One email I received really stood out though, and for obvious reasons as you'll soon see. It's from Todd Burgess of the Rocky Mountain News and he graciously allowed me to post it here. He wrote this race report back in 1999 for The Gazette in Colorado Springs. I think you're all going to find it very entertaining (and also quite similar to my own story, only it sounds like he endured far more than I had to). Thank you Todd for allowing me to repost this. It's one hell of a story.
Subject: Great LT 100 report!
I just read it, having no idea who you are or what you did until the end (and me not even being a mountain biker). Incredible writing.
The wind went out of me when I read you didn’t make the official finish.
Maybe you can relate to my adventure (below). It’s long, but our fraternity is small so I thought you might like it.
Subject: Hardrock 1999 account
Date: Thu, 5 Aug 1999 21:51:09 -0600
Headline: 48 hours (and 3 minutes, 35 seconds)
"It’s going to suck to be you for the next year."
I had just finished the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run in the San Juan Mountains last Sunday, but I was not a finisher. I missed the race’s 48-hour time limit by 3 minutes, 35 seconds. Scott Gordon, who finished in 32 hours, good for seventh place, wasn’t about to let me feel sorry for myself. He laughed after predicting my fate for the next year, then told me his wife cried when she heard how close I came to making the cutoff.
"Don’t worry, you’ll finish next year," Gordon said just before the awards ceremony. Tyler Curiel, another finisher, shook my hand and stood inches from me, his eyes staring straight at mine. "I don’t care what anyone says, everyone in this room thinks of you as a finisher," Curiel said. Ulrich Kamm, who has finished the race six times and dropped out once, gave me a long pep talk."Three minutes," he said in his pleasant German accent, "3 minutes, that’s nothing. You could make up that time easily. After 48 hours, your time and mine (47:31:30) are the same. You know the course now. You know what to expect."Next year, you come back, you finish in under 48 hours." Next year. All three of these studs knew there would be a next year for me. It’s hard not to believe someone who has just run 101.7 miles and completed this race. They were so confident. Early in this run, I said this would be my only attempt at Hardrock. I loved the scenery. I loved playing in the streams, snow and mud. At one point, I thought, "This course was designed for me." But I doubted that I would take another shot at it. Training for a full year, transforming myself from trail ultra-marathoner to novice mountaineer, was enough. After this race, there would be other adventures to chase: maybe ultra mountain bike races, or mountain triathlons or another Ironman.
The Hardrock Hundred is billed as a "post-graduate, 100-mile endurance run." It has more than 33,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, crosses 12 passes over 12,000 feet and includes a hike up 14,048-foot Handies Peak. It’s wild. It’s tough. It’s exactly the way the runners want it.
Mile 95, about 3:30a.m. Sunday.
I wonder how many people have experienced this: sitting in the dark, on a trail, on a ledge at 12,500 feet, looking at the outline of the surrounding mountains on a nearly moonless night. My flashlight is off. I’m cold. I wonder how long it will take me to regain my balance when I stand up. It would be fun to be here on some other night, to hike up to this ledge and just sit here, to get cold and a little scared without wanting, or needing, to push ahead. After 45.5 hours of running, hiking and glissading, this is my first moment of pause in the race.
My pacer, Liz, is a little farther up the trail, making a few minor adjustments. OK, actually if you must know, she’s peeing. She told me to keep going, but I thought I’d give her some time. She said she’d yell when she was done. Earlier, Liz remarked at the beauty of the stars. I admitted I had not stopped yet to look at them. I didn’t the previous night, either, but I’m sure they were beautiful. Yes, I had stopped during the race, to take pictures of the many waterfalls, or scoop a pebble out of the side of my shoe or look for a trail marker, but, until now, I had not completely relaxed. Less than 2 hours earlier, I was hallucinating nearly non-stop. Everything I saw was something else. Where there were rocks, I saw license plates and tin cans and race numbers; where there was grass or dirt I saw snow - I saw lots of snow; a plant became a tangle of gummy worms and bows; I saw two white Suburbans parked in a snowbank - they turned out to be two rocks, about the size of bowling balls.
The hike up this last pass was tough. I was stumbling. My arms and legs were shaking, as if I had Parkinson’s disease. I could not find a rhythm. Just taking a step, taking a breath, taking a bite of food then taking another step was too tough a task. I kept stumbling, then trying to brace myself on rocks to my right that were not there. I tried to grab willows to keep my balance, but they would break in my hands. Liz and I concluded I might be getting hypothermia. I put on a pair of running tights and another shirt and Liz kept feeding me: more Powerbar, more candy, more trail mix. Eventually I became more me. But these are not the things I am thinking about up on this ledge. I am thinking about the act of standing up. I know that soon, when this high trail merges with a dirt road, I will have to run for all I am worth. I know I am going to be seriously close to not finishing this race in 48hours. I am also psyched to run as hard as I can for as long as I can. There is no adrenaline now. There’s just the pleasant, cold mountain silence. "OK," Liz calls. "I’m ready. Let’s go."
Mile 18.6. 12:27 p.m. Friday.
I am hiking on a four-wheel drive road up a 13,120 foot pass. I am exhausted, and humbled, and doubtful that I have the ability to withstand another 83.1 miles of this. I’ve trained on much tougher slopes. I had spent most of June and July above 10,000 feet, averaging about 3 hours of training per day. I had hiked to the top and run down Pikes Peak twice in the past two weeks, been above tree line many times and completed most of Mount Elbert just 11 days ago. My 12-hour training runs, my 50-mile races and my Sunday morning sleep-deprivation workouts meant nothing. How can people finish this thing?
Mile 33.3. 7:48 p.m. Friday.
I am at Virginius Pass , getting ready to glissade (sled without a sled) down the side of a mountain. I have heard this slope is nearly vertical for the first 20 feet and that we’ll glissade for a thousand feet. I have been nervous and excited about this point in the race for a long time. I am drinking soup at the aid station perched up here, a couple tents and a few chairs between the mountains. I am afraid to sit on the chairs because I’m sure I’ll tumble down backward off the mountain. I sit on the ground and put on my waterproof pants. Aid station volunteers point down the snow and tell me to aim my slide for the rocks in the middle of the slope, then warn me to stop on the middle of my third glissade or I’ll go too far and haveto hike back up. My new-found running buddy, Ed, is a couple minutes ahead of me. We’ve spent the past several hours hiking at a fast uphill pace together, marveling at the beauty of these mountains. I walk down the snow to where the glissade starts. I get to the edge and look over. It’s not even close to vertical. This is nothing, I say. I laugh as snow sprays over my feet and onto my face. I want to go faster. This is little-kid fun. I love this race.
Mile 51.9. 3:26 a.m. Saturday.
