2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 5: Zombies

06.22.2015 | 8:52 pm

Previously in this Story: 

  1. Race Prediction: We Will Lose
  2. Part 0: Generosity and Bratwurst
  3. Part 1: Cold Fury
  4. Part 2: A Day in the Life
  5. Part 3: Winning When You’re Losing
  6. Part 4: The Chase

Each installment of this race report has had a lot of pictures. This episode, sadly, has only one: a selfie Lynette and The Hammer took shortly before The Hammer’s second turn on the bike: 

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That’s Lisa, right before she discovered that the battery on her headlamp…had not held a charge. Luckily, it was no problem; I had brought a spare battery for The Hammer’s light, which Cory had found and plugged in.

Good thing we had brought that spare.

Ode to Boulder

Leg 6, Torrey – Boulder, is about forty miles long, and has the simplest elevation profile of any leg in the race

Screenshot 2015 06 23 07 10 35

Twenty-five miles up (about 4000 feet total climbing), then rocket fifteen miles down. Back when I did a pre-race video chat with other racers about The Rockwell Relay, we spent a disproportionate amount of time talking about this particular leg of the race, because it looms large in the memory of anyone who’s ridden it.

It’s dark. You’re in the mountains. You’re climbing for what feels like forever. And then you’re flying down the other side (still in the dark, obviously), feeling like you’re on a sub-arctic rollercoaster.

To be clear, I mean all of this in a good way. In fact, after riding it the first time (in my first racing of the Rockwell Relay), I described it as “the single best ride I have ever had on a bike.”

In short, this ride sticks with you.

Marci is Fast

In addition to everything I’ve already said about the Boulder Mountain leg, this year it was the site of the KOM/QOM challenge: a timing mat at the top of the climb would give results for the fastest man and woman in the 25-ish mile climb.

I had no idea who the KOM winner would be, but I was pretty much certain of who the QOM winner would be: Marci, on team Infinite Stamina. 

[Speculation Alert] In fact, I suspect that it was with an eye toward this twenty-five mile climbing challenge that she had taken on the role of racer two on the team, instead of racer one. Why else would a climbing specialist like Marci opt out of the racer slot with by far the most climbing (racer one does 10,233 feet of climbing over all three legs; racer two does 6,346 over all three legs)? [/Speculation Alert]

The Hammer and I are well-acquainted with Marci’s climbing prowess. The Hammer’s job at this year’s Rockwell Relay was to limit damage; not prevent it.

“I have ten thousand dollars on Marci beating you to the top of Boulder,” Troy said to The Hammer as she waited for me at the exchange. “Don’t prove me wrong.”

Troy was looking for banter, but it wasn’t a good time for it. I know she’s a faster climber than I am, you don’t need to rub it in, The Hammer thought to herself. 

Aloud, The Hammer said, “I’m just going to ride and listen to my music.” Disturbed. Three Days Grace. Metallica. Lots and lots of Metallica. Some people are a little surprised at The Hammer’s music tastes. (When we first started dating, I know I was.)

I came in to the exchange, bellowing “Lisa! Lisa!” I knew that would be the only way she’d be able to know it was me, with my very bright headlamp (the incredible NiteRider Pro 1800 Race) making it impossible to see anything but the light as I approached.

We exchanged “I love yous” as Cory (or was it Lynette? I can’t remember) swapped the timing anklet to Lisa, and then she was gone.

The Hammer went as hard as she could, telling herself she would hold off the Infinite teams as long as she could.

And she did an amazing job, taking the 1:11 I had given her and using it to keep in front of the duo of Marci and Billy for a full seventeen minutes.

Then, Marci slingshotted around Lisa and Billy, flying ahead, as Billy said to Lisa, “Well, I’ve caught Marci up to you; my job is done.”

Billy then sat on Lisa’s wheel for a few moments, presumably catching his breath, and then attacked, racing to catch up with Marci.

The Hammer pulled back, finding her climbing groove.

