Thursday, June 20, 2013

6:15:48

 Six Hours

Fifteen Minutes 

48 Seconds


Dreams

3:00am August 11, 2012: The alarm wakes me up. My body wakes up differently on race days than any other day. It's a controlled wakening of all my systems that I have a hard time explaining. It's as if my body systematically turns on it's different senses one at a time going through an "all-go" procedure to make sure everything is at it's peak sensory level. 
The race doesn't start until 6:45am but I have to start getting fuel into my body now. My body won't be able to eat enough during the race to keep up with the calories burned and if I go into "calorie deficit" during the race; it's over and there's no recovering. The food is exactly the same every race. 3 hours before = 3 tortillas each filled with 1 Tablespoon peanut butter and 1 teaspoon jelly. 
There's no chance of falling back to sleep but I save my energy by trying to lay in bed as much as possible but there's things that need double checked and the start line is an hour's drive away. There's 3 things that you can't borrow at the starting line: a helmet, shoes and a bike. Those get checked first, then the "kit" which is everything you carry: jersey, shorts, sunglasses, food, water bottles, etc. Each has it's place and order so I know if something is missing. I'll carry all my food so that I only have to stop for water. Tools needed before the race and those that will get carried during the race are checked.

5:00am: time for 2 more tortillas, 600mg ibuprofen, and an Emergen-C pack. 
The bike and equipment is loaded and the drive to Park City looms ahead. It's an hour that I get to focus and go over race thoughts. If you've been around me the week before a race you know how intense I get; the hour before is probably unbearable. 

6:00am, Kimball Junction, Utah. It's 52 degrees but I make the decision not to wear UnderArmor or arm warmers, I'd have to stop somewhere and remove them as the day warmed up. The elites will launch at 6:45am and almost every minute from 6:00 to 6:45 is structured. Unload the bike; check tire pressure, brakes, gears, seat, chain, bike computer, etc. A bike jersey has 3 pockets in the lower back and all my fuel, ibuprofen and an extra Co2 canister needs to be stuffed there. Underneath the seat is a small compartment where an extra tube, pump and Co2 is stowed. 
Next I check in, I'm pre-registered but I like to make sure everything is ready. Then it's on the bike to check all the components of the bike. I run through all 20 gears, check the brakes, check my pedals, do some maneuvering and stretch a little. It's also time to size up the competition: do I know anyone, recognize team jerseys, who looks nervous, calm, scared? Who is using what type of gear set-up? What type of wheels? Where are the biggest calves? When all else fails follow the biggest calves. 

6:35am, Time to stake your claim at the starting line. I have a favorite place: about 18 feet off the line and on the inside of the first major turn. Today it's a hard right turn right out of the starting gate so I line up accordingly and then don't budge. 

6:44am and it's quiet. The race isn't going to start on time. I'm focused which means I'm  cranky but I have to calm myself. My mind isn't worried about the racers around me, I'm worried about the pros coming behind us and they'll start on time. Every minute we're delayed is a minute in their favor. 

6:51am. The gun sounds. There's the sweet sound of hundreds of shoes clipping into race pedals. The pedals on race bikes are unlike your childhood bike pedals. I'm locked onto my bike and in essence my shoe is the pedal. It allows me to, not only, push down but also lift up, slide back and kick forward which generates 4 times as much power as a "childhood" bike. 
Once out of the starting gate and clear of the parking lot we are joined at the front by a 3 car police escort. The first 4 miles of the race skirts the edge of town and the escort will get us safely on the open road. 
The big, main pack of bikes in a race is called a "peloton". On this day the riders at the front of the peloton have set a fairly moderate pace of 22mph. It's slightly uphill but it feels slow. I've made a decision that I'm going to just "sit in" for as long as possible. Inside the peloton you expend far less energy as you would by working at the front. The "drag" of those bikes pulls you along. By "sitting in" I don't have to work as hard to go as fast. 
It's tough to describe what it feels like to be in a peloton. But imagine going 25 mph and being able to reach out and touch six different riders at any one time. That's how close it is. Your senses are magnified; who's shifting, who's standing, who's drinking or eating? Things like this will slow down or speed up a rider and you have to dance a delicate waltz inside the peloton of holding your line but being aware of who isn't holding theirs. 
But I know this course and I know the peloton will shatter all too quickly. 11 miles into the race is a Class 2 climb. Hills, or climbs, are categorized in cycling by difficulty decided on by the steepness, length and to a lesser degree placement in the route. Class 4 is the easiest up to Class 1 being the steepest, longest hills. Then there are what are called "hors cat├ęgorie" or "beyond classification" which means cars aren't really expected to make the summit. This first climbing test of the day comes quick. At the base I look around. There's about 45 riders in front of me and a long file of bikes snaked behind me that stretches out of view. The air is calm and crisp. It's broken by the sounds of chains making their way up the cassette (or back gears) to the easier, lighter gears. My legs tell me to hold off,  don't shift just yet. By doing this I gain a little speed on a lot of the other cyclist. My trade off is suffering. By not shifting into an easier gear as those around me I'm using a little more energy now. But I remember riding with a group of pros and complaining that my legs were hurting. One of them berated me, calling me arrogant to think I was the only one whose legs were hurting. Cycling is about suffering. Climbing is about trusting that you'll be able to recover once you reach the peak. I keep rotating my legs and move up the hill.  
There's a big tradition in bicycle racing to leave messages in chalk on the road in support of your favorite rider, for a team or other reasons. I'll get to see a lot of those today with the pros coming up behind us. The first sign of these messages appear on this Class 2 climb. Sprawled out in big white words is this first message. 
THIS... ISN'T... THE... HARD... PART......... THAT... IS ... above this is a huge arrow pointing off to the right.
 My eyes follow off in the southwest direction of the arrow but I'm already laughing, knowing what's there. Across the Jordanelle Reservoir  looming above the horizon is Mt. Timpanogas. The first HC climb of the day. I look back up the hill I'm on. This is what crushes cyclist's souls: thinking about the next climb, not the one they're on. I pedal on. Mt. Timpanogas is 40 miles away.  I'm in the middle of The Jordanelle climb. Timpanogas will have to wait. At the summit I begin shifting back down into the heavier harder gears. The reward for going up a hill is getting to go down a hill.
I take a quick drink. On the bike I drink every 12 minutes. There's no debating this. I drink in 12 minute intervals whether I'm thirsty or not. It's 36 minutes into the ride, it's still cool out,  I'm not sweating but it's time to drink.  
I'm 7 minutes faster to this point than I was last year. I know this because this is where I crashed out last year. My senses jump to attention. There's a little fear in my heart. I've picked my way through the group and at the top of the climb I'm sitting 17th. Last year I was sitting 5th here. It gives me some confidence in the riders that will be around me on this descent. This is a higher level of cyclists than last year. The crest of a hill on a bike is very rewarding but I live with a problem. I've  just gained about 25 spots on this climb but now I have to hold it on the descent. It's not as easy as it used to be. I'm weighing 142 pounds at the start of this race which makes the climbing a lot easier but the descending tougher. As one person told me: you can't expect to go down like a bowling ball when you go up like a feather. That means I have to be a little more aerodynamic than the heavier cyclists. I have to get lower, more slipstream, hide from the wind on my bike. I come completely off my seat and lay on the top tube of the bike frame, my butt tucked under the front of the seat.  My arms tuck in underneath my body. My neck lays over my handlebars and my chin sits directly over the front wheel. In this position it's tough to reach the brake levers safely or easily; no worry, I won't be using them.
Next time you're going 45mph in a car open up the door and look down. Then to experience the crash from last year, jump out wearing only your underwear. I shouldn't be thinking about the crash last year- It was a freak accident, I'm better, the guys around me are better, the problem that caused it has been fixed- but in honesty I'm thinking about it and a grin lights up my face as I wiz past the exact site. I've made it. I'm a little safer. I'm going too fast to add any speed by pedaling but during regular intervals I'll rotate the pedals a few times to move my legs and keep the blood from pooling in them. For the next few minutes I'm just a passenger on the bike but there's no time for sightseeing. The two inches in front of my wheel are all that matter. I'm aware of my surroundings, the bikes, the road surface, the debris and my adjustments around and through these things are made by little more than tightening one side of my body, sticking out and elbow, and other very slight movements. The handlebars are to hang on to, you never steer with them.
As the base of the hill approaches I ready myself to switch from passenger to engine. My focus turns to the speedometer. And I watch the numbers fall at a steady rate: 48...47...44.4 (the sign of death in Asian cultures) ... 40 ...tense up Eric get ready... 39.... It's close! 38.... BOOM! Time to start rotating the legs again.
I look up, there's a long straight stretch and a town at the end. It's pretty flat but still rolls downhill. I'll keep the speed up knowing that I'm getting some help from gravity. The police escort is still out in front of us, we'll be able to scream through town without the worry of vehicles crossing our path.

The last time I visited the little town of Kamas, Utah it was to put my bike back together and clean the blood off my abrasions. It's different this year and more rewarding. At the city limits there's a group of people along the road. Yes, they're there to get a good spot for the pro race but a mile away I can hear the cowbells and yelling. They're treating our race just the same. This could end up being a fun day. Halfway through town, at probably the only stop light, the police pull over, we're on our own now. There's an aid station at the local school, none of the elite cyclist will stop here, it's only 17.4 miles into the race. Bottles are still full, no need to get off the bike but it gives me a check point. I'm averaging 19 miles an hour at this point. Still under an hour, still ahead of what I'd projected. The doubt creeps in; am I going too fast, expending too much energy? I tell myself to trust in the training, pedal on. I'm my biggest critic and biggest fan at the same time. 

20 mile marker: The directors of the race have set out big signs every 5 miles to let you know how far along you are in the race. 20 miles means I'm 1/5 of the way done. It's a big moment. I run through an "all-systems" check. I'm doing just under 17mph, I'm averaging 19mph, I've been on the bike 1:03.28, heart rate is 154bpm, still plenty of water in my bottles, quick look down at the tires show they're still holding pressure.
I've gambled on my tires today, especially with the chance of thunderstorms over the Wasatch Mountain Range. My tires are 23mm wide, under an inch wide. They are supposed to hold 130psi but I always run them at 135psi. Today I've gambled and inflated them to 140psi. It's left me with a concern. They're not designed to be inflated this high. If they burst, I can change a flat in about 2 minutes but that's a loss of a half mile in distance. The higher pressure allows less friction on the road, it also gives a rougher ride, and if the road turns wet, it gives less control.
More immediate concerns. We've wound our way through the little town and at the southeast edge make a hard right turn and start heading west, and right into a headwind. I'm pretty natural at being able to estimate wind speed. From the rustling of the leaves on the trees, to how the grass and weeds dance along the road, to the stray piece of paper bouncing down the asphalt, I've set the wind at around 12mph; more of an annoyance than an obstacle. It means shifting into a lighter gear and, strangely, working with your competition. It's time for a pace line.
In a pace line you're working with other cyclists to keep a higher speed. The cyclist in the front blocks the wind for the others then, after a given time, falls off and takes his place in back where he is pulled in the draft of the other's until he works his way back up to the front and pays his debt for the small rest by working for everyone else. It's a beautiful thing to watch and takes lots of practice to do right. It's a true "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" situation. Although all of us in the pace line are trying to win the race, it pays off to work together against the wind to maintain a higher overall speed. And the wind is every cyclist's worst enemy.  The pace line works great for about 6 miles and then it happens. One of the worst, if not the worst, feelings for a cyclist; 2 inches... 4 inches... I'm seeing it happen and there's nothing I can do about it ... 5 inches starts feeling like a mile... 6 inches... I'm losing the wheel in front of me little by little and soon with it the benefits of the drafting. 9 inches... It's happening faster and all I can do is keep pedaling and hope a false hope. 1 foot turns into 2 feet then 3 feet... it's over, I'm out of the pace line. These "Cat 1" riders are better than me on the flatter terrain. I knew it, I'd planned on it, I'd prepped myself to expect. It doesn't mean I have to like it.
Racers, like hills, are classified in categories. Cat 1 & 2's are your up and coming pros or pros that are done competing for pay. I'm a Cat 3 which is a sponsored rider without true ambitions of being a pro. In essence the top amateur level. Then there are Cat 4's & 5's that are avid cyclists that race every once and a while.
As I fall off the pace line I know it's because everyone in front of me are Cat 1 & 2. I look around and I'm in no-man's-land. There's a group behind me in the distance and the 20, or so, Cat 1's pulling away from me. It's right where I expected to be. For the next while I'll do all I can to out run the group of cyclist coming up on me, filled with Cat 1, 2 & 3's. Generally speaking 15 riders are faster than one, I'm at a disadvantage and they have me in their sights. Their game is to see if they can catch me, mine is to not be caught. I have one advantage: there's some climbs coming up fast, and I'll pick me on a hill over anyone. I move my hands down on the drop bars, I have a new game for my pursuers: let's see who can get to the next mountain first!