I am at another aid station, most of the way up 12,910 foot Engineer Pass. I am eating what the aid station volunteer calls oatmeal soup. It’s the leftovers of chicken soup broth, with, I think, oatmeal and potato chips. It tastes good. My pacer, Fred, is getting ready for our next climb. We’ve spent the last 4 hours hiking together, and we have another 7 hours to go until the
Sherman aid station, Mile 70.1, where he will stop and I will plow on alone. He’s talked to me, kept me on course, warned me about steep ledges (for much of this hike we’ve been on a wide trail with an 800-vertical drop down to the right) and pointed out mud puddles, which I guess he thinks I should avoid but I just trudge through happily. Fred is a great pacer, this is great soup and this is a great race. I am just past halfway. I have been on the go for nearly 22 hours. As Robert Frost wrote, "And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep."
Mile 86.2. 8:45 p.m. Saturday.
I am lost. I am wandering up a mountain. I can’t find the trail markers. I saw one but couldn’t find the next. I know we’re supposed to go between two mountains, so I head off to the mountains up to the right, my flashlight scanning the ground. I feel hopeless. I don’t want the race to end this way: lost, did not finish. I spent the previous 2½ hours running and hiking as fast as I could to make up time. After getting lost before the previousaid station, I was 45 minutes behind the 48-hour pace. I made up 30 minutes in 5.5 miles and marched up to this hill quickly. Everything was coming back together and now I’m going to be out of the race. I just want a chance. I see flashlights beam down at me from the top of the mountains to my left. I beam back. They know I’m lost. We’re too far apart to yell anything. I’m convinced the trail heads up to the right, then circles behind the mountains on a ridge to get to where they are. I am wrong. After 20 long minutes of stumbling around, I see two flashlights coming up the hill toward me. I head down toward them. We meet at about the spot I got lost. One of the competitors scans the hillside then spots the next marker, high up a hill to the left. I let the two hike ahead, then decided they are much slower than I want to go. I push on. I feel as if my race might be over. But I think I might be able to get to the next aid station before the cutoff. Then, I’ll at least get to finish the race. Maybe not officially. But I’ll get to finish.
Mile 98.5. 4:35 a.m. Sunday.
It’s time to run, and I feel like running. My thighs are a little sore. I have a couple blisters that hurt when my feet land on rocks. I’m stiff. But at the same time, I’m not sore at all. I have this wild burst of energy. Liz runs ahead of me and finds the best route down the rocky Jeep road. My feet land on some of the rocks and kick some others. Pain lasts just a few seconds. I feel like an animal. So alive. I want to scream. Going at this pace, I am sure we are going to finish in time. I’m guessing 47:20. I don’t know how fast we’re running. It feels like 8-minute miles. It’s probably much slower. We see the town of Silverton below, getting bigger as we descend. I’m sure we’re almost there and at about 5:20 a.m.
We pass a couple people who are hiking. I ask them, "So are you going to make it in 48 hours?" "Yes," one of the walkers says confidently.I know if he’s going to make the cutoff, I’ll make it easily. This is going to be the biggest athletic achievement in my life. I’m prepared to celebrate. I ease up a little. There are 30 minutes to go, then 20, and I still don’t see the finish area. We’re on a trail that parallels the roads below but never gets closer to town. I am running again, pretty hard but have to slow to a hike for a few mud crossings. I could lose my shoes if I run through them. With 15 minutes to go, I panic. I start to sprint. It lasts about 2 minutes. I lose my breath then have to walk.
With 10 minutes to go, we pass a man on the trail who is walking the opposite direction. "How far to the finish?" I ask. "A good mile," he says.A good mile? I think to myself. Is that a mile? It sounds like more than a mile.I resume a hard, running pace. I’m pushing about as hard as I can without going into oxygen debt. It’s starting to get light out. I can’t see the finish area. I can hear every one of my breaths. At 5:58 a.m. I reach a bridge that gets me off the trail and into town. Laura, my girlfriend, tells me I have seven blocks to go. Seven blocks in 2 minutes: I now know my race is over. But I start to sprint anyway. Maybe the official clock is off by a minute or two. Maybe they’ll give me the finish if I miss by just a few seconds. Even my tired mind, deprived of sleep for the past 50 hours, doesn’t believe my rationale. On every level, I know I won’t make 48 hours.
As I cross the finish line, there are only three or four people standing there. They pretty much ignore me. I sit just past the finish line and catch my breath as the sky turns pink. I have my arms on my knees, my head down, trying to catch my breath. I shake my head in disbelief. I tried so hard. People approach me and congratulate me: mygirlfriend, the race director and other runners. But I can tell they don’t know if they should give me sympathy or praise, so they offer a little of both. Of the race’s 110 starters, 59 made it in under 48 hours and five of us came in after the race was over. I don’t know if I should feel happy that I finished the race or disappointed that I’m not an official finisher.
I know that I am thrilled that I got the chance to try to finish. I didn’t miss a cutoff because I was lost; that would have been a terrible way for Hardrock to end. I ended the race out of breath, exhausted, sweaty, sprinting, the way a wild and tough run should be finished. On this weekend, my all wasn’t enough. For 48 hours, I vowed this would be my only Hardrock Hundred. Now I’m not so sure. I picked up an entry form for next year’s race.I don’t know if I’m going to enter. Maybe Scott Gordon is right: For the next year, it might suck to be me. But for 48 hours, 3 minutes and 35 seconds, it felt pretty darn good.
It's a must-read article for anyone who ever plunked a quarter or two into a pinball machine. I'm not going to ruin it by pulling an excerpt or two, just click the link and enjoy.
Allow me to introduce you to the end result of my constant toiling in July. Yes, this 256-page tome of a guidebook consumed my every waking minute for over a month and is indeed primarily responsible for my failure to earn a belt buckle at Leadville. On the bright side, at least it's a really good game.
Tales of Vesperia is a massive Japanese-style role-playing game, one that I found a bit refreshing and actually quite enjoyable to play. The combat is in real-time with a lot of action mixed in and numerous, subtle layers of complexity that slowly get added to the system over the course of the game. Although there are a lot of "random encounters" in the game, they are not invisible and can be avoided. Also, I should note that I only briefly felt the need to grind for a few additional levels. There was no instance in which I had to sit and level-grind for more than 20 minutes or so. There are a nearly endless list of things to do and discover in the game (my first playthrough of the game was roughly 80 hours) and the grade system encourages multiple playthroughs thanks to the genius way in which your grade points are used to purchase very, very helpful bonuses for subsequent trips through the game.
One of the things I liked most about the game, and I don't normally say this, is the story. Yes, the game ultimately does fall into the kids-save-the-world trap that so many of the games in this genre subscribe to, but the writing and overlying story were both very interesting. And there were some genuinely moving moments throughout the epic story. Also, the "skit" system allows you to view some very funny conversations between the characters in your party. I became genuinely interested in seeing how this story unfolds and I can't normally say that.
