A Note from Fatty: Last weekend, friends and I went and did our annual RAWROD — Ride Around White Rim in One Day — trip. I planned to write it up, but then my friend Bob, who is a much better writer than I am, wrote a much better story than I would have and let me steal it from his blog. You’re welcome.
When adventure writers tell their stories, they start with the dramatic ending.
May 3, 8:30 PM – After riding the White Rim Trail in one day, Paul decides he’s done riding for the weekend and starts the drive home to St. George. He pulls over and dry heaves.
May 3, 9:00 PM – After riding the White Rim Trail in one day, Dug and his son Holden drive into the parking lot of Moab Brewery. Holden tells Dug to stop the car, now. He opens the door in front of the overflow crowd waiting to get a table at the restaurant, and vomits. The crowd looks on in horror.
May 3, 11:15 PM - Dug and Holden return to camp and climb in their sleeping bags, waking me up from a happy slumber. Dug warns me that Holden has been sick. He tells Holden to use a bag of donut gems in case he needs to vomit. Holden uses it. He continues to wake up and vomit into different containers over the course of the night.
May 3, 11:30 PM – The last pair of cyclists complete their ride in the dark with little fanfare. Everyone else is asleep or dealing with sickness.
May 4, 3:00 AM – 30 miles away from the White Rim Trail, Lisa vomits in her hotel room.
May 4, 4:00 AM – Unable to deal with the peer pressure, I crawl out of the tent and vomit in the sand.
Adventure writers also shift dramatically from present tense to past tense.
After having done a 4-hour, 20-mile mountain bike ride on Friday—my longest mountain bike ride of the year—we drove to the top of Horsethief Trail and set up camp at the parking lot.
Kenny has been hosting this event for years, but this year was special—his 50th birthday. He was also doing something different this year. No sag wagon, and no group really. The only plan was to meet at Musselman Arch for photos, and then everyone was on their own, or hopefully in pairs.
We knew the next day was going to be a hot one, so we loaded up as much water as we could carry. My backpack had two one-liter bladders and a few gels and nut rolls, and my bike carried two bottles. I stuffed other food packets in my jersey pockets.
The goal was to leave at 7:00 AM. I wanted to take off a little earlier than everyone else because I’m one of the slower riders, but that was ruined when I woke up sluggish and wandered around like the camp idiot.
I was glad to hear that Paul decided to make a go of it. After the previous day’s ride, he had lost some of his confidence and wasn’t sure he wanted to try it.
On the ride from the Horsethief parking lot back out to Highway 313, I felt weak and uncomfortable under my heavy pack, but happy to be with friends and doing a ride I hadn’t done in almost two decades.*
* In truth, I’ve never actually done the full 100-mile ride before. We always skipped the 13-mile stretch of dirt road.
When the 13-mile stretch of rolling dirt road ended, we gulped down cached drinks and headed up the 8-mile paved road towards the National Park camp entrance.
It was at the camp entrance where I had perhaps my finest moment of the day. My performance in the outhouse was nothing short of spectacular. The golf equivalent would be to bend a 3-iron from the deep rough around a tree and to within 10 feet of the pin. As I emerged from the outhouse, happy and light, I raised my hand in a polite yes-I-acknowledge-your-applause-and-I’m-secretly-thrilled-but-want-to-act-cool wave to my imaginary audience, who really had no business being there, imaginary or no.
Because of my majestic delay, we were now behind the other riders by several minutes. Entering Shafer Trail reminded me of how beautiful this area was.
As I started the Shafer descent, I noticed that my front brake wasn’t working. Elden had loaned me his rigid single-speed bike for the trip, which is kind of him, but the bike wasn’t in great shape. One of the bottle cages was broken, the rear tire was bald, and the power brake was out. I normally wouldn’t say bad things about Elden’s loaner bike—mouth, meet gift horse—but Elden frequently disguises his generous heart with vile meanness. For example, after the ride, here’s what he texted me:
“it was great to see you — bummed i didn’t ride a ton with you, but i am far too strong to hold back at your pace”
Not wanting to fly off any of the switchbacks, I did a slow descent, skidding wildly around corners with only a rear brake and bald tires.
Paul and I met up at the bottom and rode hurriedly at a leisurely pace, if that makes any sense. We arrived at Musselman Arch to see other riders hanging out. Someone in our group took this picture.
