A Note from Fatty: Part I of the report is here.
A Note from Fatty About the Salt to Saint Race Format: Quite a few people commented about the racer in the green shirt in the background of a couple of the photos yesterday. Sadly, I don’t know who that is. He does represent, however, one of the things I loved about this race, though: diversity of participants. The Salt to Saint allows soloists (like The Hammer and me and a few others), four-person, and eight-person teams. On an eight-person team, each racer does around 50 miles of racing, with plenty of time between turns.
Salt to Saint even has an open division, which allows you to propose your own number of racers on your team. For example, this year there was a nine-person team named “18-Wheeler,” which I thought was fantastic.
On another team, I saw a dad with a different one of his children on each of his legs of the race. This kind of team-size flexibility allows anyone to be a part of the race, instead of just people (like me) who have gone a little overboard with their biking (and racing) obsession. And with the reasonably short race segments (13-20 miles, if I remember correctly), most people don’t have to worry about whether they can complete their part of the race.
In other words, Salt to Saint is a total relay road race gateway drug.
Let’s Start Off By Going The Wrong Direction
So here’s what has happened so far, just to refresh your memory.
Our crew — and all our stuff — was stranded with a truck that had decided — for SECURITY’s sake — to not allow anyone to turn the key in the ignition. The race had started, and The Hammer and I had taken off after expressing our confidence to our crew that they would — somehow — either get the truck started or get someone else to the starting line, transfer all our gear over, and then find us on the course.
Well, at least that gave The Hammer and me something to talk about as we rode. Which was a good thing, because I have a problem when I race: restraint.
Or, more to the point, my problem is lack of restraint. Which is to say, I tend to take off as if the finish line is in sight, even — apparently — when the finish line is a ridiculous distance away.
Yep, that’s me on the left, standing up at the starting line, doing everything I can to not launch an attack.
Yeesh, what a dork.
[Side Note: You'll notice that neither The Hammer nor I have race numbers on these bikes. This is because our race numbers are on our Shivs, which we expected to spend most of the race on.]
But I did not launch an attack. No. We talked about the fact that we were in quite a predicament. And that it was incredibly weird for us because we are both planners and love to nail down every last detail of how we’re going to approach a race and now, here we were, at the beginning of the longest — by a factor of more than two — ride of our lives, and we couldn’t control anything. All we could do is ride, and trust that the people we had asked to take care of us…would actually find a way to take care of us.
And we were so absorbed in the discussion of what a strange start to the race this had been that two blocks after the start of the race, we missed a turn.
We Meet Russell
In our defense, we were not the only people to miss that turn. We were, in fact, just being sheeple racers: following the line of the racers ahead of us. And about ten of us had just blown through a well-marked turn.
Who knows what would have happened if someone with keener eyesight and less of an inclination to just follow the wheels in front of them hadn’t yelled out.
As is, we only went out of our way by fifty feet or so, and that would be the only wrong turn (OK, actually there will be one more) of our entire trip; the Salt to Saint guys did a fantastic job of marking the course.
As we rode, we’d look at people’s race numbers. The Hammer told me we should be on the lookout for other racers with race plates from 52 to 54 (we were 50 and 51) — the other solo riders in the race.
A moment later, we caught up with Russell Mason, racer 54. We wished him luck as we went by, then I said to The Hammer, “Well, at least we’re no longer in last place.”
“Yeah,” she said, “But I wonder if he knows something we don’t. Maybe we’re going too fast and we’re going to blow up before we’re halfway done with the race.”
“I don’t feel like we’re going too hard. Do you?” I asked.
“No. And no matter how slow we go, we’re going to be sore and tired by the end of this race. So we may as well go at least at a medium effort. Let’s just try to never go into the red zone.”
We Meet Jacob and Jason
The Hammer and I kept on going at our nice medium pace, talking about how odd it was to be riding where we trained, but as a race. “We won’t really start counting it as a race ’til we get a hundred or so miles into it, OK?” The Hammer said.
We climbed up Wasatch Boulevard, a popular road for riding in our area, and that’s when we came across racers 52 and 53, Jason and Jake. “Hey, check us out. 80% of the solo riders are bunched up together!” I exclaimed.
“Are you riding together?” The Hammer asked.
“Sure, let’s work together, either Jake or Jason answered, misunderstanding her.
Still, it was a good idea, and we would have been happy to be part of a rotating paceline of four solo riders.
Except The Hammer’s chain chose that moment to fall off.
“Go on, we’ll catch you in a little while,” I said as they went by, although I had no expectation that we would actually catch them.
