The Year After Next Year Starts Today

11.30.2015 | 12:57 pm

Tomorrow, the lottery opens for the 2016 Leadville 100. At my house, that’s kind of a big deal. I’ll be signing The Hammer and me up for it pretty much the moment it’s possible to sign up.

2016 will be my twentieth LT100 (although it will hopefully be my nineteenth finish). And as you might guess, I’m already thinking about it.

Thinking about how I’ll be fifty years old when I race this year. 

Thinking about how I want to do my fastest LT100 at age 50. 

Thinking about what I will need to do in order to make that happen, and the kind of help I’m going to need to ask for.

And thinking beyond this year, to…well, to something new.

Doing Something New

While doing this race is anything but new to me, it is new — and intimidating — to most of the people who try it. And that’s awesome. People should do new, scary stuff. Whether it’s racing, or trying mountain biking, or getting in shape when you haven’t been in shape in years, or writing, or drawing, or singing, or…or…anything

I think it’s awesome to stretch yourself. To do something new.

As Exhibit A in the “Do Something New” sweepstakes, I’d like to present this very cool print by Cole Chlouber, an artist and a friend:

Thumb IMG 1026 1024

I first became acquainted with this artwork when I saw a photo of it on Facebook, at which point I reached out to Cole and told him I needed a copy (I got #16 of 50) and also said, “Hey, I didn’t even know you’re an artist; I feel stupid for not having known that.”

Cole replied along the lines of, “Until recently, nobody knew.” But now we do. Cole’s putting himself out there. And that’s awesome. 

Something New For You

Maybe you’re thinking of putting yourself out there, too. Like, maybe trying to race the LT100. But maybe you’ve got some concerns. Like, is it even possible to get in to this race? And how can you get ready for it, once you’re in?

Well, I can probably help with both of these questions.

First, getting in to this race can be very difficult, if you just try your luck at the lottery. To be honest (but completely unscientific), it seems that about 15% of the people I hear about entering the lottery actually get in. That’s not terrible odds, but not great.

But there are a few surefire ways to get into the Leadville 100. Most people just don’t know about them. 

  • Camp of Champions: This is perhaps the simplest way to guarantee yourself a slot in the race, and is a pretty good value. For $2000, you get an entry in the race as well as four days of race course recon, with access to LT100 legends Dave Wiens and Rebecca Rusch. David Houston and Dave Thomas have each gotten into the race this way, and they’ve each told me that they were glad they went.
  • World Bicycle Relief: I have it on good authority that World Bicycle Relief is going to have charity slots available this year…and that there are some pretty famous people who are going to be a part of it. (And I’m not just talking about me, either.) If you take one of the coveted Team WBR LT100 slots, you’re going to have to do some serious fundraising, but it’ll be worth it.
  • Charity Slot: If you want to make this race be about something larger than yourself, you can get a guaranteed slot in the race by raising money (at least $2000) for one of the race’s charities, or for one of your choice. 
  • CEO Challenge: If you’re a C-level honcho at a company that makes at least $5million a year, you can fork over $2K to get into the race, hobnob with other executives, get VIP treatment, network, get an un-earned spot in the blue corral, and otherwise make me gag. 

There are also several qualifier races you can use to get in, which are definitely not surefire, but are a good backup plan if you don’t get into the lottery. 

And if all that fails, you can boost your probability of getting into the race the following year by volunteering this year. 

Let me know in the comments if you’re planning to try to get into the LT100 this year…and if so, whether you’re going with the lottery or some other strategy for getting in.

Sharing What We Know

In the past nineteen years of racing the LT100, I’ve picked up a few things. Last year, Rebecca Rusch and I did a little webinar series (episode 1, episode 2, episode 3) to help folks get prepared for the race. 

They seemed to do a lot of people a lot of good; while in Leadville, dozens of people came up to us, thanking us for putting these on.

So, this year, we’re going to do more of these webinars. But this year, we’re going to start much earlier in the year, while you still have time to train and practice fueling smart. And we’re going to bring on guests. Like, seriously smart and knowledgeable guests who can help you hit your goal, whether it’s to finish in under thirteen hours, twelve hours, or even nine hours. 