This game caused a pretty major craze in Japan when it released a couple weeks ago and Xbox 360s were sold out all across the country because of this game. I don't expect it to get the same welcome here in the US (not enough guns, probably), but it is definitely one to put on your list if you even remotely like this brand of game.
I haven't had a guidebook giveaway in quite a while so if you're new here, here's how it works: Be one of the first four people to email me your name and address and I'll get a signed copy of the guidebook out to you as soon as I receive my shipment of copies (North America only, please). This is good time for me to mention that I did have a co-author for this project (thankfully) who helped with compiling the massive items, weapons, and skills, chapters for this book as well as the game basics portion of the guide. The walkthrough, side-quests, and bestiary portions of the book (among a couple others) were written by me.
The next couple of days resembled the typical September Seattle weather I've come to look forward to by the end of summer, but not this year. I attended the "Tuesdays at Tolt" mountain bike ride last night, a ride that has almost reached the status of inevitability shared by taxes and death. The ride began at 6pm, kept a relatively modest pace for 10 miles or so and was a good time (lots of new faces and some I hadn't seen in a while). One thing I didn't much care for, however, was that I couldn't see. The sun didn't set until after 8pm, but by 7:30 visibility in the woods was diminished to a point where if I had 'em, I would have turned my lights on. I didn't. Nobody did. It's freaking August.
So instead we rode blindly. It wasn't long before it was too dark to see what color clothes and helmets those around you were wearing. Coming back towards the main exit, I went up and over the ladder-rock on the Schaefer trail. From the top of the rock, I couldn't see any of the pesky tree roots that mar the rollout. That's when I decided to kick out to the gravel road and take the safe way back. Safe that is, until the descent down It's a Bitch (IAB). Fortunately I know the trail well and was able to zip along pretty quickly, despite the 10 feet of visibility. Oh, and it was raining too.
This morning I woke to the sound of a heavy wind blowing through the alley outside, rustling the leaves of the trees, and sending something crashing into something else in someone's backyard. Hopefully not mine. It's 53 degrees out, rain is due, the wind is blowing.
Summer is dead, yet I hardly knew her.
Winter stayed far too late this year and while I hear summer was lovely in July and the early half of August, I wasn't here. My July was swallowed whole by the creation of this (giveaway tomorrow) and I've not been home for even a single disjointed week in August.
So I must instead embrace the fall, a season that keeps me behind the desk more than any other, but one that also brings with it some of my greatest joys: crisp autumn breezes, the Seahawks, and pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks. Not to mention we're a few days closer to the release of Sonic Unleashed, Fallout 3, and Gears of War 2, just a couple of the must-have games I've pre-ordered this season (not including the one that will become the bane of my existence for the next 3 weeks).
Unfortunately, as the Inferno steadily fills, thousands line up to replace the departed, therefore the void of the obnoxious never comes to pass. And I remain away.
Yet, even I am not invincible to the powers of consumatory lust and brand allegiance. In fact, I must admit that a principal reason for routing our Colorado road trip in the direction we took, was so I could visit the Moots factory in Steamboat Springs.
And on August 5th, before hitting the road for Winter Park, that's what we did. I had never just dropped in on a company like partially-crazed fan before, but I quickly learned I am far from alone. They get passionate Moots owners dropping in all the time.
We spent a few moments in the showroom (Kristin had to drag me away from the 29er full-suspension bike they unveiled this year), then went on a tour of the factory. We got to see where the raw material titanium comes in (lots of Ti here, folks) then moved over to the CNC machines where the small parts are automatically milled out of blocks of solid titanium, then continued through the area where they cut and bend the tubes, where they wash the materials, tack them up, and then get welded into the frames. From there, well... I don't remember. I really wasn't paying attention to what the girl was saying. I was just gazing wide-eyed in every direction, spinning around, snapping some photos, and trying to not drool on myself.
Since just about everything is done by hand, the factory is very quiet -- no loud robots or heavy presses stamping out pieces. Most of the employees had iPods on, and were just going about their jobs in rather spacious, clean, workspaces. The general vibe I felt from the place wasn't all that different than from an artists studio -- it was certainly a far cry from the forklift manufacturer I used to work for. The other thing that was very obvious was the extreme care that each of the frames were treated to. I never saw anything or anyone touching the exterior of the tubes -- they were all handled and hung from within.
I did learn one of their trade secrets, however. And I'm going to share it here. The last step in prepping a frame for delivery involves giving it that magical shine I saw when it first arrived in the box.
The polishing elixir of choice: Lemon-scented Pledge.
Time to see where my baby was born.
Expect to wait several months if you want one...
and for those months to feel like years.
Like me, she's a big fan of The Catcher in the Rye and decided on the skate-name J.D. Killinger because, as she says, Holden's little sister used to enjoy roller skating in Central Park.
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to go through try-outs and practice for the rather violent woman's sport of roller derby, you can check out my sister's blog.
I'm hoping she begins tagging the roller derby articles so they're easier to jump to (she's recently engaged and I suspect many future posts will be about wedding planning... a stark contrast to throwing elbows at other chick's windpipes!). Enjoy!
A woman roughly 30 years in age sits down on the leather armchair beside me. She's beautiful. She smelled fantastic. And she was dressed in black and gray business attire that was both respectful and drop-dead sexy all at once. Kristin has outfits like this, only I never see her in them because I'm asleep when she leaves for work and she quickly changes out of them when she comes home to be more comfortable. And speaking of Kristin, it had been 9 days since I had seen her. I was attuned to the presence of females -- a form of the species that is uniquely absent from the studio I was working at.
I continued to hammer away at the manuscript unfolding on my laptop, pausing every now and then to take another deep breath of that fantastic scent wafting my way on the air-conditioned breeze in the cafe. And I suddenly realized that if I were single and I were to approach this woman, I'd probably have no shot of adding her to my cellphone's contacts list on account of how I look. She: a professional something. Me: something less so.
I was wearing shorts, t-shirt, ballcap, and flip-flops just like always.
It's a product of working from home for 8 years. I don't need to dress up so I don't. And even when I am on-site, the outfit I just described is also the costume of choice of the professional game developer. I took a small carry-on suitcase with me, filled one-third of it with an X360 devkit and power-brick and filled in around it with an assortment of shorts and tees I picked up at races. I added a pair of jeans and a single short-sleeve linen button-down in case we went out to a nicer dinner, but that's it. This lasted me for 10 days. Yes, I brought plenty of underwear.