A Note From Fatty: Here’s another shot at Musselman’s Arch, this one of (left to right), me, Lisa, Bob, Dug, and Holden]
After a couple of group photos and general milling around, we got back on our bikes. That was the last I saw of the Kenny, Heather, Elden, Lisa, and the rest of the fast riders.
The ride from Musselman to White Crack, which is roughly the half-way point, consists of a series of bends that wind around canyons. You descend slightly as you ride away from the rim and then ascend slightly as you ride back towards the rim. Rinse and repeat.
The flowers and cactuses were blooming. At around 10:30 AM, it was already hot. Here, I turned around for the camera to capture the purple flowers, which unfortunately got washed out in this picture.
[A Note from Fatty: I didnt’ have a lot better luck getting pictures of the expanse of purple flowers, but I got a pretty good close-up of one of them, below]
[Another Note from Fatty: There were incredible yellow flowers on some of the bushes, too — all in all, I’ve never seen the desert look so beautiful.]
Once we finally got around that last mesa that we had been looking at in the distance for hours, we biked through a wide open desert. As we made the turn and headed northwest, I noticed a nice breeze coming from the south.
People accuse the White Rim Trail of having a constant headwind regardless of the direction you’re going. For the record, on May 3, 2014, I do hereby proclaim that we had no wind during the first half of the ride and a mild tail wind during the second half of the ride.
In my memory, the major checkpoints—Shafer, Musselman, Vertigo Void, Murphy’s Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and Horsethief—were spread out fairly evenly. In reality, Shafer and Musselman are close to each other, Vertigo and Murphy’s are only a mile or two apart, and there’s a huge distance between Musselman and Vertigo.
The tentative plan was to eat lunch at Vertigo Void, but several of us weren’t riding fast enough for it to make sense to wait that long. Paul and I ate our lunch in the slim shade of a juniper bush, and pressed on.
By the time Paul and I reached Vertigo Void, the other riders were gone. Here’s what they had been up to:
Paul wanted to keep pushing on, knowing that we had three difficult climbs in front of us, including Murphy’s Hogback in a short while.
The ride up Murphy’s is steep and loose. Paul and I didn’t even try to ride up the steep pitches. When I last did the White Rim Trail back when Bill Clinton was POTUS, Dug and I took pride in being able to clean all the moves. Now, I thought, How did I ever ride up that? In retrospect, I am in awe of my 32-year-old self. In fairness, my 32-year-old self was riding a geared bike with suspension, not a rigid single-speed. So I’m proud of my 51-year-old self as well. Good job, mes present and past.
After pushing our bikes to the top, Paul and I ate a snack and watched a few other riders do the long climb. Cori, who was hanging back with his girlfriend Emily, cleaned it. So did Jolene, who was hanging back to help out a struggling rider.
Cori then proposed to Emily at the top of Murphy’s Hogback. She accepted.
I thought that group of people represented the last of the pack (the gruppetto for you Tour de France fans), but it turns out that a couple of riders were even further back.
There was a nice long drop down the other side of Murphy’s Hogback, and then there was, for me, the most difficult part of the ride. It was hot, 90-degree weather. We had been on our bikes all day long. Eating was hard, and Paul stopped trying to eat altogether, relying on CarboRocket for his energy. CarboRocket, where energy meets experience. CarboRocket, a boost of freedom. CarboRocket, for her pleasure.
The heat was getting to me. I was weary, colicky, and dragging behind Paul, Cori, and Emily. I talked Paul into stopping so that I could transfer water from one bladder to the other and down some ibuprofen, and Cori and Emily pulled ahead for good.
For the next stretch of trail, I don’t remember much. For me, every endurance ride has the same characteristics:
- Pre-ride excitement
- The this-is-never-going-to-end section
- The problem (neck pain, hot spots, sunburn, not enough water, can’t eat, can’t poop, stomach, mechanical)
- Crux fatigue (or worse, bonk)
- Resignation to suffering
- Energizing homestretch
- Emotional finish
Riding near Candlestick, I was dealing with the crux fatigue, which Dug calls the “cave of pain.” I didn’t bonk, but I was miserable. I was saddle-sore, my feet hurt, my neck hurt, my legs were cramping.
Jolene’s group of riders caught up to us at the start of Hardscrabble Hill. Paul and I again walked our bikes up, relieved to be off the saddles.
Bry also caught up with us and told me he was running low on water because he was giving it all away to an embattled friend. I told him I had plenty of extra water, so I filled one of his bottles with CarboRocket.