Stay tuned for more on this. 

Something New For Me Too

This year, I plan to be fast at Leadville. Really fast. Sub-8 fast. And that’s a little bit new. 

But my truly new thing for 2016 isn’t even about 2016. It’s about 2017. And it’s already started.

For my twentieth finish of the LT100, I’d like to also have it be my first Leadman finish. Which means, yes, that I will need to do the LT100 run the week after I ride the LT100. 

I’m going to need to do some training if I want that to happen. And…I’ve already started. Specifically, I’m doing four-mile trail runs.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot of work to do if I’m going to make that happen. But hey…I kinda want to stretch myself a little bit.


Thankful, 2015 Edition

11.23.2015 | 1:32 pm

One of the quieter traditions I have with this blog is that before Thanksgiving each year, I like to write a “thankful” post (2007, 2008, 2009 plus bonus 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). This year, I think I have more things than ever to be thankful for.

I’d like to tell you about a few.

Strength: I’ve talked (but not much) before about my son and the extraordinary depression he lives with with. This year has seen extraordinary progress for him. He’s gotten a job, and he’s excelled at it. He’s started pharmacy tech school, and he comes home after the weekly test each Friday saying he’s aced another one. He’s told stories about confronting the teacher (politely) with errors she’s made — unthinkable even a year ago.

I have two people I’m thankful for in this case. First, I’m thankful for my son’s strength. This progress hasn’t been easy for him, and I’m proud of each step he takes.

Second, I’m thankful for The Hammer’s strength. Her strength and toughness was key in my son making making these remarkable strides. 

When I think about 2015, I think I will always remember it as the “turning a corner year” for my son. And I’m so thankful for the work both my son and wife have done to make this happen.

People I Love: When The Hammer and I tell people about our family — my four kids, her three kids — folks are generally astonished. They would be even more astonished if they understood how great all seven of these kids are doing. The Hammer’s eldest has a great job, a great wife, a great son, and a new house. Her second son is valedictorian at the school he attends and is already getting amazing opportunities. Her youngest is doing great in college and has big plans to do something important in the world. My eldest is working and going to school and has an amazing moral center; he has changed my own thinking on a few things. My twin girls are the kindest, most artistic fourteen-year-olds you could ever meet. My wife is genuinely my best friend. I’m as lucky a person as there could be. I love all these people.

Generosity: I don’t even keep track anymore of how much money Friends of Fatty have donated to causes I care about. I don’t keep track of how much product and prizes good companies have donated to help me with my efforts. It’s just too much. You see so much happen in the news that is so bad that it’s easy to overlook the fact that we are surrounded by good people who want to make the world a good place. 

Bikes: I love the incredible improvements we’ve seen in bike hardware during the life of this blog. I love the feeling when I ride, and how I feel after a ride. I love the stories my rides tell me (so I can tell them to you). And I love the different kinds of amazing experiences I still haven’t experienced on bikes; there’s still so much for me to try. I haven’t tried cyclocross. Or bikepacking. Or track racing. Or recumbents. I’ve been in love with bikes for more than twenty years now, and I still am in many ways an absolute beginner.

I’m thankful for all the new experiences still ahead of me, and I’m thankful to you for taking the time to read my stories.

Happy Thanksgiving,


PS: I’d love to hear what you’re thankful for.

PPS: I’ll be taking the rest of this week off to be with my family and to work on my current secret project (which I hope to tell you about sometime soon).

100 Miles of Nowhere Race Report: Isaac’s Adjustment of Expectations Edition

11.20.2015 | 11:05 am

A Note from Fatty: Today’s 100 Miles of Nowhere race report comes to you from Isaac, a many-times 100 Miles of Nowhere racer. 

Another Note from Fatty: If you haven’t sent in your 100 Miles of Nowhere Race Report yet, please do. Send it to, with the subject line “100 Miles of Nowhere Race Report.” Word document format is best for me, with your photographs either just embedded in the Word doc where you want them, or as attachments in the email, or in a Dropbox folder you include a link to.

My 100 Miles of Nowhere was off to an inauspicious start. 

