When All Else Fails, Take Another Lap

2016 6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Ride Report
I tried for a couple of days to put this write-up together. This is usually one of my favorite parts of the 6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Championships, as it gives me a chance to relive the event with that wonderful “good parts only” memory that seems to be a part of the brain’s design. And there’s always so much to remember! But, frankly, my heart wasn’t really into it this year. This has nothing to do with the race, of course. It was a fantastic event, just as it’s been for the past 3 years. Jim Harms, Amanda Knutson, and the Boethling boys did an amazing job organizing, as always. And my brother Terry and I had a great race, covering 487 miles in just under 24 hours. But after the election, it just felt like such a small event in a very big world.

If I were John Steinbeck, I could wrap all of my thoughts and feelings into some grand allegory that told a fine tail of the struggles and the victories, and I could wax poetically about the difference between competition and performance…blah blah blah. But I’m no Steinbeck. So, rather than attempt to force creative juices from this dried up old turnip, I decided to lazily turn to the posts I made on Facebook at the end of each lap, and just add a few notes here and there to mention some of the highlights of the race. Interestingly, by the time I finished writing, I felt better about it…about everything in fact. The mind is a curious and wonderful thing! Maybe no one thing is so much more important than another. Time will tell. Anyway, on to the race report.

Rolling Taj Mahal, ready for action

Rolling Taj Mahal, ready for action

First, for those who don’t know, the format of this race is simple. Start at 6:00PM on Friday night and see how many times you can successfully navigate an 18 mile open-road loop in the Borrego Springs desert, before being switched over to the 4.8 mile “short loop” to finish up the effort. Simple right? And frankly, given that we ride as a two-man team, it’s considerably less challenging than what the solo racers go through. Terry and I trade off laps, with one or the other of us out on the road at a time, while the other retires to my brother’s incredibly plush motorhome to rest, eat, change into dry kits, and take care of all other manner of physical needs between laps. That said, it’s plenty enough of a challenge for the likes of us.

Friday 7:02PM
Team Faster Than My Brother is one lap in. Just like every year my first lap was faster than it probably should have been, Garmin says 23.6mph. We’ll be dialing that back a bit as the night wears on.

startSo yeah, anyone who’s suffered through my past ride reports is now saying, “You went out too hot. Wow, big surprise”. What can I say, the starting lap is always so exciting. I started in the last of five starting waves, and the racers are all bunched up at this point. Making my way through the dark desert night, it was impossible to resist the urge to pick out a tail light ahead and try to chase it down. As for that first-lap average speed…as my FB post said, this was nowhere near sustainable for me.

Oh, and by the way…unless otherwise stated, most of the photos you see here are compliments of Vic Armijo and the Race Across America Organization.  Thank you Vic!

Friday 8:39PM
Just finished my second lap, 3rd lap for the team. It’s 18miles per lap, btw. My Garmin reads 22.9mph for my first two laps

Between laps, I see Terry for about 10 seconds as we pass off the timing chip, which gives us a brief moment to try to think of something clever, or rude, or both, to say to one another. And then he is off into the dark as I make my way back to the motorhome to rest.

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?

Friday 10:15PM
Just finished my third lap, which means we’ve done 5 laps together, or 90 miles. You can follow the race at the link in this post from the awesome race organizers.

Saturday 12:04AM
Another lap done, I think that’s 4 for me? Starting to lose count. Garmin read 22.7 mph. I’m going to fight to keep that over 22 in this cooling night air on the next lap. But first, a sammich and a nap.

Saturday 1:40AM
Average at the end of this lap, 22.3! Feeling good, though the little grinding uphill near the end of the lap is starting to grow

It’s funny, Terry and I drove the lap Friday morning just to get reacquainted. In my mind, I remembered that little grindy climb as a pretty formidable presence out on the race course. But when we saw it again in person, it looks like nothing. Barely a perceptible change in grade that you should be able to easily push through in the big ring without ever getting off the aerobars. But as the laps wear on, I swear this thing gets bigger and steeper each time.

Saturday 3:24AM
Ok my friends, another lap finished, with my average now 21.9. For a little perspective, solo racer Christoff Strasser is averaging 24.5mph, with no breaks!

So yeah, Cristoph Strasser. The man is a completely different animal than most of the rest of us out on the course (folks like Marko Baloh, Jason Perez, Jamshed Jehangir, Seana Hogan and a few select others are excluded from that “most of the rest of us”). Strasser has won solo Race Across America six times, and holds the course record. He also holds the current outdoor 24 hour TT record of 556.8 miles set in 2015. He would come close to beating that record on this very challenging course this year, with 550.8 miles (23.1mph!! and remember, this includes stop time…which I’m sure was very minimal for him). I had the thrill of seeing him come by me three separate times during this race…more about one of those times a little later.\

Saturday 5:15AM
I have no idea what lap I just finished, but I felt surprisingly good. Looking forward to sunrise and being joined by all the 12 hour racers on the next one

Saturday 7:11AM
Sunrise Lap! My favorite part of 24 hour events. Nothing like riding thru the night and into the sunrise. We’re past the halfway mark and on track to hit our 480 mile goal…but there’s a lot of work yet to be done

There really is nothing that compares to racing the sunrise lap in one of these 24 hour events. I started this lap with a faint glow in the sky, and as I was pushing my way up the hill on the back-stretch of the course, the sun was just peaking over the horizon to my right. I saw somebody parked off the left shoulder of the road taking photos, and I had hoped those pictures would show up somewhere by the time I posted this, but alas…no such luck. You’ll just have to use your imagination…I looked incredibly strong, fresh and smooth, in case you need help. The sunrise is always invigorating, and there’s only one way to get this feeling You have to race all night to know what a sunrise lap feels like. I highly recommend it!

During my rest break after the sunrise, I heard a knock on the motorhome door, and was visited by my very good friend and former RAAM teammate Wei Sun. Another very welcome boost to my spirits! Wei helped me get ready for the next lap, and then as we waited for Terry to find his way back to the pits, a few more good friends rolled in on their bikes. Wei captured the moment and made this post to FB on the spot…

What the heck are these things anyway?

What the heck are these things anyway? Oh I see, they’re my glasses! I need some sleep.

Saturday 10:07AM – Posted by Wei Sun
Morning visit to Borrego Springs at the 6-12-24 Hour Time Trial with Rich Walsh and Terry Walsh. Crewed for half an hour and blessed to see METAL (Andrew Danly) with Toro and Michael Conti, who rode out to support Nathan Simpson. Took a few snap shots and realize I am NO Pink Shorts Photography (Connie Hatfield). Fun times cheering friends on!

(photos courtesy of Wei Sun, reprinted here without his permission…so sue me!)

It's not a gang, it's a club

It’s not a gang, it’s a club

Saturday 10:42AM
Things are heating up out here, literally. Not too hot yet though, and more importantly, not much wind. My average speed has been holding steady at 21.5 for the last two laps. See if I can hold onto that to the end!

While waiting for my next exchange, I saw the support person (husband?) of one of the 12 hour racers I had met during the registration the day before, where she mentioned that this was her first foray into the ultra-racing world. I asked him how she was doing, and before he had much chance to answer she came ripping into the pits, exclaiming, “OK, this isn’t fun anymore.” She said it with a smile (somewhat forced perhaps) on her face.

“Yeah”, I replied, “that solo thing is tough!” As if I have any idea what “that solo thing” is like!
“Just keep pushing at the best speed you can” I encouraged…not realizing that she needed absolutely no advice from the likes of me. But she was gracious, and thanked me as her man got her set up with fresh bottles and some ice down the back of her jersey, and she was off! She left the pits just a couple minutes before me, and I hoped to catch her and cheer her on again as I passed by…but I never saw sign of her again.

Turns out that the woman who graciously thanked me for my words of “encouragement” is professional triathlete Dede Trimble Griesbauer, who has three ironman wins and three top-ten finishes in Kona to her credit. In this year’s 12 hour event, Dede dominated the solo field with an overall winning distance of 258 miles and an average pace of 21.7mph (again, with stop time included). Her distance was just 6 miles short of the 12-hour solo course record, set by Andrew Danly last year. Andrew is a friend of mine, and an absolute beast on a bike. I can assure you that this is no soft record.

As I sit here now piecing together the details of who this woman is, and remember what I was thinking (and saying), I can’t help but laugh at myself. Call it the mansplaining of the endurance racing world. Another lesson learned for me, thanks to this wonderful sport. And WOW, what an amazing performance from Dede Griesbauer, I hope we see you again next year!

Saturday 12:29PM
Still hanging in there at 21.5 (per my garmin, not the official race clock…ill look at that after we’re done). We should have two more long laps each, then we switch to the short lap, only 4 miles long and much flatter and easier. We’ve still got a good shot at 480, but it’s no gimme at this point!

There’s a one-lap gap in my Facebook posts at this point, and here’s why. On the uphill backstretch this time around, I was passed by one Christoph Strasser. Riding as a 2-man team allowed me to maintain a pace whereby I wasn’t passed often, and so whenever I heard somebody coming by me I yelled out in great joy, usually something brilliant like, “YEEEAAAHHH! GO GO GO!!!”. I know, poetic, right? Anyway, as I yelled I looked over to see Christoph smile broadly as he paced right past me. He appeared relaxed and under no strain whatsoever, just out for a little 550 mile bike ride.

