I first heard the Prime Race Axiom of Truth (PRAT) many years ago. Never try something new on race day.
Don’t eat anything new. Don’t drink anything new. Don’t use new tires. Don’t run your existing tires at a different pressure than usual. Don’t switch to a different chain lube. Don’t try new shoes, even if they’re the same kind of shoes as your old shoes. Don’t wear new shorts. Don’t wear a new jersey. Don’t even wear new socks.
Oh for the love of all that’s good in the world, don’t wear new socks. That is so important, for some reason.
Don’t even put new music on your iPod’s “Race Mix” playlist, because one of the untested songs my affect you adversely. Indeed, it’s probably best to not put the playlist on Shuffle, because the order of songs is untested.
I could go on. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I already have gone on.
I always accepted this strict prohibition on trying something new on race day as prima facie logic (“prima facie” is Latin for “self-evident,” and is used when you need to sound very authoritative). “Well of course you don’t want to do anything new on race day,” I thought. “Something unanticipated with that new thing could go terribly, horribly wrong and then all your hard work will go down the drain.”
This is, of course, absolute and complete nonsense. Trying something new on race day is a fantastic idea, for several subtle — yet exquisitely valid (“valido”) — reasons I am about to make up.
To Add a Sense of Danger to Your Story
The first — and most crucial reason — for you to try something absolutely and completely different on race day is because you, as a racer, are first and foremost in the business of building an interesting memory. A story to tell to your family and co-workers. A tale of action and adventure, drama and suspense. Success or tragedy in the face of odds that would daunt a lesser person.
Unfortunately, if you stick to the PRAT rule, your story of how your race day went is going to go more or less along the same lines as the story you’ve already told all those people before about your practice efforts of the same distance (and often on the exact same course).
As the guy who’s written the same story about the Leadville 100 around 15 times now, you can trust me: it’s not easy making the same story interesting over and over.
Which means, if you don’t do something new on race day, the only thing that differentiates your race story from your training efforts is that there are more people doing the same thing as you this time.
If, however, you wear — or eat or ride — something different, you’re adding an element of suspense. Or at least what’s going to have to pass for suspense in a race. And that, if you’re lucky, will distract people from the fact that you’re telling them the same story you’ve been telling them after every race, ever.
Possibility 1: The Brilliant Risk-Taker
Suppose, just suppose, that on race day you threw caution to the wind and — based on an interesting article you read recently — switched to 25mm road tires instead of your traditional 23mm tires, and you inflated them to 100psi instead of your traditional 120.
[GEEKY GEAR NOTE: Yes, I am doing both of these things at the St. George Half-Ironman this weekend, but they're no longer new for me; I switched to 25mm tires and lower pressure last season. However, they were part of the exciting story I told to friends and family when I raced in Bend.]
Now, further suppose that you have a great day on your race. In fact, since we’re just fantasizing right now, let’s say you took second in your age group (we’d say first, but we want to keep the fantasy somewhat realistic, as well as give you something to strive for in future fantasy races).
If you’d gone with the old PRAT rule, all you’d have to say about your race would be, “Well, I’ve worked hard and raced smart and everything seemed to click.”
But — but! – since you, being the maverick take-the-bull-by-the-horns do-or-die type that you are, made a bold and risky decision which you almost certainly agonized over (and you absolutely must recount every moment of that agonizing when you tell your story), you’ve got an element of drama to hang your story on. Talk about your concern over your 2mm decision as you stood at the starting line. And then your surprise as you felt like you were shot out of a freaking cannon, riding like an age-grouper possessed. Dropping people as if they were good habits.
(Yes, you should use the “good habits” simile instead of “bad habits,” because that sets you up to explain that good habits are a lot easier to drop than bad habits, and you were dropping people easily.)
Would you have done just as well if you hadn’t made what we have established as a bold and risky decision? Probably. But nobody can prove it. And most people are too nice to (openly) dispute it anyway.
Possibility 2: Unimaginable Tragedy
Sadly, not every race is going to be your best race ever. Sometimes you will be slower than expected. Or you’ll hurt. Or throw up. Or you’ll be slower than usual and start hurting and then throw up.
Sure, you could shrug your shoulders and say, “I just had a bad day,” or “I pushed too hard.”
