After the race, I met up with the man whose life I had saved just a few hours ago.
No, I didn’t come to visit him in the hospital, where he had just been released from the ICU. In fact, I met him while standing in line to get the post-race meal we got as part of the race.
He was there, as you might suspect, because I had saved his life so well that he had been able to finish the race.
He thanked me. Because I’m awesome at life-saving.
How to Save a Life, Part 1
The thing is, his wasn’t the only life I had saved during this race. Earlier, I had noticed a racer walking his bike down the trail. His rear tire was clearly flat.
Pulling to a stop, I said, “I have stuff to fix a flat. Want it?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve had three flats today already. I’ve had enough. I’m done.”
“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “You don’t want to quit this race, right?”
“You might need that to fix a flat of your own,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, but if that happens, I guarantee someone will help me out. People around here are like that,” I said. Which is totally true. I am 100% certain that anyone who needed help during this race would have gotten that help in short order (exactly this happened, in fact). Which is an awesome vibe to have during a race.
“No, I’m going to take three flats as a sign that this just isn’t meant to be,” he said. “I’d probably crash and die on my next flat.”
I had volunteered my stuff (at least) three times, and he had turned it down each time, enough that I felt like he wasn’t being polite. He really had flipped the switch. He was done.
So I left him without giving him what he needed to ride again, thus preventing him from almost certainly having a horrific, life-ending crash.
It felt good to have saved his life.
How to Save a Life, Part 2
I confess that this first saving of a life may not have been all that dramatic. I would now like to further warn you that you probably aren’t going to feel like all this buildup to the cliffhanger I set you up for yesterday isn’t going to be worth it, either.
In which case I would like to offer you a refund of your ten minutes.
As I concluded in yesterday’s post, I was riding strong. Feeling great. Happy to be outside and riding my heart out.
Then I saw a man, not on his bike. Walking up an incline — a steep incline, to be sure, but not unrideable. He was slowly pushing his bike, clearly in agony.
I recognized that agony. I’ve been there before, pushing my bike because I was in too much pain to ride.
That’s how you keep moving forward when your quads and hamstrings are both locked up, fully cramped.
The pain is incredibly intense. I swear, it feels like you are going to die.
I slowed to his pace. Which, basically, means I was going just slightly faster than a trackstand. “Cramps, both legs?”
“Yes,” he grunted between clenched teeth. “It’s killing me.”
“I’m going to save your life,” I said. And — very dramatically, as is my way — I climbed off my bike and produced a fliptop tube of Gu Roctane Electrolyte Capsules.
“Take a handful of these and you’ll be back on your bike in no time,” I said. He stuck out his hand and I shook half a dozen (maybe more) pills into his hand.
“All of them, right now,” I emphasized. “They’ve brought me back from cramps just like yours. They’re a lifesaver.”
He nodded, popped them into his mouth, and washed them down.
“Good luck,” I said, and got back onto my bike.
Clearly, I am a hero. A life-saving hero.
Still, as I rode off — my heart full and my chest puffed out — I couldn’t help but wonder: Under what circumstances would I accept and unquestioningly swallow a handful of pills (pills that had not been identified, no less) from a complete stranger?
While racing and cramping so bad I thought I might die, came back the obvious answer.
Which made me feel like even more of a hero. Because I am.
How to Save a Life, Parts 3 and 4
I had been out Carborocket for about ten minutes, and already I was getting concerned. I drink quite a bit less than most people do during races, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to not have water available when I need it.
Fortunately, about fifty feet after I had saved this (second) man’s life, I arrived at a popup tent. Beneath, a man stood, fiercely guarding several containers of water.
OK, it’s possible he wasn’t guarding the water. In fact, it’s possible he offered it to me freely.
You could even say he saved my life by refilling my Camelbak, though I might quibble with you on that score, due to my aversion to hyperbole.
Anyway, with my Camelbak replenished, I continued on, feeling like I probably would not need to stop again for water.
I was right, but I was also kind of wrong. Because not ninety minutes later, I came across the official aid station. Which means I had refilled my Camelbak with unofficial water!
I chose to press on. Indeed, thanks to the location of this unofficial aid station I had unwittingly used, I thought that I would not be using any official aid station for the entirety of the race.
And then, as I passed by, I stopped suddenly. For I had seen…a can of Coke.
A can of Coke, I tell you.
“Can I have that Coke?” I asked the aid station person.
“Sure,” this Angel of Heaven replied, and commenced to pour it over a cup full of ice.
I drank. It was glorious. I had not even realized that I had been dying, but this Coke was so wonderful that there is no possible other explanation of its perfection than that I needed it in order to survive.
Thereby was my own life saved.
Next: A Flashback
I had one more loop — on a trail called “Barrel Ride” or “Barrel Roll” or “Big Barrel Full of Rolling Riders” or something like that. And then a mostly-downhill ride to the finish line.
So you’d think this story is mostly over. But you’d be wrong, because tomorrow I’m going to flash this story back to earlier in the race, when I was a terrible person to some of my very best friends.
A Note from Fatty: If you’re catching up with this story, you should read the prologue first, then part 1, then this. Otherwise, you’re going to miss out on…well, not much, really. But still: please read them. Or I’ll be all sullen for the rest of the day.
Things have changed.
As a darned-near-49-year-old-man, it’s rare that I get to say this, but as I hit the first climb of the day, it was immediately apparent. For one thing, I stayed seated for about 3/4 of the climb; a winter of TrainerRoad has changed my riding behavior. Instead of hitting everything like a singlespeeder (whether I’m on a singlespeed or not), I was shifting to a lower gear and spinning.