Being alone during a race is the true competition. No one there to drive you on, no one there to hold you to your commitments. Sometimes I wish someone would secretly record me during these times. I start arguing with myself out loud. "just stop, no one will care." "okay, at that sign we'll quit." "if you kicked your spokes in, everyone would think it was just bad luck." "the mechanic will know you kicked them in yourself." "just keep pedaling you chicken." "okay, I'll pedal to that next sign and then I'm done." "shut up, you're not going to stop at that sign." ".... I'm going to seriously consider it." It goes on like this constantly.
I take a quick look back at the group behind me without seeming like I'm looking back. You can't have them thinking you're concerned.
Dang, they're closer.  
It's not time to panic.
Another quick look back. It's like a horror movie, every time I look back they're closer.
The road is starting to pitch up but the real climb is still a ways off.  Trust in the training. I keep pedaling. Concentrate on my pedal stroke. Push down; slide back; lift up; kick forward... repeat. It's the lifting up that separates a real cyclist and someone who rides a bike. Because my foot is locked on to the bike I'm able to lift up and generate more power through the rotation of the pedal stroke. Gravity starts forcing me to shift gears. I'm going up the steep part of the climb about a half mile before the chasing group. This hill isn't classified but it's tough. It's just as high as the first climb but because it's not one long ascent it isn't classified. It's done in steps; climb, level off, climb, level off until the summit. It's not long before I'm down to 13mph. I'm feeling good and keeping my pedaling smooth and breathing under control. I glance back and notice a group of 5 riders have broken off the chase group. And they're catching me. As they come up beside me I fall into the group. There's some Cat 3's in here, the first ones I've seen. I'm able to stay up with them and we crest the final summit together. I get to fight for my position on the ride down the other side. Quickly my speed is over 40mph and again I'm just a passenger on the bike. Once again as soon as gravity takes over the other cyclist start pulling away. I console myself in the knowledge that the race finishes on top of a climb so if I can keep close I have a chance. By the bottom of the descent a couple other cyclists have passed me. There's five Cat 3's and 20 Cat 1&2's ahead of me. And it's mostly flat and downhill to Mt. Timpanogas. 
The route goes through the towns of Heber and Midway and there's more crowds building. The cowbells, the screaming, the words of encouragement are intoxicating. I could seriously get used to this. I hear a few screams of "Beat The Pros"... I'm trying guys, I'm trying. Inside the town of Heber is another aid station where people are waiting to fill bottles and give food. I check and do the calculations. It's time to make a decision: fill up here or in 17 miles at the base of Timpanogas. If you combine both bottles I still have about 3/4 of a bottle total. It's warming up but still cool. The road angles downhill for the most part to Timpanogas; I decide to pedal on. As I pass the aid station I notice 6 riders pulled over. None of the Cat 3's are there.
1:56.48. Time to eat. As much as I make myself drink every 12 minutes, I make myself eat every hour. I reach into my back pocket it's time for meal #2. I eat on the roll. When it's done I take another sip and get back to business. I've been on the bike for 2 hours, my back needs stretched, my legs need stretched, my butt needs a break but it has to wait.  I won't do this until I can coast without losing much speed. As soon as I find a nice steady downhill slope I begin the stretching: I roll my neck, shake each hand a little, level my feet out, stand up and stretch my legs. It takes less than 30 seconds but it's all the break I'll take. 15 miles of relatively flat terrain lay ahead along with five Cat 3's I have to chase down. The wind is picking up and I try to use it to my ability. My light body weight might not have much of an effect on flat roads but I try to use my thin body frame to my advantage. "Ride skinny," I tell myself, "hide from the wind." 
This is my way of reminding myself to concentrate on an aerodynamic position on the bike. The other cyclists are getting bored, tired. They're sitting up on their bikes catching more wind. I put my hands in the drops, or lower part of the handlebars, keep my elbows tucked against my body, and my knees angled in. I've trained all winter to ride this whole race in this less comfortable position, it's time to put it to use. 
The five mile markers tick away: 40... 45... 50 and then the signs begin appearing. The road over Mt Timpanogas is called "The Alpine Loop" and the signs on the highway are announcing it's arrival. Before I know it I can see the blue canopy of the aid station. I've got to fill my water bottles. It's warming up and over the last 2 years I've heard nothing good about this road. I've driven the Alpine Loop a couple times in a car but you can't appreciate a road from a car. All the little impurities, subtle pitches, steep switchbacks mean nothing in a motorized vehicle. They do when you're the motor. 
I pull over. There's about 10 cyclists refueling. All I need is water. I don't even get off my bike. The volunteers are awesome. They already have water opened and ready. I unscrew my tops and two people are pouring water in. I still have enough food and don't accept anymore. Over the next 9 miles every ounce I carry will slow me down. 

2:45.36 I'm 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I push off and look up The Alpine Loop,
up Mt Timpanogas...
Up Mt Doom. 
"Watch out for 'the wall'." That's the only advice I've got about this climb. About a half mile away from the aid station I'm already out of gears, my heart rate is at 162bpm. Dear Lord, I hope this is "The Wall". The grade on this part of the road averages 11% and has portions that reach 14%. The mountain I train on in Vegas is 7 to 8%. There are no "Hors Cat├ęgory" climbs in Vegas. Legs: let me introduce you to Utah. Within a mile of the aid station 2 cyclists pass me, both Cat 3's. We chat as they pass, I ask them if they've done this climb before. They answer yes. I ask for any advice or tricks for ascending it. 
"once you get past The Wall it actually levels off but your legs are toast by then so it won't feel like it."
Oh, thank God, this is the wall. I'm now in 8th but this is not about winning right now, it's about surviving. My mind clears of everything. I'm not thinking about the race, I'm not thinking about my bike, I'm not thinking about the summit. I'm watching my heart rate now. And trying to survive. The fine line I balance on going up a steep, long hill like this teeters on my heart rate. Go as fast as you can without "red lining" your heart rate. If I go above 185bpm for long I'll "pop" and pretty much end my day; end 2 years of hard work. Pedal, suffer, watch the heart rate, survive. The wall lasts about 3 miles. The mile marker says: Mile 55. They're starting to annoy me. I contemplate kicking it over as I go by. Then when I pass it I contemplate turning around, going back and kicking it over. But I have 6 more miles to the summit and I'm pretty sure I don't want to repeat any of it.
The crowds are staking their claims to the best parts of the mountain. There are some certifiable crazy cycling fans. In some parts of the world cycling is like football here. Standing alongside the road is a guy dressed up as a devil. He's holding a cold bottle of water. As I close in on him I hear the offer, "Your soul for a bottle of water." It seems like a reasonable offer. I swoop in and grab it. The crowd cheers and laughs. I pour it over my head and pedal on. Above "The Wall" the road reaches the elevation of cottonwood trees, it's probably very beautiful but I'm concentrating on the road surface. I'm scanning for the easiest line up. Are there little dips? Is one side smoother asphalt? Can I cut this corner? What line is best around this switchback? I'm doing 9.5mph, every advantage will make a little difference. I start picking off some of the riders ahead of me and dropping them. Two more catch me and pass me. 
Visualization is a very strong training tool. Last year after the wreck I drive this road to commit it to memory. I've ridden it 100 times in my mind. As the steep parts and tough switchbacks appear I remember them. They aren't as intimidating. It's warming up even at this altitude. My heart rate has been above 170 for over 30 minutes. I unzip my jersey and take a drink. I recognize a long switchback. I'm close to the top. It's felt like forever. The road levels off some. I'm able to shift into a few heavier gears. Another switchback and a sign: Mile 60. Only mile 60?!? Son of a... Are you serious? 
A few more switchbacks and I see a beautiful sign. "KOM 1km". The pros will race up this mountain to contest King Of Mountain points. This is their warning to start racing. To me it means 1000 more meters and I'm done with this Hell. I can see the summit. The day started with 4 classified climbs on the course, I'm done with 2. I have a nice long descent into the Provo Valley. It's time to push it for 500 meters. The crowd gathering at the KOM line cheer in appreciation. I slap the sign as I crest. 
There's an aid station, but I'm not about to stop. I look down at my bottles, they're both about 1/4 full and I won't be reaching for them on the descent. 2 years ago in this race a rider was using a car to draft behind on the way down. The vehicle didn't know he was there. Around one of the sharp hairpin turns the car misjudged it and slammed on the brakes. The cyclist went through the back window and was pronounced dead on the spot. I guess that when the paramedics arrived and had to ask where his head was, the cause of death was easy to diagnose. I decide to play it a little safe. It costs me a couple more spots but I'll live to ride another day. 
No catching me today boys. I check my watch, the pros have just launched. I'm 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Somewhere down this side of Mt Timpanogas my bike computer will register a speed of 56.6mph. I was taking it easy. 
At the base of the mountain it feels like I'm riding in sand. After maintaining speeds over 40mph for 11 miles it seems slow to be back down to 20mph. It takes a few minutes to get my legs accustomed to the pressure of pushing on the pedals. There's a group of 8 riders just ahead and I push to close the gap. A town approaches and as I get close to the city limits I see a cop car at an intersection. He's stopping traffic for the race. I make a hard right turn onto Main Street, Alpine UT.  and almost gasp.
The town has come out in full force to cheer us on. Lined up 6 deep on each side and stretching at least a mile is a crowd going nuts. Cowbell, clappers, whistles, screams. For 1 mile I'm a pro and I can't wipe the grin off my face. We all instinctively pick up the pace and head into our dream. There's a time to race and a time to be grateful. In the crowd are lots of kids. I pull out of the group of cyclists and swing toward the sidewalk lined with people. High fives all the way down the street. By the time we're directed off main street and out of town I'm 50 meters behind the group I entered with. It was well worth it then, it's still well worth it now.
Outside of Alpine is the third of four classified climbs. It's called Suncrest. It separates Provo Valley and the Salt Lake Valley. The locals know it as Point of the Mountain.  On the far west side of this mountain they race motorcycles up the dirt part and call it The Widowmaker. I think that's a more appropriate name. For two years I've said this hill will decide the race. It's a "Class 1" climb and it's between the two HC climbs. You've just gotten done with Timpanogas and you're beginning to think of Little Cottonwood Canyon when all of a sudden there's this mountain in your way. And it's intimidating. Some hills are just scary to look at and this one fits that description. From the edge of Alpine you can see the whole mountain and, worse, you can see that the road goes all the way to the top. You can't fool yourself by saying the road goes along it or beside it. The highest thing on this mountain is the asphalt of the road. 
My predictions were right. I catch and pass the group I entered the town with. I pass some Cat 1 riders struggling, I pass some of the Cat 3 riders.  The back side of Potosi, the mountain I train on every day, is eerily similar to this road. Every day up Potosi I told myself, "this is how your legs will feel going up The Widowmaker." I was wrong, they feel better. By the time I crest the summit I've passed 15 riders. No one passed me. I high five some fans at the top and head down into the Salt Lake Valley. 
Mile 80. I've been on my bike 4 hours 35 minutes. I look at my bottles, precious few sips left. I have to stop at this aid station. They aren't as organized here and there's a line of cyclists and it's taking longer to fill the bottles. I decide to only fill one to cut time. There's another station at the base of the canyon. I didn't want to stop there but I'll gamble.
The race book lists Little Cottonwood Canyon as a 9.8 mile climb but what it doesn't say is that it's a good steep climb through foothills of the Wasatch Mountains and the town of Draper to get to the base of the canyon. The crowds are starting to fill in and cheer. As I pass one big group I ask, "It's all downhill from here, right?". Hey, you gotta get laughs wherever you can. I'm starting to pass more cyclists. This climb through the foothills of the valley is demoralizing. Cycling lesson for life: concentrate on the task at hand. As we snake through town I see the pizza place we ate at last year after watching the finish. 
The race starts here. Mile 85.
A hard right turn and Little Cottonwood Canyon stares us directly in the face. And it's a steep climb to get there. The group that had formed down Suncrest, at the aid station and through Draper is 11 strong. At the top of this climb  it's fallen to 6. The remaining Cat 3 riders are grouped together. There's 3 of us. We're not in a pace line, we're not working together. We're surviving. 
I send a quick text to Bambi who's waiting at the finish line. It simply reads: Mile 90. 
I'm running out of water. I'm wondering if anyone else is going to stop at the aid station 2 miles ahead. I've played my cards, I have to stop and fill both bottles regardless of what anyone else does. 
As we turn onto Little Cottonwood Canyon Road I see the aid station. As I get closer I see little angels dressed in green volunteer shirts. There's about 12 kids from a local Boys & Girls Club helping at this station. They're lined along the road holding out bottles of water. I've said many times before that cycling is about seeing an opportunity and jumping on it without hesitating. An idea pops into my head. A stupid idea I've never heard of. A stupid idea that might, just might, keep me on my bike. I slow my pace, ease close, reach out and grab a bottle. 
Anyone can do that.  
Quickly, I shove it in my pocket and reach back and grab another bottle. Just as quickly it's in a pocket. A third time I reach out and grab a bottle. 
That was the easy part. 
Holding my handlebars and one bottle in my left hand, I reach down and unscrew my water bottle. Putting the cap in my mouth I unscrew the bottle of water in my left hand and reach down and pour it into my bike bottle. 
One down, one to go. 
I'm pedaling slower but I haven't had to stop. I fumble through the next water exchange and pick up my pace. I open the third bottle, drink half and pour the other half over my head. The other cyclist didn't stop. I've fallen behind the group but I'm not concerned, I've saved seconds by not getting off the bike. 
"This doesn't seem so bad." Is my first thought from a bike, riding up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Once you're on the road heading up to Snowbird Ski Resort it actually levels off some from skirting the foothills. I pick up the pace and chase after the five riders I was with. But on this terrain I'm at a speed disadvantage so the chase is to just minimize my losses. 
9 miles left to my goal. I pass a couple riders with their heads drooped. I can't comprehend being defeated at this point. In fact my legs twinge a little as if they're going to cramp. They have every reason to. I've asked more of them already than any other race, ever. At this point in the race I've climbed more than any other race and I have the biggest climb I've ever done left in front of me. I tell my legs- you've got 9 more miles then you can explode. I go around a bend in the road and get my first glimpse of the real Cottonwood Canyon. It's all it's been cracked up to be. This is going to be a beast. What I don't see is the group of riders that I'm chasing. There's two Cat 3's in there. I've got to catch them soon. The road turns steep immediately. And just as quick I'm out of gears. My heart rate leaps to 180+bpm but it's a now or never situation. Time to give it everything. 