But why would you when you could blame your tragically-flawed, ill-advised, and impetuous decision to go with a different concentration of your favorite sports drink? Having a reason for why you started to cramp up is so much more satisfying to the people listening to your story than “Oh, I dunno, every athlete cramps once in a while. Just bad luck or maybe I went too hard too soon in the race, I guess.”
This strategy is even more useful if you have an actual accident during the race. If you crash, it is always preferable to blame your (new, untested) equipment instead of your being distracted or tired or just not having fantastic handling skills. “I will never race with ACME Brand Valve Stem Caps again!” sounds so much more interesting than, “I was riding, and then I was sliding; I don’t know what happened in between.”
Possibility 3: Cooler Heads Prevail
It’s always possible — though kind of sad — that things will go pretty much as expected, even with your roguish decision to try something new on race day.
And that’s too bad.
But all is not lost. In this case, it’s best to introduce some vague, previously-unmentioned and unverifiable ailment that had been plaguing you prior to the race. An ailment that would no doubt have slowed you down during the race, and quite likely would have forced you to abandon.
Which — being the steely-eyed competitor that you are — you did not want to do.
Hence, throwing caution to the wind, you adapted by wearing your new Rapha bibs, hoping their extra cushy chamois would compensate for your near-debilitating butt zit. And — lo! — it worked. Even with fate pitted against you, you made the hard decision and pulled out a decent race.
(Calling an expected finish “decent” is a good way to make it sound like you could have done better had the universe not been conspiring against you.)
Here, Let Me Show You What I Mean
Lesser bloggers would present this treasure trove of valuable information in a purely hypothetical sense, and leave you to your own devices as to how to use it.
Not me, though. I’m putting my feet where my shoes are.
Specifically, yesterday as I looked over the Altra shoe site, I saw they now have a shoe designed specifically for tri running:
They call this shoe the 3-Sum. Based on the color scheme, I prefer to call it The Tequila Sunrise. Whatever you call it, it’s made for fast transitions, pulling straight on after yanking off your road shoes, with no socks necessary.
Within an hour or so, I expect to have a pair. (The Hammer is in the area, picking them up for me. It’s nice that Altra’s a local company. It’s also really extra-nice that they’re comping me this pair of shoes.)
And this Saturday, I expect to use them when I race the St. George Half-Ironman. After which, I expect to have a remarkable story to tell, full of drama and suspense, capped off by either by a glowing recounting of my amazingly fast transition and comfortable feet. Or by my complete and utter foolishness in running a half marathon not only in a new pair of shoes, but in a new kind of shoes. Whilst running without socks, for the first time ever.
Races are about drama, and you can’t have drama without dramatic tension. In my case, the dramatic tension will take the form of a new pair of shoes.
I wonder if I’ll even be able to sleep tonight.
Some time ago, I realized something very important. But that was late at night, and by the next morning I had forgotten what it was and have never quite been able to recapture it.
If at some point it comes back to me, though, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Meanwhile, however, I have recently realized something that’s not important at all, which I will now share with you, in italics and on a line of its own, to lend it gravitas (also, I just used the word “gravitas” to lend this upcoming realization even more of this now thrice-mentioned gravitas):
The nerdliness of a sport is exactly the same as the quantity and complexity of gear required.
I mean, consider running (no, I’m not telling you to actually consider going running; I’m asking you to contemplate — in a purely passive sense — what the sport of running entails), which requires nothing more than a change of clothing: Shorts, socks, shoes (increasingly seen as optional), maybe a shirt. You don’t have to go anywhere to do it.
It’s the simplest sport you could possibly have.
Sure, some runners try to geek it up by putting nuance into what their shoes ought to be like, what kind of tracking device they should have, and the pros and cons of various visors, but you can tell their hearts aren’t really in it.
Due to this simplicity, nobody gives runners any grief for being a runner. It’s absolutely non-risky.
On the other end of the spectrum is triathaleticism, which is the act of accumulating and transporting as much junk as is humanly possible from one place to another in order to use all of that equipment to do three races — races that really have nothing to do with one another — end to end.
I have, somehow, managed to get roped into these triathaletic events from time to time. Notably, The Hammer and I will be participating in one — The St. George Half Ironman — this Saturday.
We will be driving my truck there. Because we will need it to hold all the gear required to do a triathalong.
I’m not kidding. The gear requirements of a triathalong are so complex — so convoluted — that about a month ago I started having anxiety about all the stuff I was going to need to remember, and have since been keeping a checklist, adding to it as I go. Here, for your entertainment, is that checklist as it stands at this moment (note that it’s not even a simple checklist; it’s divided into key locations, times, and checkpoints). Please note that this list is entirely real and not made up or exaggerated in any way whatsoever.
