2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 10: Three Strange Minutes

07.14.2016 | 2:36 pm

A Podcasty Note From Fatty: I’m pretty sure I just posted the best episode of the FattyCast I’ve ever done: a conversation with Yuri Hauswald, the 2015 winner of the Dirty Kanza.

Even though the 2016 Kanza is now about a month behind us, I still wanted to have him tell his story for this year, because Yuri’s one of my favorite people…and he’s an amazing storyteller. It’s an awesome tale about triple-flatting, taco bell, and turning a bad race…into a great day. 

Even if you don’t usually listen to podcasts, you should listen to this episode. You can find it on iTunes, Stitcher, download it, or use the http://fattycast.com/rss feed to subscribe on whatever your favorite podcast app is. Or, of course, you can listen to it right here:

Let me know what you think (and please, rate and review it on iTunes, so I can be less obscure)

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 10: Three Strange Minutes

OK, I should start off by saying a couple of things. First, I don’t really know whether this whole series of events actually all happens in three minutes, although I am confident in its strangeness. 

Second, it’s probably a good idea to listen to “Yakety Sax” (aka the theme to the “Benny Hill Show”) during the entirety of what happens here.

Or, I dunno, maybe this only seems goofy because it’s very out of character for how Fatty Teams (usually) operate during the Rockwell Relay. I take a lot of pride in having teams that pay a lot of attention to the basics (having your equipment in good condition, staying fueled, being ready to roll at the exchanges). By taking care of these seemingly simple things, we’ve put a lot of time into teams that have strong riders but sloppy logistics.

As you’ll see here, though (not to mention the whole “van leaving without us” episode), that’s not always the case.

Before The Hammer Arrived

As I described in the previous installment of this story, Ben, Lindsey, and I arrived at the exchange — at a gas station built into a cliff wall — with several clear objectives.

Ben’s job was to fill the tank with diesel and then go buy a strawberry milkshake for The Hammer, as she had requested before her leg of the race began. Considering we had left The Hammer to her own devices in hundred-plus-degree heat for forty-five minutes, we were now giving this request extra significance.

Lindsey’s job was to buy a lot of ice to refill our ice chests, along with as much cold Coke as she could find. We were going through Coke at an alarming rate…much faster than we had anticipated.

My job was to get myself ready to race.

To Ben and Lindsey’s credit, they both did an admirable job of fulfilling their duties. However, by fulfilling their duties, they became completely absent. I was left to my own devices, and my own very warped sense of time. 

(It should also be noted that the ice cream shop was moving at a fully cryogenic pace. Ben was out of sight and out of commission for a full half hour as he waited for a milkshake.)

I found myself just talking with a racer from another team, telling him about our harrowing experience. Cleverly, I entirely failed to check the time as I did this, instead going entirely on how long it “felt” like it ought to be until The Hammer would be arriving.

No big deal, I had plenty of time, I was suited up and my bike was ready to go.

I walked back to the van, put on my helmet, and then took it off again, figuring I still had fifteen minutes.

And that’s when the world went insane.

The Hammer Arrives

I pride myself on being ready to go, and I fully intended to be ready to go when The Hammer arrived. 

Which is why I went into a full-bore panic when I heard her call my name in her distinctive “This is not a drill, this is urgent, and I need a response now” voice: “El-DEN!

What? She’s here? She’s crossed the line? No.

But there she was, yelling my name. She hadn’t seen me yet, though, so we began a game of spousal Marco-Polo. “Lisa!” I replied, as I scrambled to put my helmet on.

“Elden!” she shot back, looking around. 

Lisa!” I replied, stuffing the helmet light battery into my rear-center jersey pocket, without threading the power cable under my left armpit.

Now she saw me. “Elden! You’re wasting time!

It was true. The huge lead — it had looked like twenty minutes or so between us and the Beauties and the Beasts team when we had left Lisa behind us, and that gap had probably grown in the interim — Lisa had built was eroding, the BatB team closing the gap with every second I was not in motion.

That’s OK, I was ready.

