A Note from Fatty about today’s entry: This is part 10 of my Salt to Saint writeup, for crying out loud. It’ll make more sense if you read the earlier installments first:
- Part I: The Things that Hurt
- Part II: Meet Your Competitors
- Part III: Team Fatty Cannot Seem to Catch a Break
- Part IV: Support from a Unicorn
- Part V: Life as a Domestique
- Part VI: Everything Falls Apart
- Part VII: Changing and Chasing
- Part VIII: End of the Road
- Part IX: A Moment of Awkwardness
I want to tell an accurate, honest story here. I want to describe what it’s really like to ride your road bike for 423 miles, nonstop, with your wife. Paradoxically (I think), though, part of being honest and accurate with my storytelling means that I have to confess that there is no way I can be accurate about a big chunk of the nighttime hours of the race. They blend together, muddled up in my mind. I’ve lost track of what cities we went through, or in what order, or where the climbs and descents happened.
My clearest recollection is staring at the white line, aware that The Hammer is close enough behind that I can see the wash of her light directly ahead of me.
I remember being grateful for that fact, because my neck was too sore, too stiff, to turn around and check whether we were still together.
I remember losing all interest in speed, distance, and time. Those were all numbers that I figured would be relevant again when it got light.
I remember that we were almost always going uphill. Just barely uphill, but uphill.
I remember thinking about RAAM — the Race Across America. I thought about how the idea of it, once intriguing, was now completely abhorrent to me. Not because I thought I couldn’t do it. Just the opposite: I got a pretty good sense that maybe I have exactly the right gifts for this kind of race, both mental and physical. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t, in fact, picture how anyone would want to ride the RAAM. A week-plus of this? No thanks.
Also, I spent several minutes considering what a stupid acronym “RAAM” is.
But more than anything else, I remember how I learned to hate food.
When we were planning for this race, The Hammer and I had agreed: we’d never stop except to pee or change clothing. We’d do all our eating, all our drinking, while riding our bikes.
And to our credit, we had stuck with that plan for a big chunk of the race. At least half of it, I’d say.
But as we crossed the line into Saturday, The Hammer suggested that it was too hard to eat every half hour now; we should try to eat every hour, instead. And also, we should stop while we ate, just for a few minutes.
That was fine with me. That was an easy decision, in fact.
It was, however, much harder to decide what to eat.
What to Eat?
I love Honey Stinger energy chews. Love them. I could eat three packets of them, right this second. But I had been eating nothing but them for the past seven hours or so — meaning I had eaten around fourteen packets.
I was ready for a change.
The problem was, nothing sounded good. Nothing at all. It wasn’t so much that everything sounded bad, either. It was just that my mind was so scrambled that I couldn’t do what I normally do when it’s time to eat. And what do I normally do when it’s time to eat? Why, I make a call to the special place in my brain where I can ask myself, “What sounds good to eat right now?” and expect an immediate list to come to mind, cross-tabbed by closeness-to-hand, ease of preparation, and best taste. A matrix of deliciousness, if you will.
Now, however, just when I needed it most, instead of a list of things I’d like to eat I was getting a 404 – Not Found message.
“How about a turkey and swiss cheese sandwich on a dinner roll?” Blake asked, digging through the ice chest.
Was he kidding? Was that really an option? I had no idea.
“That would be fine,” I said. “With plenty of extra mayo, please, because I’m pretty sure that I am currently not making any saliva at all.”
(This may have been due to the fact that I had secretly stopped drinking anything while riding about four hours ago, about the time it had gotten dark. Nobody could see my bottles, though, and I wasn’t volunteering the information, because I knew I’d be scolded. Besides, every hour or so I was drinking a Red Bull, and that was enough liquid when it was cold and I wasn’t sweating [much], right? Right?)
The Hammer wanted one, too, but without the obscene amount of mayo.
This Behavior Must Stop
Blake made his mom’s sandwich, then made mine. This was how things had gone, the whole day: take care of The Hammer, then take care of Fatty. Ladies first, you know. Plus, the crew had been stacked with The Hammer’s side of the family. And so I had gotten used to waiting, and I was fine with it.
Except for one small detail.