Half Ironman Equipment Checklist
Prior to event
- Leave jewelry (wedding rings, earrings) at home
- bring morning-of duffel bags
- one-piece outfits
- warm clothes to wear on bus
- warm socks to wear
Bring on morning of
- neoprene caps
- colored cap
- towel for stuff to sit on
- towel to dry off with
- arm warmers
- Headband (Lisa)
- bike shoes
- body glide
- plastic bags to make it easier to put wetsuits on
- food (lisa)
food for both while standing around
- 2 waffles
- water bottle
Swim to Bike Transition
gps: garmin edge 500
chain lube + rag
Bike to Run Transition
- Race belts
- 4 Gels (elden)
- 2 Gels (Lisa)
- 2 Waffles (elden)
- 2 Waffles (lisa)
- Garmin 10
- Stuff for hanging around finish area after race
- Action Wipes
Please note that all of this is in service to a one-day race. No, not even a one-day race, really. Half a day.
Furthermore, we’ll spend the whole day before the race getting all that gear to the appropriate places for the race. And going to pre-race meetings. And getting our bodies marked.
It’s ridiculous. Truly purely utterly ridiculous
Here’s the thing, though. I’m outrageously excited for this race. Which, I suppose, says something about me and my outsized love of nerdly athletic gear.
Hey, let me tell you about some stuff that I love. Even if you’re not a triathalete (I am getting so sick of my spell checker trying to get me to misspell triathalete!), I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some things in here you might like.
I Love Ultegra Di2, and I Love My Shiv
[Full Disclosure: Shimano hooked me up with a discount on the Ultegra Di2]
Last year I used my superpower — the ability to ask for things — on Specialized to excellent effect; they sent me a Shiv, their no-holds-barred, no-stupid-UCI-rules-observed time trial / tri bike.
I fell in love with it, and had some great results on it as part of the Team Fatty (The Swimmer, me, and The Hammer) relay team, both at the Utah Half iron-distance race and at the Leadman Tri in Bend, OR.
Here’s how the bike looked when I first got it:
And here’s how it looks now:
Notice any differences? Here, maybe this will help:
Yup. It’s all electrifical. Specifically, I’ve upgraded the shifting to Shimano Ultegra Di2. Which I absolutely love. For obvious reasons, and some that maybe wouldn’t be as obvious.
For one thing, I love the no-fuss, no-stretchy cables reliability of Di2. I’ve been riding my Orbea Orca with Di2 for four solid seasons, during which I’ve had to have it serviced exactly zero times. (Well, that’s not exactly true — I took it into Racer’s once during this four years and said, “Would you look this over and make sure everything’s good? I feel bad about never needing to bring this bike in.” He returned it later that week saying, “Everything’s great.”)
Shimano Di2 is just incredibly reliable and precise and perfect.
For another thing, I love how easy it is to shift. It’s as simple and effortless — literally — as pressing a button. And when shifting is that easy, you shift a lot more often, so you stay at your right pedaling effort a lot more consistently.
The shifting is instant. It’s precise — no mis-shifts — and it sounds awesome in all its R2D2ness.
I’m also loving the fact that I can shift whether my hands are on the aero bars or on the brake levers.
Finally, I love how affordable the Ultegra Di2 is. While Shimano helped me out on these components, I bought The Hammer’s Shiv (yes, I loved my Shiv so much I got The Hammer one so we could TT together) with Ultegra Di2. Expect more stories about our racing these bikes later this year.
The fact is, there’s nothing I don’t love about this setup. Between the Shiv, the Ultegra Di2 and the fact that I am currently lighter than I have ever been since high school (and am roughly thrice as strong), I expect to have a very good day — at least on the bike — this Saturday.
I Love Gu Recovery Brew
[Full Disclosure: Gu is sponsoring The Hammer and me at this half-Ironman by providing entry to the event as well as Gu products to train with.]
Have I mentioned anything about working hard to lose weight recently? I have? Oh, well then have I mentioned anything about not wanting to be skinny but unable to race?
Yeah, that’s been important to me too.
So in addition to eating light to drop the pounds and using carbs when training long, I’ve been using Gu Recovery Brew – Chocolate Smoothie flavor after big efforts. It’s got a ton of protein, which is a big part of my plan to drop fat, not muscle. It’s also got amino acids and antioxidants, along with carbs.