Less than 4 miles in (2 miles on pavement on the way to the trail), and I’d already crashed. Hard. I was riding a bike I don’t ride often — my older carbon Giant XTC 26″ hardtail — and I wasn’t comfortable on it yet. It’s got a little longer stem than I like, and a little narrower bars than I prefer.

But really, those are just excuses.

I made a mistake, didn’t keep my weight back like I know I should, and BAM. Over the bars and down I went. Landed flat on my back. Well, it must not have been totally flat, because I now have a giant bruise on the left side of my lower back.

But let’s back up a step.

I was more or less totally unprepared for this 100MoN, much more so than usual. I’ve done it a few times. The first time, I switched off between the local mountain bike loop and an 11-mile section of local paved trail that both go through the same parking lot, meeting up with a few friends along the way, and even riding a lap with my wife (who pulled our daughter in the Burley).

Then, I rode the 100 Miles of Darkness with Nancy, riding our century overnight through beautiful paved trails in central Minnesota. Last year, Nancy and I rode together again, back at the combo mountain / road loop. That time around, I rode 6 different bikes. Maybe it was 5. Honestly, everything’s a little fuzzy about that ride.

Ride or No Ride?

This time around, I thought, I was going to miss out. I’m self employed, and things have been a little slower this year — and a bunch of my clients were way behind on payments when this 100MoN was announced. I figured there was no way I could afford to ride it.

Then an anonymous donor stepped in and offered to pay for my entry. Super cool. Elden emailed me, asking if I was interested. I immediately (like within 5 minutes) emailed back that I was definitely up for it. However, thanks to the wonders of spam filters and such, he never got my message.

I didn’t really think about it much for a couple of weeks, when I followed up. Of course, nothing had changed in the spam world, so he didn’t get that message either. Eventually, I sent him a message on Twitter and finally got through. 

Planning: Pffff

By this point, there wasn’t much time for silly things like “planning” and “training” (not that training this late in the season would have made much of a difference). It was just time to go for it.

I’d seen that TrainerRoad was going to have a plan for the 100MoN, but didn’t really want to spend 5 hours indoors. Luckily, the weather has been unseasonably warm here in Minnesota, and I had a good group of friends hitting the mountain bike trail on the day of the ride. Unluckily, my wife was going to be going out with her mom the Friday before the ride and not coming home until Saturday morning.

I was going to be getting a late start. 

Asta rolled in at 9:56am, I handed the kids off to her, and took off for the trail. I was already geared up and live less than 2 miles from the trailhead. I rolled in just after 10am, the scheduled ride start, but you know how those things go… If more than one person is riding in a group, it’s probably going to be a few minutes late.


Everyone finished getting ready and we took off down the trail. 

Which brings me back to the crash. 

I’ve ridden this trail probably a hundred or more times, by myself and with groups of anywhere from 2 to 20. I’ve never seen anyone crash where or how I went down. Up into the air off a bit of a rise, tail (much) higher than it should have been, weight too far forward, and tail over teakettle, down to the ground.


I laid there for about 5 seconds — any longer and more people would have seen me — and got up to continue on. Nothing was horribly damaged, though I’ll have a few bruises and scabs for the next couple of weeks. We continued on without further incident. As we finished the lap (a little under 12 miles total), I asked who was up for another. 


Fine, I’ll Do It Myself Then

Well, I hadn’t *really* expected to ride with anyone the whole day, so I took what I could get, said goodbye, and rode off to do another lap. This time, the ride went without incident until I got into the last bit of the beginner section (which, because of the way I was putting together my loop, was at the very end of the lap).

As I went around a corner, my front tire hooked on a root, stuck, and WHAM. Over the bars I went. Again.

I think I’ve crashed 4 or 5 times this season, and 2 of them were today. Luckily, no one was around, so I could lay on the ground, tangled up with my bike, for a little longer before I had to get up and keep going. I finished the lap out just as my Garmin beeped that it was running low on battery.

Most sane people would suggest that this might be a good time to go home.

I am not a sane person, or so I’ve been told, anyway.