I picked up my bike and ran across the parking lot to where The Hammer was. Within a few steps, however, I realized that I was still wearing my tennis shoes, which I had been wearing because I didn’t want my Speedplay cleats to get jammed with gravel as I got my bike ready.

I turned around and ran back toward the van.

“Where’s Ben? Where’s Lindsey? Why aren’t you ready?!” The Hammer yelled. 

Too many questions. I answered none of them. It was more important to find my bike shoes. 

Unfortunately, those bike shoes weren’t easy to find. The van was still a bit of a jumble, having been nearly tipped over on its side about an hour ago. 

The Hammer looked into the van at the mess, uncomprehendingly.

I found the shoes, sat down, and started putting them on.

Wait, That’s Not All

Shoes on — a little haphazardly, me unable to perform my normal ritual of smoothing out all possible sock wrinkles as I put on bike shoes — I picked up my bike and ran back toward the road again.

“Stop!” The Hammer yelled. 

I stopped.

“You don’t have any bottles and it’s a hundred degrees outside!”

She was right, on both counts. I grabbed one of her bottles from her bike and stuffed it into my cage. That was about half a bottle. Enough ’til they caught up with me. Hopefully.

I began running toward the road again.

Still Not All

I had almost made it to the road when The Hammer yelled at me again. “Stop!” 

“Now what,” I said, as if it were someone besides me who had made such a mess of this transition.

“The timing chip!” Of course. The timing chip. It was still on The Hammer’s ankle. I stopped, standing there as The Hammer ran to me and swapped it over to my leg.

“Where is everyone?” she asked.

I began explaining, but The Hammer replied, “Just go. I’ll find them.”

I began — for the third (fourth? tenth?) time — running toward the road.

More Not All

As I got to the road, a man ran toward me. And he was yelling. “Stop!” he yelled. “Come back!” 

I was skeptical, and felt like I had spent plenty of time here, in this hellish racer exchange that would — for whatever reason — just not let me go.

Still, he seemed like he had urgent business. Not-fake business.

“You need to go over the timing mat!” he yelled.

Huh? “Why?” I yelled back.

“Your racer didn’t go over the timing mat as she came in!” he yelled.

“Yes I did!” The Hammer yelled.

“She didn’t!” The man yelled.

Backwards

I needed to make a decision. Run toward the mat, or straight onto the road and go.

Astonishingly, I made a logical choice: it would be a lot easier for race officials to delete a redundant chip entry (if The Hammer was right) than to guesstimate what time we crossed the mat if there were no entry (if the man was right).

I ran back to and over the mat. “That good?” I asked the man.

“That’ll do it,” he replied.

One Last Exchange

Finally — finally! — I got on my bike and started riding.

“El-DEN!” The Hammer. Of course.

“Yeah?” I replied. Exasperated.

“I brought you someone to ride with,” she said.

And sure enough, the rider with the Mike Nosco Memorial team — the 50+ “Salty Dogs” rider, who Ben and I had been assured would be dropping The Hammer like a rock — was rolling across the timing mat. 

Someone to work with. Awesome. Except of course The Hammer didn’t know that we now had history with this team. That this team had chosen us as their sworn enemy

Oh well, I thought. Maybe he and I can patch things up. And one thing was certain: working with another rider was guaranteed to improve our chances against the BatB team (as well as the Z5R teams, whereever they had gotten to).

I sat up, no idea that I was about to embark upon a leg of racing that would be just as awesome as the last leg had been awful.

And that’s where we’ll pick up on Monday.

 

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 9: Running a Little Late

07.13.2016 | 8:54 am

Suppose, for a moment, that you are falling off a cliff. A nice, long cliff. One that base jumpers and hang gliders and photographers flock to.

But you, unfortunately, are neither base jumper nor hang glider nor photographer. You’re just a person who’s affected by gravity in an unfortunately average way.

But wait!

You land on a precarious ledge, just eight feet from the top of the cliff. You’re not dead. 

But wait!