The never-ending smile of Christoff Strasser

The never-ending smile of Christoph Strasser

As he cruised ahead, I somehow decided that I wasn’t a 50-something beer-drinking weekend warrior, and could try to keep him in sight to the end of the lap (still some 4 to 5 miles off). I bore down and pushed a bit harder into the climb. To my surprise, I was able to slow the widening of the gap somewhat. Now to be clear, I’m not saying I was reeling him in or even keeping pace…just slowing the opening of the gap. Nor did I have a thought for a minute that I could stay with him even though he had been riding straight through while I was doing every other lap. But how often does one get to pretend like he’s racing with the world’s best ultra-cyclist?

Strasser reach the crest of the uphill stinger a couple hundred yards ahead of me, and popped out of the saddle and crank up his speed for the waiting descent. I pushed hard to finish the uphill and followed suit, jumping out of the saddle to crank it up. Apparently, however, my “jump out of the saddle and crank it up” doesn’t look anything like his. By the time I settled back in to aero on the downhill, he had become a small speck of yellow in the distance. And so ends my brush with ultra-cycling greatness. I choose to believe he would have been impressed with my efforts…had he only slowed down enough to notice.
I pushed to the end of the lap as best I could, handed off to Terry, and limped back to the motorhome to collapse and try to recover for my final big lap.

Saturday 4:15PM
Finished my last big lap. Pushed it hard, now I have about an hour to recover and get ready for short laps. That’s probably the last you’ll hear from me until we’re done at 6:00

When I took over from Terry to start the short course, I calculated that we would need 4 short loops to reach 480. I told him I was taking 3 and he should be ready to do 1 or 2 more if there was time. My short laps went well. I even managed to PR the first one, bettering all short laps I had done in the prior two years and holding steady at a bit over 22mph. I pulled into the pits and found Terry amongst the crowd bustling about and preparing to cheer their racers on to the finish.

“One more,” I said to him. He feigned shock, as if he had no intention of riding another lap, then said that he needed a tail light. Thankfully another friend and ultra-racer extraordinaire, Michael Conti was at hand to help us swap the light from my bike to the back of his jersey, and he headed out to push us over 480.

As Terry rode off, Michael showed me his phone and said, “actually, you guys are already over 480.”

Terry putting down some miles

Terry putting down some miles

“That’s OK,” I said, “he needs to do another lap anyway.” Michael chuckled and replied, “I figured as much, that’s why I didn’t say anything.” We had a good laugh at pushing Terry out to hammer out one more lap, thinking our goal depended on him. And for the record, one should abstain from doing any sort of math after 24 hours of bike racing. Apparently I had the length of the short lap wrong!

Terry finished his last short loop in great time as well, at just over 20mph. And that was it. He pulled in from that final lap and I said, “we did it!”

“Yup” was his reply, and we headed back to the motorhome to get a quick shower and head out for dinner with Michael and Adam Bickett, who had done a little 240 mile training ride from his house out to see the finish of the race.

The very next time I checked into Facebook, I found this post from another of my brothers…

Saturday 6:02PM – Posted by Paul Walsh
Congratulations Rich and Terry. 487.2! Now have a beer.

Note the time on that post, probably just 3 minutes after our actual finish. Nice to know we have such a loyal on-line fan base…even if it is our brother. Thanks for following along Paul, and yes…we did indeed go have that beer!

It's still beer where I come from

It’s still beer where I come from

I’ll end this rambling as I did last year, with a recommendation to all of my cycling buddies to go out and find yourself a partner (or 3…there’s also a 4-person division) and find your way out to Borrego Springs next year. This is the very best event in the world to get your feet wet in ultra-cycling because the 18-mile loop format makes it so easy. No on-road support, no follow vehicles, and you get to race with the very best in the world, as well as regular guys like us. And besides, we could use the company!

Now let’s go see what the future brings.

Saints to Sinners – 522 miles through the Utah/Nevada Desert

Prologue

The email read, “Congratulations on your registration for Saints to Sinners”. The name intrigued me, as did the fact that I had never actually registered for this event. But since the race organizer was so nice as to have sent me an email, I went to the website to check it out, and found that (no real surprise) my brother Terry had signed us up the night before at something like 1:20AM, for a bicycle relay that covers 522 miles from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. I’m sure there was no alcohol whatsoever involved in that decision! Oh, and one more thing…this race through the desert was scheduled for the end of July!

Ok, so the fact is that we had been talking about doing this race for several years, and Terry just finally decided to pull the trigger. The relay event is mostly entered by 5 or 10 person teams, but every year there are a few solo racers and two-person teams that turn up as well. Together, my brother and I would be the latter, and to my knowledge we were the first ever entry in the “two brothers over 50 who both drive VW Golfs” division. We planned to use Terry’s enormous and incredibly plush motorhome as our leapfrog vehicle and racer lounge, and Terry was already working on recruiting a crew.

All painted up and ready to race.  Thanks Tera!!

All painted up and ready to race. Thanks Tera!!

Terry decided to start his own personal odyssey by driving Betty (that’s the 40’ rolling Taj Majal he calls a “camper”) from Phoenix to Salt Lake City, via San Diego to pick me up “on the way”. When he arrived at my place, I saw that his fiancé Tera had decorated Betty to let everyone know what we were up to. There were “Saints to Sinners” logos, a declaration of the race length of 522 miles, and one window had been scrawled with four words that succinctly and quite accurately describe our relationship: “Faster than my brother”. The phrase immediately became our team slogan.

To the Starting Line

Like a rolling dorm room

Like a rolling dorm room

So Thursday morning at 4:00AM, we hit the road. The drive to the race start was reasonably uneventful, and after something like 16 hours of cruising and jabbering about bicycles, bike racing, ultra racers we know, have ridden with, crewed for, or otherwise brushed up against (and now blame for our current predicament…you know who you are), we finally arrived at the hotel where the first two members of our crew had already arrived.

Crew member #1, Bill Wrona, is a longtime friend of ours, who first met Terry while working at Discount Tire Company about four thousand years ago. Bill started in that company as a part-timer changing tires, working under Terry. He somehow survived the experience of having Terry as a manager, and since that time has worked his way from a hired wrench into one of only 28 Senior Vice President positions in a company that now employs over 11,000 people. Just your average bike wrench.

Rich Ward center, Mark Smith on the right.  Bill Wrona to the left, sporting the hot pink reflective suspenders.

Rich Ward center, Mark Smith on the right. Bill Wrona to the left, racking bikes

Bill had invited a friend and fellow Discount Tire Vice President named Mark Smith to ride along and help out. Neither Terry nor I had met Mark before, but if Bill wanted him along that was plenty good enough for us. I love Bill Wrona like a brother (which may or may not be a good thing if you ask Terry), but I hadn’t actually seen him in quite a long time, and I was interested to see how a VP and an SVP of a major corporation would hold up to being asked to fill water bottles, rack bikes, and make sandwiches for a couple of guys racing for something like 30 hours straight through the Utah/Nevada desert. And so, we were all about to find out!

Our third crew member would be arriving later that evening, as he was hung up at the airport with a delayed flight. This final cog in the “Faster Than My Brother” machine is Rich Ward, who happens to have a Commercial Driver’s License, and has been driving large trucks in his various jobs for the past 20-or-so years. That skill would prove to be essential to our success as he was tasked with maneuvering Betty through some beautiful but sometimes rather tight back roads. But being an experienced driver isn’t all that Rich brings to the table. He, too, is a wildly successful business man who owns his own Snap-On Tools franchise and has held numerous annual top sales records over recent years. To sum up this crew as a power house would be a bit of an understatement.

OK, so we’ve all heard those stories where a bunch of guys with varied and unique backgrounds are thrown together under a stressful situation, but then somehow find common ground when tasked with a singular goal…and against all odds, come together and meld into a finely tuned machine that works together better than anyone could ever imagine. Well, this isn’t one of those stories. The fact is that the five of us felt like a team the moment we got together. Terry was the common thread for all of us except Mark, but Mark also fit in just as well as the rest of us. We shared dinner and a pre-race beer at a local restaurant, then hit the sack as early as possible, knowing that come tomorrow, we’d be racing!

Rock Star Bus

Rock Star Bus

Race Day

Terry and I awoke to the alarm and 3:30AM, and immediately started in with the jokes about how we could have taken up golf and still be sleeping. It never seems to get old between us. We had everything set to go from the night before, and in just a few minutes we walked out of the hotel to meet the crew who were already downstairs getting Betty warmed up and set to roll. As I exited the hotel, my bike and gear bag were taken from me by the crew, and I was escorted out to what suddenly looked like a rock star bus. I felt like a pro rider. If this was any indication of what was to come, I hoped I didn’t become some kind of egomaniacal prima donna.

At the race start, we met up with Michael Conti, who was the first person ever to finish this race as a solo racer, and who I had met last year when he stayed with us (at my cycling B&B…check out www.roadieshideawaycom if you don’t know), in the days leading up to his first solo RAAM endeavor. Michael made the effort to get up early and come down to the start to see us and all the other racers off on our adventure! He also brought me one of his RAAM Team kits (something I will treasure for the rest of my life) and a jacket, which would prove useful very shortly.

I took the first leg of the race, and rolled out with the rest of the first wave of teams at 5:00AM. A few of the racers jumped out front immediately and established a brisk pace for the first few miles. I hooked up with another recent friend, and one of Michael’s RAAM crew members. Craig Riddle is an ultra-racer who had originally planned to make a bid at the solo Saints to Sinners this year, but had some trouble with carving out adequate training time, and also didn’t have a full crew compliment, so he planned to treat the race as a training ride. I was able to ride and chat with Craig for a bit, and it was nice to have a friend next to me as I acclimated to this new race.