5:02.45 I've been on my bike for over 5 hours. I'm still a little faster than I'd predicted and still feeling good on the bike. My heart rate is high, but I'm in control still. I've predicted that it will take me an hour to make this climb. I've set 6:05.00 as my goal. I'm feeling confident that I can beat that. I pedal on, reminding myself to keep my pedal stroke smooth and consistent. 
If you ride a good line through a switchback you have about 2 pedal rotations to grab a quick rest but it seems a moot point on this road. Every switchback seems to bring a steeper grade. Every bend reveals a longer tougher section. Every turn introduces a new reason to quit. I look down at my bike computer. The speedometer embarrasses me. I'm going slower than I've ever gone in a race. My heart rate is skyrocketing above the red line. My body is screaming for water I have to ration.   There comes a point in every race where you legs just give up, where your mind wants to pull over, get off the bike and sit down. It's here. And  it's here with a vengeance. There's only one choice: I turn the computer screen off. I shut my heart rate monitor down. No more need for numbers. It's time to fight myself. The crowds are starting to get thick up this climb that will determine the outcome of the pros Tour of Utah. They've raced everyday this week and this climb is expected to reveal the winner. It's also designed to break the best riders in the world. Later today, seven pros will abandon the race right here. 25% of the amateurs will be caught here. None of that matters. I'm not in a race; I'm no longer trying to beat the pros. I'm simply testing myself: can I beat this mountain. 
I'll never forget the crowds on this mountain. They made it easier and harder to ride at the same time. I wanted to give them all a show, but had to stay within my limits. They came with water for the pros but saw cyclists struggling in a race and shared what they had. More than once a fan ran alongside me, encouraging me. I'm trying to capture every second of it but my mind is focused on moving the pedals. 
With 4 miles left I catch one of the five cyclists. He's not one of the Cat 3's but he lets me know they're not far past him. It gives me a boost in my confidence but not my speed. The farther up this beast, the steeper it pitches. 
One of the signs I've been looking for comes into view: Tanner's Flat 1/4 mile. 
Tanner's Flat is where the road is the steepest and the last long straight stretch on the course. It's the best place to watch the race. It's where the crazies camp out the night before. It's where the unofficial Tour of Utah party is. Imagine being able to have a tailgate party on the goal line at the Super Bowl for free. That's what this is equivalent to. I round the corner. I'm no longer suffering on Little Cottonwood Canyon. I'm in my heaven called Tanner's Flat. I'm still suffering, but I've dreamed about what this would feel like since I started watching the Tour de France as a kid. The crowds are so deep you can't see where the shoulder ends and the road starts. There's enough space for about three bikes to pass through. Two bikes comfortably. Then I see a gift. The crowd at the top of the stretch is making way for 2 bikes. On top of the bikes are the only Cat 3 riders in front of me. 
I've got to calm myself and it's tough. The energy of the crowd makes me want to stand up and pedal hard. But if I do that now, I'll pop and end my day 3 miles from the finish line. As I ride through the crowd someone hands me a cold bottle of water. I drink half and pour half over my head. Someone runs alongside me and pours water down my back. There's a gorilla handing out bananas. I'm sure I've lost it, but there's a gorilla handing out bananas. Superman is here too. I find Waldo. The crowds are deafening. Another water bottle in my face. I grab it, take a few sips and toss it. At the end of the stretch a guy makes eye contact with me. He runs alongside me. "want a push?". Oh how I want a push. My legs beg for a push. No one would know that I was aided. It's too crowded. There's no officials around. It would help me catch my competition. I don't have the strength to talk....
I shake my head no.
One person would know and I have to look at him in the mirror tomorrow. 
At the "4km" sign there's a lady dressed as an angel holding up four fingers, "you've climbed 4 major climbs, you've got 4 kilometers to go. You can do it!"
Lady, I'm not sure I can.
I'm bridging the gap to the two Cat 3's and the distance is closing fast. I catch them at the 3km sign. There's a couple kids along the road. I unclip both water bottles and toss them to them. I'll jettison all the extra weight I have left here. I don't need any fuel or water. I've planned this. The last part of the race will be ridden as light as possible. Every ounce of unnecessary weight is tossed.
I stay right behind them. I've caught them and now it's their turn to counteract. We pedal together for what seems like an hour before the "2km" sign appears. Then one of them makes a move. My legs don't react and he continues to pull away.  
2000 meters away from the finish line. I sit and watch him pull away on a climb. In all my dreams I was the one pulling away. But in the countless hours of training I was learning to stay within myself and race my race.
The guy left with me crumbles. Seeing someone pull away like that crushes him and it's as if he almost comes to a stop.
I go under the 1km banner "the red arch", alone. In cycling the "1km to go" sign is a red arch stretching across the road. 164,000 meters down; 1,000 to go. Just over half a mile.  I've fallen behind by about 400 meters. He's smoking it. He deserves first. Second place in this race is good. I've done what I can. I should be proud. 
500 meters left. The sign is just ahead. Then I see something I'd not planned on. At the "500 meters to go" mark the race turns down into the Snowbird Ski Resort parking lot. The climbing is over. It's all downhill from here. The crowds are lining the finish line. About 500 meters of crowds. I can give them a show. If I die here I can roll down to the finish line. I slam my chain into the hardest gear and push with everything I've got left. 
At 400 meters I look up to get my bearings. I see the last Cat 3 at the 200 meters sign. I can  catch him... maybe.
I push for another 100 meters. My brain does the calculations: not enough distance left.
No need to crash here unnecessarily. I start to sit up. Then he sits up and starts coasting.
Opportunity!
As quickly as I've sat up I reach back down to the drops.
Turns out the race wasn't 102.6 miles; it's 200 meters. The pros didn't give me a head start; I gave him a 100 meter head start. I hear the announcer say- he's giving it a go! as I scream by the table.

My nose is over my front wheel and his bike comes into my limited view...
I'm at his back wheel...
The finish line is closing in...
I'm a half bike length back...
You won't know unless you try...
My front wheel is rolling through his...
Pedals matching pedals...

A life put on hold. Two years of training for one race. Two major wrecks. Being run over by a car. Cheated out of a victory in a big race. 4:00am every single morning. Saturday mornings traded away to sore legs. Lost friends who couldn't understand. Friends gained who respect dedication.  Injuries, doubts, defeats. Victories, faith, lessons learned. sacrifices made. Blood, broken bones, concussions. Smiles, encouragement from people I hadn't talked to in 20 years, memories. 28,000 miles in heat, cold, rain, wind; many when no other cyclists were out on the road.  A life made better. 

Somewhere hidden in all that I found 60 millimeters.

100 Miles of Nowhere

100 Miles of Nowhere

New York to Paris... to New York... to

 

THE DECISION

I've done 100 miles on a trainer before. In fact, I've done it many times due to the fact that I lived in Panguitch, UT for 15 years where the summer biking season stretches from 11am on July 4th to 6pm on July 4th.
Yes, I am stretching the truth in that statement a little. I've personally seen it snow at 1pm on The Fourth of July Parade, thus ending summer after 2 hours.
I've also sat on a set of rollers and stared at a wall for 7 hours due to the fact that I now live in Las Vegas, where it's 110 degrees with a 25mph wind as I type this.
Which of course gives me great insight into how it would be to ride 100 miles inside a hairdryer.
I needed a new challenge for the 100 Miles of Nowhere that didn't include trainers, rollers...or hairdryers.
Then it hit me! Why not go everywhere while doing The Nowhere? So I proudly announced to my audience (which consisted of my wife and dog) that for The 100 Miles of Nowhere I was going to pedal a loop from The Statue of Liberty to the Eiffel Tower!


...the little ones in Vegas.


