A Note from Fatty: The 2015 Fat Cyclist Gear Pre-Order is in full swing! Read here for details about the gear, and order here.
Oh, and allow me to drop a nice fat little hint. There’s going to be a contest with a seriously cool prize very soon — and your Fat Cyclist gear purchase is your ticket to win. (And yes, those of you who have already bought your gear will be retro-entered automatically.)
Long ago, I noted the extraordinary difference that a wetsuit can make to a bad swimmer. Essentially, a good wetsuit made for swimming goes a long way toward leveling the playing field in a triathalong. Without one, I could never have completed the swim in an Ironman, and even a half-Iron distance swim would have been an unimaginable stretch.
I’d estimate that, for a non-skilled, inexperienced, untalented swimmer like myself, the wetsuit is doing more than half the work. That the gear contributes more to the effort than the “athlete.” (And yes, I put considerable thought into the sarcastiquotes around “athlete” in reference to considering myself a swimming athlete.)
I’ve often wondered how cycling might be affected by a bike that helps the rider as much as a wetsuit helps a swimmer.
And with the Cannondale Scalpel Carbon Team, I think I have the answer. Consider: it has full suspension (which can be turned on and off at the press of a button). It is incredibly light. It has big wheels that roll over everything. It shifts perfectly and flawlessly.
With it, I was climbing as well as I ever do, but descending everything — technical and non-technical parts of the course — much, much better than I am actually capable of.
The Scalpel was taking this incredibly rough, technical course and smoothing it out beyond belief. In short, on this bike, I am a better rider than I deserve to be.
That said, it doesn’t matter how good a bike is if you simply don’t have the will to take the risk and try.
And that was my problem. Over and over. I’d roll up to a drop, get reallllly close, say “you can do it” to myself…and then choke. I’d just hard brake to a stop, put a foot down, then quickly get out of the line and out of the way. Because invariably, as soon as I chickened out, there’d be someone right behind me who didn’t.
And I’d realize — at least some of the time — that if I’d just have the courage to let the bike keep rolling, things would have been just fine.
Which is a very easy assessment to make here, many days later, while sitting in a comfortable chair.
But when I’m rolling up to what looks like a cliff and I can’t see the bottom and have no idea how or whether this particular line rolls out nicely or just drops…well, I’m grabbing the brakes and climbing off. And at this point, I just don’t see that aspect of me changing, bike fantasticness notwithstanding.
Go ahead. Call me a chicken. I can take it.
Eventually, the True Grit winds down. You do a fun loop here, a fast descent there (with a nasty surprise two hundred feet of climbing right when you’re certain you’re completely done with climbing), and you can tell you’re getting close to the pavement, where you’ll finish the race with the exact opposite of what you’ve been riding for the past several hours: a couple miles of flat pavement.
And you cross the finish line. And if you’re me (which I am), you finish in 4:21:06. Which is a good midpack finish, and better than you deserved, really.
And you’re thirsty. Oh so thirsty, because about ten minutes ago you got that telltale schlluurrkkk sound from your camelbak, and you are out of water.
But there’s nothing to drink at the finish line or elsewhere in the finish area. Which seems to be a strange oversight to have made for a race that happens in the desert.
But no matter. There’s Kenny’s van, and it’s open, and Kenny’s lying on the bench back seat. Moaning. Whimpering, perhaps. He got in there before you (for some reason, I can’t seem to help but refer to myself in the second person right now).
How much before? Four minutes.
What? Just four minutes?
And so you let the What Ifs begin. What if you wouldn’t have stopped to see if that guy needed a tube? What if you wouldn’t have stopped to save a guy’s life? What if you wouldn’t have been such a chicken on all those technical moves, and had ridden them instead of walking them?
Would you have caught Kenny? Maybe — considering the flatness of the finish and the fact that you have gears while he was on a singlespeed —you would have even beat him in a sprint finish.
Maybe. Maybe maybe maybe. But probably not.
And so you ask if you can finish the Coke he has been drinking. Kenny, being Kenny, gives it to you. He’d rather drink beer anyway.
Waiting for the Hammer
And now the wait begins. This is the most anxiety-ridden part of any race for me, on the occasions when I actually do race faster than The Hammer. When I’m actually racing, I don’t worry about her at all. But once the race is done, every minute seems like ten, and I become more and more convinced with each moment that she is hurt. That she is laying on the trail, and she is seriously injured.
Oh, wait. There she is. And she has a big smile. And a very dirty face. And she would like a drink. Sorry, Sweetheart. I finished the Coke ten minutes ago.