Marci put on a climbing clinic for the rest of Boulder Mountain; she’d easily win the QOM challenge with a time of 1:50:20. Billy would finish just a little behind her with a very solid 1:52:36, nearly earning a coveted spot in the KOM Challenge top 10. (Earlier, I incorrectly thought Billy had taken eleventh place in the KOM challenge, due to looking at the “rank” column instead of the “gender place” column in the challenge results – FC)


And what was The Hammer’s time? She took third second in the QOM challenge, with a 2:01:37. For what it’s worth, two or three minutes of that time was when she stopped about a half mile before the timing mat and we bundled her up. Insulated tights. Jacket. Heavy gloves. (Earlier, I listed The Hammer as having taken third in the challenge, due to an error in the results which put a man’s time as second in the QOM contest. This has since been corrected. – FC)

The Hammer did not want a repeat of last year’s freezefest descent

We then shot ahead of her, doing our best to stay far enough ahead that we wouldn’t be a hazard or a drafting violation to her, but close enough that if a deer jumped out onto the road, it would hit the van, not her. 

Vans are easier to repair.

We didn’t see any deer as The Hammer descended. Not this year.

But…we did see zombies.

You may think I am kidding, but I am absolutely positively not kidding

As we got about halfway down Boulder Mountain, we saw the first one: one man, on the left side of the road, walking in the same direction we were going.

OK, “walking” isn’t the right word. More like, “stiffly shambling down the road, arms hanging limply at his side.”

Dressed in tan and grey. 

He did not turn and look at us as we approached. He did not react to us in any way at all.

I took very little notice of him.

But in another couple hundred feet, I saw another person. Dressed similarly (but not identically): muted colors. Also walking like a zombie. Also utterly ignoring our car.

And then there was another. And another and another. Every fifty to 200 feet: a solitary (or, occasionally, a pair) figure in tan and gray, slowly walking down the road. 

And get this: it was almost exactly midnight when we saw them.

Zombies. I swear. Maybe twenty or thirty of them, all told. It was unsettling.

Later, after the race, I asked everyone who had been there if they saw them. Yes, they had. Did they seem really weird? Yes, they did.

Zombies? Without question.

I know that quite a few of the folks reading these posts also raced the Rockwell Relay. I’m calling on all of you to confirm that I am telling the truth and not exaggerating even a tiny bit. (And also, if you know what was going on, I’m curious to know, although I think whatever the real explanation is will be a disappointment, compared to: ZOMBIES!)

Comfy Slippers, Part 1

After the terror of the zombies had (sort of) worn off, we stepped on the gas, leaving The Hammer to descend Boulder Mountain (and survive the post-apocalyptic horror of shambling undead humans) on her own. 

Getting to and getting ready for the Boulder exchange is always tricky. Your cyclist is coming down the mountain practically as fast as your vehicle can (sometimes faster); you don’t have a lot of time to unload the bike and get in position for the exchange.

So Cory changed clothes while Lynette expertly drove down the mountain. We found a parking place, then I hopped out of the car and unloaded Cory’s bike while he found a place to take a quick leak.

I walked down with Cory to where the timing mat was. 

I noticed he was still wearing his comfy slipper-shoes, not his bike shoes.

“What’s up with those?” I asked.

“I’ll change into my bike shoes once we get to the mat,” Cory explained. 

Except The Hammer arrived at the mat even as he said that, hollering Cory’s name. 

We hustled the last twenty feet to the timing mat and I swapped the timing chip onto Cory’s leg as he…put on his shoes. The Hammer gave me the “What’s this all about?” look. I returned her look with the “I have no idea” shrug. 

As it turns out, The Hammer had gotten to the mat even faster than we had expected because another speedy woman (sorry, I don’t know who — she isn’t on The Hammer’s Strava Flyby of the leg) had caught her on the descent, and The Hammer had used her as a guiding light to get down in incredibly fast time. In fact, The Hammer recovered two minutes on the Infinite duo in that descent.

We sent Cory off into the dead of night — it was nineteen minutes after midnight as he left — and then walked back to the van to load The Hammer into the car. 

With The Hammer just having finished a ride, with Cory on a ride, and with Lynette up next to ride, I was now the guy whose job it was to handle crewing duties.


So as I loaded The Hammer’s bike into the van, I asked Lynette, “Are you all set for your race in a couple hours?”

