2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 9: Love

07.3.2014 | 8:37 am

A Note from Fatty: Hey, look what came in the mail yesterday afternoon:

IMG 9137

Yep, I am the now the proud owner of an Ibis Tranny 29 frame. Now I have to wait patiently — oh so patiently — for a week while my wheels, suspension fork, stem, cranks, brakes and other components make their way from SRAM headquarters to my house. 

It’s a giddy feeling, waiting for everything you need for your new Ibis mountain bike to arrive. One that you could very well be feeling yourself soon if you win in a fundraiser to help the Vermont Mountain Bike Association raise money to build more and better trails

To be entered to win, you just need to donate in multiples of $5. On July 20, they draw, and whoever wins gets to pick any Ibis you want — Ripley, a Tranny, a Mojo, or a Hakkalugi — complete with a SRAM build, including a full-on X1 drivetrain, a PIKE suspension fork, and wheels to go with. 

Click here, make a donation. You might win a dream bike, and you’ll for sure help a great organization build a great trail system.

2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 8: Love

[A Note from Fatty: This is part 9 of my Rockwell Relay writeup. If you’re catching up, you’ll find the previous installment here, or you can go all the way back to the beginning of the story.]

IMG 1587

It’s 1:45. In the morning. I’m standing there, peering up the road. Waiting for The Hammer. Staring at each bike light as it approaches, trying to gauge whether it’s her.

No, that’s just a bar light; she has bar and helmet lights. No, that light’s too yellow. Wait, that one might be her.

It’s not her.

I’m anxious. Keyed up. I’ve got adrenaline flowing — I have something to prove to a person or two — for the race itself, sure, but I’m also worried.

I’m worried about how The Hammer is; we left her what feels like a long way back, out there in the dark, on a bike, flying downhill, in the middle of the night.

That doesn’t seem like the behavior of a particularly good husband, I think to myself.

Also, I’m also worried for myself. I know from descriptions people who have actually seen this stretch of road in the daylight that there’s a stretch of it that just drops off into empty space on either side of the shoulder…not a good place to fall down.

To get a sense of what I mean, check out Cody Larkin’s really awesome video from this year’s Rockwell Relay. The whole thing is worth watching (this is what happens when a racer brings some skill and good equipment to film their experience, instead of just saying, “everyone take video and pics with their phones”), but the freaky section I’m talking about is from around 4:30 – 5:00.

But I’d be riding this in the dark, naturally. Which, now that I think about it, is almost certainly a lot less scary than riding it during the daytime.

Please, Just Stop It

I was, as I may have just mentioned (at great length, and with no small number of asides), nervous. Anxious. Jumpy. And very, very caffeinated.

Which might have made it a not-awesome time for the exchange point volunteer to do what she did next.

Specifically, she talked to me. No, that’s not specific enough. It’s what she said. It’s how she said it.

“I want you to be careful on your ride,” she said to me, looking earnestly into my eyes.

“I will be,” I said. Hey, I’m 48, have a mortgage, about twenty people who rely on me for room and board, and at least seven readers (quite possibly more!) who would be mighty disappointed if I veered off the edge of the road.

“No,” she said, urgently. Maybe even stridently. “I want you to be very, very careful and don’t take any unnecessary risks.”

“I won’t,” I replied. “This is our fourth year here; we know what this section of the race is like.”

“I don’t think most of you racers know how dangerous this road can be,” she said.

Okay, now she was just freaking me out. 

She continued.

“If you crash on this road, you could definitely die.”

“Please,” I said, “Stop it. Just stop it. You’re not helping me by saying things like that.”

She took the hint. But not very well. 

“Will your racer be coming in soon?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “My wife. She should be here any second.”

“Oh, I hope she’s OK,” the woman said. “There are so many deer out there, and they seem to like to jump out in front of things.”

I turned away. This might have been rude, but I did not want to hear another word from this woman.

She kept talking.

“A lot of the racers coming down are saying they’re just freezing cold from the descent. All shivering and hardly able to control their bikes. Was your racer dressed warmly?”

“We put a jacket and warm gloves on her at the beginning of the descent,” I said over my shoulder.

“Oh, I hope that was enough,” she replied.

I contemplated crossing to the other side of the street to wait for The Hammer. Anything to get away from this Oracle of Doom and Despair.

I didn’t have to, though, because at that moment, The Hammer rolled up, and I — oh so grateful to get away — took the baton, gave The Hammer a kiss, and rolled away. 

(For what it’s worth, The Hammer was freezing cold by the end of her descent.)

Attack!

This was the leg I had been waiting for. This was the leg I had been thinking of when The Hammer told me she was willing to mix things up this year. A long night leg — 56.7 miles long — with a decent amount (3921 feet) of climbing in it. And an elevation profile that looks like this:

NewImage

A quick climb, a big (and, lest we forget, treacherous) descent, a couple of quick steep climbs, more descending, and then a big ol’ grind of a climb, followed by a monster descent to the exchange.