THE PLAN OF ATTACK

I went about laying out a course on The Las Vegas Strip that started at the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, which for trivia buffs isn't even located in Las Vegas, and would turn around at the slightly more fabulous Fountains of The Bellagio which, likewise, isn't located in the city limits of Vegas either. So there it was, a five mile loop of The Las Vegas Strip that would take me past NY, NY and Paris located completely within the city limits of Paradise, NV 
(feel free to get the lyrics "They Paved Paradise to Put Up a Parking Lot" stuck in
your head now.)
off we go

BENEFITS & OBSTACLES

I had strategically planned the start time. I needed to wait for the party revelers and club-hoppers to drag their butts home but get in as many laps before the airport traffic started shuttling the broke tourists to their return destinations. And so I pushed off at 5am. Sunrise comes about 5:30am in Las Vegas this time of year but I was fully prepared with my bike headlight and flashing tail light.
*Note for the curious: a 70 lumen head light has no effect in the man-made canyon of casinos that line The Strip.
I would pass a single light, on top of a pyramid, that, rumor has, can be seen from space.*
My headlight did a lot of damage compared to the Luxor's beacon


The flashing neon signs and blinding lights beckoning passerby's presented a problem. They reflected off the slick  pavement and obscured obstacles such as beer bottles and limos driving without their lights turned on. Before the first lap was completed I nearly rear-ended a limo slightly longer than an aircraft carrier. But I figured if I was going to be responsible for an accident, hitting  a limo was in my favor. I could plead with a judge that I was doing 
it with two worthy causes in mind. The first, I was raising money for Camp Kesem. The second worthy cause is that anyone who has ever driven on The Strip knows all limo drivers deserve a bike shoved up their wazzu!
When I planned the course I knew I had a hidden benefit; The Strip is crowded with street peddlers and on every corner is someone selling "Water for $1!". These peddlers are frowned upon by the casinos because they interfere with their ability to sell the same "Water for $5!" inside their establishments. But for me it meant not having to carry extra hydration. I would simply have to fight my way through Transformers and Elvis' (both the fat stamp and skinny stamp versions) to get more water.
My new support car

This is what a lifetime of peanut butter and bananas will do

DRUNKS, TAXIS & TOURISTS

Las Vegas Blvd (The Strip) is actually a wide street but it doesn't have bike lanes. Actually, the vehicle  lanes are slightly narrower than an average street to condense space and add an extra lane. Over the next 5-6 hours I would be sharing this space with three main groups: Drunks, taxis and tourists and usually they'd be intertwined with the first, using the second to transport the third. Nevada is a "3 Foot Law" state and recently Las Vegas has begun a big campaign to promote this, but as anyone knows "The Strip" is in a world of it's own. And it obviously doesn't have a "3 Foot Law". I'd even bet that in the world of The Strip the law requires a motorist passing a bicycle to be WITHIN 3 FEET!
In the middle of the race someone asked me what it was like to ride a bike all day long, up and down 
Las Vegas Blvd. Okay, I asked myself that question after the 66th close call with a taxi, but it doesn't diminish my intelligent answer: have you ever rode a bike? Have you ever played Frogger? 
Do Both at once!
No bike lanes + Tropicana Intersection = suck-o-rama

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

In laying out my route I picked the widest, straightest, flattest part of The Strip but inside this section is a big pitfall. The halfway point of the loop is the intersection of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd; statistically the most dangerous intersection in the Vegas valley. I would have to pass through this 40 times. It wasn't long before this would rear it's ugly head and have me changing the course on the fly. An accident had shut the intersection down. I was going to have 
to sit on my bike and wait for the accident to clear. But then I saw my chance. There are pedestrian walkways over this intersection.  I bunny-hopped my bike onto the sidewalk, pedaled down the walkway, went up the escalator, across the pedestrian bridge and down the other side. Waiting there with a camera was my wife who snapped a great photo of me in front of The Statue of Liberty.


 

A FITTING END

My loop ended up being a little longer than 5 miles as I'd forgot to take into consideration the 
U-turns. As I came to the end of Lap 19 my odometer read 95.6 miles. For an instant I considered calling it good but the cyclist inside me spurred me around the turn and I started the last lap. It was a good move. At the end of the 20th lap my computer read 100.7 miles and a group had just pulled in to take a picture in front of the famous sign. They were a bunch of kids in town for a paintball competition. I found out that they enter contests to help an Autism Charity. And I thought- How fitting is this? That athletes from two obscure sports, both working for charity, would meet up in such an unlikely place and be able to snap a photo together...


Paintballers4Autism
It is finished...




Eric Sevy

Winner of The 100 Miles of Nowhere: NY,NY to Paris and back, and back, and back, and...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Rockwell Relay: A Band Of Misfits

 

Part One: Pre-Race

"Into the Spider's Den"


What you do when no one is watching, determines your character...

Over 1,000 miles of driving and 4 flying spiders make for a restless pre-race night, but that is a story in its own that needs to be told later... on Yelp, in the hotel review section. In the context of the race the only details that need to be revealed is that a sleepless, anxious night ended at 3:00am in an abandoned Denny's sipping Diet Coke, picking at pancakes, and impatiently waiting for the clock to tick to 5:00am.
At 5:00am Bambi and I packed it up at the restaurant and headed to the starting line to begin my three hour pre-race ritual. Like normal, I was the first cyclist there. This is almost a necessity for me as it allows the confusion and ruckus to slowly build around me and makes it more controllable. As I finished gearing up and methodically going through my checklist we got the text from my teammates, who had showed up the night before, that they had arrived.
In no time Bambi had spotted them. 50 minutes before a two day, 530 mile race we were formally introducing ourselves as a team to each other. As quickly as the introductions were made, they were over. As they went to eat breakfast, I continued on with my warm-ups.
As I pushed off on my bike my confidence level sunk even lower. My newly acquired teammates all looked like very serious cyclist and all way above my ability. I was just hoping not to slow them down too much.
We gathered again, 30 minutes before the race, for a mandatory meeting. Info was given about the neutral-zone and some minor road construction. As a team we went over our game plan we had put together in 2 quick phone calls and a few emails.
I then made my way to the starting line to stake my spot and get mentally prepared. I was anticipating a very confusing start: 400 cyclist would leave but only 100 were racing this first leg.
The organizers had suggested that everyone roll out together as a show of solidarity, then the three cyclists on each team not racing would break off and allow their designated "Cyclist 1" to continue the race after the neutral-zone. The countdown hit zero and John, Lonnie, Dave and I pushed off.
It was as confusing as I had envisioned as 400 riders tried to funnel through a starting gate designed for 100 cyclists...


Part Two: The Start

"The Best Laid Plans..."


It took just over 5 minutes for us to get through the starting gate and rolling. In bicycle terms that's about 1.25 miles. The race had just started and I was already that far behind. And the confusion was no better on the race side of the starting line. The police car leading the race did not understand a neutral zone start and took off like he was chasing a hot donut.
A neutral zone, or roll out, takes place at the beginning of a race and is designed to allow everyone equal opportunity to get up to speed and situated. No attacks or breakaways are allowed. Normally they are about 2 miles long and done at an easy 15mph pace. This one lasted less than a mile and was done at 25mph. Basically non-existent.
By the time we got through the initial confusion I figured we were 8-10 minutes (about 2 to 2.5 miles) off the front. John and I had been separated from Lonnie and Dave and I was starting to panic. But with one question and quick move John calmed me and showed me what type of teammates I had.
"Where do you want to be?"
I did a quick survey and guess, pointed at a group that looked good and replied, "get me there."
John jumped out in front of me and escorted me through the mess to where I wanted to be. He then peeled off to go get the support vehicle. A quiet job well done.
The group I had asked him to get me to wasn't as fast as I had thought. I looked up ahead and saw another group of seven riders. Without hesitation I took off chasing them. It was a smart move, I would not see any of the first group of cyclists again.
Soon I'd worked my way to the group of seven, trying to remind myself to conserve energy; the race wasn't going to be won or lost here. This group was very good and experienced. I fell into the pace line they'd formed and took my turns on the front. As we caught other cyclists and they latched onto the pace line our numbers grew to about 20. We'd settled on a nice 21mph pace and got into a comfort zone, moving faster than any of us could have done individually. But then I got to stamp my signature on the group.
13 miles into the race was a decent hill; about a 4% grade for about a mile and a half.
20 or more of us reached the base of the climb together. I was in the middle. I shifted into an easier gear and increased my leg rotation to 110 rpms. The other cyclists would average about 75 rpms in a heavier gear- it would become a battle of styles.
about 1/4 of the way up I had already worked my way to the front of the group and was dictating the pace. 1/2 of the way up there were still 8 hanging on. 3/4 of the way up it had dwindled to 4. Then only one was left on my wheel.
As I crest the summit alone, I looked back at 20 cyclists with their heads drooped.
I was feeling confident and like I belonged and then just like that a road block was thrown in my face.
And I mean that literally.
The road construction we'd been warned about was going to throw a monkey wrench into our plans. I coasted up to a road crew guy holding a stop sign. As traffic flowing against us was allowed to pass through the single lane, the cyclists I'd worked so hard to drop up the hill began rolling up behind me. All that work down the drain. Except they knew that I'd out climbed them. Together we gathered in the shade of an RV sitting in the traffic, introduced ourselves, talked bikes and waited...
and waited...
and waited...
Unknown to us a group of about 20 racers had just made it through before the road stoppage and were pressing on. We would sit there for 24 minutes while the leaders would put about 8 miles distance between us. When we were finally allowed to continue racing about 10 of us immediately broke free from the pack and upped the pace.
For the next 39 miles I thought I was leading the race and it was the confidence booster I needed. The cyclists around me were good, and it took all of my ability to stay with them, but stay with them I did.
Before the race, John and I had estimated how long we thought each leg would take, under the best case scenario. We'd guessed the entire race would take 32.5 hours and this first leg would take me 3 hours. As I pulled into the exchange and handed to baton to John, Cyclist #2, the clock read 11:00am. Even with a nearly half hour delay I'd positioned us exactly where we had hoped to be.
After finding Lonnie and Dave and packing my bike in the trailer we realized Bambi was not there. She was still on the course. Somehow she'd lost track of me. It was an ominous sign of things to come. After making sure she was on her way, we jumped into the van and took off after our cyclist who was 20 minutes up ahead...

Part Three: Riding Support

"For The Love of It"

(with guest writer John Beechen "Cyclist 2" of Keep It Clean)



We'd designated John as our "all around" cyclist. He'd do some climbing, descending, put in long tedious miles, battle the heat of mid-day and the deep dark of night. We caught up with him at the base of a very serious climb. He asked for more water, talked about what had transpired already in his first rotation and then pushed up the hill. As the elevation climbed so did the heat. But his smile never left his face. It was uplifting to see a guy, in bad conditions, simply enjoying the opportunity to ride a bike. It made it easier to transition from cyclist, and center of attention, to a crew member in the support vehicle.
Before the race, John had done a lot of "behind the scenes" work. Some of which was paying off now. He'd worked out a rotation in which the rider who just finished their time on the bike could get in the back of the van and recover, eat and sleep. Unfortunately, I was enjoying the race so much I forgot to do any of the three previous mentioned necessities for someone who was going to race at the end of the day. As John put in mile after mile of the Southern Utah Desert behind his bike, my body became weaker and more fatigued.
The last eight miles of his leg was a steep climb that tested his body but couldn't erase his smile. We shot ahead to get ready for the next exchange.

"For The Love Of It"

John Beechen, Cyclist 2, View from the bike

As a bunch of newbies we were discovering things all the time about how to ride a race such as Rockwell. After shooting past Eric on one of the final climbs, we rolled into the exchange town and I started assembling my bike (front wheel on), and getting dressed for the ride. At this stage finding things like gloves, helmet liner, helmet, shoes, socks was a challenge as we weren't into the flow of the exchanges yet. I finally got my act together and rolled to the start line - just as Eric rolled in for the exchange! I literally didn't get a chance to roll to a stop it was that close. Baton on wrist, I rode around the park that was our exchange .... and right up to a red light. The blockers in our way continued. Not so bad I thought - the plan was always to find people to ride with to take the wind. A few guys rolled up behind me at the light just as it turned green, and as a group of three we took off. I could tell I was in trouble just by looking at physiques. These guys were power riders - huge quads, big bodies. Up a hill I could probably take them but on the flats they were powerful. I took the lead for a while, pushing hard as we left town, then rotated out to let them have a go. The jump was obvious when they led, and I tucked in and went as hard as I could in their slipstream. My strava segments for this stage of the race were the best of all - a 6th and a 10th overall place in the first two segments out of town which shows how fast we were going - about 27/28mph. After a while I let them go as the pace was just too high for me. I then got into a nice group of about 10 riders, and we stayed together for a good 10 miles or so. This was nice fast pack riding, but obviously a group that wasn't totally familiar with working together. I took a lot of turns at the front, and then decided to drift to the back to have a rest. The problem was I drifted a bit too much and all of a sudden was shot out the back and 10-15 bike lengths from the group who sailed off into the distance. Note to self - don't be selfless. In future I will stay toward the front of these packs and not drift to the back so much. I wasn't alone - a woman on Team Luna somethingorother was with me and we took turns into the unfolding landscape of Utah. Beautiful climbs and descents - stunning red and yellow rock scenery. At one stage we rode through a shaft in the rock, tall rock columns on both sides with brilliant blue leading us down the road. What was great about this riding partner was every time I rode past to take the wind she would say "Nice!", and her support vehicle was hitting us with a squirt gun as the temperatures rose. She was from Idaho. We rode on. The profile of this leg shows a substantial 8 mile climb at the end. We hit the hill and I actually felt better as this is where I can typically pass some people and make up time. The problem I soon discovered was doing this in 90+ temps was difficult when you haven't trained in that weather for a year. Colorado is much cooler, and we haven't had the chance to train in those temps this season at all. Compounding this, I hadn't eaten enough calories on the leg, and the power output at higher than usual speed was catching up with me. Basically I bonked - my speed dropped and I ground out the hill but at much lower speed than I wanted to. Putting pressure on the cranks was difficult. I was being passed by people I should have kept up with. I was keenly aware of my team waiting for me. It was a straight road - I could see the exchange point a mile ahead but it felt like an eternity to get there. In hindsight, what's interesting is the people who passed me during that climb were around me on Leg 10, so we hovered around them the whole race. This included one young lady who would be my "rabbit" - the one who was always slightly ahead and I would try to keep up with. I rolled into the Exchange, handed off to Lonnie, and took a moment to savor completing my first leg, and throw cool towels on me to try to cool down. It would take the majority of Lonnie's leg in the car for my brains to cool to the point where I felt normal again.