As it turns out, she wasn’t all set. 

As it turns out, Lynette had no lights. Because, it turns out, Cory had given Lynette’s lights to Danny, against whom Lynette would soon be racing. And The Hammer’s spare battery…had become her primary battery when it turned out that her primary battery hadn’t held a charge.

This, along with the barely-squishy rear tire on Lynette’s bike, meant that I’d be busy, and would need to make some creative judgement calls between the hours of midnight and 3:00am…not generally my best thinking time.

Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this report.


  1. Comment by Danny | 06.23.2015 | 12:15 pm

    Wow, my conniving plans with the bike light worked! :). Actually, the story to borrowing that light is kind of silly. I realized that I left mine in the garage, but figured our team had plenty of spares (which I later found out they did). I made the mistake of telling my dad (the one driving the RV, and the only non-race driver on our crew) that I had forgotten my light. I wasn’t worried, but I should have known my dad would go into hyper-worry mode. That’s just the way he is. When he spotted your support vehicle which was obviously a van from a bike shop, he determined to go over there and buy a light. Neither of us knew at the time, that it was our rival’s vehicle. Cory was naturally nice enough to just loan the light, and I didn’t even think to mention it to my team mates because… hey I had a light :). Moral of the story is to not use a van that apparently advertises “Lights for sale” :).

    For what it’s worth, I am exactly the same as your dad in that respect. – FC

  2. Comment by yannb | 06.23.2015 | 12:16 pm

    While our rider DaveT was out during that same leg, we also saw those people on the side of the road walking in a trance like state, all dressed more or less the same. It was quite creepy. We also called them “the zombies”. At the end of the race where we saw Elden and Lisa, we asked them if they had seen them too, sure enough they had. It was the weirdest thing we had ever seen. None of us were able to take pictures of them as we were flying down the mountain to get ahead of Dave to get Chris ready for his leg.

  3. Comment by Danny | 06.23.2015 | 12:22 pm

    I was driving support for Billy and Macy, and yeah we saw the Zombies too. I was genuinely worried that a driver or a cyclist was gong to hit them. They had no reflectors or anything to make them visible, and you came up on them really fast.

    Billy actually had to stop for about 2 minutes just below the summit because he was bonking and was really light headed. Once he got some food in him, he was right back to his fast climbing form which was good to see. I had some warm clothes for Marci to use on the descent, but our stop to help Billy meant that Marci was over the summit before we could catch up to her. So she had a few minutes of cold descending before we caught up and she stopped to don some warmer gear.

  4. Comment by MattC | 06.23.2015 | 12:24 pm

    Wow….what a crazy story! If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s somebody’s idea of a bizarre prank to FREAK out a bunch of people they don’t know, who will have NO idea what’s going on…just a bunch of people dressed and acting like zombies in the middle of nowhere in the middle of night…(actually, I really love that idea!) It’s either that, or the zombie-apocalypse is much closer than I suspected and I need to get some more ammo (were they by chance headed WEST towards California?)

    And the lights…I KNEW loaning out that set would come back to bite you! What a cliffhanger!

    I’ve wondered about the possibility (probability?) of it being a prank. If so, monster-sized kudos to those who did it. It was a spectacular, strange, surreal moment. – FC

  5. Comment by Eric | 06.23.2015 | 12:24 pm

    I don’t know how your reports seem to get better and better, but they do. I’m almost to the obsessive stage of checking this blog to catch the next installment. Kudos!

  6. Comment by Troy | 06.23.2015 | 1:30 pm

    I bet they were zombies. We saw them too and they never looked at us, weird cloths, weird people, glad I was in the SAG vehicle. If they did it as a joke that was a great idea. Next time they need to be carrying an arm or a detached leg for some extra effect.

    I’m sorry if my teasing Marci I had 10 G’s on her made Lisa feel bad in anyway. It certainly was not my intention, just joking to lighten the mood. I had teased Marci earlier I put the bet down in Vegas that she would take the QOM. It’s telling that Marci was 8th overall in the KOM/QOM of all Rockwell #2 rider.