As I went out for my third lap, I wondered what would go wrong this time. As it turned out, nothing. Nothing at all. I completed my third lap without any incident other than the GPS dying on me. I got to the trailhead and turned for home. Of course, if you’re doing the math, 3 laps at 12 miles apiece, plus about 2 miles each direction to and from the trail, and we’re only at 40 miles. I still had some work to do.

Luckily, my trainer was set up. Also luckily, my kids and I have been watching Star Wars (it’s their first time at [almost] 6 and 2). I fired up TrainerRoad, set up the movie, and got onto the bike.

After 40 miles on the mountain bike and 2 crashes, I figured I had about 3 hours in front of me. At least, that’s how my math worked out — I’d done 40% of the miles, so I had 60% left to go. 60% of 5 hours is 3. Yay math, I guess.

I had, however, also figured out what the 100MMMoN would be — the 100 Maybe Metric Miles of Nowhere (Yes, kilometers are now known as Metric Miles. Take that, everywhere that isn’t the US, Liberia, and Burma.)

About 40 minutes in, I came to a somewhat disheartening conclusion: I just didn’t have another 2:20 in me. In somewhat of a letdown, I decided to make it a metric. After another 29 minutes (yay, math), I threw in the figurative towel, put on some clean clothes, and sat down with the kids in my wonderful, fluffy, nearly-impossible-to-exit chair to finish the movie as the winner of the 100 Metric Miles of Nowhere Indoor / Outdoor Duathalllloooonnnnng. 

I realize now that I should have gone and gotten the Tylenol first. Ah well. If anyone needs me, I’ll probably still be here. 

Twenty: A Photo (and Video) Essay

11.19.2015 | 7:45 am

Somehow, I had become that guy

We were on the second day of The Core Team Fall Moab (Fiscal 2016), Twentieth Anniversary Edition, and I was splitting my time between complaining about the trail and suffering in silence, which is even worse than complaining.

Yeah. I was that guy.

How had this happened?

Well, that’s easy. We were on a trail that was way too technical for me (which I had known before we had embarked on this ride), so I was walking about 70% of this ride-in-sarcasm-quotes.

Sure, I had tried to solve the problem before it began. Indeed, I had, in the spirit of proactiveness, proposed a variation on the ride that is more suited to me. One with more climbing and conversational riding, and with fewer twenty-foot drops down the Cliff Walls of Death.

I had been summarily overruled: “Sure, ride whatever you want, but this is what we’re doing.”  

I capitulated. And as a result, I had endo’d four times during the day, along with two other crashes. 

But hey, at least I was with my friends — many of whom I’ve now been riding with for twenty years, more or less. And I had to admit (except when I was being grumpily petulant) that’s pretty awesome.

And since there was no possible way I was going to be doing these Monster Drops of Doom, I could at least be the guy who took pictures and the occasional video.

Which I did. Sometimes with good results (and sometimes with no results at all, which I’ll explain later).

I shall now show you some of those pictures and videos, along with appropriate commentary.

How It Started

If there’s a center to the core team, it’s Bobby G Bringhurst. 

Thumb IMG 0451 1024

The day before the drive to Moab, I picked him up at the airport (he lives in Seattle), and we went to Racer’s, where he picked up his Gary Fisher Rig, a fully-rigid steel singlespeed.

“You should know,” I told him, “that in the past year or so, we’ve pretty much all independently flipped the switch: we’re riding SRAM one-by-eleven drivetrains. All of us have moved to front suspension, and many of us have moved to full suspension.”

If there’s ever been a certain sign of aging, that was definitely it.

Luckily for Bob, I have a couple bikes and am, more or less, the exact same height as he is. Which meant Bob would have the option of riding a fair number of geared bikes, all of which had front suspension, and one of which had full suspension.

We loaded several bikes onto the Bikemobile, picked Dug up, and headed to Moab. 

Thumb IMG 0452 1024

Yes, the Bikemobile (now eight years old), as currently outfitted, can easily carry six bikes (without destroying any of them if I accidentally pull into a garage).

Dug brought a giant batch of chocolate chip cookies he had just made. True fact: Everyone who has ever tried them acknowledges that Dug makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the world.