Once we got to the top of Hardscrabble Hill, where you can look down at the trail as it runs along the Green River, everything turned around for me. The ibuprofen had finally kicked in, so my neck pain was mostly gone, and I had adjusted to the suffering. All I needed to do was keep riding another 11 or so miles along the Green River before the big finish up Horsethief.
Here’s a picture that Paul took of me with my camera. I rode down a bit and then rode back up to face the camera:
This was a beautiful section of trail. We got a nice cloud cover, a tail wind, and cooler temperatures as it approached evening.
Paul had a GPS on his bike, so we knew exactly how far we had to ride before the start of Horsethief. That helped us avoid wondering if the turn-off was right after this next bend, or maybe the next one. We knew we still had 7 miles to go, or 4 miles to go, or 2 miles to go. Horsethief is at mile 99, period, end of story. And then it’s 1.5 miles of climbing.
Here’s a picture of Horsethief that Todd Winner took.
After Elden and Lisa finished their ride, they jumped in their car and drove down to the bottom of Horsethief to help struggling riders. They asked Paul and me if we needed extra water, or if they could take our camelbaks, but we both declined stubbornly. We did agree to gulp down an ice-cold Coke that Lisa fished out of a cooler.
Here’s a picture of Dug’s son Holden, also getting a Coke from Elden and Lisa at the bottom of Horesthief:
At the top of Horsethief, the riders who had finished sat in chairs at the top of the hill, watching, cheering, cajoling.
I decided that I wanted to try to ride up Horsethief. I let some air out of the bald rear tire so that I wouldn’t have to stay seated to avoid skidding out and hammered up the first long stretched before it turned into switchbacks. Sadly, I had to push my bike up a couple of stretches. I like to think that I would have made it had Elden loaned me a better bike.
Then I rode up the last few switchbacks, doing everything in my power—including what Dug called the “paper boy”—to stay on my bike. Dug took this picture of me. I think that’s Paul a little further down the hill.
“Go Bobby!” “Don’t fall!” “Paul is catching you!” “Stay on your bike!”
Here’s Paul riding up Horsethief:
Here’s Paul finishing:
And here’s me the morning after the ride:
Special thanks to Kenny, Heather, Dug, Elden, Lisa, and Paul for all your help.
A Note from Fatty: Next week, November 25-26, I’ll be doing a special pre-order for the new Fat Cyclist long-sleeve t-shirt. Check it out:
I love this design. It’s both beautiful and an excellent mission statement.
In addition to this new design, I’ll be bringing back the painted-look FatCyclist.com design, this time as a long-sleeve T. And the FatCyclist holiday sweater-ish long-sleeve T.
So, look for the announcement and links to the Twin Six site this Monday, November 25. You’ll only have two days to pre-order, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
The t-shirts will ship 12/12 to 12/17, so if you’re in the US, they will be arrive by Christmas.
And when you buy one, you’re going to be helping me make ends meet while I’m writing Fight Like Susan. Which is awfully cool of you.
25 Hours in Frog Hollow, Part IX: Podiums and Ill-Timed Naps
It is such a strange feeling to be done with a big race. Somehow, by riding my bike for just under 26 hours, racing around this loop had become my whole universe. Somehow, suddenly not having to race seemed strange. Foreign.
And incredibly luxurious.
I cleaned up, got into some jeans, a t-shirt, and a jacket — so exquisite to not be wearing a jersey and bike shorts with a damp chamois — and walked around (I had tried to help tear down camp, but Zach, Trisha, and Brooks laughed at my uselessness and told me to go relax).
There was a free lunch — loaded up tostadas from Costa Vida. The Hammer and I picked ours up, then sat down in the dirt to eat, killing time ’til the awards ceremony.
Within moments my head was nodding forward. My food mostly untouched. I have a singular ability to fall asleep instantly, and that ability was asserting itself, big time.
Then I was startled awake by The Hammer, who was squealing, “That’s Jill Homer!” You see, The Hammer is Jill Homer’s biggest fan.
So we went and talked to Jill, finding that — like us — she and her boyfriend Beat had done the race solo and ridden it together. Unlike us, Jill had crashed out of the race, finishing ten laps.
Meanwhile, The Hammer used all her willpower to not ask for an autograph.
Which makes me think: the coolest Spreecast I could ever do would be one where I just have The Hammer and Jill swap stories about what it’s like to be really nice, normal women who also happen to love doing monster endurance events.