I did end up engaging in some brief smalltalk with Ms. Sexy to my right on account of a swarm of houseflies that began dive-bombing our drinks. She was nice. And maybe my earlier comment wouldn't have been true. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel that maybe, just maybe, it's high time I start dressing a little nicer. Not because I want to meet women in coffee shops, hell no, but perhaps to just look a little more professional in general. Or so maybe when I meet Kristin for lunch, I don't feel completely out of place.
A lot of people subscribe to the theory that you shouldn't dress for the job you have, but for the one you want. I have the job I want, so where does that leave me? I'll tell you. It leaves me working and running errands in the same "business attire" I used to wear to flip cheesesteaks at Little Mac's on the Jersey Shore when I was a teen, that's where.
Comfort rules my selection process when I'm getting dressed. Style comes second. My clothes fit loosely, and are lightweight. If I'm cold, I throw on down-filled slippers and a fleece pullover. Sandals, shorts, long-sleeve fleece. It's not that I don't like dressing a little nicer, but that I get very, very angry when I'm trying to find clothes that meet my conditions of comfort first, style second.
Like me, Kristin hates to go clothes shopping. Absolutely hates it. She also hates to "splurge" or "treat herself" to anything. You can see how this poses a problem in a household with the typical thirty-something guy who likes expensive toys. Namely me. Fortunately while I was away I was able to convince her to take a wad of cash and go shopping with her friend Kari. Kari likes to go shopping, has very good taste, helps Kristin find clothes that look really good on her, but is also not Christyann who thinks nothing of dropping hundreds on a pint-sized purse with a billboard-sized Italian logo. Men, this is key: you must identify the proper shopping companion for your woman.
Kristin picked me up at the airport Saturday night and looked stunning. I literally had to do a double-take to see if it was really her. And to be honest, I didn't care who it was: I was going home with this Hybrid Civic driving hottie regardless. Luckily, it was my wife.
On the way home, after multiple expresses of astonishment about her new clothes (and hair... you got to remember to commment on the hair, guys), I told her about my revelation in the coffee shop. She understood, but still offered the standard "I think you always look nice" bullshit that spouses are required to feed one another when they haven't seen each other in 11 days. Yet, she understood and agreed to go shopping with me on Sunday.
So yesterday we went shopping and as we went from store to store, I got angrier and angrier. For starters, there is no middle-ground without wading into the extremely preppified waters of the Chads and Parkers of the world. It seems that men's clothes comes in three flavors: super casual college rags, Hamptons-wear, or business attire.
I was willing to give every men's clothier in Bellevue Square a shot. I even went into Brooks Brothers (only to leave 2 minutes later mumbling incoherent sentences with the words "not ever" and "before I'm 60"). In each and every store, I recited the same thing: I'm a shorts-and-tee shirt kind of guy looking for some nicer clothes, but I don't want anything too formal or too preppy. In store after store, I was "helped" by a teenager whose fashion sense (or was it my own?) and ability to listen to my request was impeded by their willingness to "wear whatever" and "break rules".
I finally came to one store that had a bunch of nice shirts that I really liked. They were $450 each and I quickly vacated the premises.
Fortunately, just when I had all but given up hope (and strangled one or two people in Express for Men), I went back to the old standby: Banana Republic. A twenty-something sales associate offered immediate help, took me straight away to a pair of pants that, true to his word, are the most comfortable pants I've ever worn and also look very nice without being preppy. He then found shirt after shirt for me that fit exactly what I was looking for. He offered tips on coordinating, on which ones I could wear with nice jeans, which shirts to wear tucked or untucked. I know some of you are laughing right now, but trust me, when you make a point of never having to wear a collared shirt in nearly a decade, this sort of help comes in handy.
To complete my new ensemble, I did something I always wanted to: I bought a pair of brown slip-on Clarks. This is what walking on the clouds of heaven must feel like. As comfortable as my Rockports are, these are off the charts in comfort. And best of all, no laces! Which is a good thing since I usually double-knot my shoes then pull them on and off without ever untying them for years anyway.
So, last night, Kristin and I came home and started cleaning out the closet. The closet had no room for our new clothes, but not because we have tons of things to wear. Instead, it's because we have tons of clothing from 10-15 years ago. We filled a half-dozen large shopping bags with clothes that we had since we were in college (we graduated in 1997) or that we bought for our honeymoon 11 years ago. Kristin finally got rid of these hideous business suits she used to interview in when we were first starting out and I, well, I had a ton of stuff that I hadn't even considered trying on in well over 6 years.
This morning, I sprang out of bed ready to get dressed in some of my new clothes. After all, I have an 11:30 meeting at Microsoft that I have to at least put pants on for.
I chose jeans (that I've had for several years, but rarely wear), a short-sleeve collared shirt (that I bought last summer), and my new Clarks shoes. I completed the ensemble with the micro-fleece vest I bought at the Moots factory a few weeks ago. After all, no outfit is complete in the PNW without a splash of fleece.
Some things never change.
Here's the photo he took.
I didn't go through all of his photos, but this was the only one of me that I saw. Too bad he didn't get me coming down the Powerline or even pushing my bike up to Columbine Mine. Too bad the only place I saw him was at my lowest...
I was intending to type up a few posts on the flight, but the elderly non-english speaking lady in the middle seat next to me sort of spilled into my seat. Lowering the tray and busting out the laptop would have only made an uncomfortable position worse. And her sweater itched like insulation.
Anyway, after dodging a Hertz extortion of nearly $900 to rent a Chevy Cobalt for a week (does the car even retail for that much?) I finally was able to get some food, pick up my friend Jim who flew in separately Wednesday night (he's here to lend his expertise in a supporting role on the project) and get checked in.
Thursday: We met our contact at Company X at 8am and worked virtually non-stop until 1am. Actually, we did stop for lunch and dinner, but only because the waitress at the Carolina Ale House looks like a thinner, younger Tina Fey. Of course with the 30 Rock glasses. And we'll, I'm a sucker for nice scenery.
Today, well, it's nearly 1am here on the east coast and I'm back in the hotel room. We didn't put in too many hours today. Only 9am till midnight. But hey, I "just play games for a living" so I don't expect any sympathy.
Enough about me, I have a few things to post about which I hope to do tomorrow sometime (or perhaps on Sunday). First, I want to write about the book A Thousand Splendid Suns which Kristin and I listend to during the 2,849 miles we drove to and from Colorado. I also want to post about the trip outside of Leadville.
Subsequent posts will include titles with but are not limited to the following names:
A Restaurant Hostage Crisis
I Think It's Raining
Full Moon Rising
The Orlando of the West
and everyone's favorite, "What Would You Say You Do Here?"
But first, I need some damn sleep.
