2016 Six Hours in Frog Hollow, Part 2: The First Time Around

04.25.2016 | 3:06 pm

A Note From Fatty: I’ve been a big fan and customer of The Feed for years, and am happy to welcome them as a FatCyclist.com sponsor. Right now, they’ve got a great “Free Snacks” promotion going on: get their April Fuel Kit free with all orders over $20. Check it out here or by clicking the bright orange Free Snacks ad to the right. 

I need to back up a little.

In Part 1 of my 2016 Frog Hollow Race Report, I introduced you to the major actors in this Very Major Drama. 

But I forgot a couple things. OK, not things per se. People. I forgot a couple people

First of all, I just offhandedly mentioned a mysterious character by the name of “Rabid Runner.” I think I’ve mentioned her a couple of times in my blog, but haven’t really gone into detail. So here’s the short version: Rabid is our friend and one of The Hammer’s riding buddies.

Which, I’d like to go on record as saying, makes for incredibly fun introductions: “Hi, I’m Fatty, This is The Hammer, and her good friend Rabid. What’s your name?”

Rabid is training with the intensity that earned her nickname, because she’s signed up to race the Leadville 100 this year.

The other person I feel I should introduce is Heidi Volpe, who was The Hammer’s primary competition in the Women’s Solo Single Speed category.

And I feel like I can introduce Heidi because before the race ever began, The Hammer and I had…well, we had done our homework on her. Which is to say, The Hammer had looked up her race results from the past, and had thus discovered Heidi was a strong rider who evidently has some connection to Rebecca Rusch.

Which prompted me to email Rebecca, fishing for a little more information:

Screenshot 2016 04 25 06 47 14 

What did this tell us? Well, if The Queen of Pain says someone is legit, you can believe it’s true (by the way, here’s the Outside Online story I referenced).

So The Hammer would not be coasting to victory in this race.

Nor would I: 22 men were registered in the Mens 50+ Solo category. Which means there were more men in my new (50-59) age group than in my previous (40-49) age group. So my strategy of getting onto the podium simply by getting older wasn’t working out.

I guess maybe I’m not the only one with that strategy.

I didn’t have too much room to complain, though: at least I had an age group. Meanwhile, The Swimmer would be competing against all solo women under the age of fifty, in spite of the fact that this would be her second bike race, ever. 

“Well,” I said to the Swimmer before the race, “just keep your expectations low and have fun. Don’t worry about the podium.”

I give such good advice.

Giving Away Too Much

OK, let’s get back to the race. Finally. We had done the Le Mans-style start, running to our bikes, and we were off: The Hammer and Rabid ahead of me thanks to being faster runners. The Swimmer behind me, thanks to a GPS mishap.

And there, beside me: a woman. Very fit. Riding a singlespeed.

“Are you Heidi Volpe,” I asked, even though I was a hundred percent certain it was Heidi Volpe.

“Yes,” she replied, probably very creeped out, because a complete stranger seems to know who she is. “How do you know me?”

“Because my wife is your main competition at this race,” I say.

“Oh,” Heidi says. “The Hammer.” 

“Yeah,” I say. “My wife is The Hammer. Oh, and Reba says ‘hi.’”

I am very much enjoying the lopsided nature of this conversation.

“So what gear is The Hammer riding?” Heidi asks.

“Thirty two by twenty. You?” I ask back, although I’m only asking out of politeness, because while I feel like Heidi has some purpose in asking for this gearing, if I told The Hammer what kind of gearing Heidi had, she would not care even a little bit

That may come off as arrogant — like The Hammer is too haughty to care what her competition’s gearing is — but the reverse is actually true: The Hammer only knows what her own gearing is because she has memorized it, which she did because people keep asking and she was embarrassed that she doesn’t know. 

Anyway, Heidi tells me what her gearing is, and I nod sagely. But to be honest, I don’t even remember what she says. The truth is, I only know what The Hammer’s gearing is because Racer told me how he was setting up her bike…and I memorized it.

Yeah, The Hammer and I aren’t exactly bike equipment geniuses.

“Good luck today,” I yell at Heidi as I stand and attack the climb.