Don’t you think?
On the Podium
It was time for awards to be handed out. Of course, it was no surprise at all that The Hammer won her Women’s Solo Singlespeed division:
What we didn’t know for sure — and which the announcer was very cool about announcing — was that The Hammer had also put in the fastest overall women’s solo time. Since she wasn’t registered in the geared solo division though, she wasn’t on that podium. So I have taken the liberty of slightly modifying the official results:
And for the singlespeed men? Well, they called Jamon up for first place — no surprise.
Then they called Kenny up for second place — no surprise.
And then they called me up for third place.
Which was a surprise.
I had — without knowing it — finished my 17th lap just five minutes ahead of El Freako:
To be clear, El Freako’s (aka Jeff) lap times are consistently faster than mine. But sometime during the middle of the night, he did a 4:33 lap. Was he sleeping? Fixing a mechanical? Tending to an injury? I dunno. But this was definitely a tortoise-and-the-hair moment.
And as a result, I got this very cool Lezyne Port-a-Shop toolkit as a prize.
With a retail value of $139, that’s by far the nicest third prize I’ve ever seen at a race. And now this lives in my truck, and I have pretty much every tool I could need to fix anything.
So now it’s especially sad that I’m such a miserable mechanic.
And then it was time to head home. Now, we were smart enough not to attempt the four-hour drive back to Alpine. No. We instead were just going to do the forty-minute drive back to Kenny and Heather’s house.
By the time we got on pavement, I was having a really hard time keeping my eyes trained. “I think I may need to pull over,” I told The Hammer.
And then my head drooped forward. Followed by The Hammer screaming.
Which woke me up pretty thoroughly.
You know what would be a good idea at 24-hour races? Designated drivers for afterward.
And now, for the first time since Spring, The Hammer and I have no races coming up. Nothing to train for.
It feels wonderful.
The only problem is, I still can’t feel my index or middle fingers in my right hand.
A Note from Fatty about today’s entry: This is the final (!) part of my Salt to Saint race report. To read earlier installments, try the below links:
I was asleep, on my bike, flying downhill, with my hands on my aero bars, for two seconds. Maybe not even that long. Maybe only one second. Half a second. Long enough, though, for my head to fall down toward the bars, startling me back awake.
I realized what had just happened — that I could have easily crashed in that moment. Or drifted into oncoming traffic. Or veered into the guardrail and flipped over, down the steep mountainside.
I could have died in a number of ways.
A massive rush of adrenaline hit me as I started to understand my near miss, completely solving my drowsiness problem.
We were getting close. Down to the last thirty miles or so, in fact. We now knew the road we were riding on: it was much the same one we had been on earlier this year when we did the Half Ironman on these same bikes — our Shivs.
But we weren’t getting much of an aero advantage from these bikes anymore. Our backs and necks were just too tired, too sore, too stiff for riding in an aero position.
“Let’s switch to the road bikes,” I said.
And we were so glad we did. Having been on our Shivs for most of the past 400 miles (it’d be interesting to know what the exact mileage breakdown is, but we didn’t keep track), I had just about forgotten how much more comfortable and forgiving a regular ol’ road bike is.
The Hammer confirmed what I was thinking, saying, “Oh, this feels so good.”
Discussion on the Home Stretch
Even before the race began, we knew that the Salt to Saint Ends hard — with a longish climb, then a short-but-steep climb, and then with one last long climb.
We climbed slowly. We had no intense efforts left in us.
As we climbed, I started thinking. An idea occurred to me. A really good one. I just needed to present it properly.
“Do you think Russell, Jason, or Jake have passed us?” I asked. Then I followed up with my real question. “Or is there a chance we’re somehow the lead solo riders?”
“I don’t even care,” The Hammer said. That wasn’t a snub, it was just honest exhaustion.
“Still,” I said, “We have to consider there’s a possibility that we are the lead solo riders. What if,” I continued, now getting to my real idea, “you weren’t simply the first woman to finish this race solo this year — as well as the first woman ever — but were the first solo racer overall?”
“No,” The Hammer said. “You should go first. That way you win overall, and I’m still first woman.”
I knew she’d say that, so had my response ready. “You’ve got to do it. Doing this ride solo was your idea; my job has been to be domestique. And the domestique doesn’t finish ahead of the leader.”
“Besides,” I said, “You finishing first makes a better story in the blog.”
Yeah, that’s right. I used the blog card.
