A Note from Fatty About Monday: Hey, guess what. Starting this Monday and going through all next week, the 2014 Fat Cyclist gear will be available for pre-order.
Check out the pattern to the right for a little preview of what the jersey’s going to look like this year. Once you see the whole thing, I think you’re going to be blown away by the way the classy, subtle look of the jersey gives way to the silliness of FatCyclist.com once you get a good close-up look at it (whether you actually let people get close enough to tell what’s going on is, of course, up to you).
I’m excited to show off the jersey this Monday; Twin Six has — once again — outdone themselves. I think you’re going to love it!
And in short, check back Monday for the big reveal, and have your credit cards and / or PayPal accounts ready.
A Note About Today’s Post From Fatty: Greg C is a BFF (Best Friend of Fatty), extremely strong rider, and an all-around great guy. When he left a comment on my blog that he was writing up his own experience from his first Rockwell Relay race, I asked him to please let me guest-post it on my blog. It’s a good read and more evidence to support my theory that every team doing a big race like this walks away with a pretty amazing tale to tell.
I’ve been following Fatty’s Rockwell Relay adventures for several years and have longed to join in the insanity. This year I finally was able to find three other adventuresome team members and we entered. My daughter Vicki agreed to join us as the team manager — we needed at least one sane person in the van as the race unfolded.
As is always the case, the best stories come at the expense of the unexpected…and thus, how you deal with it. This is my recollections of the Rockwell Relay; I’m sure that each of my team members (and in fact every person that was there) has their own story.
Tragedy on I-15
The adventure started when our team departed Los Angeles in a rented 12-passenger van with our finely-tuned machines proudly mounted on a roof bike rack. The plan was to arrive Thursday mid-afternoon in Moab to enjoy the area, eat some brats (provided by Team Fatty) and get a good night of sleep before the race started Friday morning.
Team Check for a Pulse: Left to Right: Greg P, Paul, Jonathan, me, Vicki
Just outside of Cedar City, UT, this plan went sideways and the unimaginable happened. While driving 75 mph on the interstate, the bike rack ripped loose from the van and went bouncing down the freeway, coming to rest on the shoulder.
I can still clearly see the image in the rear view mirror of our bikes, still attached to the rack, bounding down the freeway. I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat or three.
Before I even stopped the van, everyone had piled out and was running down the shoulder. The cycling Gods were smiling on us; no one had been hurt (it’s not hard to imagine the horrible outcome had the rack hit a minivan full of people), and the bikes stayed attached to the rack and had not been run over by another vehicle.
It took a while (at least for me) to stop shaking, but we finally collected our wits and managed to find all the bike rack parts spread up and down the interstate. We remounted the rack onto the roof and piled the four bikes into the van. Fortunately we were about a mile from the Cedar City exit and another mile back to town.
I won’t go into the failure root cause, but suffice it to say that we now pretty well understand what happened after the fact (75 mph + stiff headwind / crosswind = bad)
The bike shop in town we found through a Google search, Cedar City Cycles, was thankfully open. We described our plight to Brian, the owner, and he immediately sprung into action. Amazingly the total damage to three of our bikes was a bent rear wheel, scraped saddles, some handlebar tape and some minor wheel truing.
Not bad for a 75mph improvised dismount!
My bike, on the other hand, was a different story. It had major fork and frame damage and was not rideable. Brian rented me an entry-level road bike (at an extremely good rate) and I was able to continue. At first I was a little miffed as the rental bike had a triple chain-ring (what serious cyclist would ride a triple road bike) but at least I had a bike.
We were still in the race.
Let The Race…Begin! (And then, let it begin again)
By the time we finally got to Moab, it was getting late and we missed out on Fatty’s brats, a disappointing — but not tragic — outcome after all that had happened.
Our race strategy was pretty clear. Specifically, we had none. We had no idea what we were doing or what we were getting ourselves into. We studied Fatty’s prior year blogs and the race literature and we were enthusiastic. Really, what more do you need? (It turns out what you don’t know can hurt you, but more on that later…)
The race started at 8:00 the next morning with our first rider, Jonathan, taking off. We had naively expected that Jonathan would jump into the front group as no one would take off like a bat out of hell on a 525 mile endurance race…right? Big time WRONG. [Note from Fatty: Uh, sorry 'bout that.]
