunglasses I noticed: the sunset was incredible. Just incredible.
And the light of the sunset — already red — reflected off the red rocks of the cliffs on both sides of me, and it was perfect; everything had an extraordinary red cast to it. I even looked down at the white line painted on the road and was astonished to see that it reflected a beautiful salmon color up at me.
I was still riding out of my mind, but not so out of my head that I didn’t have time to notice the beauty around me.
A Delightful Beverage
My team pulled up alongside me. This time The Hammer wasn’t asking whether I needed anything; she was instead telling me what I needed. “We’re going to pull over up ahead soon. When you get to us, you need to stop and unbuckle your helmet. Other than that, just stand there. We’ll put the helmet with the light on you and put the reflector belt with a blinky light attached. It should take less than ten seconds.”
“Wow,” I thought, “I love how my team works.”
But I was having a problem, and I wanted to address it before I put lights on, or a reflector vest. Or anything else.
“My legs are cramping,” I said, “bad.”
And then I proposed what I hoped would be a solution. “Get me some pickle juice.”
See, The Hammer and I had recently heard that you can cure cramps by drinking a few swallows of pickle juice (the legends are unclear on what kind of pickles the juice should come from). So — expecting that someone during the race would cramp up — we had brought a jar of dill spears with us. Kosher, for extra luck.
Hence, The Hammer did not bat an eye when I made this request, but instead disappeared from the passenger window as the van dropped behind me for a couple minutes. She then reappeared, holding a water bottle. ”Here you go,” she said.
Ordinarily, I’d be loathe to drink pickle juice. But the intensity of my pain pushed qualms aside and I grabbed the bottle from her outstretched hand and squirted the brine into my mouth.
And then I nearly fell off my bike.
See, I love a good dill pickle. But eating a pickle is a lot different from ingesting about twenty pickles-worth of pickle flavor and saltiness and — in short — pickle essence in three seconds.
My head spun on its axis. My eyes bugged out. I began speaking in tongues.
And when, a moment later, I pulled up alongside the van and my team began the night-light swap routine, I flung the bottle away from me.
“That was gross,” I commented, as The Hammer put a helmet with a light on it on my head.
“But did it help?” she asked, as I lifted my chin and she buckled the chin strap (yes, really).
“Um,” I replied. To be truthful, the virulence of my reaction to drinking this juice had dominated my thoughts. Now I thought about my legs.
They were fine.
“Whaddayaknow?” I said, as I pedaled away. “We’d better plan of having our crew at The Leadville 100 stock pickle juice.”
Up to Kenny Now
It was a good thing I had gotten my lights on, because once the sun set, it got dark very quickly. Bugs — little gnat-sized bugs — zoomed at my light and struck me in the forehead nearly constantly. I imagined my forehead looking like a bug-spattered windshield. Later, a check in the mirror would show I was not far off.
I pedaled in the dark, the knowledge that I was going as I hard as I could at odds with the strange sense that I was not moving at all.
Night riding on road bikes is just weird.
The next time the team caught up with me, I told them to go on ahead early so Kenny would have plenty of time to get ready. It was cool enough now that I wouldn’t need to drink more than the two bottles I had, and I had more than enough food to get me to the exchange point.
So they dashed ahead, and I was left to ride in the dark and silence, enjoying the odd-but-wonderful mix of silence, dark, and all-out effort.
I got to the exchange point and handed off the baton to Kenny — this time, much less clumsily than at the end of my first stage.
Here, I’m coasting to a stop after the handoff. Kenny is the other rider with a reflector belt, in the background, just starting up. Heather and The Hammer are at the far left of the shot.
I marveled at the weird sense of how my first turn at racing simultaneously seemed so recent, and yet also forever ago.
“Did I reel Team 91 in at all?” I asked The Hammer and Heather as I loaded my bike in the van.
“No, he put a few more minutes on you,” they said. And in fact, Tommy had put three minutes on me, improving their advantage to 27 minutes. I was disappointed, but not very, and not surprised. That Tommy was a nice guy, and a fast one. He had been faster than me his first stage; he’d probably be faster than me on his last stage too.
Still, I was proud of my effort: 45 miles in 2:28:22, with 3700 feet of climbing – climbing the whole way, really, alone, at an average of 18mph. The elevation profile looks like this:
And now Kenny was racing against a guy who had — on their respective first rides — been at least a little faster than Kenny (we didn’t know it at the time, but he had been two minutes faster than Kenny on that first leg).
Team Fatty’s chances of holding on to our coed division title of the Rockwell Relay looked pretty bleak.
On the other hand, we had only completed five of the twelve stages of the race. We weren’t even halfway done.
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