A Note from Fatty: I’m in a real time crunch for the next two weeks, day job-wise. I’m starting early and working late. But I don’t want the blog to go dark for that long so I’m going to try something a little different: short posts that take me no longer than 30 minutes to write. Today, I’m kicking off a multi-part story with short installments; I’m interested in knowing what you think: when work demands get huge for me, would you rather have longer installments less often, or do you like this frequent-but-short post format?
My alarm went off at 5:30am: the “Ascending” ring tone, as always.
I’ll never be able to hear that sound again without getting the unpleasant Pavlovian “time to wake up” jolt. But this time it was worse. I hadn’t been able to go to sleep until around 3:00am: job stress keeping me awake.
“Please,” I said to The Hammer. “I can’t get up yet. I need another hour of sleep.”
In the three-ish years we’ve been married, this was the first time I’d ever asked for more sleep — and hence a delay in our ride start time — so she knew it wasn’t a casual request.
“OK,” The Hammer said. I set the alarm for 6:30 and went back to sleep instantly.
That was the first thing that happened last Saturday that affected the craziness of last Saturday’s ride. And I’m still not sure if that’s what saved us…or if it’s what put us in jeopardy in the first place.
The Next Delay
6:30 came around in approximately one hour. (I just thought I’d point that out for those of you who are unclear on the way time works.) But it seemed like less. Still, I didn’t really feel like I could beg another hour of sleep time, and I wanted to get going.
After all, we had 200 miles to ride.
Why so far? Well, we’re getting ready for the Salt to Saint race, which is now fewer than two weeks away. This is, for most people, a relay-style race (similar to the Rockwell Relay, but with a different route and slightly different rules). 420-ish miles, on the back roads from small town to small town, from Salt Lake City to Saint George.
And here’s the thing: We’ll both be riding it solo. Oh, and have I mentioned that The Hammer, should she succeed, will be the first woman to do this race solo?
So that’s kind of cool.
And this was our final big ride, more to give us the confidence that we could just ride our Specialized Shivs all day than for any other reason.
We got up and I got our bikes ready while The Hammer made us breakfast: scrambled egg burritos, our traditional pre-big-ride food. We stuffed our jerseys with Honey Stinger Chews (the new Cherry Cola flavor is my new favorite) and two-bite pies The Hammer’s made from recipes in Feed Zone Portables: A Cookbook of On-the-Go Food for Athletes. (We’re figuring that we need to stick with as much real food as possible if we’re going to be riding and eating for thirty hours, straight.)
Oh, and I brought a debit card so I could buy Coke whenever we passed a gas station. “There shall be no gas station we pass from which I do not buy a Coke!” I decreed, with great valor and emotion, at the beginning of the ride.
We got going.
And then, less than half a mile from home, I remembered something.
“Hey,” I said to The Hammer. “The last time we went out on the Shivs, your saddle was kind of loose — it started tilting back. Did I fix that?”
It was a bogus question. I knew I hadn’t fixed it.
“No, I don’t think you fixed it,” The Hammer answered.
“Let’s turn around and get that saddle tightened down, and then I’m going to bring a hex wrench to tweak it during the day in case we don’t get it just right,” I said.
So we turned around and headed home, tightened down the saddle, and were off again, adding another fifteen minutes — and an extra mile — to the beginning of our ride.
Much later in the day, we’d spend hours talking about what would have happened if I hadn’t slept in. If we hadn’t turned around and made a minor fix to her bike.
And that’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow.
I forget things. I forget things all the time. There is very likely, in fact, something I should be doing right now, but I’ve forgotten what it is. I forget appointments. I forget to call people back. I forget names (instantly, usually). I forget why I’ve walked into a room.
And until last weekend, riding Rebecca’s Private Idaho, I had forgotten what it’s like to be riding in an event that has a few hundred people in it, rather than more than a thousand.
But now I remember: it’s really nice.
Another thing I had forgotten: it’s really nice to just ride a big event sometimes, rather than race it.