I ate most of the cookies before we even got to Moab. It’s the off-season, after all, and I still have a ways to go before I’m forced to start wearing XXL jerseys.

Photos and Videos of Middle-Aged Men on Bikes

Here’s a question for you: when you have a largish group of people meeting up at a place several hours away for a ride, what are the odds that everyone will get there at more or less the same time, ready to ride?

Furthermore, what are the odds, during a three-day weekend of riding, that everyone will continue to show up on-time and be ready to roll when it’s time to roll?

Whatever the odds are, that’s what we did. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we’ve all been riding a long time and know what it’s like to have to wait at a trailhead…and to be the guy who is waited for at the trailhead.

In other words, we showed up, got our bikes out, and rode. For all three rides of the weekend. No drama, no fiddling.

Maybe that’s a small part of why everyone in the Core Team is still in the Core Team. 

Bob, seeing which way the wind was blowing, borrowed a Cannondale Scalpel, which I have not yet returned to Cannondale (I’m currently working from the premise that if I don’t say anything to them for a while they’ll forget about me).

We headed out to ride near Amasa Back, going up the new Hymasa trail  and down Cap’n Ahab. Wonderful trail, all around.

Bob put everything into popping a wheelie. This photo is at the apogee of said wheelie.

Thumb IMG 0458 1024

Brad observed, with scorn in his voice, “Never have I seen so much effort put into such a miserable little wheelie.” 

This is Brad, looking scornful. And also: infuriatingly thin.

Thumb IMG 0455 1024

Brad, it should be noted, did not get the memo about carbon and gear shifts. He did, however, get the memo about front suspension, and that’s something.


Cori is the newest of the members of the Core Team. Here he is, drinking a beer in the middle of a ride…while reinforcing the point by wearing a jersey with a beer logo on it.

Thumb IMG 0971 1024

Cori is — I’m just being completely honest here and hope my fellow Core Team members will not be angry at me for saying so — the most entertaining person in the world to be around during a ride. He is fearless on a bike, and he whoops and hollers in unfeigned joy as he rides. 

Here are a few videos of Cori during the weekend. First, here’s Cori about to kill Ricky as Ricky takes a video of Cori (in other words, I did not take this video; Ricky did):

And here’s Cori hitting a big ol’ three foot drop at speed (again, video credit goes to Ricky):

Of course, Cori is not completely immune to sensible decisions. Here, he gets to the precipice and changes his mind. 

Catching that in slow motion is probably the best thing I have ever done.

After that fall, however, Cori started reconsidering, and decided he would try again. Which forced Brad to be the voice of reason; Brad planted himself at the base of the rollout and refused to move, making it impossible for Cori to kill himself. Only when Cori gave up and came down another way did Brad stand up and move out of the way.

Thumb IMG 0962 1024

Cori owes you his life, Brad.

Kenny Jones 2: This Time It’s Personal

When you last heard from my friend Kenny, he was busted. But he’s not anymore. He’s riding again. But something’s different: he’s suddenly riding a big ol’ full-suspension bike (a Pivot Mach Something) with gears and 27.5” ENVE M60 Forty wheels

Thumb IMG 0775 1024 

And how is he riding? Just fine:

Thumb IMG 0778 1024

Thumb IMG 0780 1024

Thumb IMG 0782 1024

Thumb IMG 0785 1024

To show his confidence in Kenny’s recovery and squishy new bikehood, Ricky volunteered to lay at the base of this drop, for Kenny to (hopefully) shoot over:

Thumb IMG 0812 1024

Thumb IMG 0816 1024

Thumb IMG 0819 1024

To my disappointment, Ricky did not volunteer to continue lying there as I attempted the same trick. 

Which just goes to show: Ricky’s not stupid.

Here’s more Kenny, this time in slow motion and going down something that’s freakishly technical in actuality but which doesn’t look all that impressive thanks to poor camera work:

Oh, here’s another (completely candid and not-posed) picture of Kenny, as he acts as guide to our group, pointing out important trail features on a convenient map:

Thumb IMG 0577 1024

The Bifurcation of the Core Team

I’m very very very sad to reveal to you at this point that apart from the videos I showed you already, I don’t have a lot of other cool trick move photos of Brad or Cori. And I have no cool trick move photos at all of Rick, Ryan, or Brad.