The ledge — besides being precarious — is also crumbling, and doesn’t seem like it’s going to hold out for long.

But wait!

Someone peers over the ledge and offers to help…but it turns out they can’t quite reach you. The ledge crumbles a little.

But wait!

That person says another person is coming by, and it looks like that person’s a well-equipped rock climber. The ledge crumbles, this time quite a lot.

But wait!

You hear the rock climber just keep on walking by, whistling a merry tune as the ledge begins to feel like it’s done its part in this metaphor and just about (but not quite) gives way completely.

But wait!

It turns out that the rock climber is turning around and coming to rescue you after all.

Saved

The most recent episode of this story ends with the truck — which was not a tow truck, but a heavy-duty sign-construction truck — maybe slowing down. And I left it there on purpose, mirroring my own sense of suspense that lasted what felt like forever.

Then the truck stopped — about a hundred yards up the road — and my hopes went up. Then it backed up and my hopes went up even higher.

And then it began the longest, most excruciatingly fraught series of back-and-forth turns imaginable. This narrow road wasn’t exactly designed with the expectation that big trucks should be able to make easy U-turns.

“How’d you get into this mess?” The driver asked through his window as he pulled up.

A fine question. A fine question indeed.

Without a lot of fanfare, he then pulled forward and back so he was good and close to the back of the van, facing the other direction:

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He handed me a stack of orange cones and told me to set them up alongside the road, thus giving the otherwise-useless me something to do.

Then he unpacked a set of straps and hooks — everything you’d need to pull a vehicle out of a ditch — and expertly hooked up the van to his truck. 

I watched in awe and wonder at his competence, and with an almost ridiculous amount of gratitude and relief.

“Keep your foot on the brake, but put the car in reverse,” he told Lindsey. “And don’t let up on the brake at all until I have the rope taut and tell you to release.

Then he pulled forward and got the rope taut, Lindsey put the van in reverse, and — pop, like it was no big deal — he pulled the van back onto the road.

What Was Ruined

With the same lack of fuss he had done everything else, the driver unhooked the van while I thanked him relentlessly. And — let’s be honest here — probably excessively. “Well,” he replied, “I’m glad I took the out-of-the-way route today.”

As our rescuers pulled away, Lindsey walked up. “You’re not going to believe this, but the van looks totally fine,” she said. “Maybe a couple of tiny scratches at the very bottom right side from the bush the van scraed against.”

“But,” she said, “these didn’t do as well.”

And she showed me Ben and my helmets. Here’s Ben’s:

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And here’s mine: 

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Both had — understandably — fallen out of the open van door as it was tipped far to the right. And then been crushed by the van wheels as the van was pulled back onto the road.

So now we had some new problems. 

First, both of our helmets were crushed, and Ben and I don’t wear the size Small helmets our wives wear.

Second, what is not shown with my crushed helmet is the fact that I had already fastened my beloved NiteRider Pro 1800 Race to my helmet (my next race leg would end in the dark)…and it was crushed too.

Somehow, none of us could bring ourselves to get too worked up about any of this.

Having just confronted — and somehow escaping — the overwhelming probability of destroying a friend’s beautiful, beloved Sprinter and injuring Lindsey in the process, $800 worth of helmet and light damage just didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

“Let’s go find out how mad Lisa is,” I said.

Repercussions

It was a weird, jarring shift, to suddenly have everything be back to normal. The van wasn’t destroyed, wasn’t even really harmed. Nobody was injured. Our racer was still — presumably — racing. Albeit almost certainly thirsty and wondering where we had disappeared to.

I tried to wrap my mind around this new-old normal: we were in a race, and we were doing well. There was no crisis. 

And in less than an hour, it would be my turn to ride again.

I grabbed a slice of pizza — I needed to start fueling now, since I hadn’t really eaten much since my last turn to race. 

“She is going to be so mad,” I told Lindsey and Ben.

“Probably,” Lindsey replied. “But she won’t be once she understands what just happened.”

And we were both right. Lisa was mad when we caught up with her, saying she no longer needed anything from us, that other teams had taken care of her while we were MIA.