I sprang from my sleep to the sound of multiple gunshot blasts at roughly three in the morning. A few seconds later, four more unmistakable pistol shots pierced the night's calm. The blasts were close by, not far outside the window of my room at the Silver King Inn. My heart was racing. I considered calling the police, but then imagined the likely ordeal with the sheriff, constable, or whatever local Chuck Norris type took my call and decided my time was better spent sleeping. I hope nobody got killed.
The next gunshot I heard came at 6:30 am, to start the so-called "Race Across the Sky." I knew this blast was coming -- and aimed harmlessly skyward -- yet I was far more frightened of it than I was the unexpected blam-blam-blam of the handgun in the hotel parking lot. I straddled my bike near the rear of the queue, among the other anxiety-stricken racers hoping to finish between eleven and twelve hours. I was in Leadville, at the start of one of the country's epic 100 mile mountain bike races.
The race needs little introduction. The word alone, Leadville, is legendary in endurance racing. It commands respect. It has a mystical quality that few other races, towns, or events can match. At an elevation of 10,200 feet Leadville is the highest incorporated town in the country and at 100 miles long and having nearly 14,000 feet of total elevation gain, the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race is nothing to take lightly. Yet here I was, a sea level neophyte with minimal conditioning who hasn't done a training ride over 4 hours long in months. I ducked the rope and vomited in the bushes: I had never been so nervous.
The first few miles rolled by uneventfully as we headed out of town and onto the dirt roads leading towards Turquoise Lake. A police escort led the way for five-time repeat champion Dave Wiens, cycling legend Lance Armstrong, and nearly one thousand other racers you and I have likely never heard of. I was but a face in the back of the crowd. The first climb, up St. Kevin, was rocky, loose, and rough yet I calmly pedaled my machine and smiled inwardly at all the hike-a-bikers I was passing. I studied the heart rate monitor on my handlebar, steadied my breathing, and kept my ticker below 155 bpm. Two other guys near me on shiny titanium Moots fell in line by my side. We smiled and nodded to one another, a gesture of understanding. It was a gesture not unlike that which owners of Harley-Davidsons give one another on the highway. A lift of the fingers off the handlebar, a smile, a nod, an acceptance of shared enjoyment and appreciation for a fine handmade bicycle.
A long asphalt mountain road carried us down from St. Kevin to the lowly, surprisingly oxygen-rich elevation of 9,400 before commanding a long gradual climb back up to 11,200 feet. I inflated my tires to 50 psi in the front and 46 in the rear and was thankful for every last pump, as I descended the road at 44 mph and climbed efficiently, albeit far more slowly, to the top of the Powerline descent. We were just 18 miles into the race and I had already stopped to pee twice. At this rate I would single-bladderly solve Colorado's drought by midday, yet would run the risk of spending too much time standing beside trees to finish in under twelve hours. I had to make up time somewhere: I chose the descents. After all, they're more fun.
Powerline was a crowned, heavily gullied, hardscrabble road with but one clean line atop the crown, flanked by hell on either side for three miles. The road had several small jumps that I used to take my mandatory eight inches of cross-country geek air and I hooted and hollered as others around me simply shook their head at my wasted energy. The racing I had done in Squamish this year, not to mention my comfort in riding the big wheels, buffeted my confidence and I quickly pulled out of the single-file line into the debris-filled gully and blasted past dozens of racers. If TransRockies had taught me anything last year, it was that there are a lot of folks who can outclimb me, but that I have the technical ability to catch a lot of them on the descents. And I was fearless this day. I was on the edge of control, yet I stood firmly on the precipice and never teetered over. Nearby racers made audible gasps and comments of bewilderment when I passed on the far rockier, more treacherous path and at this I smiled and pedaled harder.
Kristin waited for me at the crew access point at mile 28 and then again at mile 42, just before the main climb up to Columbine Mine. She gave me fresh bottles of my calorie-drink of choice, refilled my Camelback with Nuun, and had an assortment of salty and sugary snacks for me to engulf. I had studied the results from last year's race and gave Kristin a list of range of times that I was hoping to hit at each checkpoint to have a shot at finishing in 11:30. I was 5 minutes off the pace at the first aid station and about 10 minutes slow at the second. And then came the climb.
The climb up to Columbine Mine was 8 miles long and ascended 3,200 feet in elevation. This may not sound that intimidating, but climbing to an elevation of 12,600 feet after already being in the saddle for nearly four hours isn't easy. Especially when the final 1,300 feet of gain comes on a rock-strewn path in the final two miles. Lance and Dave roared past like a pair of runaway mine carts as I was but just one mile into the climb. Together the other nearby racers and I uttered a simultaneous, awe-inspired, "Holy shit!" I'll never forget the look of concentration carved onto both their faces as they raced wheel to wheel. It was quite some time before another racer buzzed by, then before long, it was a steady stream of downhilling mountain bikers zipping by, sometimes just inches from my upwardly-pointed handlebars. Oh, how I wanted to be them.
The road eventually deteriorated and everyone around me began pushing their bikes. The scenery was incredible, we were high above treeline, and I stopped to snap a few photos (an excuse to pause and do something that didn't hurt), but my body was in revolt. I gasped for air, my feet were growing blisters, and my stomach was in disarray. I couldn't eat or drink without feeling nauseous and every bump and jostle on the bike was like a dagger to the gut.
The volunteers at the turnaround point atop Columbine Mine -- at the summit of the world as far as I was concerned -- urged us on with oranges, cups of chicken broth, pretzels, cantaloupe, and coca-cola. I plucked my camera from its holster and took a few more photos. The mindful volunteers told me to hurry, that I was going to be cutting it close to finishing in under 12 hours, that I didn't have time for photos.
I looked her square in the face and said, "There is no way I'm ever dragging my ass back up this mountain and I want a memory that will last longer than the saddle sores."
The volunteer laughed, then smiled and told me that I was in great shape. That I still had my sense of humor so I had nothing to fear. That I would finish in under 12 hours and earn my silver belt buckle. And with that I began the descent. Again, like a man possessed. I urged on the other racers still suffering the indignity of this hellacious climb as I flew past them in the opposite direction, then I grew angry. I grew angry at how much this climb had hurt, how my stomach roiled and ached, and at how my lungs were burned and my lips chapped. I left the turnaround point six hours and twenty-three minutes after that fateful gunshot that started The Race Across the Sky and I was furious. It wasn't supposed to be this hard. Or so I thought. I accelerated, leaped over the rocks, danced through the gullies, and dug deeper. I let go of any fear I had left, and mashed the pedals. The bud tucked into my right ear began emitting the electrifying vibrations from Tool's song Schism and again I descended on edge. I maintained an average speed of nearly 30 mph on the switchbacking descent, ever hopeful that my new tires would maintain their grip on the newly dampened-dirt. I again passed dozens of other racers on the descent. I held my grip tight, pedaled hard, and felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I had never descended like this. I was scaring myself.