As John pulled into the exchange and handed the baton to Lonnie we'd put 99 miles behind us.

428 more lay on the horizon...

Riding Support

"Downhill Fast"

Lonnie, Cyclist 3, was our descender.
Science has yet to fully explain how a human can keep a bicycle upright and propel it forward. Couple that with the fact that bicycle helmet manufacturers readily admit their products are not designed to prevent concussion, but simply built in the hopes of keeping the skull from fracturing. Add to all this, the realization that cyclists wear less body protection racing than the average person does while sleeping at night and mix in speeds of 55mph+ and you see why a good descender is a concoction of talent and crazy.
For Lonnie it meant he was Keep It Clean's "Cyclist #3". Who not only needed to be good at descending but would have to put in the most miles at the worst times of any team member. It also meant he'd have to start his first leg with a 5 mile climb, something he readily admitted was a weak point. We'd misjudged the steepness of this climb and because of it, Lonnie had selected a bike that really wasn't compatible for the terrain. We'd also forgot to factor another number into the equation: 105.
That being the temperature.
It was my turn to drive. We'd gotten into a rhythm of driving ahead 5-10 miles, waiting with water, handing it off as the rider passed then shooting up the road to do it again. As Lonnie pressed through the heat of the afternoon desert sun the water exchanges became more frequent. And our concern of if we had enough to last through the day elevated. Another factor on our mind was rubber; the air temperature was hoovering around 105 degrees which meant the road surface could be 125+. Bike tires are 23mm wide and highly pressurized, we'd made it this far without a puncture, could we make it through the heat without a melt down?
With 10 miles left in Lonnie's leg we asked Dave how much time he needed to warm up before the baton was handed to him. His response "It's 105 degrees, I think I'm warm enough."
We stayed with Lonnie a few more miles then headed to the base of the Colorado River and Lake Powell in anticipation of "Leg 4, Cyclist 4". It was easier to do with Bambi driving a second support vehicle, but more on that later...


Riding Support

"The Deciding Leg"

On paper, Cyclist #4 seemed to have the easiest rotation of the four man teams. Overall the rotation had the least amount of climbing over the shortest distance all at decent riding times. But as any cyclist will tell you, what's on paper isn't in the air. Muscles are powered by electric current that travel through the water that makes up most of our bodies. And heat can do strange things to the human body when it's pushing itself to the brink. Wind is the cyclist's worst enemy and the invisible enemy can beat you harder than looking up a class 1 climb.
I'm sure Dave, Cyclist #4, of Keep It Clean can attest to that.
As he took the baton from Lonnie, the race was about to explode.
With the temperature still sitting well above 100 degrees and the asphalt having all day to soak up the sun's rays, Dave worked his way through and up a canyon out of the river basin and onto a barren desert plateau. Endless miles stretched out in front of him with no protection in sight. And the wind was picking up. The route's direction took a minor change in direction and for most of the next 40 miles Dave would battle the worst kind of wind in the searing heat . It was coming from his "10 o'clock" which meant he was being punished with a head wind and having to deal with the unpredictable dangers of a cross wind. There was nothing to block the wind or seek shade in. But through it all his piston-like legs churned over in machine-like precision across the high desert, chasing the setting sun. As we followed, cheered and marveled at his tenacity, I counted no less than five competitors who had simply stopped pedaling, laid their bikes down, sat alongside the road waiting for their team to come pick them up. Later I would learn that 12 teams had quit the race during this leg. Mother Nature turning what, on paper, looked like the easiest leg into, statistically, the most brutal. In amongst the carnage of man vs nature I don't think Dave broke his pedal stroke once.

Riding Support

"She Saved My Butt"

As we shot ahead so I could get ready for my second leg, I'd told Bambi to stay with Dave and lead him out as he got close to the exchange. In the dimming light I figured it'd be easier to spot him approaching with a car as a beacon. An unsung hero in every one of my races I've ever done is Bambi. And in this race she outdid herself again. While the four of us on the team took turns driving, sitting and sleeping in the van she drove the entire course and helped numerous teams. Those that know her medical condition understand the difficulty this presents and the stress she put her body through.
I remember three different riders on other teams tell me that she saved them. When they needed something and their support car was nowhere in sight she never hesitated to give them something of ours. Others talked about how comforting her voice was and how upbeat her cheering was for all the racers, regardless of what name was on their jersey.
One competitor told me, "I'm certain if the two of us both had flat tires and she only had one tube left she'd give it to me instead of you."
I'm certain she would too, and I would expect no less.

As I saw the headlights of the Bambi-mobile come over the last crest I double checked my equipment and got ready for the exchange. It was almost 12 hours to the minute that I'd done this at the starting line.

Part Four: Into The Darkness

"Demons"

A lifespan of severe concussions has left me dealing with the symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury. Few people, up until this writing, know that I struggle with acute depression, high anxiety, aphasia, Alexithmia and Isolation Phobia caused by multiple high level concussions. Little did I know that as I pedaled away from the exchange that my second turn on the bike would be a metaphor of why I ride.
This leg would be the easiest of my three turns. At 45 miles it was 9 miles shorter than the first leg and had half the climbing. But it was literally all uphill and I would have no place to coast. I pulled out of the exchange spot at the same time as another rider. The wind had calmed considerably since Lonnie and Dave's turns but was still blowing hard. The other rider and I quickly agreed to work together and we began taking 60 second turns in the wind. Not far down the road we'd already caught another cyclist and enlisted him. The three of us worked like clockwork and it wasn't long before we were rewarded by catching up to a group of four riders. Introductions were made and we quickly fell into an echelon (a type of pace line developed to protect racers from crosswinds). As the sun dipped below the horizon our bike headlights slowly clicked on one-by-one. Then some of us realized a problem. UDOT requires cyclists to wear reflective vests at night. The race rules stated that any cyclist caught without a vest on at night would be instantly disqualified. Some of us had forgot to pack our vests at the exchange. This close to the checkpoint all of the support vehicles were within reach and the pace line broke ranks and headed to their respective cars. Bambi shot ahead stood alongside the road holding my vest out for me to grab like a knight in a jousting contest. We've passed things in this manner countless times and even practice it. I skirted the edge of the road, lined my hand up to her level, zipped by, BAM!
And just like that I was looking back at the vest laying on the ground. I'd missed the hand-off! I'm not sure which one of us was more shocked. Quickly she'd scooped it up and headed farther up the road. The second time we'd got it right and soon I was back in the pace line.
A pace line has a hidden benefit in a long race. You have no time to watch your computer and see the miles click away. With too many things happening in too close quarters at too high of speed you have to watch the other riders and make sure you see what's coming up ahead. The miles quickly pass away.
Darkness fell, we were about 18 miles into the leg. I'd only packed one Bonk Breaker figuring I could get another from the support vehicle when I needed it. I'd only filled one bottle figuring I could get another one from the support vehicle when needed. I'd only eaten a handful of peanuts, two cookies and drank a Pepsi since 11:00am
The outside world was dark already. Soon the world inside my head would go just as dark.
First my teammates pulled alongside me, I informed them I was okay and to go up ahead. Quickly, Bambi pulled alongside, I told her I needed more water. She'd go 2 miles up and pass me a bottle there. Both cars sped out of sight. Then almost instantly after that the pace line fell apart. A couple of the cyclist pressed ahead, some fell off the pace.
In the indescribable darkness of a lonely desert road I was left alone. It was surreal. I had no concept of speed or distance. It was almost like being on a stationary bike. I could sense movement but at the same time felt like I wasn't going anywhere. And worse, I started to feel abandoned.
I reached for my water bidon tucked directly under my saddle, quenched my thirst then reached down to replace the bottle in its cage. In the complete darkness I heard a gut wrenching sound; a plastic bottle bouncing off asphalt and into the dirt. I'd missed my cage and lost my water. No worries, I knew Bambi was just around the corner with food and water and the guys were just beyond that with a joke or two.
I pedaled on.
Little did I know that both she and the team had lost track of me. I was without fuel and water, and alone. My demons were in hot pursuit and on a mission.
Another thing we'd not anticipated was the utter confusion of trying to single out an individual rider in the complete darkness. The bike colors and distinct frames were useless in the black. The oncoming headlights on a bike are blinding and make body shapes and features unreadable. And 100 riders were now wearing yellow vests over their normally original and different colored kits.
I usually ride self-supported, carrying everything I need for the length of ride I'm doing but for some reason I chose not to this time. It was a perfect storm.
A few miles passed, no Bambi. A couple more, no team. The demons have many names and Detachment caught me from behind first.
It told me my support had abandoned me because they didn't care. I wasn't worth it. They'd probably decided to race on without me. In the darkness, without a focal point to ride toward, I began to believe Detachment. I wasn't going anywhere, I wasn't getting any farther, I wasn't pedaling fast enough.
(Later the numbers would show I was above my own predicted speed)
I needed water.
I needed food.
In honesty, I probably didn't need any of this but my mind was siding with my isolated emotions. What I probably needed was someone to drive by and tell me I was doing a good job. None came.
But Skepticism showed up. All I wanted to do was quit. Stop pedaling. There's no reason to keep going. Just give up.
(Again, the data would show I was fine)
But Angst came up and told me a different story. And I despised cycling.
I detested my bike.
I hated myself for doing this.
It's difficult to explain but what usually makes me happy, at times like this, causes the most pain
But as dark as it gets inside my soul at moments like this, as foggy as my mind becomes, as useless as my emotions make me feel, somewhere, way down deep, the real me struggles to win.
Just one more pedal and you can quit.
Quit on your own terms, just do one more pedal.
One more pedal.
I kept pedaling, kept pushing, kept trying to shake the demons.
My heart rate elevated. My pulse continued to rise at an alarming rate. I started throwing up on the bike. My body and mind were teaming up and shutting down.
One more pedal, then you can quit.
And then, the sound of a familiar car and a comforting voice. "There you are!"
Unfortunately, there Bambi was, and no one else. She would have to endure the brunt of my tongue lashing. And then, just as quick, lights up ahead pointing the way to the exchange.
Bambi asked what I needed.
"Go tell the guys I'm pissed!"
They deserved a little warning of the tornado coming their way.
In one of our greatest battles in the darkest of nights and most desolate roads, I'd, once again, outran my demons. They'll regroup and be back soon and I'll get back on my bike and ride until they go away...

Part Five: Through The Night.