Oh, and there’s more about The Hammer. Much more. A whole story more.
Which I will post very soon. But first, I’ve got a little (OK, not very little) surprise tomorrow.
Hey there. I had hoped to finish my race report today. I really really did. No really, I did.
But I haven’t, because I just discovered that I have a day job and it pays the bills and right now I’m doing a few things I need to in order to keep my life from descending into utter chaos, until such time when this blog makes me rich beyond my wildest dreams (should be any day now).
So, here’s what’s going to happen right now in this very short blog post:
- I’m going to write an introduction explaining why I’m not writing the conclusion to my race.
- I’m going to begin a numbered list.
- I’m going to create an extraordinarily self-referential third item in aforementioned list.
- I’m going to remind you to go buy a 2015 Fat Cyclist jersey before the pre-order ends.
- I’m going to tell you about something really great that happened last weekend.
I think this is a good plan…possibly one that I can succesfully execute during my lunch break
Hey, Buy a Jersey Already
The 2015 Fat Cyclist gear is available for pre-order now. It will be — and this is not hyperbole — the best-made, most-comfortable gear I have ever made available. I recommend getting the Race Fit jersey if you want the best warm-weather jersey you’ve ever owned. Buy it a size up if you don’t want it to be skin-tight.
Also, for the love of all that’s good in the world, get yourself a pair of the bib shorts. See, up until recently I have been wearing Rapha bibs because they’re so great. Now I’m wearing these, because they’re every bit as comfortable, with just as good a chamois, but cost half as much.
Finally, if you should get yourself the long-sleeve jersey. Why? Because this is an incredibly nice jersey at a crazy-good price. I have this jersey, and it is the best long sleeved jersey I have ever owned. If you ride in cool weather, you should get it.
There. Three things you should get. Not just because the design this year is great (it is). Not just because the proceeds are going to World Bicycle Relief. But because I am giving you a screaming deal on top-quality gear.
Shop for all my stuff here: http://www.dnacycling.biz/fatcyclist/
Coolest Thing That Has Ever Happened On A Ride
Last Saturday, The Hammer and I went on a long training ride with my niece Lindsey and her boyfriend, Ben.
About a third of the way through the ride, he proposed to her.
She said yes.
A Note from Fatty: Before reading this part of my race report, be sure to check out the previous installments: Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Today you should note that I will be including some foul language. Or at least, I will be discussing the fact that I used foul language, for comedic effect.
Also, you should be aware that my intended comedic effect wasn’t particularly funny.
Staying Behind My Friends
Brad Keyes is the inventor / owner of CarboRocket, which is my go-to energy drink for endurance events.
He is also a member of the Core Team — one of the guys I’ve been riding with ever since I’ve been riding.
He’s also one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
Finally, he is both fast and technical. Much stronger and faster than I ever have been, or ever will be.
Sadly, he has a pornstache, making him terrifying to women and small children. And men. Perhaps especially men.
Here he is, kissing Kenny, as I smile benignly at the camera:
Just in case that isn’t creepy enough for you, here he and I are right before the race:
OK, it may not be entirely clear which of the two of us is creepier in this photo.
Oh, and one more photo, just because it’s nice to know what folks who are going to appear in the story later look like:
From right to left, that’s Cori, Kenny, Brad, Brad’s tongue, and me. But enough terrifying photography already. Let’s get back to the story.
Brad, Kenny, and Cori were all racing on singlespeeds, while I was racing a geared bike in my age division (40-49). Which meant that we were all starting in the same combined wave. However, with my start waaaay in the back, I knew all three were ahead of me.
Or at least I thought they were.
Somewhere along the technical section of the Zen trail, Cori caught and passed me. The only thing that surprised me about this fact was that I thought he was already ahead of me.
“So I just went from being sure I was behind all my friends to being really sure I’m behind all my friends,” I thought to myself. But hey, I was OK with that.
No, I’m just kidding. I wasn’t OK with that at all.
But — apparently — my friends didn’t care about my feelings, and continued to stay ahead of me.
And then something happened.
I was bombing down what is arguably (i.e., I would happily make this argument) the single most fun part of the race: the Bear Claw / Poppy trail (linked video is not mine, but gives a great sense of the trail).
The Scalpel was in its element; I was flying down this trail faster and more confidently than I ever have before. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised (but I was anyway) when, looking very far ahead off into the distance, I saw Brad.
And then I saw him far off ahead in the distance, but not quite as far as before.