But you know what I think really makes it work? The fact that it tastes freaking awesome. I mix and drink this after big rides (or, to my dismay, after big rides and big runs) and I feel good…not like I need to go ambush the fridge and eat everything in the pantry.
I Love My Altra Running Shoes
Here’s an amazing factoid: last week I did a ten mile run with The Hammer. And while this may not sound quite as impressive when I reveal that she had a friend run ten miles with her first, then — after wearing this friend out — had me run the second half of her twenty-mile run with her, the fact remains: I did a solid ten mile run. Here, check out the Strava:
The thing is, though, I’m doing OK, run-wise. Not that I’m fast. I’ll never be fast. But I’m not in pain, either right after the run or during it. My joints are OK.
I speculate there are a number of contributing reasons for this:
- I am lighter. 150 pounds is a lot easier on the joints than 170.
- I started easier. By running a couple miles a couple times per week with Brice at the beginning of the year and building slowly from there, I’m not injuring myself.
- My shoes.
Of course, it’s impossible to sort out every reason, but I really do think that the shoes I’m running in now — Altra Instincts
— are making a big difference in my comfort during and after the run. For one thing, they have a giant toe box that accommodates my big fat feet. For another, they are a zero-drop shoe, which means the heel isn’t any higher than the toe. But — unlike the barefoot shoes some hardcore runners use — they still have a reasonable amount of cushioning.
So sure, The Hammer will still put a ton of time into me during the final leg of the race this weekend, but I think there’s a chance that it’ll be closer to ten minutes than the originally-projected twenty-six.
At least that’s my hope.
And In Conclusion
Wow, this post is getting long, and I haven’t even covered my wetsuit. Or my super high-tech one-piece tri suit. Or my special laces that make it so I don’t have to tie my shoes, thus saving a valuable nine seconds in the transition area. Or my special belt that lets me put on my race number in the run transition very quickly. Or the socks which I have — after much agonizing and conversing with former professional triathalonetes — decided to wear.
Really, it’s just kind of sad that my gear obsessing is limited to three sports. What the world needs needs is a dodecathlon.
Hey, I’d sign up. Apparently.
Just under a month ago, I proposed a thought experiment which actually included very little thought at all: What if The Hammer and I duked it out in a Half-Ironman? With our respective strengths and weaknesses — although I think it would be folly to suggest that either of us has any weaknesses — will The Hammer win? Or will I?
I believe it is time for me to update you on our training progress, so you can update, recalibrate, ameliorate and otherwise tweak your expectations.
A couple weekends ago, The Hammer and I visited St. George to scout out the Half-Ironman course. You know, swim where we’ll be swimming. Ride the ride. Run the run.
Wear the outfits.
As we often do, we stayed at Kenny’s and Heather’s house in St. George, which meant that we’d have good guides for our mountain bike rides (hey, we weren’t going to just be tri-dorks for the weekend), along with good company between rides, runs and swims. Oh, and we’d have a free place to stay, but that’s neither here nor there.
During dinner one of the evenings, the subject of whether The Hammer and I were really racing each other came up. “Sorta kinda but not really but also yes a little,” I replied, helpfully.
Then I added by way of clarification, “It’s not really that we’re racing against each other. During the race itself, I’m not going to be thinking about beating Lisa; I’m just going to be focusing on being as fast as I can.”
“That said,” I said, “this really is an interesting race for us. Lisa thinks I’ll win because I’m fast on the bike — faster than I’ve ever been, in fact. I on the other hand think she’ll win because she’s been training on the swim (while I have been swimming only a couple times since we signed up) and is fast on the run — faster than she’s ever been, in fact.”
“Here’s what I think,” Kenny mused. “The fact that Lisa starts the race six minutes before Elden should be thrown out. All that does is give Elden a carrot, plus the bike portion — Elden’s strong suit — of the event is longer than any other part. So the question shouldn’t be which of you has a faster chip time, but which of you will cross the finish line first in real time.”
“That’s a good point,” I agreed. And it’s really true. Having The Hammer six minutes ahead of me from the start of the race really will give me a psychological boost — the carrot effect will be in full force.
“So if you go by which of you crosses the finish line first, in real time, I’m going with Lisa, concluded Kenny. “Once she gets close to Elden on the run, he’ll sag and slow way down. She’ll pass him and finish a few minutes ahead.”