I rolled up to Kristin just 18 minutes after beginning the descent. Eight miles. The climb had taken two hours and twelve minutes. The eight mile descent just 18 minutes. Kristin admonished me for still carrying a full Camelback and tried to force-feed me fluids and a PB&J burrito. "You're not drinking! You need to be drinking," she exclaimed. I told her I was still peeing and I wasn't hungry. I downed a 5oz can of V-8, my second of the day, then slammed a couple mini Slim-Jims into my mouth. The salt burned my tongue. I kissed her goodbye and pedaled onward.
I was beyond the turnaround point, but I wasn't halfway done. Veterans of the race said you weren't truly halfway done until you reached the 70th mile. Only then did you have half the suffering behind you. I was at mile 58. The next fourteen miles brought with them two very steep hike-a-bikes. I knew they were coming. One in particular. Earlier that day I locked the brakes and surfed the bike down a mountain of flour-like silt some six inches deep. I arched my back and put my weight as far back as I could on the descent and, again, cruised on past those with lesser technical chops. But now it was time to climb and the ascent was an equal-opportunity punisher. There was no riding this hill. An impossibility. Everyone around me carried their bikes on their backs like the metaphorical cross to bear these contraptions had become. The blister on my heel tore loose.
Kristin had relocated to the final support crew access point at mile 78. I reached this point in the race roughly 25 minutes later than I had hoped. I took on some more food and drink and said little other than I needed to hurry. I left the aid station at 2:56 pm. I had just three hours and thirty four minutes to reach the finish, else I'd miss the coveted belt buckle. I dug deep into whatever reserves I had and pedaled away into a stiff headwind. It was afternoon in the high country of the Rocky Mountains and an afternoon squall was blowing in. I stopped at mile 84 to relieve myself a fifth and final time and to don the emergency rain jacket I had carried all day. The rain pelted my skin with chunky, frigid, explosions and the cold was sapping what little strength I had left. And then came the ascent up Powerline.
Dave Wiens, who would ultimately ride away from Lance Amrstrong in the final ten miles and win this epic race for the sixth consecutive time, said to a reporter that this was the first year he had ridden the Powerline ascent, and thanks only to Lance's urging. He said he never even considered pedaling it in year's past.
I, however, did not ride the Powerline ascent.
The three-mile section of trail I scorched so many hours earlier was now a Master Lock on the pearly gates to belt buckle heaven. I picked at it. I shot it. I tried to cut it. It wouldn't budge. I rode what I could, mainly because the blister made it more painful to walk, but I know I didn't pedal more than half of this climb. And thanks to all of that walking alongside my bike, this notorious climb back up to 11,200 feet chewed up an hour and ten minutes of what precious little time I had left.
It was at this point that I again let go of my fears and, despite the rain, descended without restraint. I was reckless, perhaps, but I was also a man obsessed with the math going through his head. I spent the final hours of the race updating an ever-flowing stream of time versus distance versus speed calculations in my head. I need to average 8 miles per hour I would tell myself. Then, I'd slog my way up the road climb to St. Kevin and update the math to require a 9 mile per hour average. I'd adjust the speed requirement to reflect distance covered, then counter-adjust the time I had left for unexpected, brutally cruel hike-a-bikes that I had forgotten to account for.
I stared through my mud-splattered sunglasses at the bicycle computer on my handlebar and cried out as I pedaled harder and again dug deeper. I was on fumes, both physically and, even more so, emotionally. A couple on a tandem bike rolled past me just as I reached the 96th mile. I tried to grab their wheel for a draft, but they were too fast. Instead, I updated the math. I was cruising at over 20 mph and knew I had to only average 9 mph to finish in under 12 hours. I was going to do it. It would be close, but I would do it after all! I began to sob aloud with joy and relief. This day had hurt so much, I had to push myself so hard to get through this pain, but it was going to be worth it. I continued to pedal amidst outbursts of joyful laughing and relief-filled sobbing. I was an emotional wreck. I sped past another racer and shouted, "We're going to do it! Keep pushing, we got this! We're going to do it!"
He didn't reply.
I looked again at the computer and saw that I was now 99.2 miles into the race. I looked up and saw nothing but windswept fields and countryside. Town was most certainly not eight-tenths of a mile away. I looked again at the computer and saw I was 9,815 feet above sea level. The finish line was at the much-ballyhooed 10,200 feet.
It couldn't be.
Common knowledge to seemingly everyone except me, the race was actually 102.3 miles long. A photographer on a long dirt road ascent back into town told me I was 3 miles and 20 minutes from the finish. He said if I really tried I just might do it. He squatted down with his expensive professional photography rig and took my photo. I wiped the snot and tears from my face and feigned a smile. He again told me try to make it.
And tried hard is what I did. A quick calculation told me I needed to average 9 mph through to the finish. I cried out in pain and pushed harder and propelled myself up the first mile of the final climb known as the Boulevard at a speed of 10 mph. I might do it! I might do it! It's going to be so close!
I rounded a corner and saw the road angle upwards and I knew it was over. I was out of the saddle, pounding the pedals with all my worth. Tears glistened in my eyes and my heart felt like it was going to explode. I was finally back on asphalt. I could see the town.
And from half a mile away, above the distant roar of the crowd, I heard the gunshot. Somewhere in the crowd at the finishing line, Kristin began to cry for me.
I crossed the finish line just three minutes later.
The couple on the tandem bicycle that passed me six miles before the finish crossed the line just 37 seconds after the gun had fired. They burst into tears at the finish line and held onto each other as if the planet itself would shake them free if they let go. The race director, as a concilliatory gesture, handed them the empty shotgun shell from the gun amidst a crowd chanting to count them as official finishers. The official list of results, updated the next morning, included them. They got their belt buckles.
Dave Weins finished in a time of 6:45, just beating out Lance Armstrong by less than two minutes. Dave finished on a flat tire.
I finished the race in a time of 12:03, but had only 35 minutes of down time. That is time spent at aid stations, digging my rain coat out of the backpack, taking food from Kristin, and, yes, peeing. I attribute no more than 1-2 minutes of time to taking photos.
I spent 57 minutes of every hour pedaling, pushing, and carrying my bike forward over the 102 mile course and I am unable to look back during the race and point to any one time in which I could have saved those three precious minutes. I have no regrets.