“Thanks,” she replies, though I’m certain that she realizes my well-wishing is valid only to the extent that her luck does not equal or exceed The Hammer’s.

Climb Time

There are certain races that are good because of the vibe of the race: the people and culture and the idea of the race. And there are races that are good because of the course.

Great races have both a good course and a good vibe, and I think Six Hours in Frog Hollow is an honest-to-goodness great race. It starts with a one-mile climb on a wide dirt road, giving people a chance to sort themselves out.

Then it meanders through a wash and a ravine, narrowing to singletrack: a good opportunity to pull yourself together for what the next few miles are all about: 

A big ol’ multi-mile jeep road climb.

I like this part, because it lets me do what I’m really good at: grinding away and suffering, usually while standing and rowing my bike.

I pass a lot of people on this part. 

Then, at the top of the big jeep road climb, we turn right onto the Jem trail, and it’s time for the best, fastest, funnest ribbon of desert singletrack you could ever hope for.

Except this time. 

This time, when I make this right turn, I hit a wall of wind, and — even though I’m going downhill — I am barely moving. 

It occurs to me all at once: this giant eight-mile-long descent that’s usually just one big thrill ride is going to be a hard-working, slow-moving grind

There will be no PRs for me today. I’m confident of it.

In My Head

The wind has a compressing effect on the riders around me. Instead of spreading out on this downhill, we wind up bunched up.

This is OK, for the first little bit. 

But then we get to the crux move of the race: you turn left, ride over a hump-style cattle guard, drop down a jagged little ledge, and immediately have to make a hairpin right turn…all with a fair amount of exposure on one side.

I’ve done this move dozens of times. I thought I had it mastered, in fact, because it had been so long since I’d had to bail out.

But this time when I got to it…things were different.

First of all, there was the guy ahead of me, already dismounted and walking down the ledge. I figured he’d move out of my way, but wasn’t perfectly confident.

Second, there were all the people behind me, stacked up several people deep. The pressure to not hold them up was considerable.

And then, most importantly of all, there was the wind, which gusted right as I got to the point where I needed to drop down the ledge. 

I choked. Bailed. Pulled the rip cord.

And in doing so, forced about five more people to also dismount. 

My head hung in shame, I yielded to them all, unworthy to ride ahead of these people.

“I’ll clean this move next lap,” I swore to myself.

Which, I’d like to point out, is a near-perfect way to jinx yourself.

Big Headwind, Small Person

One of the five or so people who wound up in front of me thanks to my bungling of the hairpin was a strong climber — I remember passing her only at the very top of the climb. 

Unfortunately for her, she was a very light, slight woman. Even more unfortunately for her, she was wearing a windbreaker that looked to be about two sizes two large.

And in short, as we all struggled to build up some semblance of speed on this narro singletrack descent, she never had a prayer. 

The wind whipped her jacket. Her slight mass was buffetted by the wind. And before long, she had a line of about ten racers (I was about five back) queued up behind her.

It’s possible the person behind her was yelling at her to yield. Even if he was, though, I’m guessing that between the headwind and her jacket, she didn’t hear. Didn’t realize she had built up a good-sized train.

We were halfway down the Jem trail before she looked back, then — startled by the crowd that had formed behind her — yielded to our group. 

One Down, Four to Go

I finished my first lap in one hour and one minute. Which isn’t bad, considering the furious wind that was slowing everyone down: 


However, it did mean that I could forget the idea of doing six laps. If I couldn’t even do the first lap in one hour, there was no way I was going to be able to start my sixth lap before the five hour cutoff.

I confess to being relieved.

I rolled into “solo row” — the dirt road area at the beginning of the course reserved for solo riders. Blake — formerly known as the IT Guy, but now a programmer (and Neumont University valedictorian) — was ready for me, swapping my empty bottle for a full bottle of Carborocket 333 and handing me two gels: my very easy and effective fuel plan for the entire race. 

I had no idea how The Hammer, The Swimmer, Rabid…or even I was doing.

I was just a guy, riding around in a big circle, as fast as I could, five times.

Sometimes I question the intelligence of some of my choices. 