“Fine,” she said.
And thus, for the first time ever, I triumphed in an argument with The Hammer.
As we began the last climb — up REd Hills Parkway — I looked at my Garmin 510. It was 11:50am. We had been out for 27:50. Twenty seven hours and fifty minutes.
“I cannot believe how close you came to predicting our finishing time,” I said. “We’re going to finish within half an hour of your prediction, even with everything that’s gone wrong. That’s amazing.”
“I think we’ll finish at 12:15,” The Hammer said.
We were climbing so slowly. Tired out. I was trying to get a sense of whether I felt elation or excitement. Nope. Just tired. Just ready to go to bed and take a nap.”
No, wait. There it was. Pride. I was proud of what we had done. My wife and I had ridden for twenty eight hours. 423 miles. Together (most of the time). How many couples can say that?
My introspection was broken by the Hammer saying, “Oh please oh please oh please give us a left turn.”
I didn’t understand. Sure, we were approaching a traffic signal, but I had just assumed we’d be going straight through and continuing our climb up and over Red Hills Parkway. We weren’t even halfway up it.
But there it was: a course marking, showing us to turn left.
“I don’t get it,” I said.
The Hammer, who knows St. George better than I do, told me, “We’re done climbing. This drops us right into downtown, a couple blocks from the finish line.”
“We’re there,” she said.
And she was right. A quick curvy descent (and if you’re not careful, a very treacherous one: another team’s racer blew the curve, flipped over the barrier and landed twenty feet below, breaking all kinds of bones), put us on Diagonal Street. Kenny and Heather pulled alongside of us, gave us a final cheer, and then shot ahead to meet us at the finish line.
We turned one final time toward a park, and there it was.
I feathered my brakes, slowing so The Hammer would cross first, and then rolled in behind her.
We had done it.
Our final times were 27:59:29 (for The Hammer) and 27:59:42 (for me).
We had beaten The Hammer’s predicted finish time…by just about half a minute.
Zac and Blake were at the finish line, as were — of course — Kenny and Heather.
We were incredibly fortunate to have such patient family and friends take care of us.
We quickly found out that we were, in fact, the first solo finishers, making The Hammer the overall solo winner, and me the first man. Russell Mason would finish just under five hours later. Jake and Jason — the great guys we rode with at the beginning of the race — would not finish the race. I would love to know all three of their stories.
The race organizers interviewed The Hammer and me on-camera for a few minutes. Asked what I considered to be the most challenging aspect of the race, I answered, “Recurring hiccups.”
I am pretty sure they did not expect that answer.
We went to Heather and Kenny’s house, took the most welcome shower in the history of showers, then collapsed and slept on what I had always thought of as an OK bed…until that point. Now I knew that bed is magical.
We got up a couple hours later and went to the awards ceremony, held in the same park we had finished in. Our prizes? A decal we could put on our cars saying we had soloed the Salt to Saint, along with a set of new road tires for our bikes. And — you must believe I am not making this up — a case of Red Bull.
Which, I would like to add, remains unopened.
PS: For those of you who would like to see what a really long ride looks like on Strava, here you go.
PPS: I am actually writing and posting this while on a plane because I feel like I owe it to you to finish this story before disappearing. That said, I will be busy with some top-secret stuff as soon as I land, and won’t be posting tomorrow.
PPPS: I expect that some of you have questions. Ask in the comments and I’ll try to get to them tonight (Thursday) or on the flight home tomorrow (Friday).
A Note from Fatty about today’s entry: This is part 11 of my Salt to Saint race report. To read earlier installments, try the below links:
We had been going downhill for an hour, and now we had a thousand or so feet of climbing. People were passing us. Constantly.
“Just remember,” I said, “that none of these people have been riding as long as we have. They have all had six or more hours of rest since the last time they rode. And in an hour or two, they’re done.“
“Plus,” The Hammer replied, “They’re still more or less in the same place as we are, this far into the race. We aren’t doing too bad.”
She was right. The Hammer had predicted that we’d do this race in 28 hours. So far, in spite of everything that had gone wrong, we were right on schedule.
“I am beginning to believe that we are going to finish this thing,” I said.
“But I wish all these people who are passing us knew that we’re riding this thing solo,” The Hammer said.
I did too. So I started thinking about it. And then I came up with an ingenious plan, requiring nothing but a sharpie.
“We could have just written “SOLO” on our calves,” I said. Like this:
No, these are not my legs.
