2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 14: Birthday Present

07.28.2016 | 1:09 pm

If you ever get the chance to race the Rockwell Relay, you should. And if you get the chance to be the one to choose who rides which legs, you should choose to be racer number 1. 

There are a couple of good reasons for this. 

First, because you race the first leg, you are also the person to race your final leg first. Which means you get to laze about after you’re done, smugly thinking to yourself, “I am so glad I don’t have to go out again anymore,” as the other racers suit up and wade out into million-degree heat.

Second — and more importantly — by being racer 1, you get to be the one to race leg 9 (Panguitch to Cedar Breaks), which is inarguably the best leg of the entire race. You start in the desert, and race into the high mountains, going from one kind of beauty to a completely different kind of beauty. 

It’s a lot of climbing, but so worth it: it’s just inspiringly beautiful. 

First Place

So I was really excited to be showing off this leg to my new friend Tom from the Mike Nosco Memorial team. I knew that he’d love this challenging, gorgeous climb.

But there was a problem: I just couldn’t hang with him.

Second Place

You know how when you’re at your absolute outer limit of what you’re capable? You’re just riding yourself into this incredibly deep hole, and you have no idea how or whether you’ll ever get out? When you’re riding at top speed toward The Cliff of Bonkitude, and keeping your hands off the brakes?

It was like that for me.

Meanwhile, Tom chatted conversationally, joking about how now that I was 50, I could apply to be on his team next year.

“Tom,” I said.


“I…can’t…keep…this…pace.” Every word on the exhale, because I was breathing as fast as I possibly could. 

“Oh, I can back it off a little bit,” Tom said.

“No, you…should go…on,” I said. “I’m…going to…need to…spend some…time alone in…the pain…cave.

“You sure?” he asked.

“You know how it is,” I said.

Yeah, I think we all know how it is. Pain cave time sometimes needs to be alone time.

Tom rode on ahead, and I entered the peculiar state of suffering. “This is how I’m spending my fiftieth birthday,” I though to myself. “Fastest coed team by far, and ahead of every men’s competitive team in the race. Only guy ahead of me is another guy in his fifties.”

“I’m not doing half-bad,” I concluded.

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At the moment, I was thinking about the race, but I think it was true about my life in general.

Third Place

The Hammer, Ben and Lindsey caught up with me, ringing cowbells and shouting — still engaged in and excited about the race into the second morning of this event. Incredible. 

“I’m so lucky,” I thought, and I meant it.

I rode. Time passed. I kept going. My team cheered for me. It got light outside.

“Hey,” said a voice behind me. “How far ahead are the leaders?” 

A rider, from nowhere, bridging from so far back I didn’t know he even existed. I looked back: it was the guy Nathan (of BatB) had joined forces with in the first leg to blow the rest of us out of the water. 

Somehow, I had linked him and Nathan together in my mind, and looked to see if he was there. No. A relief.

But still, this guy had asked about “the leaders,” plural. It didn’t make sense to me. There was just one leader up ahead. Tom. 

“They’re not far,” I said, adopting plural just because this other guy had. It wasn’t a lie, but it also wasn’t entirely honest. I had no idea how far ahead of me Tom had gotten in the time since he had dropped me. Further, I had no idea how long it had been since he had dropped me, nor how far I had ridden.

I was riding hard, but I wasn’t lucid, precisely.

“OK, thanks,” the guy said, and shot forward as if to show his contempt for gravity.

I, on the other hand, had a very healthy respect for gravity.

Second Place

More time passed, I guess. It usually does. I turned off my light; I wouldn’t need it anymore.

There was something way up ahead. A rider? Yes, a rider. The guy who just passed me a few minutes or hours ago? No. Slighter than that.


“Huh,” I thought. “That’s a surprise.” 

I discovered at that moment that I had not previously been going as hard as I could, because I started going faster.

And I caught Tom.

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“There’s no air here,” Tom said.

“Welcome to 7500 feet,” I said. Where I live, there aren’t many rides that don’t touch that altitude.

Tour Guide

And then a weird thing happened: I turned into Tom’s tour guide. He hadn’t asked for a tour guide, but I couldn’t help myself for some reason.

I pointed out the amazingly beautiful volcanic rock formations. I pointed out the gorgeous fields. I told him about how many climbs we had left and which ones were excruciatingly hard.

Tom endured it all.

“It’s really cool up here,” he said at one point.

“I know,” I enthused. “It’s just so great.”

“No, I meant that I’m literally cold,” he clarified.

“Huh,” I replied. “But it’s also really cool in the other way too, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Cool in both ways.”

Finish Line

The climb to Cedar Breaks is relentlessly brutal, but only for a while. Then you get some milder climbs, and even some incredibly fun descents.

So I guess it’s not relentlessly brutal after all.