For two or three passes, she didn’t acknowledge us at all as we asked what she needed. My heart sank; I had ruined everything about this race: nearly destroying the van, nearly injuring my niece, destroying Ben’s helmet, making my wife feel abandoned and angry.

It wasn’t a great moment for me.

The Race Must Go On

Here’s the thing: racing in general — and the Rockwell Relay in particular — isn’t just for when you’re having fun and doing well. Racing is a test you choose for yourself. By saying you’re going to race, you’re saying you will take whatever comes your way, and you will deal with it.

So I dealt.

First, the helmet issue. That wasn’t as bad as it seemed. See, I had brought two helmets. No, this wasn’t a prescient move; I always bring two helmets to the Rockwell Relay, so I can have my light setup already mounted on one of the helmets.

Now, Ben and I would just have to take turns using this spare. Ew, for sure. But it would work.

Second, the light issue. This was a bigger problem, but still not too serious. It moved us from having four light setups (two helmet lights, two bar lights) to just having three (two bar lights, one helmet light). And we could do some recharging in the car for whatever setup wasn’t currently in use. While it wouldn’t be the deluxe setup I had hoped to use, we could make it work.

Third, there was my physical and mental state. My wife was mad at me, I was slower than last year, I had a painful hernia (I don’t think I’ve blogged about that yet, but I probably will at some point) and my opponent in Beauties and the Beasts had demonstrated he was much faster than I am. I was basically the weak link in the Fatty Family chain. If we were going to lose, it was going to be because of me.

Too bad. I’d just do the best I could, and hope the rest of the team could make up the difference. Racing is racing, and excuses don’t matter.

The Hammer yelled at us to go on, get ready for my leg of the race. It seemed ridiculously early to go, but I figured she just didn’t want us around.

The Race Must Go On…Maybe

Ben took over driving while I changed in the back of the van and set up a light on my helmet. We got to the gas station that doubled as a checkpoint, and Ben filled up the tank while Lindsey went to buy ice and I took care of getting myself ready.

Bike clothes: check. Bike ready to roll: check. High-viz vest: check. Lights: check.

Ben went to the ice cream shop next door to buy The Hammer a strawberry milkshake — a request she had made before starting this leg of the race, and now one that seemed doubly important.

One of the guys from Team Z5R came over and asked me about what had happened to the van. I had plenty of time before The Hammer was due to pull in — half an hour, I guessed — so I gave him the long version of the story.

I walked over to my bike, looked up the road, put my helmet on. I thought about how The Hammer wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes or so. I took off my helmet and sat it down on the van’s bike rack, watching up the road from the dirt parking lot.

Then The Hammer appeared, yelling, “Elden! Where’s Elden?! Elden!” 

Astonished — how did she get here so quickly? (answer: she did this leg faster than any woman has before) — I plopped my helmet on my head, stuffed the helmet light battery into my jersey, picked up my bike, and began running out to the road. 

It was a little embarrassing, but not too bad. I would lose us few seconds, tops, by not being there as she crossed the line. Surely that wouldn’t be the difference between a win or loss, right?

Then — as I easily ran across the dirt parking lot, holding my bike aloft — I realized something: I should not be able to run easily across the dirt parking lot

“Oh no,” I said, as I realized: I was wearing my tennis shoes, not my riding shoes. 

And that was just the start of a whole new cascade of problems.

Which I’ll describe in the next installment of this story.

The Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 8: Blind Panic

07.11.2016 | 1:59 am

A Note from Fatty: In just a couple days, I’ll have the new Fat Cyclist gear available to order (and ship!). Meanwhile, here are a few shots of a few of us in the new gear at the finish line of the Crusher in the Tushar last weekend (no spoilers, I promise!). 

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The Hammer runs alongside The Monster at the finish line.

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Keep on riding, keep on running….

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The Hammer and Fatty, tired and happy.