And I should point out that Kenny has a preternatural ability to look someone over and predict their finish time and place for a given race.
Panic at the Reservoir
One of our objectives during the St. George trip was to familiarize ourselves with everything, including doing a swim at the reservoir. But as we paid our fee to get into the Sand Point Reservoir and saw “Water temp: 55″ written on a whiteboard, I had serious reservations. Because that’s cold water.
“We’ve got to be ready for it,” The Hammer said. “Get that uncertainty out of our systems.”
So we pulled on our wetsuits and climbed — barefoot — down a slope of volcanic rock to the swimming area of the reservoir.
This is probably a good place to mention that I have unusually sensitive feet (or maybe I’m just a big baby) and so I never go anywhere barefoot. Even walking around my own house, I always wear shoes. As a cyclical result, I have very few calluses on my feet . . . which means that they remain unusually sensitive.
And in short, walking down a slope of sharp rocks was neither fun nor fast for me, and I was grateful to step into the water.
Until, that is, I actually stepped into the water. Because at that moment I discovered that 55 degrees is actually colder than freezing.
I gasped and began breathing shallowly. Rapidly. Unhappily.
Meanwhile, The Hammer had waded in up to her waist level. Slowly, steadily.
“Oh, let’s just get this over with,” I said, figuring it would be better to just dive in — kind of like it’s better to just rip a bandaid off.
Diving in was not better.
“Goarrgh!” I said as I came up, by which I meant, “COLD!“
And then I commenced to panic. Not just feel anxiety and discomfort. Real, honest-to-goodness, out-of-control thrashing wide-eyed panic.
I managed to half-swim, half-dog-paddle to an outcropping of rocks, then drag myself up onto it. I intended to never get back in the water.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I told The Hammer.
“You just need to work your way into the water slowly,” she replied. “It was a shock diving in and hitting that cold all at once.”
“I said I’m not going back in,” I screeched, shrilly.
“Just wade in. S-l-o-w-l-y,” she said, slowly.
“I AM NOT GOING BACK IN,” I reiterated, in the verbal equivalent of bold and caps and italics and with numerous exclamation points at the end.
But of course, I did go back in. Slowly, just as The Hammer suggested (of course). And I was fine (of course).
But still, it was . . . interesting . . . to have my first experience with true uncontrollable panic. And to know that within a few weeks, I’d be back in the same water, but starting with more nervousness because I’d be about to race.
I should just poop in my wetsuit now and get it over with.
PS: In the next installment of my analysis of my training for the upcoming (May 4 for crying out loud!) St. George Half Ironman, I shall talk about the ride, the run, and a number of things that are making my training much better. I may also show a picture of me in a one-piece Tri suit. I apologize in advance.
Austin, TX (Fat Cyclist Fake News Service) – In the wake of the recent announcement by the Justice Department that it will pursue a lawsuit against Lance Armstrong for unjustly enriching himself, a spokesman for Armstrong today made the following announcement:
“Lance intends to defend himself vigorously in the court of law.”
The spokesman continued, “Based on our extensive experience in these matters, however, by which I mean dating pretty much as far back as any of us can remember, the court of public opinion will simultaneously conduct a trial of its own, largely through the mainstream media and cycling press.”
“Toward the end of making the work of these people both more timely and accurate,” the spokesperson announced, “Lance Armstrong will today do a photo shoot for the use of journalists during this trial.”
“Specifically,” the spokesman explained, “Lance will do a photoshoot consisting entirely of various negative expressions.”
“This,” the spokesman continued, “is due to the fact that many of the existing photographs of Lance frowning, pursing his lips, or looking defeated have been overused to the point of being ridiculous by the press. Furthermore, many are woefully out of date.”
“This photo shoot is not only for the benefit of journalists and their readers, however,” said the spokesman. “The fact is, Lance’s attorneys are sick to death of seeing the same set of photographs over and over. We’ve seen these same old photos so often we’ve started giving them nicknames. For example, we call the following photograph ‘Sinister Lance’:”
“And we call this one ‘Perplexed Lance’:”
“This one is called ‘Vengeful Lance’:”
“And then there’s the one we see more than any other single photo, which is affectionately known as ‘Sad Raspberry Lance’:”
Photoshoot Objectives Made Clear
“We know that journalists are going to post photos of Lance in a variety of unhappy moods,” said the spokesman. “Our objective is to expand the range of these photographic moods, as well as update them so the photographs don’t look like they were taken in the 80’s.”