Road construction at nine miles delayed nearly all of the racers for at least 20 minutes in (except for those maniac riders that acted like they were riding a 20 mile race, that is). The race restarted with 90 of the 100 teams all bunched together again.
The next 45 miles climbed and climbed and climbed — just over 4000 feet vertical –but the temperature was mild, winds minimal and the scenery was awesome.
As a spectator at this point, the scenery was fantastic to take in. One fun point was the “Hole in the wall”. We had to stop and see this obviously magnificent natural marvel- why else would there be 15 foot tall letters on the side of the mountain marking this location?
Suffice it to say that we were…less than impressed. Good marketing, yes. Unfortunately the product did not live up to expectations.
And then this is what you saw after all that excitement:
Jump ahead to where Jonathan was going to hand off our baton / slap bracelet to me for segment 2. Being a conservative rider, I thought it a good idea to go for a warm up ride. More importantly, this was the first time I had ridden this bike besides the one block ride in Cedar City when I rented the bike, so making sure the saddle height was right was crucial to the next 45 miles.
My first revelation was one of shock: this is not my uber-lightweight racing machine, but a heavy, yet sturdy, entry level bike. It did not exactly leap when I jumped on. Not that I was complaining. I was about to launch on a new adventure.
Still, instead of getting in my planned 8 – 10 miles there was only time for a few blocks; we greatly underestimated how fast Jonathan was riding and how slow I was at getting ready to ride.
No matter. A quick handoff and I’m off. My enthusiasium to sprint faded after a few blocks and I settled into a rhythm. By this time the pack had spread out and there were few riders in sight. I passed a few, and got passed by a few, unfortunately leaving me solo with no other riders to work with.
By this time it was starting to warm up and a moderate headwind/ crosswind was coming in. My crew said the scenery was incredible, but all I remember was the white line and climbing. I do remember finally hooking up with another rider (red guy) for a much needed brief pull, and we worked together for a while. As we kept climbing, riders would fall away and new ones would magically appear. I remember blue guy, blue girl and black guy (so much for my keen eye for detail). 45 uneventful (at least to me) miles and 2400 feet higher, I arrived at the end of segment 2, and Paul, our third rider, eagerly awaiting his time to fly.
At this point we were roughly in the middle of the 100 teams. That was a little slower than we expected, but the race was still young, with well over 425 miles to go. Paul is a guy that seems to defy the laws of physics with how fast he can descend- the race book showed there was a fair amount of descending in this leg and we were sure that he would be able to pick up a bunch of places.
The slight headwind and increasing temperatures went into full fury — one person said it was 107 degrees. Not only was it now Africa hot (a friend that had been in Moab several days described the weather as “Africa hot.” Since I’ve never been to Africa, I will have to take their word for it. How that compares to “Death Valley hot,” or “Bakersfield hot,” or even “Phoenix hot” is a discussion for another day).
The headwind was so strong that Paul was pedaling hard on a 3% downhill to maintain 15 mph. Can you say “demoralizing?” This was clearly unexpected, but Paul gave it his all. As the segment played out, we found it plenty amusing to watch Paul try to grab (and repeatedly miss) a full water bottle in the middle of the segment.
Looking back, this should have been our first indication that things were not going well for Paul.
As the segment continued, Paul started slowing down more and more. His verbal responses when we talked to him were steadily getting shorter and less energetic.
At about 15 miles to go, Paul would stop every time we stopped the van to check on him. We were witnessing a slow-speed train wreck in progress; the real question is how long we would let it play out before taking action.
Paul is a very stubborn person. When he sets his mind to something he will succeed…or die trying. We were hopeful that it wouldn’t be the latter.
We finally reached the bridge at the Colorado river/ Lake Powell crossing after a lengthy downhill into the furnace winds. From the race map, we expected the end of the segment to be near the bridge.
Some truly cruel person apparently thought it would be funny if they forced the exhausted racers to climb up several miles, again into the wind. We were told by some of the other SAG teams coming in to the transition that Paul was still moving. Sometimes riding, sometimes walking, but getting the job done.
After what seemed like hours, Paul finally limped into the transition zone, completely wiped out. At this point we were really concerned that we might have to take him to the hospital with heat stroke and overexertion. After sitting in the shade for a while, Paul started to talk somewhat coherently again, although he did not eat or drink anything substantial for several hours. But no worries, our 4th rider, Greg P, took off.