"A Different Point of View"


John's second leg would take us up and over the first of two major mountain passes; Boulder Mountain. In previous years this was the leg where disaster had struck. Last year alone a cyclist had hit a deer at full speed and another had broken bones while wrecking on a dilapidated cattle guard. This was where his designation as our "all-arounder" would be put to the test. He'd be our climber as he confronted the steep pitches on his way to the summit, then he'd be our descender as he rocketed down the 8-10% grades toward the Escalante desert. And we expected him to do it with the workhorse effort of our power rider. None of us had got much sleep and he'd be doing it at an unusual time for a cyclist to be out on a bike: midnight. And there were no glass slippers in view.
As we caught up to him the difference in reasons to ride was immediately apparent. As I felt the darkness as surreal and uninviting, John was describing how serene and beautiful it was. I had literally seen and heard nothing but black. He'd seen bats and other small animals and was enjoying the rustling of leaves and the trickle of rapids from a stream close by. And the smile on his face was describing the journey on it's own.
Bambi had went ahead to Panguitch to get some sleep through the night where she would rejoin us as my final leg kicked off there.
I needed some sleep, but I couldn't. It was so much fun and such a new experience to be engulfed in a race like this that my few attempts to lay in the back of the van and close my eyes were futile.
I also needed to eat. But I soon realized that my nutrition was speeding ahead to my next checkpoint, over 100 miles southwest. All I had to eat was a few cookies, a half jar of peanuts and a diet Pepsi. I knew this wasn't good. I tried to distract my stomach by watching John race down Boulder Mountain but the thought of riding up Lake Hill with no fuel had my gut turning.
Before the race it was suggested that during this descent that we put the car out in front of the cyclist so they could follow the tail lights as the terrain unfolded. But we soon discovered that it was easier for John when we got directly behind him and shined our high beams to light up the road from behind.
So now we were asking John to ride down a 10% grade he was unfamiliar with, in the dark, on no sleep with a van pulling a trailer doing 45mph mere feet behind him.
God watches over his Misfits.


"A Different Point of View"

(John Beechen's view from the bike)


I was always looking forward to riding Leg 6.  It was short - 40 miles, but involved climbing up and over Boulder Mountain from 6500ft at the starting point in Torrey UT to the summit at 9600ft, and then down the descent to Boulder UT at 6500ft again.  Before the race I had listened to people talking about Boulder Mountain and their tones would always grow hushed and the warnings would begin.  "Watch out for the cattle grids ... watch out for the cattle in the middle of the road .... it's open range you know .... last year guys crashed and broke bones".  I knew I had to take it easy on the descent to avoid these calamities, but I also knew that in the moment I would probably let the rush of speed get the better of me.
I should start by saying that the last time I rode at night was when I was about 13.  It's not something I make a habit of - Colorado tends to remain cool in the light of day due to elevation, so there's no need for early morning starts or late night rides.  When I considered this leg, starting at about 11pm and ending at 2am, I relished the adventure of it, the uniqueness of riding at night.  Also riding a mountain is always what cycling is about for me - it's the reason I moved to Colorado, to ride bikes on mountains! What I did not anticipate was how beautiful the ride would be because of the cool of the night.  The heat from Leg 2 had zapped my energy, but this ride, with the temps in the low 70s, was tailor made for enjoyment. We got the the exchange and I kitted up and fitted the lights to my bike.  I had a headlamp on, my vest with flashing LEDs front and back, a flashing tail light.  We had jumped to the exchange to fit all of these devices to the bike, leaving Eric in Bambi's hands, assuming she would give water and support, but foolishly leaving him literally high and dry on the final climbs.  He would arrive out of water, and pass off to me - I left the exchange to some heated words between my teammates, but that was not of my concern at this point as the "live" rider.  I set off on a 3-4% incline climb, expecting this to be the mountain I would be on for the next couple of hours.  The lights were great - I could see far enough, but all around me was darkness.  As Eric has said - the world tends to be still, like you are in a void where all you hear is your heartbeat and the sounds of the road on your wheels. We needed to make a left hand turn after about 2 miles.  A fellow rider came up behind me and we shared pleasantries.  At most turns, there were lighted signs with flashing lights to indicate a turn ahead.  This one had failed however and there was no indication - probably in the place in the whole race where it needed it most.  Luckily my GPS had maps on it and I could see the road I needed.  My fellow rider however blew past this intersection and rode off into the night in the wrong direction. I yelled out to him to turn but he kept on going - I continued past the intersection but eventually had to turn and leave him to his own devices. The initial slopes of the climb were flat, almost downhill.  I caught another rider and we zoomed along - the wind was non-existent and talking was easy, such as contrast from Dave's leg 4 where the wind overpowered everything.  I felt good - strong, enjoying the experience of night riding.  When the ramps finally came I relished them - enjoying the resistance.  I stayed with my new friend for a while, but as with all climbs it's largely a personal experience and eventually he pulled ahead and I let him go to pickup my own tempo. When the van would pull aside, Lonnie would launch into his humor - He pointed out I was lit up like a "pole dancer" I couldn't help but laugh.  I was determined to eat more this leg - but the granola bar I bit into crumbled and stuck to my hands.  When you are climbing your breathing becomes ragged and so eating and drinking is a challenge as you need to fit the food and liquid in between breaths.  Let's just say Team Keep It Clean wasn't as environmentally friendly with its refuse as it should have been. The climb seemed to go on forever.  I recall at one particularly steep part - 10-12% looking up ahead and seeing lights swaying from side to side as riders were out of the saddle weaving their way up the mountain.  I saw a bunch jump into vans at this point - the non competitive riders would ride as teams, then swap out for other riders.  I prefer to stay seated mostly, gearing down and upping my cadence to keep my speed up.  I wish I could ride up these hills faster than I do, but your physiology will only let you do so much. The curious thing about cycling for me, is it is a sport I know I will never be great at.  I can be adequate, I can be good - but at my age and with a limited lung capacity I will always run into stronger, faster riders.  That I obsess about this sport so much with that knowledge is a mystery to me.  Why don't I go play golf where I could beat most people?  Why don't I excel in the corporate world where I can outwit people?  No - I choose to apply myself to something that I will only ever been mediocre at.  I suspect it's the health aspects of it - the ability to find strength in suffering, to push yourself harder than you think possible, to ride distances that people think are insane, to look svelte in a society where most people are overweight.  It must be the endorphins too - the smile I get when riding is a result of all of this.  You'll find cyclists writing like this because in the midst of climbing a mountain, this is where your thoughts go - to esoteric questions of life, love, quest, belief - the mind freed from everything other than the next pedal stroke to a simpler place where it feels at home. And so I ride on, up the mountain.  Eyes on the elevation on my GPS, knowing when it hits 9600ft I'm home.  I hit 8000ft - not far now.  I reach a false flat and am almost annoyed at the downhill because it means my elevation isn't going up.  I adjust the light, noticing now I'm doing some pace that it's pointing up into the trees rather than ahead on the road.  I can't see any of the beauty around me - I know it's there, but I cant see it. Finally I reach the summit.  I stop for a jacket, which is essential for the cold descent.  A couple of riders I passed fly by me.  I put the jacket on.  Wait I just put it on over the lighted vest.  I take it off again and redo the vest on the outside of the jacket and push off.  I had asked the van to go ahead of me to light up the road but I found as we got going that having the van behind me lighting up the road was just perfect.  I tuck in and feel the speed increasing.  My max speed would be just under 50mph.  It was without doubt the best descending experience of my life - winging down the mountain, trusted support lighting up the road right behind me - our caravan flying down the mountain. I didn't see any steers on the descent, but I did see bats.  They would swoop down into the lights and miss you at the last second.  I suspect their ability to detect and avoid you was great but I do vividly recall ducking on a few occasions. I caught a rider on the descent, and teamed up with him for the last few miles.  He asked where I was from - "Boulder CO", I said.  "Welcome to Boulder Utah" was the reply.  At that moment, with the van heading forward to get to the exchange, my lights ran out of battery.  I had to stay with him now - he was my light.  He pulled ahead 10-12 bike lengths - I had to sprint into the darkness to catch him.  The lights of Boulder appeared ahead - I was smiling.  I was happy.  I was home.

 Through The Night

"Like A Bat Out Of Hell"


It had only taken us half the race to get it down but our exchanges were starting to look more fluid and less like a bunch of Keystone Cops that they'd been early in the race. What had taken a minimum 20 minutes the first time was taking about 5 minutes now. Lonnie's team bike trailer was perfect. We could rotate the bikes so the bike of the next rider up was in the front ready to go and the rider's bike just finishing was rotated to the back. The bikes, wheels and equipment were all protected and secured, easing that concern.
John passed the baton and his vest to Lonnie who took off in the dark. We figured this would be the most strenuous leg mentally. It was 2:00am. Seriously, who rides a bike at this time? Not even me.
The descent off Boulder Mountain was just a taste of things to come. Up ahead the road continued to unfurl like a ribbon down to the Escalante River, including part of the legendary back-road "Hell's Backbone". Lonnie attacked it like a hungry dog eating a bone. He'd patiently waited throughout the day and all of his first leg to display his strength on a bike and he didn't disappoint.
It was my turn to drive and we'd learned quick that it was best to stay behind the rider on the steep descents and light up the way for him from behind. It saved my reputation as a guy. It wouldn't have mattered if I'd started in front of him, he would have passed me anyways. In front of us Lonnie tucked, dipped and leaned like he and his bike were part of the terrain. Man has always wanted to sprout wings and take flight; what was happening in front of us was as close as humans can get without a plane. As he approached and passed slower riders and cautious vehicles he looked like a hawk swooping down on prey. 
The fun was over way too fast as the canyon bottomed out and he began the climb up the other side.
We took off ahead knowing "The Blues" would give us another taste of Lonnie's skills. What we didn't know was were about to play a game of deja vu.
We drove to the top of the climb and waited to pass fresh water to him.
A few cyclist passed, then a few more, then more. No Lonnie.
He wasn't our strongest climber, but something was wrong. He could walk his bike up in this time. Other support vehicles has gone by, we were confident that if he'd suffered a "Mechanical" they would have helped or let us know.
There was no denying now. We'd lost another rider!
We calculated how far he could have got at an average speed of 16mph and headed to that mileage. Nothing. (Later we found out we'd missed him by about 1/4 mile) We doubled back. Nothing. After about an hour and driving in circles we saw his distinct shape in the head lights.
"Where the Hell have you been?"
"Eating pizza." was all I could muster. I knew the feeling all too well.
I wanted pizza. I was desperately wishing I had a slice. But my food was sitting in a car 3 hours, by bike, up the way. I knew I couldn't tackle my last leg without fuel but there was a more immediate concern. I knew what "The Blues" looked like in the day, from a car. Lonnie was going to go off them on a bike, at night.
As he set off the edge of the section of road I couldn't keep up with him. I'd like to blame it on the fact that I was driving a van, hauling a trailer, but it was due more to the fact that he's a crazy son of a ...
I was hitting speeds of 55+
When he was at the bottom and on flatter ground we got him another water bottle and went ahead to the next exchange point.
We'd made it safely through the night. And were gaining back some of the time that the wind had stole from us. We also learned we were sitting in 41st place.

Through The Night

"Running From The Sun"