Just another perfect day on a bicycle

Just another perfect day on a bicycle

I stayed in the lead pack for the entire first leg (10 miles), and as a result I made good time and did very little work. None of those other teams stopped to exchange at the end of leg 1, however, and so Terry was left to ride off on his own, trailing some distance behind the lead pack. I felt sorry for him and mourned his difficult predicament for a solid 8 seconds before I settled back into the rockstar bus to relax and be driven up the road to the next exchange point, while being waited on hand-and-foot by our amazing crew. Rich Ward took the driver’s seat, of course, while Bill settled into the passenger seat to handle navigation and team morale. For the next 24-plus hours, every time we passed another racer, crew, or volunteer, Bill hung out the window of the motorhome and hollered and screamed his enthusiastic support. No matter how we performed in this race, people were going to remember us for our spirit! Mark took on the task of pushing calories, salt pills, liquids and information at me and/or Terry while one or the other of us lounged about on the couch.

Me and my bodyguard Bill

Me and my bodyguard Bill

I had devised a spreadsheet which spelled out my very rough estimate of how we would perform across each of the legs of the race. The total race time I had estimated was just over 29 hours, a time of which I would be very proud for our first attempt. Each time I got off the bike, I would ask Mark to report on what the estimated length of Terry’s current effort was going to be, as well as what kind of ride I had coming up next. The spreadsheet reported the distance, total gain and loss of elevation, and an estimated ride time of each of the legs. It took Mark only minutes to absorb the significance of the numbers, and to begin to report to us not only what info I had organized, but also to record our actual times and then give us encouraging reports when we had beat the estimate, or cleverly conceal any time we had fallen behind, by reporting how far ahead of the overall time we might be. Even after I figured out what he was up to, I soaked up his encouragement. I imagine that Mark is a great leader of people in his day-to-day life, just from observing him not only providing for our physical needs, but also looking for ways to keep us motivated and “in the game”. What a lucky stroke of good fortune for us that Bill was able to convince him to join our rolling party!

Meanwhile, Bill continued to squeal with great glee at anything on a bicycle, Rich Ward drove Betty like a pro, and me and Terry just pedaled.

Chaos meets Calculation

I set up to take over from Terry at the end of leg two. Several other racers were milling about as well, getting ready to take over from their own racers. After a short time, I saw Terry heading for the exchange point, out in front of the pack. Apparently he had caught the lead group once again, passed everyone else, and struck out on his own. However, as he approached, a pack of four other riders bore down and sprinted past him just before they all reached our exchange spot on the side of the road. Terry pulled up to me, handed me the timing chip and said, “Jeez, those guys came flying by me!” I said, “nice job” and meant it, then rolled out slowly, waiting for other riders to jump out on the road with me so I might grab a wheel for the third leg. However, there was so much turmoil and confusion with the other teams that nobody else was ready to roll. I heard riders shouting, “where do I go”, “where’s so-and-so?”, and even “that was stupid!” And so amidst the chaos, I decided to just ride out on my own and see if anyone caught me. That would be last time we saw another racer for the next twelve hours!

So it went for several legs throughout the morning. Michael Conti leapfrogged with us in his car for several hours, bouncing around in the race talking to and snapping photos of me, Terry and Craig Riddle as we pedaled along. Thanks for the company and calming presence Michael!

Taco Time!

Taco Time!

Taco Time!

At one of the exchanges around the middle of the day, Bill wandered off to get lunch for the crew. He came back with and enormous bag emblazoned with the logo “TACO TIME!”. This being so early in the race, my stomach felt fine and I was hungry, and so I joined in the taco party. These were not the very best tacos I’ve ever eaten, but I will say that I enjoyed them quite a lot at the time, and for several hours afterward.

The start of the race was organized into three waves, each starting an hour apart. This gives slower riders more time to reach the various time cutoffs, and ultimately the finish line. As a two-man team, we launched with the first wave at 5:00AM, and had been off the front of that wave of slower teams since Terry had pulled out ahead in the second leg. I knew there were faster teams who had since begun, both at 6:00AM and 7:00AM, and I wondered how long it would be before we were caught by them. Even though we had nobody to chase and nobody to draft off of, it was fun being out front, pretending that we (the only two-man team this year) were actually leading the race.

The Big Climb

There is a fair amount of climbing, about 13,000 feet, stacked into the first half of this glorious course, with one major climb up to the 9900’ summit of Cedar Breaks at mile 220. I began to speculate as to whether we might be able to reach that summit and plunge down the other side before being caught by any of those faster teams. When you are off the front, there is no way to know where other teams are during this event, as there is no real-time tracking. The teams behind can ask at each of the exchange points about what teams had come through already, but for us, no intelligence was available (actually, a pretty familiar feeling). So folks coming up from behind knew about us, but we didn’t know squat. All we could do was put our heads down and pedal.

Waiting for Godot - those skies don't look so friendly

Waiting for Godot – those skies don’t look so friendly

I waited at the exchange point just before the start of the big climb, and wondered why Terry seemed to be taking so long. I could see storm clouds gathering rather quickly around us, and wondered if, as they say at the Pirates of the Caribbean, “ye may be gettin’ wet”. Then a crew car from one of the other teams pulled in and told us that Terry was back up the road just a few miles, changing a flat. Well, that explained the delay then, at least in part. When Terry finally did make it in, he also complained of massive headwinds for the past long stretch. He said he had only been able to maintain 16MPH, when our overall average had been just over 20MPH up to that point. He was frustrated, but as I yelled out to him, “it is what it is”, and I was off to start the climb.

This big climb is not terribly steep but it is long; about 50 miles and 5200 vertical feet. The race organizer has broken it up into 4 legs, which meant I would climb parts 1 and 3, and Terry would take 2 and 4, also meaning he would do the final push at elevation, climbing from 8500 feet to over 9900. At the end of my first stage of climbing I was passed by a crew vehicle I had not seen before, a black truck with four very expensive bikes in the back. That, I thought, must be the first of the faster groups beginning to catch us…the real race leader. I saw no sign of other riders, even through my second climbing stage, but I was again passed by that truck.

There were some other racers at this next exchange…a sure sign that the chasing teams were getting close. One of the funny things about Terry and I is that we ride almost exactly the same bike fit, even though we’re not really exactly the same size. In this race, since Terry has an ultra-light climbing machine of a Madone 7.2, we were both riding this bike on the Cedar Breaks climb. When I rolled into the pits for the final exchange on the climb, I handed the bike to Terry and he yelled out “Cutter style” to the other racers who watched with gaping mouths as we not only handed of the timing chip, but also the bike we were both riding!

After handing off to Terry for his final push, we took Betty up the road a ways and Bill decided it was time to push his position as chief morale officer to a whole new level. Apparently one of the three suitcases he traveled with contained an amazing array of masks and costumes. He posted up along the road in a stunning ensemble and shouted out encouragement to Terry as he rode past. From that moment on, we were never certain what Bill and the others might be wearing the next time we saw them, and I’m told we never saw the very best of Bill’s wardrobe. If we were to decide to repeat this debacle again next year, I’m in great fear of what we might see!

Do these guys look like wildly successful businessmen?

Do these guys look like wildly successful businessmen?

Hey, You’re that Two-Man Team

Meanwhile, we drove the rest of the way up to the top of the mountain to wait, hoping that Terry could fend off whatever teams were now surely breathing down our necks. There, just shy of the ultimate summit, I hopped out of Betty headed for the volunteer table, to thank the kind folks there for making this whole event possible, as I and Terry had done at every other exchange point along the course. Before I had covered a few strides, a rider from a group with one of the best names in the race, “Team Halffast”, came out from another motorhome parked nearby and headed straight for me.

“Outstanding ride!” he announced as he beamed and reached out to pump my hand.

“Thanks so much,” I replied, rather overwhelmed by the warm reception from this unknown rider.

“Yeah, only two of you right?” I was shocked that he knew who we were and was making such a big deal out of it. “We’ve been chasing you all day, you guys are doing great!” I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but this racer, whose name I’m sorry to not have gotten, could not have made me feel any better or more accomplished. It was great to have our efforts recognized by fellow racers!

Volunteers make this race happen

Volunteers make this race happen

I finally made my way to the volunteers to give my thanks. One of the gentlemen there said, “Oh, you’re the two-man team, are you the one from San Diego?” I answered yes, again amazed that he knew who we were, and then he said that we had conversed via e-mail. I immediately realized I was speaking with Steven Tew, the race organizer. It was my turn now to pump his hand in great gratitude as I thanked him for his tireless efforts in putting on such a grand event. He mirrored the Halffast racer’s sentiment as to our performance thus far, and we chatted for a bit about how lucky we had been to have light cloud cover throughout the day to help keep us cool (-ish), and how tough some of the sections of headwind had been, when the call of “Rider Up!” rang out.

Since we had been out front pretty much from the beginning, I immediately trotted over to the motorhome to get on my gloves, and the jacket given to me by Michael just that morning, in preparation to take over from Terry and hit the descent. I returned to the exchange and looked up the road, and felt just a slight tinge of disappointment as I realized the first rider was not Terry, but a member of the 10-person Sprocket Rockets team. It was certainly inevitable that they would catch us, but my (somewhat random) hope of holding them off over Cedar Breaks was not to be. Their first rider came through at 7:42PM, just 4 minutes ahead of Terry. This meant they had gained the 2 hour headstart we were given, over the span of just over 14 hours. Not so bad, I suppose, for a couple of aging, beer-drinking brothers from the West side of Phoenix and their monster support crew.