The course map showed a gradual uphill ride for the next 45 miles- perfect for cruising fast.
The headwind Paul had fought all the way through his segment now was really blowing hard. Greg might as well been riding into a wind tunnel the entire stage. At least it was starting to cool down as it was nearing sundown.
It was during this segment that we discovered a great way to enjoy the moment. We would drive our support van down the road (you know, the one with the bike rack that flew off the day before) about five miles, get our folding chairs out and sit beside the road in the shade of the van (or the veranda as it came to be called), sip a cool beverage (a mint julep or beer would have been nice, but not yet) and cheer for riders going by. Greg would catch us and move on, we would pack up quickly and leapfrog down the road and do it all over again.
We were the cheering section for about eight or ten riders, doing this over and over and over. The scenery was spectacular.
Again our lack of understanding nearly caused disaster. We made a strategic decision not to put lights on Greg P’s bike as we really expected him to make better time. By now we were hours beyond my carefully projected time estimates — it just had not occurred to us that wind could be that much of a factor. By the time we realized the situation (like how fast it got dark) and were getting ready to backtrack to find Greg P, he pulled into the transition at 9:20 PM — dark time, with no moon.
Like Paul before him, Greg P had ridden the entire segment into a headwind (like pedaling hard on the downhills to maintain double digit speeds), only it was somewhat cooler. Again, what you don’t know can hurt you. We did a race standings check; we were now much closer to the bottom now, but then we were darn well enjoying our suffering.
Jonathan took off with his brilliant headlights and we were able to reload our coolers with ice — again we wildly underestimated how much ice we needed to keep our coolers cool. We had a lot of water — but no ice — for a while.
By this time Paul was finally starting to eat and drink a little, more than three hours after his ride completed. Take our word that this is not a good recovery and refueling strategy.
Up to this point Vicki had been driving the entire race — thirteen hours so far. It was time for her to get a well-deserved break. She climbed into the back of our giant van to try to sleep.
About ten minutes later, she jumped up and yelled to stop now. She quickly bailed out with motion sickness, looking not well at all. After a few minutes she climbed back in and we started off again, only to have the same result — her sleeping in the back of the van was clearly not going to happen. She ended up in the passenger seat with her head out the window and a pillow under head — quite the sight, I must say.
So now we really had a back seat driver (well navigator anyway) for the next several hours. Whatever, no one said this was easy or pretty. We are racing!
The scenery along Jonathan’s leg was incredible…at least what we could see of it in the dark by the lights of the van. A long, winding, slight uphill cruise in a gorgeous wooded canyon following a stream.
We continued enjoying the veranda along the way: the stars were magnificent. The riders were very spaced out at this point, we were only seeing a few other riders as we leapfrogged through the canyon. We arrived at the next transition spot, a small restaurant that should have been called the Sea of Confusion.
They were routing all the SAG vehicles into a relatively small dirt parking lot, with one entrance and exit, with young kids directing traffic. To say this was confusing is an understatement: many sleep deprived drivers and cyclists and pedestrians all mired together. Many riders had large motorhomes supporting them…not the most maneuverable vehicles around.
We found a parking space after an eternity of patient / impatient waiting. My segment was next, and recognizing my demonstrated need for a lot of time to get organized to ride, I was in a near panic. But all for naught, I got it together and was waiting for Jonathan when he arrived at the entrance to the Sea of Confusion.
The race officials gave the racer one last direction on leaving, turn left about 2 miles in at the Texaco station. Of course I passed it, I saw a 76 station but no Texaco. Half a mile or so later I turned around thinking that I had must have missed the sign. Turns out the Texaco sign was not lit and I had missed it. Whatever- lets go. The route immediately started climbing. All I knew was that I had a 3440 ft climb over a 9600 ft elevation pass, with no moon. My team says the stars were brilliant, you can’t see much while riding with lights even if I was looking. My strategy was pretty simple- I necessarily didn’t want too much information on what I was climbing, I tried to maintain a comfortable cadence with gearing with the focus on pushing my speed. I kept my lights on a very low intensity as I really didn’t want to see how steep the grades were- just ride head down.