Oh, and instead of a fully rigid singlespeed, I was on a technological marvel of a bike: a full-suspension Cannondale Scalpel Carbon Team, complete with a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, a fork that…doesn’t fork, and high-zoot ENVE XC wheels.
Sadly, I was killling myself a little too hard to take a selfie, but here I am with this beauty of a bike on the exact same course, wearing the exact same thing as I did during the race, but a few weeks earlier:
So really, you just need to imagine a lot of people around me. And also, I’m about four pounds lighter now than I was back then.
Anyway, while I am probably a hardtail guy at heart, this Scalpel was beginning to change my mind about full suspension.
After the first big climb — a great chance for me to move forward a few places in the group — the True Grit Epic puts you on rolling dirt roads for a few miles, punctuated with short stretches of singletrack.
I got into a nice uncomfortable riding groove, repeatedly telling me several important facts about this race:
- I would not place well. As a 48-year-old man, I was in the largest age group division: 40-49. There were 99 of us, and I recognized more than ten names of people who are much faster than I am. I would not get on the podium. I would not even get close.
- I had no objective. With a course that was changed from previous years, and with weather that was better than in any previous years, previous finish times of my competitors meant nothing. I wasn’t racing against anyone, and I wasn’t even racing against a clock. I was just racing. Going hard as practice for going hard.
- I could get injured. This course is no joke. It’s mostly extremely technical singletrack. To ride all of it would require mountain biking skills beyond what I’ve got. All the fancy suspension and geometry in the world won’t prevent me from panic-braking and going over my handlebars. The season hasn’t even begun, really. I would err on the side of caution.
During this few miles, I slowly reeled in a guy on a very nice Ibis Ripley. As I finally caught him, I said, “Hey, that is a really nice bike.”
He did not reply.
“Super nice Ripley,” I said, again.
That’s when I saw the earbuds in his ears. Both ears.
I’d see this guy probably a dozen more times during the day, but I never tried talking with him again. When I passed him, I didn’t bother calling it out. And I noticed other people frustrated with getting no response from as they called out they were coming by on one side or the other, too.
I’m not one to preach about listening to music while on your bike. Not even during races. Do what you want to do. But how about this: During a race, don’t listen to your music to the extent that you are unaware of your fellow racers. It’s dangerous, and it’s rude.
A Really Nice Surprise
I promise, that was the absolutely last grumpy thing I’m going to say about this day, in large part because it’s the only even slightly bothersome experience I had from the day.
It was mid-March and sunny, with temperatures staying in the 70s. The wind was never stronger than a couple miles per hour: just enough to be pleasant.
People were courteous. Those of us who were tentative on some of the really technical stuff were doing our best to get out of the way of those who are technical superstars.
And the course was marked beautifully.
I can’t emphasize what a wonderful relief that was.
As a person who is…um…challenged with directions and course markings in general, I had been really nervous about the True Grit Epic, especially after pre-riding the course a few weeks earlier with Kenny. Both The Hammer and I had agreed that we would never have succeeded in making the correct turns in this labyrinth of trails; we were sure to get lost or misread the course.
But I didn’t. Ever. Not one single problem with seeing the course, not one blown turn, not one question in my mind about whether I was currently going on an unmarked adventure.
Every single turn was indicated, and most places where you shouldn’t turn were taped off or marked with a “Wrong Way” sign.
I don’t think I ever went more than fifty feet without seeing a course marking, making it so I could spend all my time concentrating on riding well and trying to be fast.
GRO Productions deserves kudos galore for their extraordinary work in making this one of the easiest-to-follow courses I’ve ever been on, especially in light of how it could have easily been one of the most confusing.
Looking for The Hammer
Before long, I encountered a racer buddy / friend: Mark Nelson. He and I aren’t related (as far as I know) but we seem to have similar power, similar speed. I’ve ridden a big chunk of the 6 Hours of Frog Hollow with him. I’ve ridden a smaller chunk of the Rockwell Relay with him.
And here at the True Grit Epic, for the next two hours or so, we’d be playing a game of leapfrog. I passed him on every climb. He passed me on every descent.
I tried to get him to talk during the climbs; he tried to get me to follow his line over more technical terrain than I should have during descents.
All the while, however, I kept looking back over my shoulder. Because I was looking for my real competition: The Hammer.
Yes, I viewed my wife as the most important competition I had in this race.
Yes, also I realize that’s kind of messed up.
But here’s the thing. When The Hammer and I pre-rode the True Grit course a few weeks ago, she killed me. She was faster on the climbs. She was nearly as fast on the descents.
And — very importantly — she got stronger and faster as the day went on…while I started sagging.
The below photo, for example, shows her easily riding behind me as I do my level best to not let her hang:
This had caused me some concern for the race day. Because, you see, if The Hammer caught me, it didn’t mean we were racing together, it meant that she had made up the five minutes between our starting waves.
That said, before the race I had admitted the possibility that this might happen, and had given The Hammer strict instructions on how to interact with me as she passed.
“Don’t make fun of me or yell at me to get out of your way,” I said. “That’s humiliating.”
“OK, no making fun. No humiliating,” she said.
“And don’t tell me I’m doing good as you ride by. That’s condescending and embarrassing and I won’t believe you.”
“Fine. I won’t tell you you’re doing bad, but I won’t tell you you’re doing good, either.”
“Maybe you should just pretend you don’t know it’s me as you go by,” I concluded.
I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering if I’d see her. Whether I’d see her. Whether she’d actually not say anything when she rode by
But she didn’t pass me. I was, I had to admit, riding really strong.
Strong enough, in fact, that I caught up with and passed several racers.
Including a racer who was no longer on his bike.
At which point I got off…and commenced to save his life.
Which seems like a good place to pick up tomorrow.
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).
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