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.