And then he was not that far away. Indeed, he was somewhat close.
And then I was right on his tail. At which point it struck me that this would be an awesome time to make a hilarious joke.
Oh, and also I knew exactly what that hilarious joke ought to be: I would let loose with a massive string of angry profanity at the top of my lungs, demanding he immediately get out of the way!
Is it any wonder that I am a beloved internet cycling blog comedy superstar?
I let loose. You wouldn’t believe how loose I let. I was shocked by my loosity.
Brad merely moved right, yielding the left line to me.
At which point I stopped understanding how my prank was funny. Eventually I’m sure it will come back to me.
“Hey Brad,” I said as I pulled alongside.
“Hey Fatty, have a good race!” he replied. “And if you go hard, Cori’s just a couple minutes ahead.”
I resolved to remove “pretend outrage” from my joke quiver. Although now that I think about it, this is not the first time that I’ve made such a resolution.
The Hardest Climb IN THE WORLD
With Brad behind me, the biggest climb of the day was ahead: Stucki Springs. And this climb is huge. Monumental, maybe. Soul-crushing, really. In fact, I don’t think it would be out of line for me to suggest that this climb is the most difficult mountain biking climb in the entire world.
I base this, of course, upon my experience from a few weeks ago, when Kenny and Brad vanished off in the distance during this climb, and The Hammer had to hold back in order not to leave me toiling solo in the wind.
It was in fact this climb that had been my big bugaboo for this race. My memory of it was that of pure exhaustion and misery.
So it was a little bit of a shock to find that this time, it was no big deal. I climbed it fast, frequently passing people, without difficulty or incident.
It is so weird how, in cycling, a climb can be so difficult on one ride that you are utterly convinced that it is — objectively — an impossible task. And then the next time you just…ride it.
Hitting the summit, I asked myself, “So, is this actually a hard climb, or an easy one? Which time was I correct?“
So much of cycling happens inside your head.
PS: No cliffhanger today. I’ll post the final installment of this race report on Monday, with The Hammer’s report on Tuesday. And then some new awesomeness I’m not going to tell you about ’til Wednesday.
After the race, I met up with the man whose life I had saved just a few hours ago.
No, I didn’t come to visit him in the hospital, where he had just been released from the ICU. In fact, I met him while standing in line to get the post-race meal we got as part of the race.
He was there, as you might suspect, because I had saved his life so well that he had been able to finish the race.
He thanked me. Because I’m awesome at life-saving.
How to Save a Life, Part 1
The thing is, his wasn’t the only life I had saved during this race. Earlier, I had noticed a racer walking his bike down the trail. His rear tire was clearly flat.
Pulling to a stop, I said, “I have stuff to fix a flat. Want it?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve had three flats today already. I’ve had enough. I’m done.”
“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “You don’t want to quit this race, right?”
“You might need that to fix a flat of your own,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, but if that happens, I guarantee someone will help me out. People around here are like that,” I said. Which is totally true. I am 100% certain that anyone who needed help during this race would have gotten that help in short order (exactly this happened, in fact). Which is an awesome vibe to have during a race.
“No, I’m going to take three flats as a sign that this just isn’t meant to be,” he said. “I’d probably crash and die on my next flat.”
I had volunteered my stuff (at least) three times, and he had turned it down each time, enough that I felt like he wasn’t being polite. He really had flipped the switch. He was done.
So I left him without giving him what he needed to ride again, thus preventing him from almost certainly having a horrific, life-ending crash.
It felt good to have saved his life.
How to Save a Life, Part 2
I confess that this first saving of a life may not have been all that dramatic. I would now like to further warn you that you probably aren’t going to feel like all this buildup to the cliffhanger I set you up for yesterday isn’t going to be worth it, either.
In which case I would like to offer you a refund of your ten minutes.
As I concluded in yesterday’s post, I was riding strong. Feeling great. Happy to be outside and riding my heart out.
Then I saw a man, not on his bike. Walking up an incline — a steep incline, to be sure, but not unrideable. He was slowly pushing his bike, clearly in agony.
I recognized that agony. I’ve been there before, pushing my bike because I was in too much pain to ride.
That’s how you keep moving forward when your quads and hamstrings are both locked up, fully cramped.
The pain is incredibly intense. I swear, it feels like you are going to die.
I slowed to his pace. Which, basically, means I was going just slightly faster than a trackstand. “Cramps, both legs?”
“Yes,” he grunted between clenched teeth. “It’s killing me.”