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Podium also makes a great place to get a group photo with race director Burke Swindlehurst (left) and David H (center)

The Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 8: Blind Panic

Later, we’d have plenty of time to talk about the “why.”

Specifically, why would the van — the super-nice Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van Cory had loaned us from the SBR bike shop for the trip — start rolling after sitting motionless for between eight and ten minutes?

Right now, though, I had more important things to think about. Like, was the van done moving forward, or was it just taking a break before it finished sliding into the ditch? 

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And even if it was done sliding, how would we get it back on the road? 

And if we got it back on the road, would it even work? 

Was it damaged beyond repair?

I was overwhelmed. Completely, utterly, absolutely overwhelmed.

The Beast is Back

So while Lindsey did her job (resolutely standing on the brake) and Ben did his job (hanging off the bike rack), I ran into the road and waved down vehicles as they came by, hoping against hope that someone would have what we needed to rescue our van.

I think it’s a credit to folks that every single vehicle I waved to at least stopped. 

The first couple vehicles said something along the lines of, “Sorry, we don’t have anything that could help,” and continued on.

Then a grey vehicle — pulled over. One I had seen numerous times during the race.

It was Farrell, the very muscular “Beast” of Beauties and the Beasts. The guy we had just strategized an attack on about an hour ago.

The dramatic thing would have been for Farrell to have laughed, spat, and driven away. Unfortunately for drama’s sake, though, Farrell turned out to be one of the nicest, friendliest beasts I’ve ever met (and in fact eventually sent me the picture you see above). Also, he was calm, which on its own was very helpful.

He and his wife didn’t have any tools or gear that would help us get out of our predicament, but they didn’t go on, even though I’m sure they would have liked to get back to their own racer. 

They stuck around to help, any way they could.

In another minute or so, another car pulled over. This time, the driver had some nylon rope. Not ideal, but better than the nothing we had before.

The rope was in a bit of a snarl. Probably not too bad in reality, but in the mental state I was in, it was essentially a Gordian knot.

My hands were shaking; I was worthless. I handed the rope over to Farrell. He began to work on desnarlifying the rope, as people wondered aloud whether there was any chance this rope, even if it were doubled or tripled, would pull the van out of the mess I had put it into.

Hand-Wringing and Hand-Waving

Relieved of the responsibility of untangling rope or standing on the brake or hanging off the end of the bike rack, I took up the responsibility for looking down the road and hoping for — magically — some kind of extraordinary piece of luck. Something that would just pop us back onto the road. A tow truck or something like that.

This was, of course, absurd. We were out in the middle of nowhere, on a small, narrow, mountain road.

I fretted about the fact that The Hammer would be needing water by now, although I wasn’t terribly concerned. I knew from experience that every single race vehicle out there would be more than happy to hand her a bottle if she needed one. 

Hey, we’re competing, but we’re also still people.

That said, The Hammer was really moving fast. Before too long, I expected she’d get to the end of her leg of the race, and nobody would be there.

Then what?

I kept staring down the road, no longer really waving everyone down, but people kept pulling over, asking if we needed more help. “Only if you know how to pull this van out,” I said.

Nobody had the equipment needed.

And then a big truck — it looked a lot like a tow truck, in fact — appeared.

I immediately went into absolute maximum waving-you-down mode. Jumping up and down. Waving both hands in the air. Yelling “Help!”

The truck went by and kept going. 

Or…wait…brake lights!

Was it going to turn around?  

No, it had just been braking for the bend in the road.

Damn. Damn damn damn damn damn.

No, there were the brake lights again, and it was pulling over.

I started laughing in a way that was just a little too close to crying.

Which seems like a good place for us to pick up in the next installment of this story.

Ken Chlouber on the FattyCast, New FatCyclist Gear Revealed (and Shipping Next Week)

07.8.2016 | 2:09 pm

Hey, check me out: I’m posting something on Friday. But not an installment of my Rockwell Relay report. Instead, I have a couple of other cool things I want to tell you about. 