“The photos we’ll be providing will show Lance making the following expressions, most — if not all — of which will no doubt be used in the coming months:
“Note that this is merely a tentative list,” said the spokesman, “and that we have engaged the services of an A-list acting coach in order to make the expressions in these photographs completely convincing.”
“Also, we are pleased to announce that all of these expressions will be provided in environments showing Lance both on and off the bike.”
Reached for comment, Armstrong demurred, noting only that he had a lot of work to do practicing his “apologetic” look.
The Hammer and I stood together in the Canyonlands Visitor Center. Our arms wrapped around each other for warmth, although it didn’t seem much like either of us had much heat to give to the other. We weren’t talking, because we were too cold to talk.
All about us stood other cyclists — twenty or so in all. Some were part of our group, some were complete strangers. All of us were taking shelter against the cold. The wet. The wind. None of which had been part of the forecast, which called for a perfect day. Which — foolishly — we had believed, and dressed accordingly.
Together, we smelled very much like a Wet Dog Convention.
We had been standing there for forty-five minutes, the entirety of which I had spent thinking of cogent, clear-headed arguments for, once (if!) this weather cleared up, we abandon this ride, head back to the car, and call it an unlucky day. Maybe we could salvage the day to some degree or another by driving down to Moab and going on a shorter ride sometime in the afternoon.
I took a deep breath and, with eloquence born of urgency, began to state my case.
Earlier That Day
I hadn’t begun the day with misgivings about this ride. To the contrary. Confident in assurances from the TV weather report cross-checked against two iPhone weather apps, we didn’t even look out the window when we woke up in Green River, Utah early in the morning (Green River’s a lot cheaper to stay at than Moab).
We made our way down to the breakfast room, where I impressed The Hammer with my breakfast-eating prowess. Since I’ve been keeping a lid on my superpower lately, she had sort of forgotten exactly what I’m capable of, so my volcanic pile of scrambled eggs — with outlying isles of cinnamon rolls and mini-muffins — startled her.
I ate it all with no difficulty.
We then went back to our room, grabbed our luggage and took the elevator to the ground floor and walked outside.
Into any icy, rainy, windy, drizzly hell.
“This is OK,” The Hammer said. “The weather report said that early in the day there might be some rain as far south as I70. I bet it will clear up by the time we get to Moab.”
The Hammer, alas, was dead wrong. The wipers stayed on as we approached the top of the Mineral Basin climb: the starting point of the annual RAWROD (Ride Around White Rim in One Day).
As we arrived, the rain slowed. A little. Maybe.
“Are we going to do this?” I asked, with about as much enthusiasm as you’d expect.
“The rain really is supposed to stop,” said The Hammer.
So we unloaded our bikes and put on the only extra riding clothes we had brought on this trip: knee warmers, arm warmers, and lightweight windbreakers. Neither of us had anything but mesh-type cycling gloves.
Last, we slung our heavy Camelbaks on. Unlike most years, this year’s RAWROD would be unsupported; we’d need to carry everything we needed for the 100-mile ride. (FYI: 150oz of water is heavy)
It was just past 8:00 a.m., our agreed-upon time for starting the ride.
Things Go From Bad To Worse To Even Worse
We had a small group riding together — Heather and Kenny, The Hammer and me, and Todd W and Joao B. It was cold and drizzly, but we warmed up quickly enough; when it’s cold and wet outside, I’m always grateful to start a ride with a climb.
The problem was, we were riding toward the rain clouds. And we were catching them.
Soon, it was raining harder, and the surface of the road turned into a slick, sticky mud. We’d wander from side to side of the road, looking for some magical line that — for no reason that conventional physics could explain — was clean and dry.
By the time we finished the first twelve miles — which brought us to the lone paved section of the White Rim loop — we were soaked through. Our toes and fingers were icy cold, and our bikes were heavy with mud.
We began to talk about whether the smart course of action was to just call it a day.
Photo by Todd W
“Let’s keep going at least for now,” someone said, though I don’t remember who, because I’m pretty sure that my mind is protecting me from remembering these traumatic moments too clearly.
And so we kept going, now on pavement. Which was faster. And wetter. And colder. And windier.
And in short, it was truly, truly awful.