“And then,” I said, “As the night drags on and we’re feeling really bad, we could just add a letter.” Like this:
“And finally, after we’ve been riding all night and we’re just crawling along…like we are right now…we can add one final letter.” Like this:
And then I took a moment to marvel at my ingenuity.
So now you know what kinds of things I think about when I’ve been up and riding for a day and a night. Isn’t the inside of my head an interesting place?
Try, Try Again
A big drop brought us to the Kanab transition, which was important for a few important reasons:
- We were now well into our final hundred miles. “Only” eighty or so miles to go.
- Daylight wasn’t far off. Within the next hour or so it would be light. Which was incredibly exciting for us.
- Kenny and Heather would be taking over crewing duties from Blake and Zac.
In my head, I was really glad to see Kenny and Heather. I really was. As I greeted them, though, the part of me that listens to what I’m saying and how I’m saying it observed, “They just traveled to Kanab, Utah to drive behind you and get you food and otherwise babysit you for the next several hours, and you sound completely disinterested. Like a zombie.”
So I said, again, how glad I was they were here and how much I appreciated them.
And then I think I said it again. At which point The Hammer observed, “You’re happy they’re here. I think they got it.”
I confess. Lucidity was a scarce resource.
Luckily for Kenny, Heather, and The Hammer, I didn’t try to — once again — convince them that despite my appearance and slurred, mumbling voice I was happy to see them. Because I had Other Business to attend to.
By which I mean, I needed to poop.
By the time I came out of the outhouse in the parking lot, everyone was ready to go.
I, however, had not had any luck. “Oh well,” I thought. “Next time.”
Except just as I threw a leg over my bike — I’d be riding the Shiv for the next sixty miles or so — I decided I needed to try again.
“Sorry everyone,” I said, and headed back to the outhouse.
A while later I re-emerged, my perspective on the day and the ride much, much improved.
It’s the little things in life that matter.
Deedle Deedle Dumpling
I found The Hammer sitting in the crew car, in the driver’s seat. Her head resting against the steering wheel. Quite possibly asleep.
I roused her with the question, “Did I, sometime during the past twenty-four hours, accidentally eat a cork?”
(OK, from here on out I’m done with the poop talk. Honest.)
The Hammer got her helmet and gloves on, got on her bike, and we got going on the next leg, with Kenny and Heather following close behind.
“I can’t clip in,” The Hammer said.
“With either foot?”
“No, just my left foot.”
And that, right there, is the curse of the Speedplay road pedal: ridiculously finicky spring-loaded cleats. One little piece of gravel can lodge in and make it impossible to clip in.
The Hammer kept working at it, though and — sometime shortly after we crossed the Arizona state line — she clipped in.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the next transition area, she had forgotten about the difficulty getting her shoe clipped in, was unable to clip out, and fell over on her side, pinned under her bike.
Ordinarily, I would have been right there, helping her out of the pedal and making sure The Hammer was OK. I’d have been the ultimate solicitous husband.
This time, though, I just stood there, thinking to myself, “Why would she do that? What a stupid joke.”
We ate — one last turkey and swiss sandwich for me, after which I swore I would never eat turkey deli meat, swiss cheese, or bread ever again. Oddly, I held no grudge against the mayonnaise.
And then we were on the road again.
But this time, The Hammer could not clip in. No matter what. Just couldn’t.
So she rode that way — not clipped in on her left foot — for about 14 miles. After which she remembered: she had actually brought a second pair of road shoes.
Like I said, lucidity was a scarce commodity.
The Hammer changed into a spare shoe — just the one, leaving her with a Specialized shoe on the right and a Shimano shoe on her left foot.
“Ebony, and Ivorreeeeeeee,” I sang, briefly breaking into “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” which — twenty four hours into this ride — was still on auto repeat in my brain.
I will never again be able to listen to that song without thinking of this race.
Morning came, and our spirits soared. Partly this was because — even if you haven’t slept, the returning sun somehow rejuvenates you. But mostly it was because we knew that morning meant that we’d be finishing the race soon. And then we could lie down and take a nap before coming back for the awards ceremony.
“Do you have any idea whether the other solo riders passed us sometime during the night?” I asked The Hammer.
“No, there’s no way to tell,” she replied. “We’ve been stopping for around ten minutes every hour for the past eight hours or so, though. I’d be surprised if they haven’t caught and passed us at some point during the night.”