Cool Thing #1: New FattyCast with Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race Founder Ken Chlouber

I haven’t posted a FattyCast in a few weeks, because I’ve just been too busy with my new job. I’m happy to report that the drought has ended, and I’ve got a great new episode to prove it: a conversation with Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race founder, Ken Chlouber.

I mean, think about it: 

You can listen to it on iTunes, download it directly, subscribe using the RSS feed, or just play it using the handy little widget below.

I wanted to have Ken on my podcast now for a couple reasons. First, he’s an incredibly inspiring person. I mean, think about it: You’re an out-of-work miner in a town with 60% unemployment. So what do you do? Well, what Ken did was create the most iconic 100-mile mountain biking and trail running races in America. In this episode, I talk with him about how, and why, and what he’d do next. It’s an inspiring episode with a man who will genuinely make you believe you are better than you think you are, and can do more than you think you can.

The second reason I wanted to have Ken in the podcast is he’s currently a 2016 nominee for the  Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Personally, I think he should definitely be one of the people chosen. Read a little bit about him, listen to this podcast, and then go vote. 

Cool Thing #2: New FatCyclist Gear Coming EXTREMELY SOON. 

When I started the race report series, I started showing off the new race-cut FatCyclist jerseys. 

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They’re pretty gorgeous, if you ask me. 

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They look good from the back, too:

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But there are a few things I have not told you.

The first thing I haven’t told you is that the jerseys you’ve seen so far have been the men’s design.

Nor have I told you that — as of yesterday — there is now a women’s specific kit, too.

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Every single woman I’ve shown it to wants this kit. It is wonderful. 

And the third thing I haven’t told you is that unlike every other FatCyclist gear order I’ve ever put together, this time I am not doing a pre-order. 

No, this stuff is all in-stock. Now. Today. Which means I’m going to put together the order pages early this week. If you order next week, you’ll get your gear…next week.

So…if you happen to think that these kits look as great as I do, you might want to pay attention next week. Because the fourth thing I haven’t told you is that I ordered very small quantities. I am not interested in begging you to buy anything ever again, and I am not interested in asking you to be patient and wait for your order to come in.

My expectation is that everything will sell out quickly, and the few people who get these jerseys will have the best-made, most-comfortable, least-common, best-looking jerseys I’ve ever sold. 

And I like that a lot.

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 7: No, You Go On Without Me.

07.7.2016 | 7:48 am

A Note from Fatty: World Bicycle Relief is doing its annual dollar-for-dollar July fundraiser, this year focusing on bikes  for Malawi students

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Take a moment to check out this incredible program, and be sure to donate. This is not only a charity where your money does immediate good in a lasting way, but it does double immediate good. And that’s incredible. 

2016 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 7: No, You Go On Without Me.

You’ve all been very patient. I’ve promised you for six posts now that things were going to go completely off the rails during this race, and you’ve been very patient as I told what has been — apart from the slowness I exhibited during my leg of the race — an absolutely stellar racing of the Rockwell Relay.

No errors.

No mechanicals.

No poorly-executed strategy. 

Just a family team, having fun while more or less eating our competitions’ lunch.

Well, all of that’s over, starting now.

Today the whole thing goes pear-shaped. Off the rails. Jeapordized. In a way that could be both very injurious and very expensive.

And, as you might expect, it’s all my fault.

Hi and Goodbye

One of the things I love about The Hammer is the intensity she brings to racing: I understand it and feel like it’s one of the things that ties us together. When we race, we race hard.

So I know that she’s not going to to slow down to chat when we pass by her, yelling encouragement. I know she’ll take the time to smile, but not slow down.

When she’s riding, she’s riding. There’s a reason “This ain’t no time for jibber-jabber” has become known as her catchphrase.

So after loading Ben into the van and driving forward to catch up with her, I wasn’t surprised when she simply shook her head and gave us a “thumbs-up” when we hollered, “Need anything?” at her.

Hey, it had only been ten or fifteen minutes since she had begun her leg of the race.

Hi and Goodbye, Again

We piled back into the van and passed her on the narrow, climbing canyon road.