The Big Descent

Just a short time later, Terry came through and handed off to me, so I could enjoy the 9 mile descent down from Cedar Breaks. I had decided to take two pulls here, to relieve the motorhome of having to chase me down the twisting/turning descent and get set up for an exchange right at the bottom. As I careened down the mountain, however, the temperature began to climb quickly and I knew that I was going to be overdressed for the next leg, which was a grinding 16 mile shallow ascent up toward St. George. The beautiful jacket that Michael had given me has zip-off sleeves, and I starting to wonder if I might be capable of removing them while out on the road. Luckily, it turned out that wasn’t going to be necessary because about 2/3 of the way down, I was passed by Rich Ward driving Betty as if she were a Porsche 911. They set up at the exchange and came out on the road to see if there was anything I needed before I headed on for the next leg. I stopped and with the exchange of just a couple words, they quickly helped me remove the jacket, transferred the timing chip from there to my jersey, refreshed my bottles, stuck a new ensure into my back pocket and shooed me back out onto the road in a matter of roughly 30 seconds. As I said earlier, it was as if this team had been racing together for years. Even the volunteer working that station remarked at our fantastic teamwork, while snapping a never-ending stream of photos that I sincerely hope to see one day!

It’s not all Rainbows and Unicorns

Bedding down between shifts

Bedding down between shifts

Up to this point, I had been feeling really good the entire race. My legs were tired but I felt like I was still putting out good power and had been able to maintain a good average speed. Up until this point…as I said. This next stage, which I was taking back-to-back from the long descent, was a 19 miler with just over a thousand feet of climbing. On paper, it should be reasonably easy, especially compared to the climb over Cedar Breaks that we had just completed. But a stiff headwind, oncoming darkness, and a bit of dehydration all conspired against me to make this the absolute longest pull of the entire race. To make matters worse, the Ensure shake that the boys had given me to give me fuel through the double pull had fallen out of my pocket and bounced down a ditch where I didn’t even consider stopping to try to find it, so I was also starting to run low on calories. I pushed along and eventually found my way into the pits where my crew and the volunteers gave me a hardy cheer. I immediately found my way onto the couch and started trying to decide what I should try to eat and drink to set myself back on track.

Meanwhile, Terry continued to push through the exhaustion and pain and put up incredibly strong, consistent times. We drove through the twisting, turning, climbing road out of Saint George, and came upon the next exchange point, and I lay resting on the couch as usual as Rich and Bill chatted quietly about where best to park Betty the behemoth. I thought nothing of this, as I had thought nothing of any of the concerns of driving a 40 foot motorhome through the tiny backroads of Utah for the entire race, because we had a professional driver in charge. If this sounds like a small thing, I will tell you it is anything but that. Because I completely trusted Rich, I was able to completely relax while off shift and never concern myself with whether or not he was in control of the motorhome. It was never even a question and therefore Terry and I were able to get maximum rest while off shift. Have I mentioned that our crew truly made this whole thing possible and an absolute dream come true?

So when I got out of the bus I was shocked to see the tight spot where Rich had backed Betty into, in the dark, maneuvering off a steep little two-lane road. Amazing!

The Toughest Guy I Know

The threatening rains from earlier resulted in just a few little spits and sprinkles, but never did amount to anything of note. The next few pulls through the night went well, and we kept pace as we completed the long climb out of St. George and descended down the other side. I took what would be my last night-time pull and ended by pushing into a stiff (probably 20-25MPH) headwind before handing off to Terry. As I gave him the timing chip he let me know he had been feeling pretty shaky during the last rest, with stomach cramps. His next pull was going to be a big challenge anyway, with the big headwind, and because he was facing 10 miles of Interstate which neither of us had been looking forward to. I asked if he needed me to take a double and he shrugged and said, “let’s see how it goes”.

“Just dial it back some and take it easy,” I offered, then retreated back to the motorhome to rest while the others fretted about how Terry was feeling.

As I closed my eyes, I heard Bill tell Mark, “Terry is the toughest guy I know. If he’s complaining about something, it’s bad.” Rich parked the motorhome near the freeway entrance, and they all watched as Terry climbed up onto the Interstate. As the crew fretted together for Terry, and in my great concern, I dozed off for the first real sleep since we had started this whole thing. When I awoke, I heard Bill yelling excitedly. They had driven up to where Terry was, battling the headwinds on the final stretches of the freeway section. Bill had yelled out the window to ask if Terry was OK, and he replied with a thumbs-up.

“I’m OK!” he shouted.

Terry had somehow already recovered, in the midst of the worst pull of the entire race. As Bill said, Terry is one of the toughest guys we know.

S2S16

Sunrise

My next pull was pure joy. The road had flattened into gentle rollers and the sun was coming up. The best part of riding through the night is this first pull in the early morning light, as the world is waking up. I’ve ridden this shift in 3 or 4 different events now, and it is always magical. During the night, I had been having a very difficult time holding onto my aero position. My neck was aching, making it tough to keep my head up. My shoulders burned, and I felt like my power was off when down on the aerobars. But now that the sun was up and the birds were chirping, all of that pain completely vanished, and I was once again able to ride for miles in aero. Funny what tricks our mind plays on us!

Bill and the rest of the crew continued on with more costume shenanigans on the last few early morning pulls through the desert near Lake Meade, and the finish of the race.

More sinners than saints on this trip

More sinners than saints on this trip

Then on my second-to-last pull, I had another team’s support vehicle leapfrog with me for a good long while. They would bounce ahead a ways, then get out of their car and cheer me on. It was a great joy to have these fellow sportsmen out on the road giving me support! I had the chance to see them at the next exchange, and thank them for the boost they gave me in this late stage of the race.

At the last exchange, I was surprised at the power I was still able to put out, climbing through the big rollers that challenged us all the way to the very end. Unsure of how Terry was feeling, I asked him if he wanted me to take a few more miles and he immediately said no, he was feeling great. Good I thought, finish up your last pull and I’ll take it home from there!

The End

I took over the reins just 9 miles from the finish line, and after one last little stinger of a climb, coasted in to find Terry waiting at the final turn. We rode in under the banner together, to the cheers of our crew, Tera, and about six other adoring fans (who were actually just more race volunteers). That’s how it goes at these ultra events. The finish line is rarely the spectacle you might hope it would be after such an epic adventure. But that’s not really what it’s all about anyway, is it? Together, the five of us had an adventure of a lifetime. Our incredible crew minimized the stress and difficulty and maximized the fun, making it possible for Terry and I to concentrate on keeping the bikes moving, and on remembering to enjoy the ride. We finished 7th overall in a field of close to 50 teams, in 29 hours and 34 minutes. I had estimated 29 hours and 15 minutes in the spreadsheet, and I’m very proud of our work to come so close to that rather optimistic estimate on our first attempt. One of the things we did exceptionally well was to limit our time off the bike and ensure that one of us was always out there on the road pedaling, thanks in no small part to our fabulous crew. Thanks again boys, for keeping us rolling and making it fun!

Terry having fun!

Terry having fun!

The Saints to Sinners course and event are absolutely stellar, and I would recommend this to anyone who can put together a team (2, 5 or 10 riders). Steven has done a great job of balancing control and safety with simplicity, and this may just be my favorite event I have ever been a part of. I can’t say for certain whether or not we’ll be back next year, but since it ends in Vegas, I’d say the odds are pretty good. Hopefully we’ll see some of the rest of you out there too! In the meantime, come see me at the Roadies Hideaway, we’ll have a room and a fabulous stretch of pavement waiting for you!

IMG_1803

The Real End

24 Hours of Joy and Misery

The 2015 24-12-6 Hour World Time Trial Championships

Prologue

I’ve written this down as best I can from my muddled memory, challenged by lack of sleep and deprived of oxygen to the brain.  If some things seem out of order they probably are.  If some things seem like they don’t make sense, they probably don’t.  And if some things seem improbable, it’s because I made shit up just to make us look more epic than we really are.

The Rolling Taj Mahal

The Rolling Taj Mahal

 

Lap 1 – Rich, 6:04 pm

Just like last year, I took the line for the first lap.  Terry (my brother) and I never discussed it, that’s just the way it is.  And just like last year, I went out a little hot.  That, too, is just the way it is.  I started in the 4th of four waves, with the rest of the multi-rider teams.  This meant that once we got rolling, a constant string of riders stretched out in front of me, enticing me to quicken my pace a bit in order to pass them.  I chased a never ending string of blinking red taillights, like mobile holiday lights strung out on an 18 mile loop from Christmas Circle.

At one point I found myself in a snarl of 8 or so riders who filled the lane from centerline to edge of pavement, and I had just passed a guy who’s pace was a little faster than I should have been going.  But now that I passed him, I had to KEEP going so as not to hang him up in the traffic.  The group was spread out evenly across the full lane like a marching band, so I jumped the double yellow and started rolling around the whole bunch in the other lane.  Then I saw headlights coming the other way.  No immediate danger, they were a long way off, but I pushed the pace a bit more just to be sure I got cleanly around everyone long before it became an issue.  In the dark I couldn’t see my Garmin, but I could feel that my heart rate and breathing had definitely spiked higher than I had intended, especially for the first lap of a 24 hour race…no electronics necessary to tell me that.