It was that big ol’ grind of a climb that I was looking forward to. It was where I intended to make my public response to the people who had told me earlier about how they were underwhelmed by my performance in my first leg.

Because I can climb. Pretty fast, pretty hard, and pretty much forever.

So I did not hold back, not even at the start. I didn’t expect to work with anyone on this leg — Team Fatty was dangling in the limbo-state between the fast competitive teams and the just-having-fun folks.

I was just going to try to catch and drop as many people as I could.

Standing up and in a much bigger gear than most people would consider wise (but which seems to work pretty well for me) I began charging up the first short climb.

And that’s when I discovered an important truth: If you’re a standing climber and you’ve got a super-powerful bar-mounted light, you need to turn that thing off.

Cuz it’ll pretty much blind you otherwise.

Death Viewed, Dimly

The first climb was over in just a few minutes, long before my team finished getting The Hammer and her bike back into the van. So I was alone as I began the first big descent.

And then, thanks to the amazingly bright full moon, I saw what was on either side of me.

And what was on either side of me was a big drop. Really big. 

I decided I would take the exchange volunteer’s counsel and be very careful indeed. Which is not to say that I went any slower.

No.

It means that I hogged the road in a blatant and egregious way. Not only was I not riding on the shoulder, I wasn’t even riding on the right half of the right side of the road. I stayed, essentially, just a smidgen to the right of the double-yellow line, trying to be as far from both edges of the road as possible. 

Strava tells me that on this portion of the route, I hit 44.3mph as my top speed, and that I was slower than roughly a third of the people who have recorded a time. Pretty conservative, right?

Well, it didn’t feel that way to me. I laughed almost entirely the whole way down, partly out of giddy terror, partly out of the sheer weirdness of my when and where (middle of the night, middle of nowhere), and partly — let’s go with mostly — because this is in fact a really incredibly fun descent.

I Am Emotional

Before I got to the bottom of this big descent, my team caught me — which indicates a pretty impressive driving performance on Kenny’s part — and then passed me, so they were prepared to help me get out of my windbreaker for the hours of climbing I had in front of me. 

I pulled into the overlook where they were parked, stopped, still straddling my bike.  “Hi there,” I said, “it’s good to see you guys,” and I stuck my arms straight out without explanation. I knew they would know what to do.

Expertly, one of my teammates undid the snaps on my reflector vest. Expertly, another pulled my windbreaker off. Expertly, the first teammate snapped the reflector vest back in place. 

Total time: maybe seven seconds.

“I cannot believe how incredible our team is,” I said, laughing, and I took off again. 

I ramped up to the speed and power I knew I could maintain without blowing up and started passing people. Sometimes one person at a time, sometimes a couple of racers working together. Occasionally a group of three.

Some try to hold my wheel as I go by. None of them succeed. This is what I do. This is who I am. 

My team passes me often, cheering. Then they pull over and cheer some more. I start laughing, and then crying just a little bit, just for a moment. I am so happy to be where I am, happy to be doing what I am doing, happy to be with the people I am with, happy to be killing it on a bike.

Sure, maybe some of that comes from endorphins, some from sleep deprivation, some from caffeine. But not all of it. Far from all of it. Probably not even most of it.

I catch Alex Lawrence, a guy I know a little bit from Twitter and have just ridden with for the first time earlier that week. He’s riding strong and it costs me something to catch him, but I do it. “Good job, Fatty!” he calls, and asks if there’s anything he can do to help me catch the coed teams ahead of us. 

“Nope, this year we just hope to hold on to the podium at all,” I reply, and keep going, then think about the kind of person — and really, the kind of people — who are so friendly they want to help you, even as you pass them. 

I laugh some more. I love this sport. I love the kind of people who race, while still having fun.

I’m at the top of the big climb now. I don’t even know how many people I’ve passed. I pull over to the side of the van, stop, and put my arms out again.

Within a few seconds, I’ve got my windbreaker back on and zipped up for the last ten miles of this segment of the race.

I pedal the whole way down, still at the limit of what I can do. Still smiling.

Man, I love this race.

PS: I know, this isn’t much of a cliffhanger, but pretend it is. I’ll be back with the next installment this Monday. – FC

PPS: Here’s my Strava of this leg of the race. Ninth overall, taking about 3:02 to do the 56.7 miles / 3921 feet of climbing of this leg. So yeah, I am proud.

22 Comments »

  1. Comment by Thad | 07.3.2014 | 9:11 am

    You blew by us just before the town of Escalante. Looking at a time on Strava and actually seeing that kind of speed are two totally different things. Your description of this leg was the mirror image of how we were feeling. You guys always bring it, well done!

  2. Comment by cyclingjimbo | 07.3.2014 | 9:26 am

    Allez! Allez!

    Well done, Fatty.

    Now go grill some brats for the 4th, and we’ll catch you on Monday. Good holiday to all.