And, like countless times before, the hunt was on. And by “hunt,” I mean we began hunting for the next possible place for us to pull over on the side of the road.

In some parts of the race — the wide, flat desert parts — you find places to pull over all the time. In this part of the race, however, I knew from experience that pullouts were few and far between.

Still, in a few miles we found a good one. We pulled over off the side of the road, going forward so at least one other race support vehicle could slot in behind us. (It was rare, this early in the race (just the fourth leg), that you’d be the only vehicle stopped and supporting a racer.)

I left the car running so the air conditionning could keep the inside of the van cool; we didn’t expect to be staying in this place long. All three of us piled out of the van and stood at the side of the road, watching for The Hammer.

Within a few minutes, we saw her. Just flying up the road. I’ve become good at reading The Hammer’s body language on the bike, and could tell: she was feeling great. Strong, fast, focused.

“What can we get you?” I hollered?

“Cold water at the next stop!” she yelled back. Not a surprise: in heat like this (I had noted that the outside temperature had just clicked over to 100 degrees, and there was a very mild tailwind, making it feel like a still, dry sauna to the rider), cold water is the best treat you could ever hope for.

One More Goodbye

I began walking back to the van when Lindsey had a suggestion. “Let’s wait for the Beauties and the Beasts rider to go by, so next time we see Lisa we can give her a split.”

A great idea. I knew The Hammer would like to know how she was doing against our competition, the “Beauties and the Beasts” (BatB) team. 

Lindsey started the stopwatch on her phone, and the three of us continued staring down the road for a couple minutes.

Then the van began rolling away.

Certainty

I saw the motion of the van out of the corner of my eye, and I didn’t understand, at first. Then, realizing the van was rolling forward on its own, I ran at top speed to the driver door. 

The car seemed to be accelerating, rolling toward a slope and then a six-foot dropoff into concrete ditch leading to a pipe, where rainwater could run under the road.

I managed to open the door, hoping to press the brake with my hand. 

But even as I did this, I knew I wasn’t going to make it in time. I knew the van was going to go down the bank, then plummet nose-first for a six-foot drop into a concrete floor. 

I won’t say that time slowed down for me, because it didn’t. However, I will say that in the half-moment while desperately tried to save the van, I had plenty of time to think about how this was my fault. How this was the final moment before the van — and probably everything in it or attached to it (including tens of thousands of dollars in road bikes) was totaled. How The Hammer was off on her own. Most of all, how I was just not going to get to the brake in time.

I don’t know how I had time to think all these things, but I promise: I did.

Ninja

What I didn’t realize, however, was that I was not the only one trying to rescue the runaway van.

Lindsey had seen it start rolling away, too.

While I had dashed for the driver’s door, however, Lindsey had run around the passenger side, where the side door was open. 

She dove through. 

The van accelerated.

She scrambled to the front.

The van began tilting down into the ditch bank. 

And as I was opening the driver’s door and having guilt-laden epiphanies, I yelled, “It’s going over!”

Lindsey made one perfect kick at the brake.

The van skidded. Then — to my astonishment — it stopped.

All was well. 

In a Predicament

No, just kidding. Everything was totally not well. Everything was absolutely completely the opposite of well. 

Things were, in short, unwell.

The van was tipping nose first down a steep ditch bank, literally inches from  going over a short-but-effective concrete cliff. It was tipping so steeply, in fact, that the rear-left wheel was high in the air. About two feet in the air, I’d guess.

Let me show you how things looked, van-wise.

NewImage
I know, it’s grainy. But it’s the best we’ve got. We weren’t thinking about photos at the time.

Ben hung on the back of the bike rack, using his weight as leverage — maybe it’s what kept the van from sliding over, I don’t know. 

“Let me take the brake!” I yelled. “You get out!”

“I can’t take my foot off the brake!” Lindsey yelled back.

She was right. 

“What do we do?” I asked, my mind completely blank. 

And it occurs to me now: it would be practically criminal to not end this installment of the race report here, when — finally! — I have an actual, literal cliffhanger. 

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