No, wait, that’s not perfectly true. I do have this cool video of Ryan, riding a wheelie on Kenny’s bike:

But most of the pictures of Rick, Ryan, and Brad that look like this:

Thumb IMG 0467 1024

And this one of Ryan:

Thumb IMG 0865 1024

And this one of Dug and Brad socially media-ing, while Bob does windsprints up the slickrock, for some reason:

Thumb IMG 0581 1024

Why is this the case? Bifurcation. 

Yes, bifurcation.

See, pretty much the whole weekend, The Core Team would repeat the following process:

  1. Start together.
  2. Kenny, Brad, Rick, Ryan and Cori take off like there’s an emergency or they like going fast or something.
  3. Bob, Dug and I ride at the back. 
  4. Kenny, Brad, Rick, Ryan and Cori get to some place where they imagine it might be interesting to try a couple of moves. They then do these moves, taking no photos. 
  5. Bob, Dug and I arrive about the time the other five have finished up, have eaten, rested, and are ready to go.
  6. Dug quickly executes a move or two while Bob and I look on.
  7. We continue.

Thus, I have numerous photos of Dug and Bob trying lots of moves, like this:

Thumb IMG 0547 1024

And this:

Thumb IMG 0618 1024

Thumb IMG 0622 1024

And this:

Thumb IMG 0695 1024

Thumb IMG 0847 1024

The photos I have of the others, on the other hand, mostly look like this:

Thumb IMG 0972 1024

Thumb IMG 0975 1024

Oh, and here’s me:

Thumb IMG 0876 1024

I may be slower and less capable than my friends, but I am still very heroic-looking.

I’m already excited for Fall Moab (Fiscal) 2017. I think I’ll bring my recumbent.

And my walker.

PS: Bob has posted his recollections from several conversations held during Fall Moab in his blog. Many but not all of these conversations are safe for work. 

The Beauty of Riding Nowhere (100 Miles of Nowhere Race Report by Jill Homer)

11.16.2015 | 9:39 am

A Note from Fatty: I am such a big fan of Jill Homer. I love her writing. I love her photography. I love the way she approaches life. So it’s a huge honor to have had her ride the 100 Miles of Nowhere this year and write her story in her own blog, and allow me to cross-post it here. 


Each year, Elden the Fat Cyclist — world-famous bike blogger and fundraiser extraordinaire — hosts a charity event called the 100 Miles of Nowhere. He first formulated the idea while riding a virtual 100 miles on his trainer, and now challenges cyclists from all over the world to donate to charity for the privilege of riding a “nowhere” century of their choosing. Creativity is encouraged, and pretty much any crazy century that one could imagine has been done — 100 miles on rollers, 3,000 rotations around a driveway, masochistic hill repeats, you name it.

Although I’ve been a regular reader of Fat Cyclist for a decade, support his causes, and enjoy pondering my own versions of a “nowhere” ride, I hadn’t participated before. This year the event announcement went out just as I was beginning to formulate a plan for winter training. It just clicked. “I’ve been talking about 100 Miles of Montebello Road for three years now. I’m finally going to do it.”


Why Montebello Road? I think any cyclist who lives near hills has a go-to climb, and this is mine. Climbing on a bike is my favorite activity, so I ride here a lot. The name means “beautiful mountain” in Italian, and it’s appropriate. Starting 3.5 miles from my home, Montebello Road snakes up a scenic hillside beside a small creek, shaded by oak and cedar trees, with occasional steep drop-offs that open up big views of the South Bay and Mount Hamilton. It accesses a few homes and vineyards before the pavement ends 5.1 miles and 2,000 vertical feet above Stevens Creek Reservoir. I enjoy this climb and it doesn’t get old for me, even though I’ve ridden it well over 200 times since I moved here in 2011. Because I ride Montebello so much, I know every switchback and driveway. I know where the grade steepens and where it levels off. I know where the pavement becomes especially broken and I have to hang on for dear life. I notice when cracks widen and when new tarmac is laid down. I notice when chunks of the hillside and larger trees come down, even after the debris has been cleared away. I’ve had to slam on my brakes for deer, rabbits, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and even a bobcat. There aren’t many surprises left for me on that well-trodden road.