And that’s what The Hammer and I were doing: riding side-by-side, talking, enjoying the view, and saying “hi” to folks as we passed them, or as they passed us. Which happened pretty infrequently.
And Now for a Word From Rebecca’s Sponsor
I generally don’t drink Red Bull. It’s not that I have anything against it — it’s just not a big part of my life.
But Red Bull is one of Rebecca Rusch’s sponsors, and there was a nice big ice chest full of Red Bull at each of the aid stations.
And so, as I ate handfuls of baked potatoes and potato chips (as if I were trying to support the local economy or something), I opened a Red Bull. And it was fantastic.
My problem, evidently, is that I hadn’t ever had Red Bull while in the middle of a long, hot, dusty ride, while eating a big mouthful of potato chips.
“C’mere,” I said to The Hammer. “Eat some of these, and then drink some of this.”
She agreed. Red Bull, under these circumstances, is even better than Coke.
And thus, without regard to whether I was leaving any for anyone else, I drank a minimum of one Red Bull at each aid station. But usually two, because the cans aren’t really all that big.
And also, because I’m a glutton. No, not for punishment. I’m just a glutton.
And I liked the way they made my eyeballs vibrate at a barely-subsonic speed.
I Believe I’ll Pat Myself on the Back Some More
The Hammer and I rode our all-day pace, happy on our bikes, the headwind keeping the day from becoming uncomfortably hot.
We got to the third aid station, which is the beginning of the loop part of the lollipop-style course:
And it was during this part of the course that I went from suspecting the mountain bike was the right kind of bike for me for this course to knowing it was.
It’s a bumpy course. With a lot of loose gravel. And a lot of rocks. And a lot of people on CX bikes, changing out tubes.
And, as the day got hotter and the course got rougher, we could see it in people’s slack faces and dead eyes as they endured yet another stretch of downhill washboards on their CX bikes: they envied me.
And who could blame them?
[Note: For what it's worth, I did not see a single MTB rider changing a flat. And also for what it's worth, I really can't imagine that the Buffalo would have gotten around that course without flatting (and I had no tools or tubes to fix a flat on that bike).]
I Am A Wonderful Husband
We hit that third aid station a second time, just as Greg Fisher — one of the geniuses behind Bike Monkey (and who may be a part-time attorney) — rolled away. My hopes of riding with him were dashed.
Which was particularly hard to bear, considering that based on the group photo we had taken earlier in the morning, we are BFFs. And stuff.
Greg’s the one in the middle. Oh, and also, he stars in this, my favorite bike race ad of all time:
(Greg’s the one doing his toenails, shooting the blowdart, and operating the compressed air horn.)
Well fine. We’d ride without him, then.
According to the way everything should be in a neat and orderly universe, The Hammer and I had a nice, easy 25 miles or so. It was downhill, and we’d had a headwind on this section on the way in, so we should have a tailwind on the way back.
Which we did. For about four minutes. “This is wonderful!” The Hammer exclaimed. We were cruising along at 25mph, without even trying.
And then, in an instant, the wind switched. Somehow, we had a headwind again.
“This is…no longer wonderful,” The Hammer exclaimed, with considerably less enthusiasm in the previous exclamation.
And here’s the part where I show what a wonderful husband I am.
For the next fifteen or twenty miles, I got out front and did the pulling, with The Hammer only coming around and taking a turn pulling when I was completely wiped out.
Which, if my calculations are right, was no more often than 50% of the time.
Yes, you read it right. I pulled at least half the time on the way back, in spite of the harsh headwind.
It’s possible I even pulled more than that.
I Am Very Strategic
As we worked our way back to the Trail Creek Summit Aid Station — the first and final one, as well as the end-point of the first and last KOM segments — I started looking forward, trying to see where the timing mat was.
I had heard reports that the start of this segment was anywhere from two to four miles away from the summit, which meant that once I hit the mat, I needed to go at the hardest pace I could sustain…pretty much indefinitely.