It took The Hammer only a few seconds to get her chain back on, although the fact that it had happened at all made me nervous. First the truck, then the wrong turn, then what could well be a problem with her front derailleur.
“This day isn’t starting out at all well,” I said. “A whole day’s worth of bad stuff has happened during the first hour of this race.”
And five minutes later, another whole day’s worth of trouble would begin.
It’s Monday morning. I’m home. I’ve had a good night’s sleep. I’m sitting in a comfortable chair. I feel like the time is right. I can begin to tell the story of racing Salt to Saint — 423.6 miles — in the solo category.
But first, I would like to enumerate the parts of me that hurt, in no particular order:
- Back of neck
- Upper back
- Lower back
- Achilles tendons
- A very particular area of my buttocks
Apart from that, I feel great.
This story is going to take a while to tell. For one thing, the race was pretty long. For another thing, the list of things I want to include in the story currently has 189 items in it. And that’s just the list. Which, by the way, keeps growing.
Also, today’s post will only barely get to the point where we cross the starting line.
I say this not by way of apology, but simply so that you can set your expectations appropriately.
The Days Before The Race
I have never prepared so little for a race. Really, I was completely ridiculous about it. This 420 mile race was coming up, and I wasn’t doing anything to get ready for it. I wasn’t obsessing over previous race reports, I wasn’t researching segments on Strava, I wasn’t reading the race bible and strategizing. I just didn’t have the time. I was in an incredibly intense few weeks at work.
The Hammer had to do all the prep. Which she did. Magnificently.
In particular, she began baking. She had taken our copy of Feed Zone Portables: A Cookbook of On-the-Go Food for Athletes and had begun making all kinds of on-the-go food. Pizza rolls. Sweet potato pies. Blueberry turnovers. Cinnamon rolls. And more. So much more.
“For a ride like this,” she said, “We don’t want to go to chews and gels until we have to.
The Hammer also arranged our crew for the race, which would be broken down into four waves:
- Jilene and my eldest son, Nigel, would get us to the starting line and then crew for us for the first 50 miles or so.
- The Hammer’s brothers would take over from there and crew for us ’til about 8 or 9pm
- The Hammer’s sons would take over from there and crew for us ’til about 5 or 6am
- Kenny and Heather would take over from there and crew for us ’til the finish line.
The Hammer arranged a complex system of cars and pick up / drop off points and times. The logistics were as impressive as they were confusing and I was glad to not need to be a part of it.
I did offer one suggestion. “We should use my BikeMobile as the crew vehicle,” I said. My beloved army-green Honda Ridgeline, to my way of thinking, was the perfect vehicle for everyone to use as the crew vehicle. We’d put our four-bike Raxter rack in the hitch receiver, bring two road bikes and our Shivs, load up the back seat area and the truck bed with all the food and clothes we owned. What could be better?
Blake, though, wanted to make his truck the crewing vehicle. He had reasons, none of which made any sense to me. As anyone who knows him knows, though, once Blake has made up his mind, argument is futile.
And besides, what did I care? I wasn’t going to be in the truck anyway.
So, Thursday afternoon, around 5pm, I finished my last report for work and turned it in. Now, with fifteen hours ’til the ride began, I could turn my attention to this race.
We packed all — and I mean that pretty darned close to literally — our stuff and got to bed, setting the alarm for 5am the next morning.
The Morning Of
I’d like to take a brief moment to say what a wonderful luxury it is to have a big race start close to home. Instead of sleeping in a hotel the night before the race, to sleep in your own bed. To get up and have breakfast in your own kitchen. To be able to use your own shower, to use your own sink as you shave.
Yes, I like to shower and shave before races when I can. No, I don’t know why. (But it may have to do with this theory that my facial stubble creates a lot of aerodynamic drag.)
We loaded up the truck and by 6:00am were ready to go. Jilene — one of The Hammer’s best friends and a ridiculously strong rider in her own right — arrived at our house right on time. Nigel was up and ready to go.
Everything was going perfect. I love it when things go perfect.
We drove from Alpine to the “This is the Place” monument in Salt Lake City — a perfectly fitting place to start a race from Salt Lake to Saint George. I parked the truck, we unloaded the bikes (we planned to do the first 50 or so miles on road bikes, since we’d be doing a lot of start-and-stop city riding and a big climb and descent up and over Suncrest).
We picked up our race packets and The Hammer and I suited up in our brand-new FatCyclist.com kits.
Once again, the guys at Twin Six have outdone themselves. This is fantastic-looking gear.