So why Montebello Road? Because even though I’ve ridden it so many times I know every pothole, it never gets easier. And no, I don’t get faster, because it takes a hearty helping of oomph to push the pace for a five-mile climb that scarcely lets off the resistance. My legs are usually quivering by the final steep pitch. The descent, with all of its hairpin turns, steep grades and broken pavement, hardly provides recovery. I think one Montebello is plenty difficult, and two Montebellos break into mental-game territory. So of course I started to wonder, what would happen after five repeats? How about ten?


A hundred miles of Montebello Road requires ten out-and-backs with more than 20,000 feet of climbing. One participant, Karl, commented that the elevation profile would look like a “sadistic comb,” which was an apt description. In all of my years of cycling, I’ve never climbed that much elevation in a day. Beyond the personal record, a century on one five-mile stretch of pavement requires a whole new set of challenges. There is, of course, the “boring” factor in the repetitions. It’s not only the same road ten times — it’s the same road I see all the time. On a road bike you don’t walk, ever, unless something has gone quite wrong. But the gearing is stiff enough that you always have to pedal hard just to stay upright. Even if your speed is dipping precariously close to three miles per hour, it’s always strenuous. I mentioned the hairy descents. Where would I find my motivation when things started to hurt? When I could only slow down so much? When bailing was always as easy as turning around and bombing downhill to my car? In other words, this would be a great mental training ride for the big, physically draining, often monotonous days on the Iditarod Trail.


When I posted my proposal online, I was surprised to see a lot of initial interest. There were nine “going” and nine “maybes” on my Facebook event page. A couple of ultrarunner friends who almost never ride bikes said they wanted to give it a go. Then Beat came down with pneumonia and Liehann was worried his three-week cough would deteriorate to something worse. One by one, all the others bailed. I can’t say I was surprised, as it wasn’t the most conventionally fun way to spend what turned out to be an absolutely perfect fall day in the Bay Area. I assumed I would be riding alone and failed to show up on time for my proposed 6:15 a.m. start. So I was embarrassed to pull up at 6:19 to find three cyclists who I’d never met geared up and ready to go. Karl, on the right, wanted to try to best his personal record on one lap, and Eric (middle), had time to try for five. Dave (left), said he was in it for the long haul. Great! Let’s get it started.

Karl and I rode together for the first lap, and then I stuck with Eric and Dave for the next four. It turned out to be a surprisingly social ride. Dave kept a strong pace and commented on the fourth lap that he was surprised it wasn’t getting much harder. It was then I knew both Dave and I were in this to the dark and chilly end, because neither of us was going to back down as long as the other was still plugging along. Such is the wonder of human sociality, and the reason why races are so much more fun than solo efforts, and why we were so content to grind out Montebellos on Nov. 7, riding in spirit with as many as 500 other “100 MoN” participants all around the world. We’re all striving together.

Around lap six, Beat came out on his mountain bike to join for a couple of rounds of what would be his first real venture outdoors in a month, besides bike commuting. We also saw friends and acquaintances who were out for their own Saturday rides. Jan, who was just finishing up a 17-mile trail ride, and who has been helpful with tips for dealing with my recent breathing problems, just shook his head. I was buzzing with endorphins and could only reply with a goofy grin, “I just love this stuff. I really do. I don’t know why.”

