Crew Report for LoToJa 2015, Part 1: Too Close for Comfort

09.14.2015 | 6:30 am

For most of my life, I’ve been acutely aware of a fact you have no doubt also discovered at some point in your life. Specifically, that the universe revolves around me. 

It’s a strange and wonderful thing, really, being the center of the universe — the person who is doing, at any given point in time, the most important thing that any person could be doing. 

I’ve often suspected, though, that the reason whatever I’m doing at the moment is the most interesting and exciting thing happening anywhere is because the things I do are so dynamic and exciting. 

I’m the guy racing. I’m the guy training. I’m the guy winning eating contests.

Which made me think, recently, “Am I the most important person in any given situation and at any given moment because I’m doing something glamorous and exciting, or are events glamourous and exciting because I am doing them?”

It’s an intriguing question. Which goes without saying, really: the fact that I had this question is enough to make it intriguing, right?

In any case, I decided recently that I would conduct an experiment: instead of being the guy who raced in a race (thus turning the race itself into a glorious, eventful event), I would be the guy crewing for a racer. Specifically, I — along with my intrepid sidekick, the IT Guy — would crew for The Hammer and my niece Lindsey as they raced the 2015 Lotoja, a popular 200+ mile road race from Logan, UT, to Jackson, WY (hence the name). 

Would crewing for a race be as exciting as racing it, if I were the crew? Would it be filled with drama, close calls, tears and laughter and a feel-good conclusion?

Like you even need to ask.

The Day Before the Race

As an astute tactician, I planned thoroughly for every possible eventuality in the Lotoja race. By which I mean, I called The IT Guy and said, “Hey, I’m terrible at directions and finding my way around and stuff; why don’t you come help me crew for your mom and help me not get lost?”

The IT Guy replied, “I won’t commit to helping.” 

I said, “So I should get someone else?”

The IT Guy said, “No, I’ll be there for sure. I just won’t commit to it.”

The IT Guy is a truly strange person, but he’s incredibly good at reading maps and understanding verbal directions. So I stopped worrying about whether we’d make it from checkpoint to checkpoint on time. It would not be a problem.

Then I said to The Hammer, “I’ve got tools, tubes, tires and lube all set for you. Do you want me to figure out your food, too?”

“No, I’ve got that covered,” The Hammer said, and handed me a legal pad containing a detailed list of what she would want at each stop, along with the approximate times she would be at each of these stops.

Which meant, essentially, that my whole job was to make sure there was gas in the truck and to show up on race day.

I felt I was up to that challenge.

The Night Before the Race

As an insightful man with a great deal of foresight, I had the wisdom this year to have my niece fall in love with and marry a man whose parents live about one mile from the starting line of the Lotoja race. I further had the idea to ensure that both he and his parents love cycling.

Which meant not only that The Hammer, The IT Guy and I had a free place to stay the night before Lotoja, but we also had access to Lynne (Ben’s mom), who has crewed for multiple racers seven times. Lynne knows all the tricks of where to go, where to park, where to set up, and how to make sure your riders find you. 

I had her give us a mind-dump of all this information. My mind wandered as she told us everything we needed to know, but I did look over to the IT Guy from time to time and ask, “Are you getting all this?” He was.

“So what are you two wearing tomorrow?” Lynne asked. 

“Uhhh,” The IT Guy and I replied. We hadn’t considered the fact that matching outfits would make us stand out to Lindsey an The Hammer.

Luckily, I generally pack about twenty t-shirts whenever I go anywhere. Including, this time, two bright blue t-shirts: a Racer’s Cycle Service shirt, and an XTerra shirt.

And then we bought a big bunch of helium balloons, which we affixed to a six-foot-long PVC pipe. 

Findability: covered.

Thumb IMG 0010 1024
Here’s the IT Guy in his borrowed shirt. The balloons may look like a festive headdress, but this is merely an illusion.

Now all I needed to do was get Lindsey to give me instructions for what she wanted, crew-wise. She had wisely already put her food in separate bags, and now detailed her needs. They were simple enough, but contained what I considered a distressing amount of pop-tarts and Dr. Pepper. 

I kept my mouth shut, however. This wasn’t the time to start second-guessing her food plan for the race.

OK, I might have said a few things. And also I might have lecutured her a little bit.

OK, I might actually have gone on at some length.

Too Close for Comfort

The Hammer and I went to bed early. I felt a strange unease as I waited to go to sleep. Something was wrong. Something was missing. 

But what was it?