I reached down and tapped my Garmin.  28mph.  Crap.  Definitely letting adrenaline get the best of me.   Relax.  Settle back down to a more reasonable pace. The voices in my head are so practical at times like this.

As I regained my composure, I watched that guy I had passed earlier come back around me.  I kept him in sight as I ground out the rest of the lap and rolled into the pits knowing I had pushed it too hard, but felt good about the starting lap.  Terry waited eagerly on the far side of the timing tables, one foot clipped in, ready to go.  I gave him a shout of encouragement…something along the lines of, “let’s go bonehead!”, and off he rolled.

LAP 1 Lap Overall
Time 46:27 46:27
Distance 18 18
Avg Speed 23.25 23.25

 

Lap 2 – Rich, 6:46 pm

My goal between laps was to spend as many of my 50 to 60 minutes as possibly laying on the couch in my brother’s incredibly comfy 200-foot-long motorhome, eating and drinking as much as I could manage without making myself sick.  I suppose that’s about as close to a race strategy as I possessed.  After my first lap, I had just gotten settled in on the couch with a banana and some Gatorade, when my cell phone rang.  The screen showed it was Terry calling.  This couldn’t be good.

Me: “What’s up?”

Terry: “Headlight failed. I’m at the right turn after the zig-zag”

Me:  “hmmm…”

I knew he had no spare light with him, because we had talked about it before the race, but of course…had done nothing about it.  I didn’t know the race course well enough to realize that he was only at mile 6 of the lap, at the intersection of Henderson Canyon Road and Borrego Valley Road.  Sitting here now in the relative calm and comfort of my living room, I know that the most sensible thing would have been to let the race director know that my brother needed a ride back to the pits, and I could just start that lap over immediately.  Sure, we would give up those 6 miles he had already ridden, but that would only be something like 15 minutes of time, and it would ensure that we were back on the road without any further issues.  But that’s not what I did.  Instead, I found the race director and had him take my light out to Terry so he could continue on with his lap.  Something bothered me about that plan as I put it into action, I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

With that problem seemingly solved, I headed back to the motorhome to find that MY spare light wasn’t working.  Perfect!  I went next door to Greg Musser’s trailer and knocked on the door, knowing I was likely going to be costing his crew some sleep.  Mark Shalauta, one of his two stellar crew members, helped me find a spare light from Greg’s stores and I headed back to the motorhome to get it mounted.  The clamp wasn’t big enough to fit around the crossbar I had fitted into my aerobars, but I was able to get it mounted with a couple of zip ties.   Good enough for who it’s for!  Just as I was settling back in to rest, my phone rang again.

Terry: “Light died again.  Only a couple hundred yards further.  Think it’s the battery.”

Me:  “fuck”

Voices in my head:  “FFFFFUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKK!!!!”

I told him to sit tight and somebody would pick him up and drive him back to the pits, while I went out to ride the lap.  I then called Race HQ and let them know that my brother was already wimping out and needed a ride back to the pits (no joke, that’s what I said.  They just said, “OK”).  By the time I got rolling for the second start of our second lap, we had lost about 50 minutes…way more than we would have lost had I just started riding immediately after the problem had begun.  Live and learn!

Out on the road I was making good time.  I was about halfway around when suddenly my borrowed light was shining straight up into my face.  I reached down and pushed it back where it should be but as soon as I let go it went back to pointing up into my face.   The zip ties had slipped so that the light would no longer stay in place, but I couldn’t pull it off the bar completely because the zip ties were laced through the light housing.  I rode the rest the lap holding one aerobar with my left hand, and the light with my right.  I was a tad frustrated.  But this is ultra-racing, and adversity comes with the territory.  I finally found my way, partially by brail, back into the pits, and gratefully handed back off to Terry.  He had his light situation completed handled by then.  If by some chance we find ourselves back out there next year, you can bet we’ll have spare lights mounted on both bikes, and we’ll make sure they’re all working before the starting bell rings.

  LAP 2 Lap Overall
Time 1:40:03 2:26:30
Distance 18 36
Avg Speed 10.79 14.74

 

Lap 3 – Terry, 8:26 pm

While Terry was finally out finishing his first lap, I set my original headlight back up so I’d be ready for my next lap, then settled in to eat a PBJ sandwich and relax a bit.  We were now 2 and half hours in, had covered about 2/3 of the miles we should have, and I had barely eaten anything.  Rest time for this lap was short, and unrestful, and as I got up to get ready for my next lap I could tell the temperature was dropping fast out there.  I put on the new ASSOS tights and light jacket given to me just for this occasion by Hans  Bergman (my hero!), and headed back down to the exchange point to wait.  I didn’t wait too long, as Terry killed his first full lap.  Finally we’re racing!

  LAP 3 Lap Overall
Time 51.31 3:18:01
Distance 18 54
Avg Speed 21.0 16.36

Lap 4 – Rich, 9:18 pm

Things started to hurt a bit more than expected on lap 4.  I didn’t have anything specific to attribute it to, but my neck was aching (way too early for that!), I was a little headachy, and just generally not feeling very powerful.  I only chanced a few looks at my Garmin during this lap, and was relieved to see that I was still moving at a reasonable pace, but I was worried about how I was feeling.  Probably just needed to get into a rhythm, I thought. Aside from feeling kinda meh, and the rapidly dropping temps, nothing much to say about Lap 4.  I handed the reins back to Terry and quickly headed back to the motorhome for what I hoped would be my first good uninterrupted rest of the race.

  LAP 4 Lap Overall
Time 50.37 4:08:38
Distance 18 72
Avg Speed 21.33 17.37

Lap 5 – Terry, 10:08 pm

Once back to the motorhome, I noticed that Terry had fired up the heater, which felt good as I settled into the couch with an Ensure and another Gatorade.  I set the alarm on my phone for 40 minutes into the future, pounded the liquid calories, and closed my eyes.  As I cooled off from the effort of the last lap, I started to feel a little chilly, and covered up with a sleeping bag. I actually shivered for a little while until I finally warmed up and got comfortable. I don’t think I ever actually slept on this break, but I did get to relax and keep my legs up so I could prepare for the next lap.  Solo racers are not so lucky!

  LAP 5 Lap Overall
Time 54.04 5:02:43
Distance 18 90
Avg Speed 19.97 17.83

 

Lap 6 – Rich, 11:02 pm

I knew we had time to make up from the headlight fiasco, and I was determined to keep my average pace over 20mph, so I pushed out hard on Lap 6.  Also, with the temps now falling into the 40s, I wanted to get moving and up to operating temperature as quickly as possible.  By the time I got to the first right turn (about 3 miles into the lap), I was warm, but still not feeling exactly right.  I was able to push out the lap at an average pace over 20, but had the first thoughts of, “why am I doing this?”  Not a good sign with so few hours behind and so many ahead. “Shut up and pedal stupid, you chose this”, the friendly voice in my head shouted.

When I got back to the pits Terry was waiting there with his bike, under what looked like a pile of blankets that Greg Musser’s crew had generously layered on him as he waited.  I was glad to see it, because it meant that I was likely to get the same treatment when I came back out to wait, and also that I would have Mark and Teresa Beck to chat with between laps.  We had been adopted by these two the year before, and they are great company to have around when you’re suffering!

  LAP 6 Lap Overall
Time 53.17 5:56:00
Distance 18 108
Avg Speed 20.27 18.20

Lap 7 – Terry, 11:56 pm

I got back to the motorhome and quickly got under the covers on the couch so I wouldn’t get chilled like last time.  But after about 5 minutes to cool down from the effort, I again started to shiver.  This time the cold and shivering lasted much longer before I finally warmed up some, but I never really got totally comfortable.  This in spite of the fact that the heater was blasting away inside the motorhome.  I started to wonder if my blah feeling on the bike and the way I was getting so cold between pulls was a sign of something sinister, like the onset of a cold or something.  I didn’t have too much time to think about it before the phone alarm went off and it was time to get out there for another lap.

  LAP 7 Lap Overall
Time 55.43 6:51:43
Distance 18 126
Avg Speed 19.38 18.36

Lap 8 – Rich, 12:51 am

I got down to the course and posted up with my bike to wait for Terry to finish his lap.  Thankfully, Mark was there waiting for Greg to come in, and he piled a couple of blankets on me to keep me warm as I waited.  Terry came in right on schedule, and commented on the double jacket layers I had donned.  “I’m freezing,” I replied.  “Can’t even get warm between laps.”

“You need to get out of your wet stuff between laps,” he shouted as I ditched the blankets and rolled away.  That’s one of the funny things about doing this race as a two man team with my brother.  We’re out there racing together for 24 hours, but we only see each other for about 10 seconds at a time, once every hour (perfect for us, really).  On some laps I would plan exactly what I was going to say…some line that seemed really funny or something…and then totally forget to say it once I got there.  But it’s great at the end of the race when we get to relax with a beer in hand and compare notes about the whole ordeal.

Anyway, Lap 8 was sluggish to start.  It took me a while to get warm and up to speed, but I was able to maintain a reasonable pace, although each consecutive lap so far had been a bit slower than the one before.  I still didn’t feel like I was firing on all cylinders.