Oh, and here’s a picture with Nigel in it too:
Yes, he is about six inches taller than I am.
Anyway, I went to pick up our SPOT trackers; they weren’t ready to go. Not a problem, we had an hour to go until the race started.
With nothing better to do, I would go back to check if the SPOTs were ready every five minutes until they had locked on to the satellite.
Yes, race promoters, you know how there’s always one guy who won’t leave you alone and bugs you about something every five minutes? Well, I’m that guy. Sorry.
Houston, We Have a Problem. Like, a Really Big Problem
We had fifteen minutes ’til our 8am start, and nothing left to do. Jilene, The Hammer, and Nigel climbed back into the truck to warm up a little.
Except the truck wouldn’t start. Instead, it just blinked a message: SECURITY.
Jilene called over to me, “The truck won’t start; I can’t turn the key!” I rolled my eyes, figuring she just needed to put some tension on the steering wheel and then it would work just fine.
No. Jilene was correct. The key would not turn. At all. We just got that blinking message: SECURITY.
As if the truck had decided that this race was not a good idea, and it was going to stop us from going. You know, for our own protection.
Jilene called Blake. “Try jiggling the steering wheel,” Blake said.
“THAT DOESN’T WORK,” Jilene replied.
Blake insisted, and Jilene — knowing how useful it is to argue with Blake — tried jiggling the steering wheel, along with a few other ideas Blake had.
None of that mattered. The truck would not start.
Blake recommended Jilene call Zac (The Hammer’s eldest son), from whom he had bought the truck, and whom also is a mechanic.
“Try jiggling the steering wheel,” Zac recommended.
“Right,” said Jilene.
“We’ve got to line up, the race starts in about three minutes,” I told The Hammer. Then, to Jilene and Nigel, I said, “You’re both smart, competent people. We’re going to trust that you’ll find a way to catch up to us as soon as possible. And now we’ve got to race.”
“Take some extra food!” Jilene yelled, and quickly stuffed our jersey pockets.
The Hammer and I lined up. Almost instantly the race director yelled, “Go!” and we took off, beginning our 423-mile race.
Meanwhile, our crew was behind us, stranded in a parking lot.
“Well, this is a scary start to a long, long day,” I said to The Hammer.
Of course, I couldn’t know that things were about to get much, much worse.
Hey, just a really quick post today, because I have a monster of a report I need to turn in for work, and then I need to finalize our plans for the Salt to Saint race tomorrow.
Basically, I have the following things to tell you.
- We start tomorrow (Friday) at 8:00am MT, and we don’t stop riding until we finish the race, hopefully sometime in the early afternoon on Saturday. Like, 2:00pm MT would be good.
- I am pretty sure you’ll be able to track us in real time on the SPOTs provided by the race. I don’t have a ton of information on where that will be, but try checking at the race’s home page for a link; there should be a “Live Tracking” tab you can go to. And if you don’t find it there, try looking on their Facebook page. And when one of you figures it out, post a comment with a link to the correct page, OK? (I’m counting on you, David.)
That’s it. Now I gotta get back to work.
PS: Just because I don’t have time to write right now doesn’t mean I don’t love you.
My second of two major reports I’m writing for my day job is due today. So, today’s post is going to be first draft, brief, and mostly pictures. And I don’t have time to sit and stare at the screen, thinking of a clever and quite possibly metaphorical opening. So: this was my opening paragraph. I apologize.
The thing is, though, I did want to post, because I did something really cool last weekend: I actually volunteered at a race.
Yes, that’s right. I went to a race, and — instead of racing — I helped out.
It’s possible that part of the reason I volunteered at this race — the second time I have done so in my whole life — is because it was a NICA high school MTB race, which means that I am roughly three times the age of the average participant.
Part of the other reason is that — like a lot of people — I’ve been inspired by the movie Singletrack High, and I wanted to help.
And I’m not the only one in the family to get inspired by that film. When we were in Leadville, The Swimmer went to a screening of the movie with us, and — as soon as we got home — she signed up for the MTB team.
So this is the story of our first NICA race. A little bit about The Swimmer, and a little about me.
Before the Race
What astonished me when we arrived at the parking lot near Corner Canyon, where the race would be held, was how many people were there. 500 racers, most with family.
I get the sense that mountain biking is going to be seeing a massive surge in popularity in the next few years.
The Swimmer went to find her team, I went to the volunteer tent, and The Hammer went to go buy waffles at the Saturday’s Waffle stand. She got The Benny (a poached egg, lemon hollandaise sauce and a giant pile of bacon pieces on top of a waffle) for me, and now I’m a fan.