And before long, I’d be questioning them even more intently. Which seems like a good place to pick up in my next post (which will be on Wednesday).


  1. Comment by MikeL | 04.25.2016 | 3:55 pm

    The getting on the podium part by getting older is typically by outliving the competition. However, you will be the youngster now in the new age group so that should give you a slight advantage.

  2. Comment by Kristina Creek | 04.25.2016 | 4:03 pm

    Yay, race report! Absolutely love reading these… I know it’s already over but I’m rooting for you, the Hammer, and the Swimmer.

    PS – how go the weight and book-riding battles?!

  3. Comment by Kristina Creek | 04.25.2016 | 4:04 pm


    Sigh… I guess my mind was on bicycles.

    That should obviously say ‘book-writing’…

  4. Comment by BostonCarlos | 04.25.2016 | 4:19 pm

    I’d like to welcome the Feed and encourage any other brands who think this might be a good site to sponsor to go ahead and throw money at Fatty because it’s definitely worth your while.

  5. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 04.25.2016 | 4:28 pm

    “Don’t worry about the podium.”

    I have never once worried about the podium. I don’t expect I ever will worry about the podium. At least not unless I can make the 80-89 CX field.

    I *did* make it to the top step of one podium once, though. It took a random number generator, but I ended up in pretty good company–former pro/grocery store disaster Levi Leipheimer and a certain world-renowned blogger.

  6. Comment by Corrine | 04.25.2016 | 9:40 pm

    Can’t wait to hear more. Love that you don’t know or care about gearing but just take what your bike mechanic says is the right set up. I can totally relate to that. Can’t wait to hear more and see how everybody does. Might have to look at results if the story takes too long! Is that cheating?

  7. Comment by MattC | 04.26.2016 | 8:12 am

    My family is pretty long-lived…so I also plan to one-day make the podium simply by outliving all the other riders. Yep…in about 25 years you’ll see me atop the podium in the 80-85 category (I’ll be the “young” guy in that age-group, much like Fatty is now to the 50-55 group). Of course I’ll still have my brother to deal with…when I’m 80 he’ll be 84…that is a slight problem I’ve yet to deal with. But as long as he sticks to road bikes I’m pretty set on the MTB.

    And by then I hope we’ll have some kind of anti-gravity thing installed on our bikes so that a crash doesn’t actually result in you impacting the ground and breaking bones and such. I’ll be quite the mean descender when the fear of being killed or maimed is removed!

  8. Comment by owen | 04.26.2016 | 8:48 am

    hook the Hammer up with a oval chain ring for Mothers Day. They just work.

  9. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 04.26.2016 | 9:21 am

    @owen, interesting that you raise the idea of the oval chain ring. I’ve long wondered about them, but the jury seems to be out, especially for road and CX.

    A friend of mine who’s WAY smarter than I am about this sort of thing is a big fan for MTB and fat biking (1x and 2x for both). Rather than butcher his thinking, I’ll simply share it directly.

    “Read the article below and you pretty much sum up my skeptical expectations and the total change of mind. The big plus? On steep ascents, they smooth out the pulses of your piston-like pedal stroke and lessen the likelihood that one of those peak pulses will cause your tire to break traction. Do it. You won’t regret it.”


  10. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 04.26.2016 | 12:26 pm

    After The Swimmer’s experiences in St George with broken Handlebars, cuts, scrapes and ‘chipped tooth’(am I remembering that right?) we had rebranded her.

    Daughter of The Hammer is certainly “Nails”

  11. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 04.26.2016 | 12:33 pm

    BTW if there are any So Cal Fatties looking for something to do this weekend join me in Santa Margarita:

    http://50mr.com/ for Rwanda and WBR

    I’ll be the old guy eating pie.

  12. Comment by Libby | 04.27.2016 | 9:27 am

    The Feed is a great company. Hubs discovered them a few years ago & only uses their drink stuff (too lazy to walk downstairs to read the bag). Their chews are very flavoufull. Now that Canadian LBS carries them we don’t have to order online. We also have the first two cookbooks. There’s another one that is or will be released this year.
    I’m looking forward to the next installment-I mtn bike vicariously through you.


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