Oh yeah: Nervousness. The next day was a race, and I wasn’t racing. I wasn’t experiencing pre-race anxiety, while The Hammer definitely was. 

It was a little strange, not feeling my usual jumpiness. But also: nice.

I woke up at 5:30, right when the alarm went off. While The Hammer went and got herself ready, I went and double-checked her bike, checking air pressure, lubing the chain, affixing the race number, putting on the Bento Box, snapping the Garmin onto the mount.

The IT Guy slept in. There was nothing for him to do, yet.

With my very few tasks complete, I lounged about, ’til at 6:55 (The Hammer and Lindsey’s start wave was at 7:12), I said, “Hey, shouldn’t we be going?”

This was kind of strange. If I had been racing, there is no way I would not have already have been waiting at the starting line by now.

The Hammer’s bike was already loaded onto the truck’s rack, so I started loading Lindsey’s. At which point I noticed that her wheels seemed…a little squishy.

Both of them.

“I’m going to check your air real quick,” I said.

The rear tire was seventyish PSI. “That’s not good,” I said, and inflated it to 110. 

The rear tire was also seventyish.

“When’s the last time you pumped up these tires?” I asked Lindsey. 

“Last night,” she replied. At which point my Spidey sese went just a little nuts. If both her tires were this low, Either Lindsey had a slow leak or the pump she had been using had a bad gauge. Since both her tires had the same low number, I was inclined to go with the “bad gauge” theory.

Regardless, all we had time for now was to put air in and hope. We were running so late I privately now took it as a fact that Lindsey and The Hammer were going to miss their wave start.

It’s possible, therefore, that as we drove toward the starting line we very nearly approached the speed limit.

Assuming that parking close to the starting line would be nearly impossible and would actually take more time than finding a place to park a couple of blocks away, we in fact did quickly find a place to park my truck, at which point we got The Hammer and Lindsey off. They sprinted the two blocks to the starting line and I looked at the time on my phone.

7:10. It was going to be close, one way or the other.

I ran toward the Starting line. 7:11. I kept running. Now I could see the arch.

7:12. I wondered if Lindsey and The Hammer had made it into the corral. I wondered if the corrals were leaving strictly on time.

And then I saw the women racers — I believe Cat 1, 2, 3, and 4 women racers all left at the same time — come through the arch and make the first left turn.

I stopped running and watched, hoping to see two Team Fatty kits round that corner together. But I didn’t see them.

And then I did.

At the very back of the pack, they rounded the corner. They had made the start.

Later in the day, after the race, I would ask The Hammer how much time they’d had to spare once they got in the corral.

“Exactly no time at all,” she replied. “The instant we rolled in, our wave rolled out. We could not have timed it one second slower.”


New Urgency

According to Lynne, I now had an exorbitant amount of time to prepare and get to the first aid station where we’d be meeting The Hammer and Lindsey, 76 miles into the race.

But this starting line close call had served as a wake-up call for me. There was no way I was going to cut things fine like this again. I was not going to be the crew that didn’t show up for his racers.

I filled my truck’s tank, got back to the house, and barged into The IT Guy’s room, where he was fast asleep.

“Get up now,” I bellowed. “We’ve got to get to the Montpelier aid station right away!”

The IT Guy yawned, pulled on a t-shirt, and said, “OK, let’s go.” 

We took off, on a mission to get to the tiny little town of Montpelier as quickly as possible.

Very soon, alas, we would discover the paradox of how trying to get somewhere very quickly can in fact cause severe delays.

Which seems like a good place to pick up in the next installment of my crew report.


  1. Comment by MikeL | 09.14.2015 | 12:07 pm

    HEE HEE. Now we get to see how Fatty responds when he is the helper instead of being the helpee. It is a whole different thing being the crew than the racer (voice of experience).

  2. Comment by Don | 09.14.2015 | 12:14 pm

    It must be the fact that “your are doing” said event, regardless of your capacity at “said event”. I was on pins and needles from word go.

  3. Comment by Bart the Clydesdale | 09.14.2015 | 12:24 pm

    Balloons on PVC, that is a good standout portable landmark.
    I usually go with a Michigan State University cycling jersey on a mop handle with a hanger attached. The jersey stands our well when out of state, not so great in Michigan.
    Balloons would open up the entire color palette, although the movie Up does come to mind.

  4. Comment by Bee T | 09.14.2015 | 1:21 pm

    Timely! I am going to be support-person-ing for my sister and a friend at the Marine Corps Marathon, which means I will be riding my bike from point to point, holding up signs, and screaming things like, “Good pace! Wow, running! Super!”