I had signed up to be a course marshal, but when I got to the tent they asked me if I’d be a roving marshal instead: basically, ride my bike around a certain portion of the course, looking for anything that’s amiss.
I said I’d be happy to, and they gave me a “Roving Marshal” race plate, a walkie talkie, a first aid kit, and an awesome bright orange vest.
I look rather fetching, if I do say so myself. Though I probably would’ve worn something different if I’d known I was going to be on the bike all day (But yes, I did have a helmet and bike shoes with me…I always have a helmet and bike shoes with me.).
During The Race
Shortly before the race began, I headed out onto my section of the course and began my routine. I’d ride for a while ’til I found a spot that had a good view of a big chunk of the course, then I’d stop, pull my cowbell out of my backpack, and cheer the racers on.
Of course, I may have been guilty of cheering The Swimmer on a little extra.
The Swimmer was racing in the JV group of girls: about thirty of them. This would be her first mountain bike race, ever, so really this was just for experience. A chance to find out what mountain bike racing is like.
And so I should not have been surprised — she is, after all, The Hammer’s daughter — when she came flying by me at the beginning of the first lap…in second place.
I let the rest of her wave go by, cheered on the next wave of girls (Freshman, I think?), then picked up my stuff and went course patrolling, looking for things that needed looking after.
Nothing needed looking after. Everything was fine.
After a while I found a good new place to stop for a while and cheer kids on.
The Swimmer was holding on to her second-place position, which I texted to The Hammer, who was volunteering in the feed zone.
Then — and I’m working from third-hand information here, so may not have the details right — The Swimmer crashed. Specifically, at the end of the lap racers go through a tunnel, at the end of which there is running water, because of all the rain we’ve had recently. The Swimmer went to corner out of the tunnel, slid out, and then slid into the water.
Making her muddy, bloody, and soaked, all in one instant.
She hopped back on her bike and charged out. She came into a corner too hot, found out too late that her brakes were still wet, and crashed again.
She then crashed a third time, but honestly at this point I can’t keep track of where or how. The point is, she kept crashing, but kept getting back on and going.
Naturally, she lost a couple places with all those wrecks, but still finished in fourth place in her category.
That’s an incredibly impressive feat for a first race, especially since she hadn’t been on a bike since she crashed out of the Half Ironman about a month ago.
So here’s the damage:
Which makes me think. I don’t really believe “The Swimmer” is a good nickname for The Hammer’s daughter anymore.
I hereby dub her…Scar.
Don’t worry too much about all that mud and blood, by the way. Here she is three hours later:
Her first MTB race, three crashes, and then Homecoming.
PS: Scar has been mountain biking twice since the race. She has crashed both times.
A Note from Fatty: This is Part VII of “Actions and Consequences.” You’ll find the earlier installments of this shaggy dog here:
Also, obviously I kinda broke my “short post” rule today. I wanted to finish this thing.
I know something about weather. I’ve lived in Alamosa, Colorado, which can boast some pretty harsh winters. I’ve lived in the Arctic Circle for a winter. I’ve walked for hours in snow and through snow. If you dress against it, it’s not a big deal. You can stay cheerful in snow. In fact, if you think about it, people pay good money to be around snow.
Rain is different. Rain is something special.
Rain gets under your skin. It gets into your head. Sure, there’s a whiff of excitement when rain starts — especially when you’re a kid. It feels like something’s happening. Like maybe you should go jump in a puddle or run around and let it soak you.
But it doesn’t last long. You don’t play in the rain for hours, and then come in, wishing for another day, just like it. A few minutes of rain on your head, on your face, in your eyes, is plenty.
I don’t know anyone who pays money to be in the rain.
But sometimes I forget all that. I have said — utterly foolishly — that I hope it rains the whole day at Leadville, just because I think I am tough and that it will do worse things to my competition than it will do to me.
Stupid. No, not stupid. Idiotic.
And then there’s wind plus rain, so that every drop feels like when you were a kid and someone used a straw as a blowgun to shoot a popcorn kernel at your face. (I’m guessing this was more a boy thing than a girl thing; it’s also possible I just had really rude friends.)
And in short, I was miserable. And afraid. Because even though it was just two or so in the afternoon, it was more or less dark outside. And cars were spraying big wakes of water onto each others’ windshields, so they couldn’t see anything for a couple wipes of the windshield.
And we were out there, weaving in the wind, trying to keep our Shivs — now more kite than bike — under control.