But I had a theory that made me think I was going to do OK in this segment. And my theory was this: I had been going below my limit most of the day (except in the first KOM segment). Which meant that I still should have quite a bit of gas left in my tank (figuratively).
I was thinking that this might give me an edge over the guys who had been going at full-tilt for their whole rides. They might have a much faster finishing time than I’d have, but I’d be fresher for the second KOM segment.
And there it was: the timing mat. “Bye, Hon (I call The Hammer “Hon,” which I know is a very unusual nickname for a spouse),” I yelled, then stood up and attacked as if I were doing something meaningful.
The first two miles went by. I had passed a lot of people, but the summit was nowhere in sight.
There was Greg. I passed him and yelled at him to come ride with me. He declined, possibly because he didn’t understand my invitation, which might have sounded like, “Grggcmmmrrrrmm!”
I kept going.
Three miles had gone by. I was in an ugly place. A place where I was going as close to a sprint as I could without blowing up. And I had no idea how much longer I’d be riding before I hit the summit. I had no idea whether I was going as fast as the fast guys, or nowhere close.
I didn’t turn around and look to see who was behind me, because I was worried that as I did so, someone would ride right by me.
Then. There it was: a flag indicating the summit, and the timing mat right by it. I stood up and went through the motions of a final sprint, though I’d bet pretty much anything that I didn’t actually accelerate.
3.9 miles, 446 feet of climbing, in 16:07.
I pulled off to the side of the road and went and had what probably my fifth Red Bull of the day.
Within five minutes, The Hammer pulled across the mat, looking beat. She dropped her bike and came and got a Red Bull too.
Moments later, Greg rode across the mat, gave us the backhanded V flip-off and continued on his way.
Greg rides alone, man. Greg. Rides. Alone.
The Hammer Is Very Strategic, Too
Rebecca had done a very smart thing when organizing this event: she put the timing mat for the finish line out of town. That way there wouldn’t be a bunch of attacking cyclists barreling into the center of town where the ceremonial finish line was.
This resulted in an extraordinary opportunity, which The Hammer pointed out to me: the condo where we were staying was between the timing mat and the ceremonial finish line. Which meant we could get our finishing time, then take a shower, then ride across the ceremonial finishing line.
Which was a good thing, because after a day of riding on dusty dirt roads, I looked like this:
The stripes on my head are particularly attractive, wouldn’t you agree?
We showered, put on comfortable clothes — cuz we were planning on staying at the finish line party / festival for the rest of the day — and got back on our bikes, startling everyone there with our extraordinarily dirt-free faces.
I Am The Fastest Guy Except The Guys Who Are Faster Than I Am
The Hammer and I dropped off our bikes with the bike valet, then saw Levi and Odessa having lunch at a nearby restaurant. We invited ourselves to sit with them and eat. Knowing Odessa is a vegetarian, I looked carefully at what Levi was eating before ordering myself.
Elk burger. I was safe.
We sat around, eating and telling stories about the day. Levi asked why I didn’t come up and ride to the lead group at the start of the first climb. “I wasn’t going that much faster than you,” he said.
“I was going my very fastest,” I said. “I wasn’t holding anything back.”
“Huh,” Levi replied. He then opened his mouth as if to say something, and then refrained. Which, I’m pretty sure, was an act of kindness.
Then it was time to find out how I had done in the KOM segments. And I’m happy to report, I WON. Check out the green bar about midway down this image, indicating the winner of the men’s KOM contest:
Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that unbelievable?!
Unfortunately, it was unbelievable. In reality, there were at least a few people who did those sections faster. Levi did, for one thing — it’s just that he had ruined his timing chip by putting his race number on all wacky (and evidently not putting the redundant timing chip that attaches to the seat post on at all), so he didn’t show a time for those segments. But he did have Strava going, so they were able to get his time posted, moving me down a notch:
But wait a second. What about Burke Swindlehurst, who had the fastest time for the overall event? As it turns out, he had done something wacky with his timing chip too. But he didn’t Strava the ride, so he didn’t have a time show up on the KOM results.