  7. Comment by Billy | 06.23.2015 | 2:41 pm

    This was the first time I had ridden as Rider #2 at Rockwell — the previous two years I was in Rider #1 (I’m “the Billygoat, after all”), and so I wasn’t sure what I was up against with this Boulder Mtn climb. Troy had put my mind at ease, telling me that it was no biggie, that I’d be fine, but I was also hearing mutterings from other participants that “it was the hardest climb I’d ever do”. I knew that wasn’t true — I’d seen the elevation profile — but the fatigue, sleep deprivation, and sheer distance of the climb kept me plenty nervous. As I mentioned before, my main objective was to try to stay with Marci for the entire climb — after all, Marci and I climb nearly identically, though she is usually just slightly faster (this is why we are frequently paired together for this relay, and will ride/train together on occasion). That is a good (but usually painful) thing for me. It means I have a carrot to chase and motivate me all the way to the top.

    Marci was motivated to close the gap and catch Lisa right out of the gate, and I was determined to help in whatever way I could. Because the first part of this leg is flatter and relatively fast, I was able to contribute to the chase. I was very happy when we came up on Lisa, because it meant we would maybe turn it down a notch. As you mentioned, I was looking for some recovery when we caught up to Lisa and grabbed her wheel. I don’t actually remember saying to The Hammer that I had “done my job”, but may have muttered those words after The Hammer said with tenacity “You’re not riding my a** up this climb!” Shortly after, Marci charged up ahead, and I was wondering if this would be the moment I would lose her for the rest of the climb. But stewing on The Hammer’s comment for that brief moment immediately left me thinking “Nope, you’re going to chase us all the way up this thing!”, and seemed to recharge me enough to bolt back up toward Marci and leave her behind.

    The funny thing is, since Marci had left both of us in her dust, the dark made things a little more difficult for me. Marci could not tell who was closing in on her, so each time, as I would nearly catch her wheel, she would accelerate away from me. I was gasping “Marci, it’s me! You’re killing me!” but I wasn’t quite close enough for her to hear my pleadings. After about the third attempt to grab her wheel, I managed to catch up to her and get beside her. She realized it was me and said “Oohhh, I thought you were Lisa when I kept seeing the headlamp creep up on me!” D’oh! She laughed. I cried with joy now that she knew it was me.

    Once we took a look back and Lisa was nowhere in site, we realized we were both cramping (calves and quads), and discussed what we should do. The decision was to settle into a reasonably comfortable climbing pace — nothing too blistering — and just focus on staying together. Whew, I was relieved that Marci wasn’t at 100%, or I’m confident she could have done this several minutes faster and I would have had to suffer alone up this thing. Admittedly, it does a lot for the mind just to have a riding companion up a two-hour climb. I continued to yo-yo with her through different parts of the climb. Marci would pull ahead, and I would dig a little bit to catch back up to her. A lot of the climb we were side-by-side, keeping each other at the perfect pace.

    Nearing the top, three guys wearing blue Intermountain jerseys come flying by (stacked with Cat 1/2/3 men) and Marci asks “Should we jump on their wheel?” I laughed and said, “uh, no thanks”. I thought maybe she was joking, but in hindsight, she may have actually been serious and strong enough to do it. Thank goodness we didn’t, because a couple more miles up the road, and all of a sudden I was dropping off of Marci’s wheel, barely holding 7 mph and feeling faint and dizzy. Oh crap, the dreaded bonk. I recognized it right away, and immediately looked for my sag support. Fortunately they weren’t too far away. I downed a Gatorade, a banana, and a stack of Pringles, and decided to throw on my jacket while I was stopped. I lost just short of about two minutes altogether because of my slowing and stop, and had lost sight of Marci. Then I forged on ahead, crested the KOM summit, and spotted Marci (five minutes and the stack of Pringles later, I was feeling okay again!). Turns out she had stopped just after the summit to put on her jacket, and it gave me enough time and ample motivation to catch back up to her.