As for me, I'm one of the people in the odd position of being able to say that he finished the Leadville Trail 100, but outside of the 12-hour cutoff time. Those who meet all of the checkpoints throughout the race are given a thirteenth hour "as a compliment to the rider's tenacity, but does not earn official finish placing." I received a finisher's medal at the finish line and feel no obligation to burn the hat and t-shirt I had purchased at the pre-race pasta dinner. I was not a DNF, yet I received no belt buckle. And I think this is perfect. Sure, it hurts to know I missed the cutoff by just three minutes, but I think this is karmic perfection. I didn't train for this race the way I needed to. Not even close. I've done no true mountain rides in preparation of this event and aside from the previous week's RAMROD debacle, I hadn't spent more than 4 hours on the bike in months. I didn't deserve to finish in under twelve hours and, to be perfectly honest, I love the fact that there are still events out there that don't celebrate everyone "who has the courage to start." If not for truly challenging events with high demands, what is there to shoot for? The Leadville Trail 100 will hold a special place in my heart precisely because of the cruel and unusual way in which my day ended.
And I will be back... Not next year. Maybe not the year after. But I will be back one day.
Count on it.
I made a desperate attempt to buy some speed by purchasing a pair of Kenda Small Block Eight tires last night for $54 apiece. Very low tread, fast-rolling tire. The tire of choice apparently. I'll have Crossmarks on my back-up wheels.
The rules for the race are a bit Draconian. We're allowed support crews and they can carry enough replacement parts to build a new bike, but I have to carry all of the tools on my person and I must do the repairs myself. Go figure. So, tonight, I have to make sure to install the back-up cassette onto my back-up rear wheel just in case I need it. Otherwise, I'd need to carry the cassette tool, wrench, and chainwhip in my Camelback. As if.
The riding we did on Wednesday and Thursday in Winter Park was awesome. I did the dirty and bought a lift ticket for Thursday, figuring I probably didn't need to do thousands of feet worth of climbing two days before the race. I did climb to the proper summit high above the lift at 11,200. Felt really good too.
But now I'm scared. We had an hour-long pre-race meeting today. The list of risks and hazards was long and ominous. Lance spoke for a while about how hard the climb to Columbine Mine was. He commented about hoping to stay within an hour of 5-time repeat champion Dave Wiens, but also mocked Chris Carmichael by promising to finish, eat, shower, and be on his 6th beer by the time Carmichael finishes. I have photos.
Kristin and I just got done driving to the aid stations. The main climb is going to be brutal. I've looked over the results from last year and it seems that the 20-mile roundtrip up the main climb and back down takes 3 hours for those finishing in the 11 to 12 hour range. 12 hours is the cutoff for "official finishers" and I'll need to be past the final checkpoint within 9 hours to have a shot at finishing. The final 26 miles seems to take roughly 3:15 for those near where I hope to be, so I'm hoping to get through there in 8 hours or so to not cut it too close.
This assumes that the body, weather, bike, and cycling Gods don't conspire against me.
The race starts at 6:30 am tomorrow morning. I hope I can get some sleep.
Today was my big ride aimed to test my ability to climb and breathe at higher elevations. Kristin and I drove to the Steamboat ski resort and I set out on bike at a base elevation of 6900 feet and climbed, climbed, and climbed to the very summit of the mountain at 10,380 feet. It was a unrelenting 7-mile climb on loose, rocky jeep roads but, surprisingly, I was able to breathe with relative ease and never walked a step. I saw lots of families descending the lower trails on rental bikes, then I was in no-man's land on the upper half of the mountain, far above the gondola's upper terminus.
The top of the trail brought me to the Continental Divide, a place I hadn't ever set foot before. From there I descended a narrow ribbon of singletrack surrounded by boundless meadows of waist-high wildflowers. The town and the ski resort base were but shiny specks in the distance. A little more climbing dropped me into yet more pristine singletrack, this time through walls of beautiful aspens. The trails were not so technical to merit their black diamond rating on the maps, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
All in all, it was a 16.8 mile ride with over 3400 feet of climbing. The Moots is purring, my legs feel fresh, and my lungs are functioning as designed. That's about all I could ask for.
You can follow the route I took on this map if you'd like.
I ascended on Zig Zag and Storm Peak Challenge, then descended Pete's Wicked, Duster, Moonlight, Huffman's, Valley View, Sitz, and Yoo-Hoo. The whole ride too me a little over 3 hours including stoppage time and photos. 2:45 of actual pedal time.
I was told that it would take 4+ hours, so yeah, I feel good.
Tomorrow it's onward to Winter Park for a night, then to Leadville. The weather has been great so far. Everyday in the upper 80's and not a drop of rain so far.
Kristin enjoyed a bit of singletrack at Flaming Gorge on Sunday, then went running there on Monday morning and she ran/hiked a pretty arduous 9 mile route at Steamboat today while I biked. And nobody got eaten by bears... so it was a good day.
Thursday's RAMROD suffer-fest has left me with mixed emotions about Leadville. On the one hand, I wonder how on earth I can finish 100 miles off-road at Leadville given how miserable I performed at RAMROD. On the other hand, I sort of feel like Thursday was rock-bottom and if I could push on through 100 miles of bonk-dom, then I can probably grind my way through just about anything. Time will tell.
I was looking over last year's Leadville 100 results and nearly 170 people got the dreaded DNF. A whole slew more finished within the "grace period" of 12-13 hours. They aren't official finishers, but they are allowed the honor of finishing what they started. You have to finish in under 12 hours to be counted as an official finisher. Only 65% of racers tend to finish in under 12 hours. That's my goal. I want the medal, I want the belt buckle, and I want the hooded sweatshirt with my finishing time... even if it says 11:59:59. And when it's done, I'll want oxygen.
One person who I know won't be having trouble finishing in under 12 hours is Lance Armstrong.
Yes, you read that right, Mr. Yellow Wristband himself is going to be wheeling up to the line next Saturday to race. Of course, if not for the out-and-back design of the course, I'd have no prayer of actually seeing him on the race-course, but it is pretty freaking cool to know that I'll be "racing against" Lance Armstrong.
Thanks Mike for passing along the news post.
The promoter of the Leadville 100, a 100-mile mountain bike race in Colorado, told a local newspaper that Lance Armstrong has registered for his race and is training nearby for the August 9 event.
"It's huge for the race, of course, but even more grand and more meaningful to our community, because now the national and the international spotlight will be on Leadville," promoter Ken Chlouber told the Summit Daily.
Armstrong had said he was going to do Leadville last year but then pulled out citing a scheduling conflict. Floyd Landis did race last year, coming second to mountain bike legend Dave Wiens. The paper reported that Armstrong has been training in nearby Aspen, Colorado. Acclimatization is key at Leadville, which starts at 10,200 feet elevation and tops out at 12,600.
"(Armstrong's) coming to win," Chlouber told the newspaper. "I’m sure he’s got his guns strapped on, and he’ll be coming full blast ... We’re going to put him on the front row, right besides Dave Wiens, and I expect it’ll be a shootout right from the get-go."
Kristin has agreed to use the dreaded camcorder to film parts of the race (multiple crew access points) and promises to take plenty of photos. Naturally, I fully intend to Photoshop said pictographs to make it look like Lance is drafting behind me.