  LAP 8 Lap Overall
Time 56:41 7:48:24
Distance 18 144
Avg Speed 19.08 18.45

Lap 9 – Terry, 1:48 am

Again I found Terry shedding blankets as I rolled in.  He reminded me to get out of my wet gear before I settled in, and was off into the dark for another 18 miles.  I quickly headed for the motorhome, and did exactly as he said, and it was brilliant. It pains me a great deal to say that about advice given by my brother, but whatever…everyone gets lucky every now and then.

I kept the ASSOS tights on, but stripped off the two layers of jackets and jersey I was wearing, and hung them on a floor pump in front of a heater vent to dry.  I toweled off a bit and then quickly jumped under a sleeping bag on the couch and I was immediately warm and comfy.  While I relaxed, I got a text from Adam Bickett, asking how things were going.  I told him things were cold mostly, but we were doing OK.  He let me know he would be leaving soon, to ride out from his place to see us…a nice little solo double century training ride that he would start from his place at 3:00AM.  Such is the life of a solo RAAM racer!

After hearing from Adam, I was comfy and warm on the couch during this break. I think I even managed to doze off for a bit before my phone chirped, and it was time to get back to racing.

 

  LAP 9 Lap Overall
Time 58:21 8:46:45
Distance 18 162
Avg Speed 18:51 18.45

Lap 10 – Rich, 2:46 am

“Good call on the wet clothes!” I called to Terry as we made the exchange.  I rolled out and tried to settle into a solid cadence as my legs warmed back up.  To my surprise, I seemed to have more power and felt more comfortable than I had for the past couple laps.  I relaxed in the aero bars, and don’t remember feeling any of the aches or pains from earlier, and I was able to maintain my pace with far less mental negotiations with those doubting voices in my head.  It was still plenty cold out, but things were looking up on this lap!

When I got back into the pits, I yelled, “Much better” to Terry, but he didn’t mirror my enthusiasm.

“My lungs feel terrible,” he replied.

“You want me to do another lap?” I asked, willing…but hoping he would decline the offer.

“Naw, let’s see how it goes.  But this might be it for me.”

I was shocked to hear this from Terry.  Anyone who’s ever been around this guy knows that he’s basically bulletproof.  If he was complaining about something, then it must be serious.

  LAP 10 Lap Overall
Time 55:37 9:42:22
Distance 18 180
Avg Speed 19:42 18.55

 

Lap 11 – Terry, 3:42 am

I found my way back to the motorhome and settled back in, hoping Terry would be OK.  My concern for him kept me up for at least 35 seconds once I was out of my wet gear and under the covers on the couch.  All I remember of this break was the sound of my alarm waking me back up, and remarking to myself about how it was getting harder and harder to get off the couch.

  LAP 11 Lap Overall
Time 1:02:07 10:44:29
Distance 18 198
Avg Speed 17.39 18.43

Lap 12 – Rich, 4:44 am

To my surprise, when Terry rolled in from his lap, he said he was doing OK.  He said once he got back to riding his lungs felt better.  Cool!  I rolled out for lap #12.  Just like my last lap, once I started to warm up I felt pretty good.  Things were definitely going better for me, in spite of riding through the cold dark night.  My euphoria lasted for about 10 miles of the 18 mile lap.  And then I realized that I had been making the most rookie of all mistakes.  You may not have caught it, but I haven’t mentioned anything about food in my last two breaks.  I was so concerned with getting myself warm and comfy and resting, that I had pretty much been ignoring calorie intake.  And now it had caught up to me like a ton of bricks, which might as well be tied to the back of my bike for the speed I was now going.  I knew I had about half a lap left, including that annoying little 2-3% grinder at the end, but I had nothing with me except water.    All I could do was try to stay aero and grind it out.  Stupid stupid STUPID!!!  How does one completely forget to eat while doing an endurance cycling event!  Turns out, it’s actually pretty easy to do, especially when you’ve been battling other discomforts.  I like racing without a crew, for the most part…but there are times when a clear head would be helpful!

Eventually I forced my way back to the start/finish line at what felt like a walking pace, and handed off to Terry.  I was a good 5 minutes longer than my slowest lap so far, at about 2mph slower average pace.

I yelled, “Damn, I need calories!” as I rolled up to Terry.

He replied, “Go eat, bonehead!”

Brilliant Terry…great advice.  Go eat bonehead.  I’ll do that.

  LAP 12 Lap Overall
Time 1:01:26 11:45:55
Distance 18 216
Avg Speed 17.58 18.36
Come on Sun!!

Come on Sun!!

Lap 13 – Terry, 5:45 am

Back at the mobile Taj Mahal, I slammed an Ensure, a banana, two slices of bread with peanut butter and a Gatorade.  That should get me back on track.  I then lay down to rest knowing that the sun would be coming up when I got up for my next lap.  Oh how I looked forward to that!  I didn’t sleep much during this break, but rested as my stomach worked away at the calories I had shoved into it.

  LAP 13 Lap Overall
Time 59:40 12:45:35
Distance 18 234
Avg Speed 18.10 18.34

Lap 14 – Rich, 6:45 am

With the sun up, I decided on only one jacket, but stayed with the tights for this lap.  When Terry rolled in he said his lungs were fine while he was riding, just not great lying down.  He seemed chipper enough, and I was glad to see him feeling better.  Daybreak is an incredible  boost on these overnight affairs!  On this lap my stomach definitely felt like I had just eaten an enormous amount of calories, but at least I was able to turn over the pedals and maintain a reasonable pace.  And did I mention, the sun was up!  It felt great to finally be able to see the roads we were racing on.

  LAP 14 Lap Overall
Time 56:16 13:41:51
Distance 18 252
Avg Speed 19.19 18.40

 

Lap 15 – Terry, 7:41 am

Don’t recall the conversation at this exchange, not that it matters.  Terry and I said something inane to one another, then he headed out for another lap and I rolled back to the motorhome.  At this point I knew it was going to be warm enough for shorts on my next lap, so I stripped off those amazing ASSOS tights, donned a fresh pair of bibs.   I then fell deeply asleep for about 30 minutes, and woke up just before the alarm went off.  Sure sign that I was getting into the rhythm.  I was out in the sunshine, smiling away as I waited for Terry to roll in.  His average speed had slowed a bit, as to be expected after a long night of racing, but his snarling scowl and nasty demeanor let me know that everything was going OK with him.

  LAP 15 Lap Overall
Time 1:00:43 14:42:35
Distance 18 270
Avg Speed 17.79 18.36

Lap 16 – Rich, 8:42 am

The calories from two laps back had finally been turned into fuel, and with the warming morning sunshine I felt great!  This lap is a prime example of why it’s worth battling through multiple layers of adversity, in order to experience the deep felt euphoria that comes from pushing yourself harder than you think you might be capable.  This wasn’t my fastest lap of the race, but it was definitely the lap that I will remember as my best.  I just felt GOOD on this lap, and I knew that Terry and I would be able to finish this thing strong.  I’m sure that my actual thoughts were even more corny than that, but you get the idea.  THIS is why I came out the desert…to ride this lap!

  LAP 16 Lap Overall
Time 51:32 15:34:07
Distance 18 288
Avg Speed 20.95 18.50

Lap 17 – Terry, 9:34 am

I rolled into the pits to find Terry looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, chomping at the bit to get rolling.  OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  He actually looked like he had been hit by a truck, and  could use a shower and a nice strong cup of coffee.  But whatever, my lap was done…it was his turn.  I watched him roll out and saw him struggling to get clipped in.  I felt a little bad for him, knowing how as you get tired even the simplest things can become challenging, and knowing that everyone else around was watching him struggle just to get clipped in.  As supportive as I could muster, I shouted, “You know those things connected to your feet are what make it go”.  Got a few chuckles from the peanut gallery, then off to rest in the motorhome.

  LAP 17 Lap Overall
Time 1:01:59 16:36:06
Distance 18 306
Avg Speed 17.42 18.43

Lap 18 – Rich, 10:36 am

Not too far into Lap 18 I came upon the legend that is Seana Hogan (if you don’t know…google her, she’s all that and more!).  She was riding solo, and easy to spot as she’s always pushing a huge gear, even when 16 hours into a 24 hour race.  I yelled something lame like, “keep turning them over Seana, you’re awesome!”, and she generously replied “you too!”.   This is what I love about this event.  I get to ride on course with legends like Seana!  I gave her a fist-pump as I rolled along.  I wonder where this fist-pump thing came from.  It’s a very satisfying gesture, that just comes naturally when you’re doing something like a 24 hour time trial.  Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that raising your arms makes you look bigger, which would be an advantage when engaging in a life threatening altercation, or when hunting or something…

Oh sorry, was I wandering?  Yep, that happens out on course too.  I can only imagine where my mind would go if I was capable of doing this solo!

  LAP 18 Lap Overall
Time 54:01 17:30:07
Distance 18 324
Avg Speed 19.99 18.51

Lap 19 – Terry, 11:30 am

During this exchange a guy with a  video camera ran up and filmed our interchange, in which I said something like “Hey Terry, you’re really doing great”, and he replied with something like “fuck you.”  That might not have been exactly what we said, but that’s how I remember it.  I only hope that the video makes it out onto the internet so you can all experience the brilliance of our repartee.  In any case, Terry was off racing, and I was off to sleep some more.  I texted with my amazing and ever-supportive wife Vicki, who watched the race via the updates on the 24 Hour Worlds website.  She let me know that we had battled our way back into 2nd place among the teams, with only Beau and Babe ahead of us.  I assured her that we were doing everything we could to close that gap, then settled in for a snoozer.