Pros. Pffff. I tell you.
Oh, and what about Yuri Hauswald, whose time was the second fastest for the whole event? Well, Yuri did in fact have his timing chip set up correctly; he just was too focused on racing the whole thing and didn’t bother with the KOM timing mats.
And there were probably more people who had faster KOM segment times than me who didn’t get recorded, due to not following directions. But I think I can safely declare myself: KOM Champion: “People Who Are Not Flummoxed By Technology, Attended the Pre-Race Meeting, and Followed The Directions” Division.
Hey, I’ll take whatever I can get.
Levi still got the KOM hat, though:
Taking silver (or bronze, or whatever it is I actually got) to that isn’t so bad.
Most Awesome Moment of the Day
With racing and awards out of the way, we moved on to eating, hanging out, and — for those who were brave enough to try — Gelande Quaffing, the rules of which I never understood, and also the rules of which I don’t think are very important, because it results in photos like this:
But to be honest, I didn’t care much about that, because I saw a guy finish the ride on the absolute coolest bike in the world, which he let me try out:
A fat bike with aero bars.
I can now die happy.
There are a lot of awesome things about being part of an race or ride (an argument can be made either way over which Rebecca’s Private Idaho is) before it gets huge.
One of those things is the decidedly mellow vibe at the starting line in the center of town in Sun Valley, Idaho. There was no jockeying for a primo position in front. There were no call-ups. Just everyone gathering in, with Rebecca saying a few words.
And then we were off.
Something’s wrong in this picture. Can you tell what it is? At this resolution, I’ll be you can’t.
Unlike most events — including ones (the Rockwell Relay) where I was the main offender — the neutral start for the first was actually neutral.
Which meant that we got a chance to chat with other riders for the first six or seven miles, after which we’d hit the first KOM segment and the folks who wanted to show off their climbing chops would attack.
That first six-ish miles was maybe my favorite part of the ride.
I got a chance to talk for a couple minutes with Byron from BikeHugger. I talked with Vanessa Hauswald, who many of you will recognize from Singletrack High.
Then The Hammer and I came across Janeen, who most of you know as The Noodle. Janeen was wearing a FatCyclist kit, which matched the bright pink cyclocross bike she was riding.
And we caught up with Odessa Gunn, whom we would have happily ridden with for the whole rest of the day, because I don’t believe there is a single other person in the world who has more of the gift of gab. She told us the story of how she and another pro cyclist got into a hair-pulling on-bike fight in Idaho back in the day. She told us about her negotiation tactics when she recently found an old Scout she wanted to buy (she immediately began kissing it). She told us — as she easily rode alongside us — how she hadn’t been training.
She commented, as we rode past Levi — who was peeing while riding at the edge of the road — “Well, that’s not rude.”
Wherein I Commence to Suffer
Then we hit the timing mat signifying the start of the first of two K/QOM segments in the ride, and conversation ceased.
At least as far as I was concerned.
See, like a lot of Fondos, the RPI has some (two in this case) timed climbing segments. The man and woman with the fastest combined time on those segments would win a custom RPI cowboy hat.
And while I did not expect to win (I knew who I was up against), I was hoping to put in a good showing.
Unfortunately, when I went across the timing mat, I was pretty thoroughly boxed in. So I patiently waited for an opening to the left so I could start passing people. Meanwhile, the lead group disappeared up the road, with a second group pursuing them.
I finally got to a place where I could start passing people. And I did. A part of me wondered, “Is this bad tactics? Am I just being a volunteer domestique, giving a bunch of smarter people a free ride so they can swing around and fly past me two-thirds of the way up the climb?”
“I’m no good at tactics anyway,” I answered myself. “If they can hang, they’re welcome to climb aboard the Fatty train.”
But nobody was hanging. And while I wasn’t catching the fastest group, I was definitely closing in on the second group, which was already fracturing.
I stood up, shifted two gears harder, accelerated, and opened my mouth as far as it goes. The more oxygen the better, you know.