By the time we got to the Canyonlands National Park entrance, I was more convinced than ever that we should quit this ride while we still had a chance of saving our bikes and not being stranded in knee-deep mud in the middle of the wilderness, where we would be eaten by dingoes or the Utah equivalent thereof.
The ranger at the toll booth did not quell my anxiety.
“We’ve closed the gate down Shafer’s trail (the steep, switchbacked descent into the White Rim basin) to automotive traffic, due to extreme sticky, claylike mud the rain has produced,” she said.
But then she had something wonderful to say, “You guys look like you could stand to warm up for a few minutes. The Visitor’s Center half a mile down the road is heated.”
For the first time that day, we rode with alacrity. Urgency, even.
We were the first cyclists to the Visitor’s Center, but before long, the place was packed with other cyclists who had found themselves in the same predicament as we were.
Photo by Todd W
Some guys on road bikes. Some on mountain bikes. A group of fast guys out to do RAWROD … well… fast.
At first, nobody talked. We just tried to warm up.
Eventually, though, we had to make a decision: go, or no go?. And each of us had to make it for ourselves. Except for The Hammer, who told me I had to make the decision for both of us.
On one hand, there really was some blue sky starting to be visible, and it was in the direction we were riding toward.
On the other hand, there was the mud we’d ridden in and the near-certainty of more mud ahead. None of us could remember the gate to Shafer’s Trail ever being closed before, so we figured it must be bad this time.
On still yet another hand, there was the shame of calling it quits.
On the son of the return of another hand, there was the problem of the Inclement Weather Re-Start (which I have here capitalized because I’m pretty sure it’s an axiom): If you’ve been riding in the cold and wet and then have gotten warmed up and dry, the difficulty of going back out into the cold and wet rises by a factor of nine.
Kenny suggested we do calisthenics to get our blood flowing again, and then — to show he was serious about this — did a series of deep knee bends and one-handed pushups.
The few people who were actually at the Visitor’s Center to see the exhibits looked on in a mixture of concern and admiration.
Finally, I proposed a grand compromise. “I think we should put off making the final decision of whether we do this ride until we’ve seen how Bad (yes I meant to capitalize “Bad”) Shafer’s trail really is.”
I paused to let this sink in, because not everyone is as smart as I am and needed time to process the brilliance of this strategy.
“If the mud on Shafer starts to jam up my bike, I shall direct my woman to turn around forthwith, and we shall abandon the ride with a clear conscience. I recommend you all do the same, though I cannot — and do not wish to — compel you.”
All agreed that this was a sound course of action. Oh, and also the above text might be somewhat inaccurately quoted.
We suited back up and left the Visitor Center staff to deal with the wet dog smell as best as they could.
The Shafer Surprise
You’ll be startled to know that I occasionally use hyperbole when I write. But you must believe me when I say that I genuinely was afraid of the Shafer trail. Not just the nuisance and damage that could be done to our drivetrains, but the fear of the danger a slick, muddy road brings to a treacherously exposed, switchbacked descent.
My stomach was knotted up as we ducked under the gate that would have prevented our sag vehicle from following us, had we brought one along.
We began the descent…and the road was perfect.
Photo of Joao by Todd W
Once again, I’m not using hyperbole here. I’ve been up and down Shafer’s trail probably 15 times in my life, and it has never been in anything close to the condition it was in. For the first time, in fact, I enjoyed the Shafer trail descent, which was not loose. Nor was it rutted. Nor was it riddled with washboards.
It was a fast, fun, not-even-a-little-bit-muddy descent.
And the beginning of the best-weathered RAWROD ever. The wind seemed to know where we were and chose to gently push us from behind for the whole day. The sun came out to warm us, and then would obscure itself behind clouds before we got too hot.
I think this is the only picture I actually took the whole trip. Joao on the left, Kenny in the middle, Todd on the right, and the White Rim and blue skies in the background.
We all rode more or less together, nobody waiting long for anyone. Our breaks were short but relaxing.
The Hammer would have almost certainly been the Strava QOM for the whole 100-mile loop if we hadn’t been holed up for an hour in the visitor’s center (although she still nabbed plenty of crowns):
And — very importantly — I discovered how many NikeFuel Points one accrues if one wears one’s Nike+ FuelBand while riding around the White Rim:
And I think I’m going to award myself an extra couple thousand bonus points due to riding in the rain, not to mention an extra 5,000 secret bonus points for my astonishing exhibition of courage, continuing on in the face of near certain mud.
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