As we got closer, Tom and I emptied ourselves out. We both knew this was our final effort of the race, that there was no reason to be conservative.

But you know, we also hung together. Tom and I had ridden about 2/3 of this race together, I don’t think either of us were now looking for a sprint to victory.

We crossed the line side-by-side, put feet down to have the timing chips moved from our ankles to our teammates’.

I had just ridden my heart out in a beautiful place with a guy who somehow was pretty much exactly my racing match, and we were winning our respective divisions handily. It was over, basically; it was now just a formality to get across the finish line.

Yeah, it was turning out to be a really nice fiftieth birthday.

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But I was wrong about the race being over.

Which is where we’ll pick up in Monday’s installment of this race report.


  1. Comment by Ken G | 07.28.2016 | 1:30 pm

    There’s that pesky weekend getting in the way again.

  2. Comment by yannb | 07.28.2016 | 1:40 pm

    I can vouch for leg 9 being the best leg for exact reasons that Elden describes. It’s my favorite. What he doesn’t mention is the beautiful lake that you ride by for a while and the houses that look like they belong in some swiss alpine village (minus their size)

    I love it when I finish that last leg. I’m done and I too can laze around watching teammates riding off into the heat.

  3. Comment by David | 07.28.2016 | 2:39 pm

    Not to diminish any of the previous works of genius that Fatty has written (and, yes, I’m including his tweets too), but I am *really* enjoying this report. Even as it extends into its third week of publication.

  4. Comment by Paige | 07.28.2016 | 2:39 pm

    Monday??? But it’s only Thursday. Hmpfh!

  5. Comment by Evan | 07.28.2016 | 3:48 pm

    Let me be the probably last to say, Happy Birthday!

  6. Comment by Kenneth | 07.28.2016 | 3:56 pm

    For those who might be a little upset about how long this exquisite 2016 Rockwell report is taking…revenge is a dish best served cold.

    I figure I may as well enjoy writing this and take my time doing so. Soon enough, it’ll be winter and there will be no stories at all to tell. Once again I’ll be staring, panicked, at the screen, four times per week, wondering, “What can I possibly write today?”

    Wow that last sentence had a lot of commas. – FC

  7. Comment by walter | 07.28.2016 | 4:16 pm

    Until Monday??? Noooooo! Leaving us with yet another cliff hanger for the weekend is just so unfair (though you do it so well).

  8. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 07.28.2016 | 4:33 pm

    Uh, Fatty, have you not considered TrainerRoad ride reports!?

  9. Comment by Laura | 07.28.2016 | 5:21 pm


  10. Comment by Scott | 07.28.2016 | 6:59 pm

    He looks like Bettini!

  11. Comment by Kenneth | 07.29.2016 | 6:54 am

    To hopefully clarify, I wasn’t implying revenge against Fatty. My apologies for anyone who might have thought that (I need to start reading everything at least five times before posting…sheesh!) This is a classic series of RR posts that is a pleasure to read. Thank you, Fatty!

    Hopefully nobody took it that way, but I think it’s awesome that you care enough to clarify in any case. Thanks very much for the kind words. I’m enjoying writing these, and it’s really nice to have my effort appreciated. – FC

  12. Comment by Lucas | 07.29.2016 | 10:24 am

    I love this segment of your report because I KNOW Tom!!! This guy and the rest of his Fast Friday team made me a better rider/racer. When I needed to hit the next level of my abilities, these guys got me there! Fun read Fatty!

  13. Comment by MattC | 07.29.2016 | 11:55 am

    @Scott…Tom DOES like like Bettini! Does he speak Italian?? (Bettini IS Italian, isn’t he?)

  14. Comment by Christina | 07.29.2016 | 1:38 pm

    But where’s the fundraising update?

    Count me in on this has been a fantastic report. I enjoyed the subtitles throughout this post.

  15. Comment by AKChick | 07.29.2016 | 6:23 pm

    Hey Elden, What about some guest post reports in the winter? I have a couple rides I plan on doing on my fat tire bike this winter. I could submit a draft ride report so you could see whether or not I’d bore everyone to death or if I write well enough that people wouldn’t throw tomatoes at the screen.

    One is the Frosty Bottom, an Iditarod Invitational prep ride http://chainreactioncyclesevents.blogspot.com/2016/01/2016-frosty-bottom-results.html and the other is the Talkeetna Trio (after party is THE BOMB) http://fatbackbikes.com/events/

    There are also 100 MoN reports. I bought the kit but haven’t done mine yet. This year I decided to ride for fun and not train or do any organized events (except for the 20 mile Talkeetna Trio in March). My mind and body needed a break.

    I know I really enjoyed reading all the 100 MoN reports. Just a thought to help take off some of the pressure.


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