In other news, today is our anniversary. What better way to celebrate this spectacular occasion than by embarking on a road trip to the Rockies! I do believe 11 Years is the "Denny's Anniversary" and I fully intend on honoring the occasion with an order of Eggs Over My Hammy. I figure that'll taste pretty good in backwater Idaho, at about 11pm tonight.
Have a good week. I hope to make an update or two from Steamboat Springs on Tuesday and/or Leadville on Thursday.
Not sure if there's any web-updates during the race or live-feeds of any sort, but here's the official race site for those curious. Thanks for reading, and be sure to send some positive vibes in the direction of Colorado next Saturday. I'm going to need it.
Yesterday was not a good day for me: I bonked with over 100 miles to go. But still went.
In endurance sports, particularly cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes the condition when an athlete suddenly loses energy and becomes fatigued, the result of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles becoming depleted.
It seems that my paucity of training and inability to sleep has finally caught up with me. My strong performance at the NPC ride 5 weeks ago led me to believe that I was in better shape than I really was and that RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day) would not be as difficult as it is. No, yesterday wasn't just a bad day. It was misery on wheels.
I tagged along with Dale, a guy I ride with on Thursdays, and some of his friends who I hadn't ever met before. We all share an aversion to waking up earlier than necessary so rather than start between 5am and 7am as is customary, the five of us rolled up to the starting line at 7:40am. The "sweep vehicle" would be our guide. Kind of funny since our leader had reportedly won the Mt. Baker Hill Climb. We would eventually pass quite a few people, some who started up to two hours before us, but not before enjoying a no-wait all-you-can-eat buffet at the first two aid stations we passed.
Our group dwindled to just Dale, Jeff (the hillclimb champ), and myself after 34 miles. One guy was feeling really awful and the other had to turn back cause his babysitter had a change of plans. And that is why you don't bring a cellphone on your bike rides, but I digress.
I was feeling great for the first 45 miles or so. I was eating and drinking well, my legs felt fresh, and other than a twinge in my achilles tendon, I felt on the ball. Then it suddenly went downhill. I couldn't keep up with Dale and Jeff. I had to drop my speed on the flats and was beginning to feel nauseus. My abdominal muscles were cramping, my neck and shoulders were stiff, and I had no energy. We weren't 50 miles into the ride and I was starting to inexplicably bonk. And we hadn't even done any of the climbing yet. I was in trouble.
The climb up to Paradise on the south side of Mt. Rainier was about 12 miles long, ascending roughly 2800 feet. Dale and Jeff pulled away from me and although I passed a number of people on this climb, I was hurting. I was barely going 6 mph and I was starting to have serious reservations about my ability to finish this ride. I eventually got to the top of the climb, loaded up on fruit and water, and readied myself for the descent. My comrades were enjoying the day, and didn't seem to mind waiting for me -- something I neither like people having to do for me, nor am very used to it. I decided to tell them my big secret: this was only my second ride over 60 miles this year. They didn't look amused.
The long, fast descent was fun, but it eventually brought us to another climb. This one was just a mile or two and didn't gain more than a thousand feet, but it was enough to confirm what I already knew: the climb up Cayuse Pass was going to bring me to my knees. And it did. Some 97 miles into the ride, the climb up Cayuse Pass began. Dale and Jeff pulled away and I was left to wobble back and forth up the road at a lowly 5 mph. The climb was over 6 miles in length and ascended over 2,000 feet in elevation and I was hurting. It was hot, I was rationing my water so as to not run out, and portions of the road were reduced to gravel due to ongoing construction work. I stopped less than halfway up to sit in the shade for a few minutes. Had I have seen a SAG wagon, I would have certainly flagged it down and put an end to the pain.
But I didn't see any SAG wagons so after a few minutes in the shade, I queesily got back on the bike and pedaled to the next aid station where, like an oasis in the desert, large quantities of water flowed freely. There's no telling how long Dale and Jeff were waiting but they were in good spirits and urged me on and not to give up. So I did. A few miles of climbing later, we reached the top of Cayuse Pass. 106 miles done, about 40 or so to go. And all downhill.
I was in such bad shape, that I thought of hitching a ride back to Enumclaw from the top of Cayuse Pass. I had done all of the hard work -- there would be only 300 feet of climbing in the last 45 miles -- so, I figured, there would be no shame in this DNF. Except there's always shame in a DNF I told myself and rolled out.
The descent from Cayuse Pass to Crystal Mountain was epic. The wind was a bit gusty, but these 10 miles were ticked through in less than 20 minutes. The Redmond Cycling Club that organizes this event, had made-to-order coldcut sandwiches and -- be still my heart -- ice-cold cans of Coca-Cola at the final aid station. We still had 30 miles to go, but I was finally thinking I just might finish this thing.
The three of us scorched the road back from Crystal Mountain, past Greenwater, towards Enumclaw. A heaven-sent tailwind (an absolute anomaly in this area) blessed us with an average speed of 23 mph for some 20 miles or so and I was even able to take a few 5-minute pulls at the lead. The final 10 miles were once again very rough for me. I was beyond bonking now. I was on the verge of tears, on the precipice of vomiting, and quite literally starting to wonder exactly what this effort was doing to my body. I started feeling the bonk some 7 hours prior and I continued to go on.
I was watching the odometer closely and when we turned onto Mud Mountain Road, I thought for sure we only had about 4 miles left. But when Jeff, who had done the ride multiple times before, said was had 12 to 15 miles to go, I nearly broke down sobbing. Well, at least that's how Dale said I looked. I was pretty confident Jeff was wrong and, it turned out he was.
Somehow, some way, I dragged my battered body 150 miles around Mt. Rainier National Park and did finish. The altimeter reported a cumulative elevation gain of just under 9,000 feet and, a total time (including some very lengthy rest stops) of just over 11 hours. And for those who like numbers, here's one more for you: I lost 6 pounds of body weight yesterday.
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the event. And it will be another 25 years before I do this again.
(and if I do, next time I might even train for it)
Note: RAMROD really is a great event. It's incredibly well-organized, has great volunteers and takes cyclists through 150 miles of some of the most scenic countryside there is. Any negativity sensed in this account is directly strictly at myself. I knew I could "struggle through" this and finish and, to be honest, I thought I was in better shape than I was. Or maybe I just had a bad day. I don't know. But my sour mood and struggles yesterday were in no way a reflection of the event. It was the greatness of the event and the beauty of the scenery that lured me to keep on spinning the pedals 100 miles beyond where I wanted to stop. And I'm glad it did because the one thing I didn't see yesterday was my breaking point. I know it's out there somewhere, and I hope to never see it, but despite how slow yesterday was and how much I struggled, I'm damn proud of that finisher's patch.