“I’m going to save your life,” I said. And — very dramatically, as is my way — I climbed off my bike and produced a fliptop tube of Gu Roctane Electrolyte Capsules.
“Take a handful of these and you’ll be back on your bike in no time,” I said. He stuck out his hand and I shook half a dozen (maybe more) pills into his hand.
“All of them, right now,” I emphasized. “They’ve brought me back from cramps just like yours. They’re a lifesaver.”
He nodded, popped them into his mouth, and washed them down.
“Good luck,” I said, and got back onto my bike.
Clearly, I am a hero. A life-saving hero.
Still, as I rode off — my heart full and my chest puffed out — I couldn’t help but wonder: Under what circumstances would I accept and unquestioningly swallow a handful of pills (pills that had not been identified, no less) from a complete stranger?
While racing and cramping so bad I thought I might die, came back the obvious answer.
Which made me feel like even more of a hero. Because I am.
How to Save a Life, Parts 3 and 4
I had been out Carborocket for about ten minutes, and already I was getting concerned. I drink quite a bit less than most people do during races, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to not have water available when I need it.
Fortunately, about fifty feet after I had saved this (second) man’s life, I arrived at a popup tent. Beneath, a man stood, fiercely guarding several containers of water.
OK, it’s possible he wasn’t guarding the water. In fact, it’s possible he offered it to me freely.
You could even say he saved my life by refilling my Camelbak, though I might quibble with you on that score, due to my aversion to hyperbole.
Anyway, with my Camelbak replenished, I continued on, feeling like I probably would not need to stop again for water.
I was right, but I was also kind of wrong. Because not ninety minutes later, I came across the official aid station. Which means I had refilled my Camelbak with unofficial water!
I chose to press on. Indeed, thanks to the location of this unofficial aid station I had unwittingly used, I thought that I would not be using any official aid station for the entirety of the race.
And then, as I passed by, I stopped suddenly. For I had seen…a can of Coke.
A can of Coke, I tell you.
“Can I have that Coke?” I asked the aid station person.
“Sure,” this Angel of Heaven replied, and commenced to pour it over a cup full of ice.
I drank. It was glorious. I had not even realized that I had been dying, but this Coke was so wonderful that there is no possible other explanation of its perfection than that I needed it in order to survive.
Thereby was my own life saved.
Next: A Flashback
I had one more loop — on a trail called “Barrel Ride” or “Barrel Roll” or “Big Barrel Full of Rolling Riders” or something like that. And then a mostly-downhill ride to the finish line.
So you’d think this story is mostly over. But you’d be wrong, because tomorrow I’m going to flash this story back to earlier in the race, when I was a terrible person to some of my very best friends.
A Note from Fatty: If you’re catching up with this story, you should read the prologue first, then part 1, then this. Otherwise, you’re going to miss out on…well, not much, really. But still: please read them. Or I’ll be all sullen for the rest of the day.
Things have changed.
As a darned-near-49-year-old-man, it’s rare that I get to say this, but as I hit the first climb of the day, it was immediately apparent. For one thing, I stayed seated for about 3/4 of the climb; a winter of TrainerRoad has changed my riding behavior. Instead of hitting everything like a singlespeeder (whether I’m on a singlespeed or not), I was shifting to a lower gear and spinning.
Oh, and instead of a fully rigid singlespeed, I was on a technological marvel of a bike: a full-suspension Cannondale Scalpel Carbon Team, complete with a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, a fork that…doesn’t fork, and high-zoot ENVE XC wheels.
Sadly, I was killling myself a little too hard to take a selfie, but here I am with this beauty of a bike on the exact same course, wearing the exact same thing as I did during the race, but a few weeks earlier:
So really, you just need to imagine a lot of people around me. And also, I’m about four pounds lighter now than I was back then.
Anyway, while I am probably a hardtail guy at heart, this Scalpel was beginning to change my mind about full suspension.
After the first big climb — a great chance for me to move forward a few places in the group — the True Grit Epic puts you on rolling dirt roads for a few miles, punctuated with short stretches of singletrack.
I got into a nice uncomfortable riding groove, repeatedly telling me several important facts about this race:
- I would not place well. As a 48-year-old man, I was in the largest age group division: 40-49. There were 99 of us, and I recognized more than ten names of people who are much faster than I am. I would not get on the podium. I would not even get close.
- I had no objective. With a course that was changed from previous years, and with weather that was better than in any previous years, previous finish times of my competitors meant nothing. I wasn’t racing against anyone, and I wasn’t even racing against a clock. I was just racing. Going hard as practice for going hard.