As we pulled into the exchange point I was pointing out my mother's childhood home. It was right across the street from the exchange area. We were in familiar territory. This is where my family is from. This is where I learned to truly race a road bike. I'd spent 15 of my adult years raising my children here. It was a welcome sight. 
The sun was teasing us just below the horizon. It seemed to linger there forever, not wanting to show itself to the weary racers. Dave and I were staring at the dim light of dawn waiting for the sun to peek over the plateau to our east. He was picking my brain for information on the road conditions, terrain, weather tendencies and intangibles of my former training grounds. I gave him a few more pointers on what the locals call "The Dump"- a steep climb from the bottom of Bryce Canyon to the top of the Pansagaunt Plateau. He then asked if he should wear a safety vest. We both agreed there was no more need for it. He'd be starting his leg at 5,500 feet but would climb to almost 8,000 feet elevation and we discussed whether or not he'd need his base layer or jacket. It was finally decided that if he needed it at the higher elevations we could pass it to him on his bike. 
It always surprised me how fast the incoming cyclist got to the exchange. We'd shoot ahead in the van to allow the outgoing cyclist to get prepped when before they were ready the incoming rider would be in sight and we'd be scrambling to get the outgoing rider on his bike with all his equipment.
Dave and I continued our discussion. We were debating the need for lights on the bike. I didn't think there was a need, but Dave finally went with the smart decision and wanted them on the bike when a cyclist appeared and we recognized it as Lonnie coming in fast. 
Dave snapped on his helmet, clicked his shoes into his pedal, took the baton from Lonnie and was gone.
We didn't have time to attach his headlight.
"I guess that settles that!" I yelled, as Dave looked back and grinned.   
Then I smelled an inviting aroma of eggs, cooked like only they could be in this part of the country. I thought I was hallucinating until the sound of a dutch oven sizzling confirmed it.
This was "sun up" in Southern Utah, more directly, Garfield County and more precisely, Bryce Valley. And there's only one real way to cook breakfast in these parts. I followed the smell and sound to a couple guys hunched over some dutch ovens; tortillas, eggs, hash browns, and bacon.
Lonnie had beat me to it.
I made a big breakfast burrito and started devouring it. It was close enough to my normal pre-race meal that it was perfect. It was my first real meal in over 24 hours. The only thing missing was a Diet Pepsi.
But, this was "sun up" in Southern Utah, more directly, Garfield County and more precisely, Bryce Valley. And there wasn't going to be a store open in these parts until someone was good and ready to open one...
We chased after our rider. I was feeling the strength coming back to my body already. The food hadn't digested yet but the thought that I wouldn't have to confront my final leg on empty was a big boost. 
Because our exchanges were getting quicker we were able to catch up to Dave pretty quick. As we'd expected, he was hammerin' away. It was a lesson on cycling just to watch him. Every time we spotted him we all marveled at how smooth he was on a bike. When I'm on a bike I feel it must be like watching me try to cross a bed of spiders with my feet flailing about and body bouncing all over. I think you could have put a glass of water on Dave's head and he wouldn't have spilled a drop the entire race. I don't ride as straight a line on a stationary bike as Dave does out on the road. 
We continued to leap frog Dave and marvel at his riding form. It was a vastly different experience than the last time he was on the bike. His first leg he'd closed the curtain on the day as he rode into the setting sun; now he was ushering in a new day with the sun peeking over his shoulder. He'd traveled across a barren desert then but was now tucked into the cedar trees and mythical Hoo Doos of the famous Bryce Canyon. He'd endured the highest temperatures and now was contemplating putting on a jacket. 
What do you do when you're watching a robot propel a bike?
Well, you can take the cyclist out of Australia but you can't take the Aussie out of the cyclist. John pulled the van over, opened the rear hatch, pulled out a backpacking propane stove and started boiling water.
"You want some tea?" he asked.
I'm pretty sure that was the first time I'd been asked that in the middle of a race: I'd be willing to bet it'll be the last.
As John was finishing his cup, Dave shot by.
I got back in the van. Lonnie lifted his head up from the rear seat. 
"What's going on?"
I shook my head, "You don't want to know, go back to sleep."
I'm not sure why the locals call it "The Dump". Living here I'd learned sometimes it's best not to ask questions. But there's a historical marker at the top commemorating the lives lost in a tragic event when a commercial plane couldn't get over it and crashed into the side of Bryce Canyon. The first time I rode a bike up it I questioned the logic of doing such a thing. If planes can't get over this, why would you want to ride a bike to the top?!
We pulled the van over and waited as Dave crest the summit. We passed him some equipment and headed toward the other side of the plateau and Red Canyon. Halfway across there's a tourist trap gas station, and it was open! I had my Diet Pepsi. I didn't ask how much. There are somethings you just can't put a price on. 
It was also the first place we had reliable cell phone service since we set off from the starting line. I text Bambi and asked the temperature in Panguitch.
When her response came through I sent another text: Get my cold weather gear ready.
It was downhill to Panguitch and I knew Dave was going to push hard to the end. We checked on him again and sped away to give me some extra time to put my base layer on. 
My dad was there waiting with my step-daughter, Paige. 
Dave's leg had traveled from the steps of my mom's childhood home to the center of the town where my dad was born and raised. I gave quick hugs but knew I had little time to change and get ready, with Dave bearing down on the exchange location. 
I changed in the car, ran back to the van, John handed me my bike, I ran through an abbreviated checklist, swooped around and Dave was passing me the baton. It was as if we'd practiced it many times before. 
We'd all finished 2 of our legs. each of us had one more turn left on the bike.
I wanted to set the tone for the last third of the race.
And an old friend was waiting just around the corner...

Part Six: Easy Like Sunday Morning...

"Saying Hi To An Old Friend"


 I took the baton and wrapped it around my handlebars. A quick glance at my bike computer showed it was 7:45am. Lonnie and Dave had put us 15 minutes ahead of schedule and my first thought was- good, I can be 15 minutes slower than projected and the team will still be on schedule.
There was a cyclist just behind me as I headed out of the checkpoint. 1/4 mile up the road I turned south onto Hwy 143 and all seemed right in the world. This is my sanctuary; the demons aren't allowed here.
I'm sure every cyclist has that road that is their personal favorite and place they make their ultimate self evaluations of their skills. The next 4.82 miles is mine. The locals call it "Lake Hill". I call it an old friend. All I am and ever will be as a cyclist is because of this hill.
The first time I attempted this climb I was a 6'1", 210 pound weightlifter with high blood pressure. A cyclist friend of mine challenged me to ride up Lake Hill on our lunch break. It took me 48 minutes to reach the top and 8 hours before I had the strength back in my body to struggle my way home late that night.
That day, that ride, changed my life.
When I finally made it home from the office I swore to myself, in front of Bambi, that I'd never be that aerobically out of shape again.
On this day, I'd attack Lake Hill at 142 pounds (give or take a scrumptious breakfast burrito) with a resting heart rate of 36 bpms.
Lake Hill takes a 1.5 mile gradual climb from the main intersection in town before it pitches skyward and imitates The Tower of Babel. Up ahead, at the base of the steep pitch I spotted 4 cyclists. My arms stretched out as I cupped the tops of my hoods (brake levers) in my distinct posture on the bike. Two sleepless nights, poor nutrition choices and an emotional breakdown were long forgotten. I had a rear wheel to chase down!
I knew every dip, every line of every turn, the smooth spots, the potholes, and most important, what lay ahead of each.
I've never named a bike before this one. In fact, I've never named a piece of sporting equipment like is very common among male athletes. But on a tough, strenuous training ride for this race I had dubbed my loyal steed. I looked down, "Let's see what we've got today, Sherpa."
I'd barely made it onto the steep section when I caught one of the four riders. It was my "rabbit" that had always seemed to be in front of us no matter what we did as a team. I stood up and blew by him without hesitation. It was an exhilarating moment to punctuate my part of the race. The next three cyclists didn't take to being caught so willingly. I'd come within breathing distance but had expelled a lot of energy in doing so. We were about halfway up Lake Hill. They were three college age kids working together and before I could latch on they lept forward, leaving me unable to use their draft to give my legs a break. Our speeds were relatively matched from there on as I kept them within sight.
Bambi was only bouncing ahead to the next available pull off. We'd both been looking forward to this day for a long time. Her pride shined through her grin. I felt good, I felt comfortable, I felt strong.
I pedaled on relentlessly trying to shake my shadow that was matching me move for move on my right. Familiar sights on the road whizzed by and 15 minutes, and 1 second later I crest the summit.
I pounded my handlebars in disgust. It was far slower than my PR. But like I've done on every ascent of Lake Hill since that watershed first time I did a quick calculation in my head. It was an astounding 33 minutes faster than my first attempt. Always something to grin about and remember.
I brought my chain back up into the big ring and power gears. Pressed on toward the rear wheel ahead and tried escaping my tenacious shadow that taunts me ever so.
I'd packed light for this attack and in cycling that means trading risk for speed. For every extra pound a cyclist carries- be it body weight, bike weight or equipment- it costs 20 seconds per pound per mile up an average 6% grade.
I wasn't telling anyone of this plan. No need to cause any unnecessary stress on those that wouldn't have had a say on the decision. I'd left my extra tube, pump and lever behind knowing that if I "punctured" it would be excruciating minutes waiting for the support vehicle to show up with them. I'd also left my nutrition to cut another 2.5 ounces. It was time for more water. I tossed the empty bidon and had Bambi pass me a fresh water bottle from the moving car. As soon as I was certain she wasn't looking I dumped half the bottle out before placing it in the cage. She'd kill me if she knew I was only carrying half a bottle with me but it was another 10 fewer ounces to carry. Water bottles were in great supply; speed was in demand.

The familiar road laid out ahead of me and I could feel it in my mind: 5 steep climbs in a series of steps, over the next 17 miles, that would take me to the bottom of Panguitch Lake. Each of the 5 distinguishable pitches were recognizable by landmarks close by. They were Haycock Mtn., White Rock, Tebbs' Ranch, The Narrows and Pass Creek. each a different length and gradient, each a different challenge. And in between the road climbed unforgivably to the next. I knew them all, and more important, what lay beyond each. I knew how much energy I could use on each climb and how much to keep in reserve for the one ahead. And this time I had more than the data being fed to me from my computer, and the knowledge of past attempts to tell me how I was doing. I had three bikes up ahead as a judging factor as well. 
Each climb, each change of gradient in the road, I would shorten the distance between my front tire and their rear tires. Unfortunately, each downhill slope, each leveling of the road, they would increase it. As someone once told me- you can't expect to go down like a bowling ball when you go up like a feather. 
We were playing a game of accordion. Stretching and squeezing to the music of the terrain. But each time I passed a landmark I could tell the overall distance was becoming shorter. I was methodically reeling them in like a fish out of Panguitch Lake. 
As the last climb from Pass Creek to the lake came into view I could see them ahead. A quick calculation in my mind said I didn't have enough distance to catch them before the top. Now it was just pride; close the gap as much as possible and go from there. Each pedal rotation built my confidence. I kept reeling, kept driving upward. 
As the lake approached and I knew I was over the top, I saw my teammates and Bambi standing alongside the road. With them, a large group of support vehicles had gathered. As I passed by I asked a question, to no one in particular"Am I catching them?"
Many voices echoed back, "Yes!"
"**** them, then!" I screamed and increased my speed in pursuit.
Bambi later told me a person from another team had asked who I was directing the comment to, concerned their rider might have offended me.
"Does it matter?" she replied, truthfully.
"I guess not." He smiled back.
What makes a boat race? Another sail on the horizon. What makes a bike race? A wheel in front of you.
At the top of the lake there's a small church building. Bambi snapped a photo as I passed by it. She did it so I could see myself in my element. Smiling, loose, full of life. Even though it was Saturday she said a song popped into her head when she saw the visual at that moment. I was making a tough climb look "Easy Like Sunday Morning..."
I'm glad that was the image I was projecting. Inside was a different story. I was pushing my body as hard as I could. There were three more tough climbs between Panguitch Lake and the exchange point. I needed nutrition but I had a problem.
I was weak and shaky. I wasn't comfortable taking food from a moving car without putting us both in danger. Bambi shot ahead for another stationary pass. A Bonk Breaker is 2"x2". It was going to be like a knight getting the ring at a jousting contest. I zipped by at 20mph reached out and snagged it. I felt like I'd won the giant teddy bear at the county fair ring toss. 
The group of three cyclists I was chasing were starting to fall apart and before the top of the next climb I'd caught and passed one. One cyclist, one climb down; two more of each to go.
After the second climb there was one of the few steep descents I'd experienced over the race. as we fell farther and faster toward Mammoth Creek, I saw my work slip away. They were increasing the gap again. As the descent bottomed out and crossed the creek, the team passed by. I requested water at the top and began my last long climb of the race. I was tired and could feel it in my pedaling. It was forced. My cadence had dropped to half of what I'd been averaging. My legs were screaming for oxygen in the thin air. Right before the top I sprayed the remaining water from my bottle all over myself to cool down, grabbed a fresh bottle from John and pushed over the edge. 
As the road leveled off I went to shift back into my big ring, shook my head and laughed at myself. I was already in my big ring. I'd forgot to drop into the easier climbing ring as I started the ascent. I'd done it with 10 gears in reserve. In a way it relieved me knowing that I wasn't as tired as I thought. 
At the top of the final climb was another gift. The second rider of the group had fallen off the pace and was coming back to me. I moved over and started pedaling past the cyclist half my age. Then wondered if I was passing a cyclist or if an opportunity was passing me. 
I eased up half a mile an hour.
"Jump on." I said, the universal invitation to draft.
"I'm cooked." he replied. The universal permission to carry on.
"Jump on for two minutes and get your legs back!" I demanded.
He'd impressed me all the way up my favorite section of road. We carried on, me leading the way, him learning good cycling etiquette. 
With a mile to go on my time on the bike I saw the last of the group I'd chased up the hill. His head down, bike swaying from side to side.
"I remember you now," I said. "You dropped me last night in the dark."
He looked over at me. "Yeah, and now you're gonna drop me before we're done and we'll be even."
I put a reassuring hand on his back. "No, we finish this together."
The three of us entered the checkpoint side by side. I'd sacrificed a few seconds, in the most significant race in my career to help a  couple other guys finish the race.
It was a good trade.
In essence Rockwell was over for me. I'd put 136.5 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing in for the team. I'd averaged 17mph over mostly uphill terrain while completing over 46,000 pedal rotations. But most important, in what I consider my specialty, I'd set a Personal Record from Panguitch to Panguitch Lake and given my teammates of Keep It Clean my best effort when it mattered most.
I snapped a few pictures, shook some hands with other teams' Cyclists #1, and savored all the sights and sounds of another cycling accomplishment completed.
Then I returned to the task at hand and realized John was out on the road, on what would be the fastest of the 12 legs. If we hung too long he'd beat us to the next exchange...