Every time a vehicle approached, I looked up, hoping it would be a truck. And when it was a truck, I would hope it would turn out to be a white truck.
And when I saw a white truck with the unmistakable blue cast of HID headlights I knew The IT Guy had installed, I was so relieved. So happy.
What Could and Would Have Been
I thought it had been raining hard. I did. If asked to rate the hardness of this rain, I would have put it at a seven. But as we loaded one of the bikes into the backseat area and used come along straps to secure the other bike in the truck bed (I wasn’t at all kidding about the kiting effect), the rain stepped it up a notch. And then it stepped up another five notches. “Ten,” I thought to myself. “This is raining at ten.”
And then one more notch. This rain went to eleven.
“This is how it’s been raining for the past twenty miles of my drive,” The IT Guy said, shouting over the sound of the rain and his windshield wipers, going at top speed and still only kind of keeping up.
We had gotten lucky. Unbelievably lucky. There was no way we could have ridden in this rain. If The Hammer hadn’t gotten that flat, we’d be about ten miles further up the road, in the middle of nowhere, in that downpour, with who knows how long ’til we could get a ride.
And, as we were about to find out, it would have been worse than that.
We drove, talking about the incredible downpour. “Thirty percent,” The Hammer said. “The Weather Channel app said thirty percent chance of scattered thundershowers.“
And then, between Fountain Green and Nephi, both The Hammer and I gasped as the truck suddenly sent up a giant wall of brown water.
For a moment, we couldn’t see out of the truck. Then the wipers cleared the windshield; now we could see what was ahead of us: a fast flowing river, coming down the mountain to our right, crossing the road, and continuing on down the other side.
It was probably somewhere between eighteen inches and two feet deep.
Suddenly, we were extraordinarily glad that, instead of calling my son — who would have brought the minivan — we had called Blake, who had brought his truck. His truck which has been modified with a lift kit.
We rolled through the fast-flowing flood slowly and got to the other side just in time to watch the mountain slide down over the road ahead of us. A pile of mud, boulders, and debris — about three feet high — was now in our way.
The IT Guy came to a stop, then inched over it.
“The minivan,” I said, “would not have been able to get over that.”
A mile later, we pulled to the side of the road as multiple police cars and trucks, lights and sirens going, zoomed toward the flood and slide we had just left behind. We’d find out shortly that they would close the road. That we were, in fact, one of the last vehicles to get through.
Actions and Consequences
We continued on to and through Nephi, laughing with relief at how everything was OK. Laughing with relief that we hadn’t been there on our bikes.
For another sixty miles, we’d drive through the most intense rainstorm I have ever seen in my life. The whole way, we talked about the decisions we made earlier in the day, and how they could have — would have — affected us if we had done things differently.
What if I hadn’t begged for an extra hour of sleep? I had been so tired when the alarm had gone off that morning that I delayed the start time of our ride so I could sleep a little longer. We would have been an hour — or more — further along, and maybe been right in the area where the big flash flood and mudslide hit, right when they hit. Which would have been bad.
What if we had stuck with our original ride plan? Just a few miles in the ride, I had an idea to change up the ride plan. Instead of heading out to Cedar Fort for our first forty miles, we decided to skip that section and ride further past Fountain Green instead. If we had stuck with the original ride plan, we would not have hit the glass patch, wouldn’t have gotten the flat, and would have been right in the middle of the rainstorm — and maybe the flood — without a ride on the way.
What if we had turned around half a mile earlier? If we had turned around when my GPS (as opposed to The Hammer’s) said 100 miles — or if we hadn’t turned around at the beginning of the ride to make a minor repair to The Hammer’s saddle — we would have been a half hour further along before we ever called The IT Guy to pick us up. By the time he got close to us, the road would have been closed. And we’d have been stuck, in the middle of nowhere, in a rainstorm so fierce it was causing flooding and mudslides all around us.
When we thought about it, in fact, if pretty much anything had gone according to our original plan, our day would have been much, much worse than it turned out.
We were wet, cold, and disappointed that we hadn’t finished our 200-mile ride.
And we both knew: we were very, very lucky.
PS: It rained, hard, almost the whole way home to Alpine: The IT Guy drove us home through eighty miles of incredible downpour. We broke through the storm about ten miles before we got to Alpine; it wasn’t raining there. But there were some freaky clouds gathering. And within five minutes, the rain started. The storm had caught up with us. Before the afternoon was over, flooding and mudslides would force neighbors as close as three blocks away to evacuate their homes.
PPS: We are hoping for better weather as we race the Salt to Saint this Friday.
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