- I could get injured. This course is no joke. It’s mostly extremely technical singletrack. To ride all of it would require mountain biking skills beyond what I’ve got. All the fancy suspension and geometry in the world won’t prevent me from panic-braking and going over my handlebars. The season hasn’t even begun, really. I would err on the side of caution.
During this few miles, I slowly reeled in a guy on a very nice Ibis Ripley. As I finally caught him, I said, “Hey, that is a really nice bike.”
He did not reply.
“Super nice Ripley,” I said, again.
That’s when I saw the earbuds in his ears. Both ears.
I’d see this guy probably a dozen more times during the day, but I never tried talking with him again. When I passed him, I didn’t bother calling it out. And I noticed other people frustrated with getting no response from as they called out they were coming by on one side or the other, too.
I’m not one to preach about listening to music while on your bike. Not even during races. Do what you want to do. But how about this: During a race, don’t listen to your music to the extent that you are unaware of your fellow racers. It’s dangerous, and it’s rude.
A Really Nice Surprise
I promise, that was the absolutely last grumpy thing I’m going to say about this day, in large part because it’s the only even slightly bothersome experience I had from the day.
It was mid-March and sunny, with temperatures staying in the 70s. The wind was never stronger than a couple miles per hour: just enough to be pleasant.
People were courteous. Those of us who were tentative on some of the really technical stuff were doing our best to get out of the way of those who are technical superstars.
And the course was marked beautifully.
I can’t emphasize what a wonderful relief that was.
As a person who is…um…challenged with directions and course markings in general, I had been really nervous about the True Grit Epic, especially after pre-riding the course a few weeks earlier with Kenny. Both The Hammer and I had agreed that we would never have succeeded in making the correct turns in this labyrinth of trails; we were sure to get lost or misread the course.
But I didn’t. Ever. Not one single problem with seeing the course, not one blown turn, not one question in my mind about whether I was currently going on an unmarked adventure.
Every single turn was indicated, and most places where you shouldn’t turn were taped off or marked with a “Wrong Way” sign.
I don’t think I ever went more than fifty feet without seeing a course marking, making it so I could spend all my time concentrating on riding well and trying to be fast.
GRO Productions deserves kudos galore for their extraordinary work in making this one of the easiest-to-follow courses I’ve ever been on, especially in light of how it could have easily been one of the most confusing.
Looking for The Hammer
Before long, I encountered a racer buddy / friend: Mark Nelson. He and I aren’t related (as far as I know) but we seem to have similar power, similar speed. I’ve ridden a big chunk of the 6 Hours of Frog Hollow with him. I’ve ridden a smaller chunk of the Rockwell Relay with him.
And here at the True Grit Epic, for the next two hours or so, we’d be playing a game of leapfrog. I passed him on every climb. He passed me on every descent.
I tried to get him to talk during the climbs; he tried to get me to follow his line over more technical terrain than I should have during descents.
All the while, however, I kept looking back over my shoulder. Because I was looking for my real competition: The Hammer.
Yes, I viewed my wife as the most important competition I had in this race.
Yes, also I realize that’s kind of messed up.
But here’s the thing. When The Hammer and I pre-rode the True Grit course a few weeks ago, she killed me. She was faster on the climbs. She was nearly as fast on the descents.
And — very importantly — she got stronger and faster as the day went on…while I started sagging.
The below photo, for example, shows her easily riding behind me as I do my level best to not let her hang:
This had caused me some concern for the race day. Because, you see, if The Hammer caught me, it didn’t mean we were racing together, it meant that she had made up the five minutes between our starting waves.
That said, before the race I had admitted the possibility that this might happen, and had given The Hammer strict instructions on how to interact with me as she passed.
“Don’t make fun of me or yell at me to get out of your way,” I said. “That’s humiliating.”
“OK, no making fun. No humiliating,” she said.
“And don’t tell me I’m doing good as you ride by. That’s condescending and embarrassing and I won’t believe you.”
“Fine. I won’t tell you you’re doing bad, but I won’t tell you you’re doing good, either.”
“Maybe you should just pretend you don’t know it’s me as you go by,” I concluded.
I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering if I’d see her. Whether I’d see her. Whether she’d actually not say anything when she rode by
But she didn’t pass me. I was, I had to admit, riding really strong.
Strong enough, in fact, that I caught up with and passed several racers.
Including a racer who was no longer on his bike.
At which point I got off…and commenced to save his life.
Which seems like a good place to pick up tomorrow.
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