    Our ride down together didn’t last long though, since Marci struggled to stay with me on the descent. She may be a great climber, but it comes with a real disadvantage when the hills tip down. She stayed about 200+ yards back from me for the majority of the descent, cautiously navigating the road to avoid deer. I think both of us were relieved to have each other’s shining headlamps in the near distance, since neither of us wanted an encounter with any rabbits or deer. But like was mentioned, it turns out the deer were the least of our concerns — as we rolled by the, what the…, zombies!, or as Heath put it, “The Flannel People!”, it was a completely different kind of terror we experienced. I’m wouldn’t be surprised if our Strava data reported a spike in heart rate about half-way down the descent. If it was creepy from the inside of a vehicle, let me assure you, it was especially creepy from the seat of a bicycle — seemingly alone and feeling particularly vulnerable. Even if I was tired and unmotivated to pedal much, I may have inadvertently pedaled quite a bit faster through that section. I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just talking about it again. Seriously creepy stuff. I was wondering if I was dreaming or hallucinating when I was witnessing all of this. The whole experience of riding a bike at midnight is surreal enough without throwing zombies into the mix!

    I rolled in slightly ahead of Marci if I remember right, but Marci was not far behind, just in time to hand off to Troy and Big D. The team was praising us for killing it, and we were feeling really good about the time we had put on Lisa and team SBR-WBR. Now if we could just hang on through these critical nighttime legs, and not botch any transitions (like we did so many times last year), we might actually be able to hold on to this slight lead…

  8. Comment by Dave T | 06.23.2015 | 3:21 pm

    I really like this leg as well. And this year I actual got to see some of it since I started it just before night fall. It was fully dark on the decent though and yes the first thought when the first one came into sight, Zombies. Second thought o great I may not freeze like last year on this decent but I have to get through a horde of zombies. They just kept appearing in the middle of nowhere.

  9. Comment by Billy | 06.23.2015 | 3:25 pm

    BTW, Marci was slotted in Rider #2 and not #1, largely because it was determined that I would pair best with her. I think she was game and all for riding in #1 again — after all, climbing is her thing (in fact, she still wanted to ride Rider #1’s 3rd leg (Leg 9) because she loves it so much). But I was insisting on doing Rider #2 to change it up and try something new this year. And hey, Boulder Mtn is still plenty of climbing, so we figured it was a climber’s second-best option. So rather than put her in #1, she was relegated to Rider #2 (and she was still plenty excited about it — they’re both lots of fun).

    The truth is, it can prove to be tricky to pair riders from multiple teams, so that they are most likely to stick together through each of their legs at similar efforts. When putting multiple teams together, your sag plan demands (at least ours did) that you stick together, so there is no benefit to a rider on one of the teams getting too far ahead. You have to get the formula right to remain competitive, while accommodating each of the team members on things like rider/leg preference. I think the pairings worked pretty well for us this year — each of our riders on the two teams were very complimentary and worked well together.

  10. Comment by Dave (a.k.a "Big D") | 06.23.2015 | 7:12 pm

    Clearly we didn’t communicate the light situation well. I had 3 tail lights and 2 headlights with spare batteries to cover about 15 hours. I didn’t even break into my 2 spare batteries. But it was very good of Cory to loan out a spare light at the risk of your team not having enough. Kudos to him.

    You should be aware that I occasionally (OK, almost always) am prone to exaggerate the seriousness of a situation, for dramatic effect. You will be startled — nay, AMAZED — to find in the next installment of this story that Lynette rode with plenty of light. – FC

  11. Comment by Lyle Beidler | 06.23.2015 | 7:17 pm

    So I’ll probably never race this race, but I think I know what I’m doing next year during this race.
    Drab clothes… Check
    Stage makeup… Check
    Fake blood… Check

  12. Comment by MikeL | 06.23.2015 | 7:46 pm

    Maybe something with a Jurassic Park theme for the riders?

  13. Comment by The Hammer/Lisa | 06.23.2015 | 9:30 pm

    I loved the ride up Boulder Mountain-Just me and my “tunes” in the darkness…so surreal. I experienced no “bonk”, no leg cramps, no stress. I left all that worry and stress to Elden and just enjoyed the moment… But, maybe I was playing the “strategic” game- saving myself and my strength for later when Marci would be able to “see” me coming. :) I guess time would tell! and…..