I’m told this is me passing by the van.
I couldn’t tell what gear I was riding, nor my speed or heart rate, I just rode. Sometimes standing, sometimes downshifting, just cranking.
I am pretty sure I was using all the gears on the triple; maybe this was a good thing after all. I was in my own little world; nearly no traffic except sag vehicles, a clean road and quiet. How does life get any better? Instead of feeling fatigued (no sleep since the race started 16 hours ago), I was energized and fully alive.
Every now and then, I would turn my lights up and look around. I remember mostly aspen trees and the white line. The race guidebook comments on the fantastic views during this segment; great, except it was really, really dark. The temperature was actually cool now; I was wearing a vest and arm- and knee-warmers: quite a change from the furnace earlier. In fact, I actually thought about wanting long finger gloves.
I had my music pumped up and was pushing, every time my team would stop to check on me, I felt the need to sing the lyrics of whatever song was playing. One time I did sing “99 bottles of beer,” out of plain silliness.
I was loving this.
I finally reached the top. I had no perception of time, it was too dark to see my watch or computer, and the downhill started. It felt really nice and fast. My only issue was dust. For some reason there seemed to be a lot. It was irritating my eyes and giving off a lot of glare in my headlights. I found out later that the dust was actually swarms of little bitty bugs — high in protein they say.
Although my rented bike was heavy, it was very stable on the descent, and I let it fly. After what seemed like a really long descent (my shoulders and arms were tired), the segment ended in what seemed the middle of nowhere. I was pumped, this is awesome!
Leg 7 (Houston, We Have a Problem)
This would have been Paul’s segment. However, the team had pretty much decided that Paul’s riding any more this soon was not a good idea, and we dropped out of the competitive bracket…just that fast. We briefly discussed the remaining three of us riding Paul’s remaining two segments but decided this was not realistic.
Instead we drove the stage. I went from pumped to sleep quickly after stuffing down a Subway sandwich and couple of protein shakes — amazing. After a minute or two (hey, I was sleeping) we arrived at the next transition site.
Greg P was up to ride, departing Tropic and up the Bryce Canyon and across Bryce National Park. However, it was still dark and Greg P really wanted to do this ride and see where he was riding. The team (well not me, but I’ll take one for the team) decided that since it didn’t matter anymore, we would take a quick “nap” for about an hour, by then it would be 6:00 am and would be getting light. Since I had just napped, I was pretty pumped again and left the van to wander around.
After a bathroom stop at the high school gym (real plumbing was excellent), and a breakfast burrito by the SAG stop sponsors (awesome to have real hot food), and chatting with another fellow Fatty team, I started pounding on the van doors at 6:00 to get the team moving; daylight was burning and the oppressive heat would be coming soon down on the flats.
No response…apart from the occasional sound of snoring.
I came back ten minutes later and tried again. This time there was a response, and although not overwhelming, it was a sign of life. Obviously the motivation to push and race was gone; we were more or less on a bike ride now. In what seemed like an eternity, Greg emerged from the van. In what seemed like two eternities (although actually more like 15 minutes), Greg P finally departed on his ride through Bryce.
The breakfast burrito people didn’t have any coffee (heresy, I say), so the team went on a quest for coffee — the fourth food group. A few blocks away, we found an open coffee shop, and life was good. Shortly later we were back on the road and passed Greg P, starting to wind his way up the 9-mile climb. We reached the top and pulled over to enjoy the view from the veranda, this time with hot coffee.
Paradise was found.
As we were sitting there enjoying the morning, a young individual with a mountain bike came by and stopped to talk to us and asked about the access to the bike path that was parallel to the highway, just over the fence, and asked what we were doing.
We explained the Rockwell Relay, but he was pretty insistent on why we were not riding on the bike path- after all we were cyclists and cyclists were supposed to ride on the bike path- period. After several exchanges it became clear that he was not buying into our explanation on why our cyclists were not on the bike path. We departed ways, with the individual still questioning us and why we were not using the bike path- likely still to this day convinced we were evil and horrifically disregarding the laws by riding on the highway.
About this time Paul emerged from the van, ready to tackle the long downhill through Bryce Canyon (Paul does love that downhill). He said that he came to ride, and he might as well enjoy the downhill. 3,2,1 blast-off and he was gone. Shortly after Greg P passed by and chased after Paul, and our veranda enjoyment had ended. An uneventful leapfrogging our riders took us up to the next segment transition point, where Jonathan would start his last segment.