  LAP 18 Lap Overall
Time 1:01:18 18:31:26
Distance 18 342
Avg Speed 17.61 18.46

Lap 20 – Rich, 12:31 pm

Self Portrait – David Whyte, from Fire in the Earth

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God or many gods. I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others. I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the center of your longing. I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat. I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

 

Folks who know me well know that sometimes I recite poetry, either in my head or out loud, when I’m riding.  It’s either a sign that I’m dialed in and totally in the zone, or that I’m struggling and trying to get my mind off the pain.  In this case I recited this David Whyte gem a number of times, out loud, as I circled the route for the 10th time.  I felt tired, but good, and was pulling out every trick I had to try and keep my average up over 20mph.  I didn’t succeed for this lap, but my personal average was still there.

 

  LAP 20 Lap Overall
Time 54:31 19:25:57
Distance 18 360
Avg Speed 19.81 18.53

Lap 21 – Terry, 1:25 pm

I rolled into the pits, but no sign of my brother.  Teri Beck saw the confused look on my face and jumped in to try to help, but there wasn’t really anything to be done.  I said, “Let me roll down and see where he is,” and the commotion of us talking attracted some attention around us in the pits.  Then I looked down to the other end of the pits where our motorhome was parked, and saw Terry rolling my way.

“There he is” I said, and then shouted something encouraging to him like, “Sorry, did I wake you?”

That was all it took to get the rest of the entertainment starved officials and crew members milling about to join in to heckle my brother.  I heard shouts of “Come on old man”, and “Hey, hussle up!”.  It warmed my heart to see all these folks I didn’t really know, coming together in my support…and more importantly, to attach my brother for being late the party.

Terry, of course, was completely undeterred, and headed out for another lap.

  LAP 21 Lap Overall
Time 1:06:44 20:32:41
Distance 18 378
Avg Speed 16.19 18.40

Lap 22 – Rich, 2:32 pm

Out of the saddle, get the speed up.

Immediate right to roll out onto the course, the nice big pedal strokes to maintain speed as you warm up.

Turn Right, watch out for that big gouge right in the apex of the corner.

Right, then quick left…don’t cut it too tight, watch out for cars coming the other way.

Right turn, followed by the best pavement of the whole course, slight downhill…bliss!

Run the stop sign, at the direction of the flag-person of course.

Keep the speed up for the rest of this straight-away, then curve left

Curve right and grind out the little riser that looks like it should be downhill.  WTF?

Turn right at the abandoned gas station, and start the uphill.

At the place where they trenched out the asphalt for a gas pipe then refilled it, finally start the downhill. Easy from here!

Push it hard all the way back to Christmas Circle, turn right, then back to the pits.

And that’s what a lap of the 24 Hour Worlds feels like.

  LAP 22 Lap Overall
Time 54:27 21:27:07
Distance 18 396
Avg Speed 19.84 18.46

Lap 23 – Terry, 3:27 pm

I rolled out to wait for Terry to finish our last big lap, and start the short laps.  As I headed toward the exchange point, I heard my name and saw Adam (the wildebeest) Bickett rolling by me going the other way.  He turned back and I could see by the salt on his face that he had just rolled in from his little 200 mile training ride.  We talked for just a moment as we pulled up to the spot where I would wait for Terry, and were immediately joined by David Haase (2nd place in RAAM 2015).  Another highlight of my race, chatting with these two giants of the ultracycling world as I waited for my brother to arrive.

  LAP 23 Lap Overall
Time 1:02:51 22:29:58
Distance 18 414
Avg Speed 17.18 18.40

Short Laps – Rich, 4:30 pm

With the exceptional timing that he’s known for, Terry rolled into the pits just minutes after the short-lap bell rang.  This meant that I could enjoy the relative comfort of the perfectly flat 4.8 mile short lap for the next 80-90 minutes, rather than suffering through another long lap with that nasty climb that seemed to get longer and steeper with every lap.

I pushed out 5 short laps just as hard as I could go, then called it quits.  As I entered the pits for the last time, heard congratulatory shouts from a number of folks as I rolled toward the back of the pits to find Terry and Adam waiting back at the motorhome.  Terry and I smiled at each other, and that marked the end of our race.  No big fanfare, no high-fives or fist-pumps.  We both just smiled, and called it a day.

 

Lap Overall
Time 1:11:411 23:41:26
Distance 24 438
Avg Speed 20.20 18.49

 

Prologue

I’m sorry if the ending is a bit anticlimactic, especially if you’ve actually suffered through every last chapter of this enormously verbose race report, but I’m afraid that’s just the way we do it.  If asked, we would have said, “we are celebrating”.

I hope that this little recap will inspire some of you folks out there who are intrigued by this whole ultracycling thing, to find a partner or 3, and get yourselves out to Borrego next November to celebrate my birthday, and race the the 24 Hour Worlds Time Trial!  There is no better event to get your feet wet!

RAAM 2015 – On the care and feeding of the WildeBeast

Flat on van

“Son of a bitch.  Flat on van.  FLAT ON VAN!!”  I knew it didn’t make any sense to anyone, even as I was screaming it out at the top of my desert scorched lungs, but that’s what I saw and so that’s what I reported.  OK, stop.  Breathe.  Don’t panic.  Assess, plan, react.  Adam was still rolling…good.  Daytime, Arizona, so no close follow required, or even aloud.  Fine.  He’s OK without us and the follow van for a little while. But it’s 115+ degrees in the Arizona desert, meaning a guy pedaling a bike will need water and salt very soon, and since he had already been riding for more than 20 hours with no sleep, he would also need somebody there to make sure he stayed on top of it.  With the Wildebago flatted, we needed the second support van to jump in and take up the task of keeping Adam hydrated and fed, and supply him with any other support he might need until we could get back on the road.

“Bill, we’ve got a flat, call the support van and tell them…”  As I spoke, Anabelle Lau and David Su (aka DSu) pulled up in the second van, right on top of the situation as per usual.  We quickly exchanged words and got on the same page, made sure they had what they needed to keep our rider on the road, and sent them on to chase Adam down.  Anabelle (Adam’s girlfriend and our most experienced crew member) shouted some instructions to me about how to remove the spare from the van, which I quickly dismissed.  “I can change the tire”, I shouted.  “You take care of Adam.”  Lack of sleep?  Stressfull situation?  Yep, plenty of excuses to be sure, but I would soon wish I had spent another two minutes listening instead of rushing to react.  This lesson would present itself to me again and again throughout the unfolding odyssey of crewing for Adam “the Wildebeast” Bickett, in the Race Across America.

Meanwhile, FIX THAT FLAT!  We had pulled off the road onto a sloping shoulder, more than five feet off the pavement of course, in full compliance with the race rules, but way too steep to safely change a tire.  Thankfully, there was a good spot across the road, so we pulled the Wildebago around and quickly went to work.  I rolled under the van and found the spare hanging there right where it should be, fully inflated and ready to be put into service.  Good!  I began to pound what looked like a giant wing nut holding up the spare, with a hammer, spinning it uselessly around several rotations before I realized that I had no idea what I was doing.  Bill Fields and James Nichols were busy locating and pulling the jack and tire tool out, and thankfully also located a laminated instruction sheet showing how to lower the spare by turning a screw accessed through the van bumper using the tire tool.  As I reviewed the instructions, I realized this is exactly what Anabelle had been trying to tell me, and Bill confirmed that he had seen this setup before as well.  All I had to do was listen to my fellow crewmates, instead of rushing headlong into the task as if I were the only one capable of handling the situation.  OK, so clearly I have some issues with taking instructions from others…duly noted.  Eventually, with Bill and James’ patient help and a thorough exercising of my most colorful vocabulary (did I mention it was 115 degrees out?), we managed to get the spare down, change the tire, and get the primary support van back on the road.  Cheers rang out among us as we pulled back onto the pavement…the AZ desert was unimpressed.  

As I drove fast (but well within the posted speed limit of course) to catch Adam, Bill and James contacted the second van by phone to explain that we would need them to take the flatted tire to a shop in Prescott and get it repaired, should we find ourselves with another flat further down the road.  We finally caught Adam on the climb out of Prescott toward Jerome.  He was cheerfully pounding out the climb in the sweltering heat, and appeared to be unconcerned with the follow van issues. Good, we managed to get through this first big test of the crew without costing him any race time or causing him any unneeded stress, at least as far as he would let on.

To O2 or not to O2

End of Day 2, Durango Colorado.  James and I came off shift at 9:00pm local time, and turned over the support van to the night crew of my brother Terry and crew chief extraordinaire, Airey Baringer.  We quickly found a hotel, did some rough calculations to determine how long we could sleep before picking up the chase again, and slammed ourselves into a short night’s sleep.  I awoke well before the alarm, and texted Airey to check their location.  Something very wrong.  They had only covered 30 miles overnight, as opposed to the 100+ that I was expecting.  Even with the difficult climb into the Rocky Mountains over Wolf Creek Pass, there had to be a serious issue to have them only 30 miles up the road.

We quickly got on the road to get ready for our next shift and see what was going on with our boys.  We found them stopped on the side of the road on the lower slopes of the Rocky Mountains, just before Pagosa Springs, with Adam sleeping inside the van.  They reported that Adam had been struggling to put out any power on the bike (something that NEVER happens with the Wildebeast), was very cold and could not seem to warm up in spite of wearing most every piece of gear he owned, and was generally just tired and suffering.  Probably all due to a lack of calories, possibly an imbalance between salt and water intake, layered in with all the stress of two days racing through the desert heat.  Lingering heat stroke maybe?  Hard to say, but sleep would surely help him.