Part Seven: Bringing It Home  

"A Change of Course"

 

When we'd sent in our registration for the race the route had me taking us to the top of Cedar Mountain then passing the baton to John who wouldn't have had much more than a long coast down to his exchange. But a late course change was now causing him to do the last 11 miles or so and 1,000 feet of climbing to the top before he could take the wild ride down. I'm sure he won't soon let me forget that he had to finish the climb for me.
I could sense a change in emotion in all of us. We could see the end in sight. One more time on the bike and it would all be over. In the climb to the top of Cedar Mtn, we talked more, joked more and laughed more than the rest of the trip combined.
We didn't stay with John long after he'd made it over the top. It was a screaming 19 mile flight from there to the exchange and it was going to take place in about 30 minutes.

Bringing It Home  

"A Change in Course" 

(John Beechen's view from the bike)

 

 Eric had mentioned somewhere around dawn I think, that "all I had to do was 12 more miles of uphill, then it was ALL downhill to the end of my Rockwell Relay".  This made me smile - it defined the endpoint which by this stage was highly sought after.  I was giddy thinking of finishing my 3 leg duties.  My mind got a little cruel also - "Ill be finished and you guys will still have 1 more leg to go - hehehe (evil laugh)".  It seemed so simple, but riding on 1hr of sleep is a much more complicated deal that you would think.  Sleep is a cyclists best method (other than food) of recovery.  Pro riders sleep about 10hrs a night during a grand tour - the act floods the system with all the things it needs to recovery and replenish.  No sleep on the other hand, magnifies everything - breathing is more difficult, muscles don't want to work the way they have, digestion becomes a problem, the heat seems to dehydrate you quicker.  This leg would become one of my hardest, despite the fact it was the shortest (31 miles, 19 of which were downhill!).
I kitted up (The Sufferfest.com kit!) and waited for Eric who was in his familiar territory climbing his home climb.  It was great to see him out there on his turf - I could see the enjoyment and determination as he rode over every bump he knew so well.  We exchanged and I had a mile of downhill before the hill started.  I knew this would be tough as soon as I started pedaling - everything felt tight.  I couldn't breathe very well and my legs felt like stumps.  As I got onto the climb it started feeling better - the system warms up and the rhythm begins.  I was being passed by some riders (including a particular cute Utah State University rider who I designated my rabbit but never could catch) but felt good at my speed.  The van came up and I enjoyed some witty repartee with my fellow riders.  It was nice to see all 3 of them in the van this time - felt like a team of misfits.  At one stage I spat water at them - we all laughed.  They teased me about my rabbit.  I told them I was imaging my wife in a compromising position about 50yds ahead and was riding towards that.  Fun stuff.

The last 3 miles were tough.  I bonked again - the exhaustion of no sleep and inadequate food was too much.  I shotgunned 2 GUs in a row and asked for a coke from the van.  I could see the end of the climb ahead, just couldn't reach it.  Finally I got there - a couple of weekend riders came by and suggested I grab their wheel but I just couldn't and let them go.

The descent was great - not as good as doing it at night, but long and scenic.  Waterfalls and epic canyon walls as I shot down at 50mph.  I knew my race was done, so I tried to soak up the last of this experience.  The adrenaline was keeping me awake and I rolled into the exchange point.  My race was over, and attention turned to supporting our final two riders in the heat of a Saturday in the never flat, always hot, southwestern Utah.

Bringing It Home

 "The Last Long Haul"

In taking the spot of "Cyclist #3" for the team, Lonnie had drawn the short straw in getting the legs with the longest distances at what seemed like the worst times of the race. He'd already ground out 109 tough miles and was looking at 44 more. And as the clocked hit noon as he pedaled away from the checkpoint, the thermometer was making its way over 90 degrees again. At the exchange point we found out we were still sitting in 40th position. We just couldn't move up the ladder but we all seemed genuinely happy with the outcome to this point. We were safe, comfortable and way ahead of our projected time. We congratulated John on completing his efforts of the race, on the bike. Bambi headed to St. George in anticipation of the finish as we climbed into the van and went in search of Lonnie.
It's been said in cycling- one man's "rolling terrain" is another man's Hell. It takes a tough mentality to constantly adjust to changing gradient and keep the same speed. Lonnie was feeling the Breath of Hades from both the terrain and the weather.
As he trudged across the constantly changing ground of the valley floor the temperature continued to rise. He would spend 2/3 his time on the bike, in this race, battling 95+ degree temps. We rode along, passing water bottles from van, across the valley, through the heat, to our cyclist. It seemed like every mile another team was pulled over and swapping a depleted rider for a fresh one. Even though we knew these teams had pulled out of the competitive division, at the time it was frustrating to watch from the vehicle and discouraging to see from the bike. But while writing this I see it differently. This was such a difficult task that even though those teams had withdrawn from the race they hadn't completely quit and were still giving what they had to cross the finish line on the bike.
As Lonnie passed us at the top of Iron Mountain I looked back over the valley he'd just pedaled across to the mountains in the east. 467 miles lay behind us; 60 more were stretched out in front of us. Moab and the starting line seemed a distant memory but at the same time it felt like I'd been with these men for only a few short hours. I really didn't know much about them but I did know this: I'd sacrifice my legs for all of them and lead any of them out at the finish line of a race.
We jumped back in the van and watched Lonnie as he gave us one more display of his descending talents off that mountain. With about 12 miles left in his final leg Lonnie told us to go on ahead. I think he wanted to savor his accomplishment alone, on the road, by himself. 
As was tradition for us now, we waited at the exchange and, like the last ten times, were taken off guard as the incoming cyclist came in faster than anticipated. Dave took the baton for the final time and headed down the road.
We took the obligatory photo commemorating his ride, breathed deep sighs of relief and headed to the convenience store that was the location of the checkpoint and got some ice cold drinks. I cannot confirm, nor deny, the existence of a candy bar in my possession at this point of the race. And any photos that might arise in the future implying confirmation of this accusation should be viewed with prejudicial skepticism in the same light that one might look at a blurry photo of Sasquatch. 
In essence it was over. None of the bikes in the trailer would come out to race again. Dave would ease us home and the ordeal would be over.
We jumped into the nice air conditioned van and went in search of "Cyclist 4, Leg 12" 

Little did we know what was waiting for us around the corner...

Part Eight    

"Cry Havoc! And Let Slip The Dog Of War!"   

I wish I had words to adequately do justice to what we would witness over the next 40 miles of The 2013 Rockwell Relay. Had it been a pro, in a grand tour, fighting for the leader's jersey there would be a YouTube video of it complete with slow motion segments and a John Williams music score in the background. But as it was, it was a "weekend warrior" cyclist, on a back road of an unsanctioned race that the winner had been determined a few hours earlier. I was one of three to witness it and it will haunt me on those training days that I just want to coast home.
As I said before, science cannot fully explain how a human propels a bike forward, but a poet watching David Nelson bring it home for "Keep It Clean" that day might have been able to.
When we caught sight of Dave he was making his way up a small hill a few miles from the last exchange point. Also in view were three cyclists ahead of him. We went past, let him know we were with him then skipped ahead a few miles to wait. We did a quick estimate off the look on Dave's face and the faces of the other cyclists ahead of him: We agreed he'd catch the first, and maybe the second but the third was looking too strong and was too far out of reach. 
We waited. And soon a cyclist appeared on top of the ridge. It wasn't the ones we were expecting. In the matter of a few short miles Dave had proved us wrong and passed all three! We hurried back in the van, passed two more cyclists and pulled over again.
Another estimate; maybe, maybe the first but not the second. No chance.
Again, a cyclist appeared in view. Again our calculations were wrong. Again, Dave had passed cyclists that were seemingly out of reach.  
I text Bambi: I can't believe what I'm watching.
He'd prepped his own water bottles before his ride, in anticipation of the heat. I unscrewed one of his reserve bottles and took a sniff, half expecting to smell jet fuel.
We went ahead again. It seemed like he wasn't even giving us a chance as we barely had time to exit the van before he shot by us. 
Another pull off spot. Another estimate that he couldn't catch the cyclists between us and him. Another wrong guess. Every time he passed us we asked if he wanted water. He would break his focus just enough to  shake his head no. It was hot. We wanted to help, to somehow be a part of this. Finally we decided if he wouldn't take water from us, we would give him some. John pulled the van alongside his bike and matched his speed. I leaned out the window and poured a bottle of water down his back as he sped on. We continued this maneuver every couple miles. Teamwork to the end. 
Another group of cyclists, another guess he was running out of time and space. Another three heads shaking is astonishment as he caught them and continued on.  
Lonnie finally asked, "When are you going to stop betting against him?"
He reached the top of the final climb of the entire race and took off in pursuit of one last group of six cyclists still ahead of him. But this time there was no way he'd catch these guys so we headed to the finish line to meet him there. As fate would have it we got stuck at the first traffic light on the edge of town long enough to look back and see a group of riders come around the bend.
"Hmm, there's seven bikes in the group, I thought there were only six"" John questioned out loud.
"There was!" Lonnie exclaimed. "But that's Dave in front!"
We shot through the light as soon as we could. There were still three more cyclists he could beat, and if he out sprinted them there would be no living it down. I'm pretty sure John peeled out in the family van in desperation. 
I sent Bambi another text: He's gonna beat us there!
In a town of great cyclists, on a stretch of road hotly contested on a daily basis- one that was raced by 100 riders that day, and thousands before- On a day he'd already put 100 miles in through a sleepless night cramped in a van, he rode the 6th fastest time ever recorded on that route. I guess with 2 days, 400 cyclists and 527 miles that a possibility exists that another racer, somewhere in the race, could have equaled the performance of team "Keep It Clean's" "Cyclist #4/ Leg 12, but no one topped it. Guaranteed! 
And when it was over there was no shouting or boasting; no chest thumping or fist bumping. 
He simply laid his bike on the grass and walked over to eat lunch with his teammates.
I envision myself, in the future, sitting on a porch on an early Saturday morning, my knees too shot from countless pedal rotations to move a chain around two rings, my mind too shot from a lifetime of concussions to steady a bike.

"Grampa, tell us the story  of the day you saw a guy ride like the wind."
And I'll start the story like I've started it a thousand times before.

"His name was David Nelson..."

Part Nine: It Is Finished   

"And so it goes" 

As quick as it came together in Moab 31 hours before, it ended. As hamburgers, chips and sodas were disappearing into the "Void of Caloric Deficiencies" I looked around the table at our Band of Misfits. Two days ago we hadn't met. 5 weeks ago we hadn't talked. 6 weeks ago we didn't know any of the others existed. But over the last 31 hours we'd come together to overcome the terrain, weather, emotions, hunger and the unknown around the next bend and over the next hill to help each other accomplish something we truly didn't know much about.
I looked at Bambi: I wish I knew suffering like her so that the good days on a bike meant more.
I looked at John: I wish I could ride with the enjoyment I saw on his face, truly loving the simplicity of the bike.
I looked at Lonnie: I wish I could power over constantly changing variables without question, like he does.
I looked at Dave: I wish I had the form and function that he does. No wasted movements on the bike.

We shook hands and exchanged promises to ride together again, bragged about team "Keep It Clean", packed the car for the long hot drive home.
I turned the ignition.
"You should write some of this down." Bambi suggested.
I shifted into drive.

"Eh, if something comes to mind..."