I agreed, and I didn’t care. We were doing this to complete, not compete.
“I’m really proud of you,” I told The Hammer. “You’re going to do this. You’re going to be the first woman to ever finish this course solo. And you’re doing it right on the pace you had predicted. I think we’re going to finish right around noon.”
“Yeah, or maybe a little later,” The Hammer responded. “But we’ll finish in under 29 hours, which is within an hour of my prediction. That’s pretty good.”
We went through the Cedar Point transition, which meant a big eighteen-mile descent.
This late in the race, it almost seemed like cheating, to suddenly be flying, low in the aero bars, just coasting.
I stared at the line.
My heart rate dropped.
I found it incredibly difficult to keep my eyes open.
I kept drifting onto the rumble strips, which would briefly make me jerk to alertness. But it wouldn’t last long, and I’d start fading.
And then, finally, ripping along downhill at thirty miles per hour, it happened.
I fell asleep.
A Note from Fatty about today’s entry: This is part 10 of my Salt to Saint writeup, for crying out loud. It’ll make more sense if you read the earlier installments first:
I want to tell an accurate, honest story here. I want to describe what it’s really like to ride your road bike for 423 miles, nonstop, with your wife. Paradoxically (I think), though, part of being honest and accurate with my storytelling means that I have to confess that there is no way I can be accurate about a big chunk of the nighttime hours of the race. They blend together, muddled up in my mind. I’ve lost track of what cities we went through, or in what order, or where the climbs and descents happened.
My clearest recollection is staring at the white line, aware that The Hammer is close enough behind that I can see the wash of her light directly ahead of me.
I remember being grateful for that fact, because my neck was too sore, too stiff, to turn around and check whether we were still together.
I remember losing all interest in speed, distance, and time. Those were all numbers that I figured would be relevant again when it got light.
I remember that we were almost always going uphill. Just barely uphill, but uphill.
I remember thinking about RAAM — the Race Across America. I thought about how the idea of it, once intriguing, was now completely abhorrent to me. Not because I thought I couldn’t do it. Just the opposite: I got a pretty good sense that maybe I have exactly the right gifts for this kind of race, both mental and physical. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t, in fact, picture how anyone would want to ride the RAAM. A week-plus of this? No thanks.
Also, I spent several minutes considering what a stupid acronym “RAAM” is.
But more than anything else, I remember how I learned to hate food.
When we were planning for this race, The Hammer and I had agreed: we’d never stop except to pee or change clothing. We’d do all our eating, all our drinking, while riding our bikes.
And to our credit, we had stuck with that plan for a big chunk of the race. At least half of it, I’d say.
But as we crossed the line into Saturday, The Hammer suggested that it was too hard to eat every half hour now; we should try to eat every hour, instead. And also, we should stop while we ate, just for a few minutes.
That was fine with me. That was an easy decision, in fact.
It was, however, much harder to decide what to eat.
What to Eat?
I love Honey Stinger energy chews. Love them. I could eat three packets of them, right this second. But I had been eating nothing but them for the past seven hours or so — meaning I had eaten around fourteen packets.
I was ready for a change.
The problem was, nothing sounded good. Nothing at all. It wasn’t so much that everything sounded bad, either. It was just that my mind was so scrambled that I couldn’t do what I normally do when it’s time to eat. And what do I normally do when it’s time to eat? Why, I make a call to the special place in my brain where I can ask myself, “What sounds good to eat right now?” and expect an immediate list to come to mind, cross-tabbed by closeness-to-hand, ease of preparation, and best taste. A matrix of deliciousness, if you will.
Now, however, just when I needed it most, instead of a list of things I’d like to eat I was getting a 404 – Not Found message.
“How about a turkey and swiss cheese sandwich on a dinner roll?” Blake asked, digging through the ice chest.
Was he kidding? Was that really an option? I had no idea.
“That would be fine,” I said. “With plenty of extra mayo, please, because I’m pretty sure that I am currently not making any saliva at all.”
(This may have been due to the fact that I had secretly stopped drinking anything while riding about four hours ago, about the time it had gotten dark. Nobody could see my bottles, though, and I wasn’t volunteering the information, because I knew I’d be scolded. Besides, every hour or so I was drinking a Red Bull, and that was enough liquid when it was cold and I wasn’t sweating [much], right? Right?)
The Hammer wanted one, too, but without the obscene amount of mayo.