Once The Hammer had finished eating, she would go. Regardless of whether I was finished eating, or not. Without even checking, really. Two or three times during the day, in fact, I had just had my first bite of whatever I was eating when The Hammer started riding away.
“I guess I’m done,” I’d say, handing back whatever I was eating and burning a match to catch up with The Hammer.
By now, however, I was out of “catch up with The Hammer” matches. And I needed to fuel up.
So, as I took my first bite of my sandwich and The Hammer started rolling away, I yelled, “Just STOP for a second, will you?! Can I please eat, too?”
The Hammer looked startled, possibly due to the fact that I used more sarcasm than was necessary. It’s also possible that I yelled louder than was necessary.
“But I always do this,” she said. “I don’t want to hold you up.”
“I know,” I said. “But I am done with chasing. For the rest of this race, I am all about a consistent, slow pace. And I need to eat. So don’t leave anymore until we’re both ready to go.”
“Has this been bothering you for a while?” The Hammer asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “For around the past seven hours or so.”
“Well why did you wait seven hours to say something?” she asked.
It was a good question. And very soon, I expect to have a fantastic answer occur to me.
And Now for Some Electronic Geekery
“SR-14″ is not a particularly glorious-sounding name for an important milestone in the race. But it was, in fact, quite possibly the single most important milestone of the entire race, as far as The Hammer and I were concerned. Because that transition area marked the end of our giant, never-ending (like, ninety miles!) false flat of a climb.
For the next 22 miles, it was going to be nothing but downhill. Free miles! It promised to be the easiest, fastest segment of the day, though we had been warned that all this descending from a mountain pass in the dead of night would be brutally cold.
So as we ate our sandwiches — another turkey and cheese for each of us — we dressed extra-warmly, adding a jacket and heavy gloves to the layers we already wore.
We also took the opportunity to swap out some of our electronics.
First, we swapped batteries on our NiteRider 1800 Pro Races — the first set of batteries had lasted an astonishing 6.5 hours and were still going, but we didn’t want to have to change batteries during the descent. Also, we mounted the big guns, lightwise, onto our handlebars: NiteRider Pro 3600 DIYs. Which meant we each had a total of 5400 lumens of light available to us, so that when we rode beside each other heading downhill (we were very intentionally not getting on the side of the road; we were being as big and obvious as we could), we cast off considerably more light than a car does.
Is it obvious that I’m kind of in love with NiteRider?
Next, we swapped out our Garmins. We had gotten 17+ hours our of our 510s, but had gotten the “low battery” warning, so we switched over to our old 500’s.
My Garmin 500 would not, by the way, survive the descent. Somewhere along the way — the catch that attaches to the mount worn away from years of use — it popped out of the mount. I never noticed ’til the next transition, by which time my 510 was fully recharged anyway.
So if by chance you come across a Garmin 500 laying on the road somewhere between SR-14 and Kanab in Utah, uh, please feel free to keep it. Because it won’t stay on your mount anyway.
The Hammer and I started on our big, long-anticipated descent. The one we were so excited about. The one we had been talking about.
And it sucked.
I was hurting in a big way. Or should I say “ways.” Because there were three things simultaneously going on.
First, I had heartburn. Bad. Searing, painful heartburn. This would be my companion for about ten minutes every time I ate for the rest of the race. I suspect this was due to the enormous amount of Red Bull I had been drinking. Probably it is not advisable to drink sixteen Red Bulls over the course of a day. I expect that Red Bull would probably concur.
Second, I was getting verrrrrry drowsy. Something that hadn’t occurred to me during the constant climbing for the past several hours was that the effort of climbing kept my heart rate up, which in turn kept me awake.
Now I was coasting. Hardly moving at all, really. And I felt a deep and pressing need to fall asleep. But I didn’t, because of the third problem, which was…
Third, Hiccups. Hiccups became my bane. Yes, they kept me awake, but other than that they were driving me completely nuts. And it wasn’t just an isolated case of hiccups that went away after a few minutes. Starting around 3:00am and for the rest of the race, I would get hiccups every time I ate something.
I was miserable. Much more miserable than this list would suggest.
And also, I needed to poop.