    Billy I think you must have been a little hypoxic when you approached me, because you clearly said “my job is done, I have delivered Marci to you”, to which I promptly responded that I wasn’t now going to pull your ass up the mountain, you could use Marci for that! If my words motivated you to ride at your limit to catch Marci, that is fantastic! Congrats to both of you on a very, very fast time up the mountain.

    After hearing all these praises for great racing partners, I need to say a few words about my own racing and training partner. Elden, thanks for being so patient with me as I have evolved on the bike. Your patience with me has made me a better climber and a better descender. Thanks for pulling me when I’m tired and encouraging me when i’m frustrated!. Thanks for empowering me to be the best rider I can be even when you’re not there! I love you!

  14. Comment by rb | 06.23.2015 | 10:31 pm

    Continues to be one of the best race reports ever…and not (just) because of Fatty’s writing. The multiple perspectives in detail and well written — a rarity, a first even. Actually HOPING for an 11-parter at this stage.

  15. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 06.24.2015 | 6:01 am

    At least they were the old school slow ambling zombies. The new school fast ones might have been a problem…..

  16. Comment by MLB | 06.24.2015 | 6:16 am

    I have to agree with everybody else’s comments. The race report is awesome! Having such a evenly matched race, multiple racers points of view, Fatty’s incredible story telling ability, incredilble individual efforts on the bike…Awesome.

    I still haven’t decided if the Zombies were a prank on you the racers, or your prank on us the readers. Either way it’s a lot of fun to read, and I’m waiting everyday for the next chapter.

    Thank you.

    From a completely different, unrelated blog from a different team:

    We leave our lane to pass a cyclist and Kim has to slam on the brakes to avoid mowing down three (possibly four) people walking down the mountain in the opposite lane. Despite the fact that they were nearly crushed under three and a half tons of rolling steel and equipment they don’t even flinch or acknowledge our presence. They are dressed in dark, baggy clothes, tatters really and they look like extras from the film set of Walking Dead. Before Thad Kim and I have a chance to ask each other if we all saw the same thing we come upon two more walkers, then another two and a straggler of two after that. maybe a dozen in all.

    - FC

  17. Comment by Will Benton | 06.24.2015 | 7:42 am

    I thought you guys were joking about the zombies! Did the SAGS have brains to offer the zombies?


    You know, we might have given them some brains if they had asked nicely. – FC

  18. Comment by Thad | 06.24.2015 | 10:31 am

    The Zombies.

    We saw them. My Navajo friend says they are the “Ndaa Kaa ii” or walkers. He said there are times when they have don’t acknowledge you, they are on another errand. If they do acknowledge you, they have a message for you, but only talk to them if your heart is in the right place. If you get a bad feeling, it’s not a good idea to receive that message.

    Anyhoo, that’s his explanation.

    Another Blanding resident said it was intoxicated indigenous people.

    We came up with a Rehab night hike.

  19. Comment by Rockstarster | 06.24.2015 | 10:32 am

    I guess you could have hit one, just to see if they really were undead. Cars don’t kill ‘em, do they? :-)

  20. Comment by Welnic | 06.24.2015 | 2:02 pm

    This is great story. Thanks to everybody for posting their side of the story in the comments.

  21. Comment by Eric | 06.24.2015 | 2:17 pm

    My “obsessive checking of Fatty’s blog” (O.C.F.B.) wants a Wednesday installment of Rockwell Relay race report! Guess I’ll have to wait until Thursday.

    Sorry, real life got in the way. I promise a long post early tomorrow.

    (Or, as it turned out, late tonight) – FC

  22. Comment by Tommy91 | 06.24.2015 | 9:53 pm

    Can’t get enough of this. Keep it coming!!

  23. Comment by Matt | 06.25.2015 | 7:14 pm

    Fatty, I can validate the zombies. A few years ago I was driving hells backbone, just outside of Boulder. It started to rain a little ways into our drive, turning the roads slightly muddy. My family and I turned to the right and saw roughly a dozen people, dressed in muted colors (flannel or wool we thought) just staring right through us, like we weren’t even there, completely oblivious to the rain. They were sitting on some boulders, just staring. We had two cars, both cars saw them, and both cars were unnerved. We all still talk about it. Weird.


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