This Behavior Must Stop
Blake made his mom’s sandwich, then made mine. This was how things had gone, the whole day: take care of The Hammer, then take care of Fatty. Ladies first, you know. Plus, the crew had been stacked with The Hammer’s side of the family. And so I had gotten used to waiting, and I was fine with it.
Except for one small detail.
Once The Hammer had finished eating, she would go. Regardless of whether I was finished eating, or not. Without even checking, really. Two or three times during the day, in fact, I had just had my first bite of whatever I was eating when The Hammer started riding away.
“I guess I’m done,” I’d say, handing back whatever I was eating and burning a match to catch up with The Hammer.
By now, however, I was out of “catch up with The Hammer” matches. And I needed to fuel up.
So, as I took my first bite of my sandwich and The Hammer started rolling away, I yelled, “Just STOP for a second, will you?! Can I please eat, too?”
The Hammer looked startled, possibly due to the fact that I used more sarcasm than was necessary. It’s also possible that I yelled louder than was necessary.
“But I always do this,” she said. “I don’t want to hold you up.”
“I know,” I said. “But I am done with chasing. For the rest of this race, I am all about a consistent, slow pace. And I need to eat. So don’t leave anymore until we’re both ready to go.”
“Has this been bothering you for a while?” The Hammer asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “For around the past seven hours or so.”
“Well why did you wait seven hours to say something?” she asked.
It was a good question. And very soon, I expect to have a fantastic answer occur to me.
And Now for Some Electronic Geekery
“SR-14″ is not a particularly glorious-sounding name for an important milestone in the race. But it was, in fact, quite possibly the single most important milestone of the entire race, as far as The Hammer and I were concerned. Because that transition area marked the end of our giant, never-ending (like, ninety miles!) false flat of a climb.
For the next 22 miles, it was going to be nothing but downhill. Free miles! It promised to be the easiest, fastest segment of the day, though we had been warned that all this descending from a mountain pass in the dead of night would be brutally cold.
So as we ate our sandwiches — another turkey and cheese for each of us — we dressed extra-warmly, adding a jacket and heavy gloves to the layers we already wore.
We also took the opportunity to swap out some of our electronics.
First, we swapped batteries on our NiteRider 1800 Pro Races — the first set of batteries had lasted an astonishing 6.5 hours and were still going, but we didn’t want to have to change batteries during the descent. Also, we mounted the big guns, lightwise, onto our handlebars: NiteRider Pro 3600 DIYs. Which meant we each had a total of 5400 lumens of light available to us, so that when we rode beside each other heading downhill (we were very intentionally not getting on the side of the road; we were being as big and obvious as we could), we cast off considerably more light than a car does.
Is it obvious that I’m kind of in love with NiteRider?
Next, we swapped out our Garmins. We had gotten 17+ hours our of our 510s, but had gotten the “low battery” warning, so we switched over to our old 500’s.
My Garmin 500 would not, by the way, survive the descent. Somewhere along the way — the catch that attaches to the mount worn away from years of use — it popped out of the mount. I never noticed ’til the next transition, by which time my 510 was fully recharged anyway.
So if by chance you come across a Garmin 500 laying on the road somewhere between SR-14 and Kanab in Utah, uh, please feel free to keep it. Because it won’t stay on your mount anyway.
The Hammer and I started on our big, long-anticipated descent. The one we were so excited about. The one we had been talking about.
And it sucked.
I was hurting in a big way. Or should I say “ways.” Because there were three things simultaneously going on.
First, I had heartburn. Bad. Searing, painful heartburn. This would be my companion for about ten minutes every time I ate for the rest of the race. I suspect this was due to the enormous amount of Red Bull I had been drinking. Probably it is not advisable to drink sixteen Red Bulls over the course of a day. I expect that Red Bull would probably concur.
Second, I was getting verrrrrry drowsy. Something that hadn’t occurred to me during the constant climbing for the past several hours was that the effort of climbing kept my heart rate up, which in turn kept me awake.
Now I was coasting. Hardly moving at all, really. And I felt a deep and pressing need to fall asleep. But I didn’t, because of the third problem, which was…
Third, Hiccups. Hiccups became my bane. Yes, they kept me awake, but other than that they were driving me completely nuts. And it wasn’t just an isolated case of hiccups that went away after a few minutes. Starting around 3:00am and for the rest of the race, I would get hiccups every time I ate something.
I was miserable. Much more miserable than this list would suggest.
And also, I needed to poop.
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