    Occasionally I will point, helpfully, to an upcoming aid station, and scream, “DRINK THE GATORADE!”

    I think PVC pipes and balloons would be an excellent addition to our signs.

    I am also considering helping my sister organize her food the night before. Which would mean me dumping out my end-of-season stash of GUs, chews, and bars and attempting to foist it all upon her and saying things like “Are you SURE you don’t want to borrow my race belt that can fit 16 GUs??”

    Excellent advice to be the annoying one with experience!

  5. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 09.14.2015 | 2:28 pm

    “The rear tire was seventyish PSI. “That’s not good,” I said, and inflated it to 110.
    The rear tire was also seventyish.”

    I too hate it when my pumping seems to make no difference! (JK)

    No stuffing people with Brats before the race? What kind of preparation is that ;-)

  6. Comment by Brian in VA | 09.14.2015 | 3:02 pm

    Wow! A race report with a different slant! Fatty, you’ll stoop to anything to get me to keep coming back!

  7. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 09.14.2015 | 4:32 pm

    At the risk of starting a PSI war (being from New England, PSI is a subject near-and-dear to me), may I respectfully suggest that 110psi is WAY too much for Lindsey (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting).

    I weigh approximately 1.8 Lindseys. I run 85 in the front, 90 in the rear, plus or minus gauge accuracy and air pressure lost between the gauge and the valve.

    The current thinking, backed by science, is that we’ve long been running too much pressure on too-narrow tires. From the perspective of traction, rolling resistance, and aerodynamics, 25mm or even 28mm tires at pressures in the 70-90 range (depending on rider weight, tire type, and other factors) is reportedly the fastest.

    Fatty, you’re fired! [grin]

    Something I didn’t include in the report was that when Lindsey told me she wanted 120psi, I said, “That’s way too high for you.” That’s what she wanted though, and this wasn’t the time to argue. – FC

  8. Comment by aussie kev | 09.14.2015 | 4:40 pm

    I hope the IT Guy at least put a towel on the car seat before he sat down !!!!

  9. Comment by Corrine | 09.14.2015 | 4:48 pm

    @Jeff, I read the same article about PSI but have been too afraid to try it out. Not that I’m very fast either way! Fatty, I love that you are writing about crewing. I think it is harder to crew than to just do the racing!
    BTW, just finished the Smoke ‘n Fire, a great but grueling 400 (although 445 miles this year) bikepacking race in Idaho that is a great sufferfest. You can read about Rebecca Rusch’s race (it only took me over twice as long as her to do the race) here. She got ambushed by elk and porcupine! Great interview.
    Can’t wait to see how Lindsey and Lisa do!

  10. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 09.14.2015 | 4:49 pm

    One second is cutting it close! I doubt I could have “lounged about” without getting a little more, uh, proactive, not unlike keeping your mouth shut about Lindsey’s food plan.

    My wife gets up about 3 hours before she has to leave in the morning and still is tying her shoes as she’s hitting the garage door opener, and hopping toward the car.

    I am more like you. If I’m not 10 minutes early, I’m late. I can relate.

  11. Comment by Cyclingjimbo | 09.14.2015 | 8:55 pm

    Nice start to what we all hope will be an exciting series. The perspective of crew vs. racer will be interesting to read, putting adieu to the old adage “Them that can does, and them that can’t crews.” Nice to see you came swing both ways – or maybe not, depending on the next installments.

    I am tempted to ask for a report on your mega contest winners, but I won’t. Maybe Elroy’s dog is getting through to me.

  12. Comment by Jim B | 09.14.2015 | 8:55 pm

    “For most of my life, I’ve been acutely aware of a fact you have no doubt also discovered at some point in your life. Specifically, that the universe revolves around me.”

    My plan is working beautifully. One of my minions spent a weekend preparing for a race, driving to it, experiencing it, thinking about it, driving back home, and then spent a couple hours writing it up in summary form for my casual entertainment, saving me from a few moments of boredom.

    And best part is the minion thinks *he* is the center of it all. Bwaaa ha ha.

  13. Comment by leroy | 09.15.2015 | 8:10 am

    What bike(s) are they using?

    My dog said he’s curious.

    Told my dog I agreed. He is curious.

    But I’m interested too.

    The Hammer rides a Specialized Roubaix S-Works with Zipp 404s and a SRAM Red drivetrain. Lindsey…well, it’s a Cannondale, but I didn’t look closely at what it is. – FC


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