Photo by Dave Thompson. I’m wearing my circa-2007 “original” Fat Cyclist jersey and riding Beat’s wonderful 2011 Specialized S-Works Roubaix. Yes, those are flat pedals. Stiff-soled, fitted shoes pinch my toes and hurt like hell after a few hours. I can’t even wear running shoes that actually fit — these are 1.5 sizes too large. I know this is terribly uncool. I do not  care. If you ever experience frostbite nerve damage and put your feet through 12+ hour rides, you  can give me a recommendation for clipless pedals.
Otherwise, I don’t want to hear it. :P

On lap seven, I hit my wall. All the others had gone home and it was just me and Dave, and the mid-afternoon sunlight dipping low on the horizon. After a summer mostly out of the saddle my “iron butt” had gone soft and chaffing was developing beneath my cheeks. My hands and arms were sore from the descents, and I had to hold one arm behind my back whenever I could to relieve a knot in my shoulder. My quad muscles quivered on the steeper segments. I was certain cramps were coming on, which could only be followed by walks of shame, which could only be followed by bailing altogether. But I’d look ahead toward Dave and kept grinding, because this clearly was not as bad as the simmering anxieties would have me believe.

Dave remained ever stoic. Occasionally, when I could keep up with him, I learned more about his background — he’d lost a lot of weight, and designed and built a special tandem bicycle so he could ride with his adult son who is recovering from a brain injury. At the top, only slightly glazed eyes and flushed cheeks betrayed the appearance that this ride was far too easy for him. We’d stuff down some food — I ate string cheese, squeezable packets of applesauce, Rice Crispy treats, and sandwiches cut into quarters, and realized my diet now completely resembled that of a toddler whose Mom carried just enough snacks to shut her up in public. We’d wipe the sweat from our faces and put on jackets and gloves, because it was always cold on the way down. And then we were off, screaming toward the glistening sprawl of San Jose.

We strapped on lights before lap nine because we’d finally burned all the daylight. The sun set at 5:11 p.m. Climbing the initial steep segments, I thought, “Only two more Montebellos!” which ignited a grumpy backlash because two Montebellos is still a lot. So I looked inward, to a stark white landscape of somewhere in Alaska, perhaps the Yukon River, beneath an unobstructed sky pulsing with emerald light and stars upon stars. Then the wind was howling, and I was hunched over my bike in a whiteout — broken, humbled, and awestruck by the power of it all, by this expansive nothingness on the edge of nowhere. All in my imagination — and perhaps in my future.

We descended in fading light and climbed into the tunnel of our headlights. Dave’s light dimmed to almost nothing, but instead of quitting, he shadowed closely behind me as we ascended the quiet corridor. I was hurting all over. It seemed every muscle had to work for this final climb, and my breathing had become raspy and shallow. In part, I believe shallow breathing has become a habit after months of fighting real obstructions and constriction in my airways. So I consciously focused on taking deeper breaths, thinking about all of my quivering muscles and the reality that they just needed more oxygen. “Breathe, just breathe,” I chanted quietly, and thought that this was probably going to become my new personal mantra.

“We did it!” I proclaimed at the top. Dave smiled quietly; his lips were quivering. It was 45 degrees and a cold wind whisked along the ridge, heralding an oncoming storm. We both sucked down the last of our water — even in the cold darkness, one bottle was no longer enough. I descended behind Dave with my high-beam on, but he seemed to manage just fine with his flickering commuter light. We rolled back to the cars after 105 miles in 13 hours and 5 minutes, including breaks, and about 11:45 of moving time. You can say that’s a long damn time for a century, but I think it’s pretty good for ten Montebellos, which are actually nothing like a century.

As I drove away, I realized that while the 20,000 feet of climbing was quite hard, I barely noticed the repetition. Each climb and descent was its own journey, with different light, different conversations, different thoughts, different challenges.

Still, a repetitive ride does provide beneficial numbers for comparisons. These are the times recorded for each 5.1-mile climb up Montebello Road. It’s interesting to see the consistency when I was feeling good, and also how it started to break down on the later laps. My “personal best” on Montebello is 39:08, but I generally ride in the 45- to 50-minute range.

Lap 1: 59:18
Lap 2: 52:05
Lap 3: 50:51
Lap 4: 50:21
Lap 5: 50:24
Lap 6: 50:19
Lap 7: 56:01
Lap 8: 54:43
Lap 9: 58:53
Lap 10: 57:26

Maybe it really doesn’t get that much harder as you go. I just have to get out of my head once in a while. And remember to breathe.

« Previous Entries     Next Page »