A Note from Fatty: Hey, look what came in the mail yesterday afternoon:
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 — a 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
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.
“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.)
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:
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.
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.