True Grit Epic Race Report, Part Last: A Chicken Does Math

03.31.2015 | 2:38 pm

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.

Small Finish

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.


  1. Comment by Isaac | 03.31.2015 | 2:57 pm

    Just make sure you preface any post with “I absolutely probably promise this definitely isn’t an April fool’s day joke.

  2. Comment by MikeL | 03.31.2015 | 3:05 pm

    I would not call you a chicken. Deep down you are a young middle aged man with a family who depends on him and have unfortunately realized that you are no longer invincible and bullet proof. It is just the way of life. Welcome to the club. It sucks.

  3. Comment by leroy | 03.31.2015 | 4:07 pm

    I don’t mean to brag, but in NYC’s Chinatown, I used to play tic-tac-toe against a chicken.

    Only lost a few times.

  4. Comment by mike | 03.31.2015 | 8:20 pm

    we go ahead, and call you the chicken.
    might be April fool’s prank.
    Great work; keep it up.
    RGPV BE Sem Results Portal RGTU

  5. Comment by Tom in Albany | 04.1.2015 | 5:14 am

    Fatty, I once broke a helmet because I decided to just ‘roll off that cliff.’ Sometimes, it’s worth the extra minutes and the walk.

  6. Comment by Kate | 04.1.2015 | 5:33 am

    I’ve got that chicken move DOWN.

  7. Comment by Shugg McGraw | 04.1.2015 | 6:13 am

    Thanks for the Cannondale Scalpel Carbon Team recommendation. I’d certainly consider accepting one if Cannondale offered.

  8. Comment by Jacob | 04.1.2015 | 7:21 am

    There’s a really nice mountain bike trail at Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia. (It’s called that because there’s the ancient ruins of stone fortifications built by the American Indians living there before European Colonization and it’s a mountain.) The only problem is that there’s this very steep and very rutted descent that is just straight down hill for a half mile. It averages -24% grade. There’s no surprises. You can see the bottom from the top, but it’s so steep and so unlevel that it’s almost impossible to keep the bike under control so you don’t hit a rut wrong and die. I’m not skilled enough to keep the bike under control so I ended up walking almost the entire hill. That’s a LONG walk while holding a bike that really wants to just drag your lifeless body down the hill.

    Honestly, the descent continues for a full mile, but after that half-mile stretch, you turn off the powerline clearing and head back into the woods with a slightly kinder grade, turns and less rutting.

  9. Comment by Diane | 04.1.2015 | 10:22 am

    How big of a drop prompts you to stop? I’d argue that generally the magnitude of the drop correlates with the reasonableness of being chicken, to an end point of not being chicken at all, just sane.

    That said, in the one xc race I tried last year, I would have chickened out on a certain drop had I seen it coming. Based on this one experience, I’d say that when you survive unscathed, the magnitude of the drop also correlates positively with the mad adrenaline rush and general sense of awesomeness experienced.

  10. Comment by Bykjunkie | 04.2.2015 | 2:58 am
    Check out this link. You should always know what is on the other side!

  11. Comment by Sem Esuvidha RTU Results Portal | 04.5.2015 | 11:42 pm

    Why are you waiting for hammer.
    just go and race. you are awesome, man.


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