Again since we were more or less riding for fun at this point, Jonathan launched prior to Greg P and Paul arriving.
Turns out that the town of Panguitch (location of the transition) was having some sort of parade later that morning, with many of local farmers gathering to drive their farm equipment down the main street. You’re not going to see this in Los Angeles.
Jonathan’s last segment was another big climbing event- 3200 feet over 37 miles. The scenery had changed dramatically from yesterday’s desert into alpine- pine and aspen trees, trout streams, broad green fields, mountains and very mild, almost cool temperatures with no wind. Nearly heaven for a road biker — absolutely gorgeous.
After a time Jonathan finally hooked onto four other riders, all moving fast, and they worked together to make quick time. Now there were five support vehicles leap-frogging the riders. I think we were all non-competitive at this point, although I really don’t know. Climb, climb, climb. Our team ducked out with about eight miles to go and sped up to the next transition point: my last segment.
Again since there was no reason not to, I departed prior to Jonathan arriving. I had a 31 mile, 1500 foot climb/ 2600 foot decent segment to attack and I was itching to get it done.
One thing I hadn’t mentioned was how tired we were between segments with less than ten hours of rest. For me, it was surprising that it wasn’t an issue — I felt fresh and was even enjoying climbing back onto the bike to ride hard.
Climb, climb, climb — the scenery was awesome. I actually was looking at more than the white line by this time- pushing but certainly not at race pace. About 10 miles into the segment my Garmin died; who would have thought that the battery could not endure this long effort? After that I was riding blind — and I felt naked.
Our SAG van went by and Vicki said that she dropped Paul off on the road in front of me, he was itching to attack the downhill into Cedar City (see a trend here?). I figured I’d catch him, there were no other riders in sight. Vicki didn’t share that she dropped him at the top of the mountain…and I was still 5 miles from the top. I learned later that Paul was in full fury going on the descent, drafting the van going down the mountain. Vicki was so un-nerved that she finally pulled over and let Paul pass.
As I crested the summit, the view was amazing — I was looking out over the range, the valley below and the canyon I would soon be descending. But no time for sightseeing; look out below!
The first couple of descent miles were great — wide open road (in good repair too!), no traffic, no wind: let ‘er rip! I rounded one corner and the wind blasted me. Don’t you hate it when the wind causes you to change lanes without your participation! Clearly some slowing was called for now.
Pretty soon a couple of people passed me — likely individuals from the teams Jonathan was riding with earlier. “That’s OK, I don’t have a death wish,” I thought. As I descended, the wind got stronger and stronger…and hotter. The last 10 miles coming down the canyon into Cedar City were horrible — pedaling down a 2% grade and barely holding 15 mph.
By this point I was so ready to be done — the fun factor had left, leaving only the oppressive heat and wind to suffer through. Finally, after several hours of riding (OK, perhaps 20 minutes or less) I reached Cedar City and the next transition point. Paul and Greg P had consulted with several race veterans by this point; the consensus was that the last two legs were mostly into the wind and really hot. The temp in St George at our projected finish was 112.
Beyond Africa hot. They were done.
I rode the two blocks to Cedar City Cycles and turned in my trusty rented bike and rescued my broken and sad racing machine. I would bet that few — if any — have pushed the rental bike as hard as I had just done for two days. It came through with flying colors at the end of the day.
We drove back to St George, checked into our hotel, showered (losing about 2 lbs each of crusted salt) and kicked back before the awards picnic. The next day we all went home.
This was certainly not the race we expected, nor the outcome expected, but none the less, very exciting with a lot of living packed into a very short period of time. The physical racing was hard, but combined with the long duration of the event, the team dynamics, and the unexpected, it was an amazing experience. Much like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon with an instamatic camera, you just can do it justice without being there. I look forward to attacking the race again next year, with a lot of experience and better understanding of tactics, strategy and tips. The biggest thing is to go early and enjoy some of the fantastic places we raced through.
PS: My homeowner insurance policy is covering my extensive bike damage; a new bike is on order and expected to be delivered very shortly. I will have to think hard about using a roof rack again for sure!