And that’s when Levi rode by me, whistling a merry tune. La-de-da.
OK, I’m kidding about the whistling bit.
He looked over at me and cocked his head upward. Not a challenge. An invitation. I was welcome to grab his wheel as he went to bridge to the lead group.
This photo was taken long after I was out of sight. However, you may be interested to note that the exact same thing is wrong in this photo as in the previous one.
“Go get ‘em, Levi,” I said. I know what I can do, and what I cannot. For example, I can drop most people on a climb.
I cannot, on the other hand, hang with a breakaway group led by Levi Leipheimer and Burke Swindlehurst.
My objective was to sweep up the individual riders from the now-shattered second group. To be the first regular guy to the top of the KOM segment.
I did it. 4.1 miles. 1364 feet. In 26:03.
And I didn’t even barf at the top.
The Hammer and I Ride
There was an aid station at the top of the KOM segment, and I pulled over and filled my bottles, then smeared a glob of Nutella on a banana while I waited for The Hammer to arrive. Our plan was for us to ride together except for during the KOM segments, during which we’d each attack as hard as we could, then regroup.
While I waited, Rebecca pulled up, climbed off her bike, ran over and gave me a big hug. “It’s working!” she cried.
It took me a minute to figure out what she meant. Then I got it.
She meant her ride — the whole event — was working. And she was right. Looking around, I could see it. Lots of smiles, lots of riders high-fiving Rebecca as they summited, with Rebecca cheering them on.
I don’t think I saw Rebecca without a big ol’ smile the whole day.
Rebecca had put a ton of effort — a ton of herself – into this event, and she was clearly ecstatic to see that people were enjoying themselves. To see that her dream was coming true.
Her enthusiasm caught on. You couldn’t help but smile and enjoy this day with such a happy, excited host.
The Hammer rode up — one of the first women to do so with a time of 31:08 (you won’t find her time on Strava; The Hammer’s taking a Stravacation) — and we headed out.
Into a washboard wonderland.
For the next several miles, we descended, sometimes going a little left, sometimes a little right, looking for a line that wasn’t quite as washboarded as the rest.
Every minute or two, we’d ride by someone on the side of the road, repairing their — usually cross –tubes. Or walking: the folly of going tubular CX on this course now plenty evident.
Smugly, I looked at the big fat 2.2 tires The Hammer were using, with our suspension forks absorbing the washboards — at least sorta kinda anyway.
“On paper this might be a dream course for CX bikes,” I thought, “But I’m really glad to be on a mountain bike.”
“Oh,” I appended to myself, “I’m extra-double-plus super glad I’m not on the Buffalo right now.”
We cruised along, sometimes taking turns pulling each other (we were riding against a moderate headwind), but more often just riding side-by-side, talking. We weren’t looking for a fast overall time. We were just looking for a nice, long supported ride in a new an interesting place.
Which is where we’ll pick up in tomorrow’s post.
You know how you go on vacation somewhere and you just fall in love with the place? And before long — maybe it’s while you’re still there, maybe it’s sometime soon after you get back — you find yourself thinking, “I wish I could call that place home.”
That’s pretty much the short version of why pro mountain biker Rebecca Rusch lives in Ketchum, Idaho. And she loves it so much she wanted to show it off to other people who love riding. Which is why she created Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a 95-ish (or 55-ish, if that’s more your distance of choice) mile dirt fondo, the first edition of which was last weekend.
And as Rebecca’s number-one fan and blog stalker, I was able to score an invite for The Hammer and me.
Even before we started our five-hour drive from our home in Utah to Ketchum, Idaho, The Hammer and I needed to resolve a dilemma: what bikes should we bring?
This was not an easy decision to make.
See, we knew that most people would be riding cyclocross bikes — but The Hammer doesn’t even have a cross bike, and I have never gotten comfortable on mine; for whatever reason, I seem to be the last cycling enthusiast in the world who hasn’t fallen in love with CX.