  3. Comment by Evan in CA | 07.3.2014 | 9:54 am

    Great write up, and thanks for sharing the video. Those drop-offs are ridiculous! (Can’t wait to share with my buddy that rode this leg, but maybe not his wife :)

  4. Comment by New Zealand Ev | 07.3.2014 | 10:01 am

    Fantastic post! I love how you describe that you love this sport, t,he people who race and just want to have fun!! That about sums up what I feel like on the bike and I’m sure many others as well!! Thanks

  5. Comment by MikeL | 07.3.2014 | 10:07 am

    I am thinking someone was highly caffeinated when they wrote this installment of the Fatty Cycling Theater.

  6. Comment by Flyin' Ute | 07.3.2014 | 11:01 am

    You are fast Fatty! I was flying and finished in 3:07

    I laughed the whole way down the ridge of Highway 12 as well. I will remember that ride in the full moonlight for the rest of my life!

    It was truly epic.

  7. Comment by wharton_crew | 07.3.2014 | 11:40 am

    OUTSTANDING video – did they use drone technology to capture the aerial footage? I love the section of the road with the drop-offs. It would be so amazing to ride that (preferably in the daylight so you can appreciate the zen/death combination).

    Fatty, I wish I was half as fast as you. Climbing is not my friend, but I can descend like a beast (thanks to gravity).

  8. Comment by owen | 07.3.2014 | 11:48 am

    Fatty don’t let others in on the secret of being a great climber – training and racing on a SS MTB. When you get on a bike with gears on a smooth road it almost feels like cheating. Have a great 4th!!

  9. Comment by Heidi | 07.3.2014 | 12:07 pm

    “I laughed almost entirely the whole way down, partly out of giddy terror, partly out of the sheer weirdness…”

    Holy cow, I’m going to travel to Zion to meet up with a mad man…

  10. Comment by stevo | 07.3.2014 | 1:42 pm

    Good job. Thanks for posting the link of the video. I was one of the two riders (I was in the black kit) on the scary road going through the grand staircase. I was actually glad that we were slow enough getting there to ride that in the daylight. It was a really fun descent, but I’m not sure it would have been in the dark.

  11. Comment by Jeremy | 07.3.2014 | 3:15 pm

    That video was awesome. I love the aerial shots. Makes me want to go race that one. Unfortunately, it’s always at a time I can’t leave work. (It’s in our contract.) Tell them to move it up or back a couple of weeks and I am so there.

  12. Comment by Christina | 07.3.2014 | 3:45 pm

    No sleep plus nerves means I would not have been nearly as polite to that volunteer. I applaud you.

  13. Comment by Kukui | 07.3.2014 | 3:57 pm

    WOW! Bucket List: Must spend an entire cycling season in Utah at least once in this lifetime.

    Happy Independence Day, Fatty! Have a great Fourth of July! =)

  14. Comment by Libby | 07.3.2014 | 4:29 pm

    wow that volunteer certainly does NOT know how to instill confidence! Just how many cyclists died because they didn’t think it was that dangerous?

    She probably isn’t a cyclist.

    As a volunteer I give encouragement…& unless there is something unusual ahead (a sow and cubs perhaps, a washout that wasn’t stressed enough in the opening remarks) just say positive things because a cyclist isn’t going to deliberately try to trash his/her bike!

    That downhill looked amazing & I’d hug the centre line just to stay safe & enjoy the desent!

  15. Comment by Joe Lee | 07.3.2014 | 7:39 pm

    Great account as always.

    I am totally with you on the crying part. Hwile decsending to the finishing of my third lap at dawn in a 24-hour race a few years back I started crying too – for all the same reasons. None of them were sad :)

    Thanks for bringing back that feeling.

  16. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 07.3.2014 | 9:22 pm

    Way to lay down the watts on a night segment Fatty. I was surprised to see on Strava that your watts were higher on the downhill portions than the uphills.

    The video with the remote helicopter was way cool. Must have been a powerful copter to keep up with the cyclists going down that steep hill.

    Its great to have the mutual support you guys have and give each other.

  17. Comment by wharton_crew | 07.3.2014 | 11:17 pm

    Fatty, how can it be that you have raced this relay four times and have never written about the drop off on this segment of road before? super scary!!

  18. Comment by Tristan | 07.3.2014 | 11:56 pm

    Is the Ibis comp only open to US/Canada residents? I tried to donate but the country drop-down only had two options.

    If I’m just being thick, let me know and I’ll chip in.

  19. Comment by leroy | 07.4.2014 | 10:17 pm

    Well this is a coincidence.

    Just last evening my dog earnestly told me to be very, very careful and not to take unnecessary risks.

    But he was trying to convince me to give him my burrito.

    Apparently, dogs don’t have to worry about cholesterol the way we do.

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  21. Comment by Bo | 07.11.2014 | 1:17 pm

    When can we read the rest of the story? Monday was 4 days ago.

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