So: no cross bikes. But the problem wasn’t resolved, because I had made the foolhardy boast that I could do Rebecca’s Private Idaho (RPI from here on out) on a World Bicycle Relief Buffalo bike:
As you can see here, this one has been upgraded with a Selle Italia SLR saddle (the saddle I use on all my bikes), Time ATAC pedals, and a Garmin 510 bike computer (More on this later).
Otherwise, it’s stock. Which means it weighs fifty-five pounds. Which is not a problem when you’re riding on the plains of Africa, but which may not be ideal for a dirt (almost) century. With about 5000 feet of climbing.
I’d have a Buffalo bike waiting for me in Ketchum, but — just to be safe — I decided to bring along my geared Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail.
As for The Hammer, she brought her geared Gary Fisher Superfly hardtail, as well as her Specialized Stumpjumper singlespeed, which she’d ride if I went with the Buffalo. You know, just to keep things interesting.
The five-hour drive was relaxing; since this wasn’t a race, we didn’t have to be nervous. I drove; The Hammer read The Cuckoo’s Calling (a recently-published detective novel by JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books) aloud to me.
And then, about half an hour before we arrived in Ketchum, we started coughing.
The smoke was thick. Ash was falling from the sky.
I knew that there had been a fire here recently; it had been touch and go as to whether Rebecca was going to be able to hold the event at all. Had the fire started up again?
No. This was, in fact, smoke that had blown in from the Yosemite fire. Still, The Hammer and I agreed: if it was this bad on the day of the ride, we’d skip it.
Oh, Sure, I’ll Be Happy To Ride In A Parade
As it turns out, we didn’t need to worry; the smoke had blown through by the next morning. Saturday dawned with blue skies.
And The Hammer and I were due to join Rebecca, Katie and Jen from World Bicycle Relief, a couple of Rebecca’s friends, and Levi Leipheimer in a parade.
We would be right behind the high school marching band, and right before a guy riding a camel.
So we donned cowboy hats, except The Hammer, who wasn’t a big fan of the idea of being in a parade in the first place, and drew the line at wearing a cowboy hat.
Obviously, I have no such problem. Nor, evidently, does Levi:
And Rebecca looks right at home in a cowboy hat:
Levi stopped at a firetruck to borrow a wrench and adjust his saddle height down 1.5mm. Rebecca was astonished he knew how to work on his own bike.
So, for the next two hours, we rode around, very slowly, being careful not to ride through horse poop or to startle the camel. We gave out lots of World Bicycle Relief stickers, and dared each other to try doing wheelies. None of us took up the dare, because it’s not that easy to pop a wheelie on a 55lb bike.
Numerous people yelled, “Get a horse!” at us. Since — apart from the marching band, the camel, and us — every entry in the parade was horse- or mule-powered.
With the parade behind us, I really had only one more responsibility for the day: decide what bike I was going to ride the next day.
I decided the best way to make the decision would be to set up the bike the way I would ride it, and then do the first part of the ride…which was also the biggest climb of the day.
So The Hammer and I went to The Elephant’s Perch — a local bike shop — and borrowed some tools (and got some help) to get my pedals and saddle on the Buffalo.
And then Katie, The Hammer and I headed out on the paved Sun Valley road, which — we were told — would eventually turn into a dirt road…and the biggest climb of the day.
We never even got to the dirt.
“I don’t have a spare tube that will fit this bike,” I thought to myself. “Nor do I have the wrenches I need to change a tube, much less fix anything else.”
“And most importantly,” I said to myself and anyone who was nearby and happened to be paying attention to a guy who was talking to himself, “Riding in this position for 100 miles would turn this ride into a death march.”
I was finding, in fact, that even fifteen miles of riding in the bolt-upright position of the Buffalo bike was remarkably uncomfortable for someone (me) whose butt (mine) was much more accustomed to the leaning-forward position I usually have on road and mountain bikes.
And in short, I wussed out.
And the next day, I would not regret aforementioned wussing, even for a second.
Which is where I’ll pick this story up tomorrow.
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