It’s ridiculously difficult to isolate ‘real’ medical symptoms from the ‘usual’ effects of riding a bike for 20-22 hours per day, with the intention of covering 3000 miles in 8 to 10 days.  Looking back, and reading the symptoms back to myself now, it should have been easy to have recognized these signs of serious altitude sickness.  But Adam was barely at 7000 feet, not even into the real climbing or altitude yet, and we’ve all watched him climb over 10000 foot passes so many times in the past without any issue at all, that the thought didn’t even enter the conversation.  This is a mistake none of us will ever make again.

With the situation poorly assessed by me, James and I decided to roll forward to Pagosa Springs to pick up supplies and get ready to take over the follow crew duties in a couple hours, leaving Terry and Airey to get Adam rolling again after a brief nap…hoping he would awake feeling better.  Not long after we reached town we got a call from Terry.

“We’re at the hospital in Pagosa Springs.  Airey’s in the room with him, we’re waiting to hear what’s up.”

Terry is my brother, 2 years older (I’m the good looking one, should you ever want to know how to tell us apart).  We grew up together on the ragged edge of the west side of Phoenix, with little or no parenting to get in the way of our own upbringing.  We somehow lived through it, and both carry scars and crooked noses as reminders of our childhood “brotherly love”.  I know him very well, and have been through enough adventures, both planned and unplanned, to know when the situation is serious, just by the tone of his voice. Terry does not raise false alarms, and this was one of those times when a thin line of stress edged into his tone. 

Among all the things that were awesome about this whole trip, and the list is long, a couple of the things I’m most thankful for are that Airey and Terry were the ones on shift when Adam was in potentially devastating trouble, and that I was only a couple miles from the hospital when this call came in.  James and I were there within the next 20 minutes, bearing gifts of egg sandwiches and coffee for the overnight crew and desperate to learn Adam’s situation.

We spent the next several hours in the hospital, where Adam received excellent care and attention.  Physically, he responded very well to oxygen and a saline IV, and to lying in a bed instead of trying to continue to pedal his bicycle up 6-8% grades with dangerously low blood-oxygen levels.  His hydration was good, especially given what he had been through since leaving Oceanside, salt levels just a touch low.  Apart from minor nagging chaffing issues, his major concern was (of course) severe altitude sickness, pulmonary edema, with some fluid accumulation in his lungs raising serious concerns of pneumonia.  As things go, the doctor who came on shift that morning had a great deal of experience with altitude sickness, himself a high-altitude climber who had spent time in the Himalayas, and had a close associate who is one of the premiere experts on the subject in the world.  He made a phone call to that associate, and then returned to tell us that his professional opinion was that Adam’s race was over.  Go home, rest, and try again next year.

Nope, not good enough.  Adam listened carefully to every word, then began a line of questioning about what could be done if we wanted to attempt to carry on, what risks he faced, and how could they be mitigated.  After a time, our Medical Merlin realized that he was not dealing with anything close to an average patient, and that the rest of us there took Adam’s safety very seriously, but also took this race very seriously as well.  He pulled the curtains closed to talk to us with as much privacy as possible, and poured out every ounce of knowledge he had as to how one might try to get over the Rockies given Adam’s condition, and the time constraints Airey had calculated would still allow us to make the cut-off time that loomed up-course at the Mississippi River.  We absorbed, questioned, discussed, questioned some more, and when we finally determined that this incredibly patient and knowledgeable doctor was now resorting to repeating what he had already told us, we turned him loose to his regular duties and settled in to discuss our options.

The situations in RAAM can become extreme in the single beat of the heart.  We now found ourselves sitting in the hospital with Adam, discussing what might be the most important decision of his life, because it was clear to all of us that his life and well-being may very well be at stake.  If it sounds like I’m making more of this than it was, all I can say is that you had to be with us at that moment to know that this was our reality.  We knew that doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decisions, could be disastrous…not in race terms, but in life terms.  Not enough oxygen to one’s brain is a very serious matter indeed!

Adam is a remarkable young man.  In spite of what he had been through physically, a serious lack of sleep, and the deep emotions attached to the situation he now found himself in, his approach was methodical and incredibly intelligent.  He began by taking a quick survey of each of our feelings about the possibility of moving forward.  The questions were: 1) were we willing to support him, given the risks that had been presented, and 2) what would each of us do in his shoes?  After some discussion, heated at times, tears fought back at others, we all came to the agreement that we were willing to deploy a plan for getting him over the mountains and down to the thicker air on the other side, provided we could control the risks to everyone’s satisfaction.  It was Adam’s race, but we were all responsible for his safety and there could be no compromise in that.  After more negotiations and another visit from the doctor, we were cautiously optimistic that we had a plan, with very clear instructions on how to monitor Adam’s risk by tracking his blood-oxygen levels closely as he climbed, and that at the first signs of trouble we were not willing to try to push forward.  We would immediately descend as quickly as possible. Game Over.

The medical advice was reasonably straight-forward.  Adam would spend the next 24 hours (bare minimum, 48 hours recommended) at the current elevation, resting and on oxygen.  That would give his body time to acclimate some to the thinner air, and the oxygen would, of course, allow him to heal and acclimate more quickly, and hopefully help clear his lungs.  And so, with a solid plan in place, we moved Adam to a hotel and settled him in with his new best friend, an O2 machine.  Meanwhile the crew settled into a luxury that none of us had expected, a free afternoon to catch up on things like laundry, car reorganization, and sleep!  We now had all the tools we were able to gather to help Adam get over the Rockies, we just hoped it would be enough.

Wolf Creek Pass

After something like 34 hours off the bike, we drove Adam back down the course to pick up where he had left off two nights earlier.  We passed a number of riders going the other way, who were just arriving to this stretch of the course.  At one point Adam remarked, “Well, looks like I’m officially in last place.”  We all had a good, if nervous, laugh at his charming nonchalance.  I saw his wry sense of humor a multitude of times all across the country, and most often when the going got particularly difficult.  Today marked an absolute deciding point for Adam’s race.  The next few hours would determine whether or not he would be able to carry on.

I cannot speak for Adam as to how difficult the climb up Wolf Creek was.  I know that he remained calm and controlled in his approach.  No trademark Wildebeast Stomp, no fireworks, no heartrate spikes; just a long, arduous, and carefully controlled push.  My throat ached with the ever-present lump that was lodged there while I watched his grim determination as he let two normally slower riders ease away from him on the climb.  The feelings for me were very unusual and difficult to decipher.  The best I can do looking back is to say it was the most heart-felt admiration I have ever known for anyone.  I wanted to grab his seat post and shove him along over that mountain, running in my bare feet on the rough gravel if necessary.  But no, this is Adam’s dream.  The rest of us are just lucky enough to experience it up-close and personal, and help out where we can.  Go get your dream young man, we’ve got you!

We stopped him every 10 to 15 minutes to check the numbers and get him more oxygen as he rested in the van.  His spirits were good, whether real or simply a mask he put on in order to make us all feel better.  I’m guessing at the latter, knowing how difficult that climb must have been given his compromised health, and knowing that Adam has the remarkable capacity to be as concerned for his crew as we are for him, even in the deepest throws of suffering on a bike.

In the early afternoon of day 4 of the race, Adam pulled into the parking area at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass and broke into tears as he fell into a deep and long-lasting embrace with Anabelle.  The rest of the crew cheered loudly in order to cover our own tears.  And then, just as quickly as the triumph was realized, it was time to move on.  Adam still had two more summits at or near 10,000 feet to conquer, and every minute we spent at this altitude put his well-being in jeopardy.  I went off shift before these next two challenges were realized, but when I returned to the race the next morning, Adam and the rest of the crew had done it!  He was over the Rockies and rolling on the high plains toward the Kansas border.

Life in the bubble

When done correctly, close-follow support puts the rider in sort of invisible bubble, shielded from the rest of the world and supplied with everything he needs to just keep pedaling.  Adam is responsible for taking direction, clearly and accurately reporting his status, and putting power to the pedals, while the crew is responsible for keeping him rolling: fed, watered and as comfy and safe as possible. That is the idealistic view, and is only possible by a crew with a lot of experience with their rider (see Christoph Strasser), and on the more quiet and rural stretches of the course.  But there are sections of highway and two-lane road through small-to-moderate sized towns where traffic makes it impossible to maintain that kind of constant contact with your rider.  Cars can quickly stack up behind the follow van, with no way to get around the vehicle and the bike safely, and the rules are quite explicit about not impeding traffic.  At times, during daylight hours, the follow driver has no choice but to pull off the road and leave the rider to his own devices for short stretches as the traffic makes its way around him.  At night, the rider must stay within the headlights of his follow vehicle at all times, so both the rider and the follow must stop to let traffic go.  Thankfully, however, night-time traffic is generally light enough as to not be a concern.

On the afternoon of day 5, as we made our way into the town of Maize Kansas, I found myself in exactly this situation.  We were racing under daytime rules.  I was in close-follow, staying 10 to 20 feet behind Adam, but had to pull out every few minutes to let groups of cars get by so that we did not impede traffic.  I generally found places to pull out that allowed me to watch as the cars worked their way around Adam, and was happy to see most everyone giving him at least ½ lane berth as they went by.  There are, of course, exceptions in every group of decent people, but we were all remarking at how generally friendly people were being to him.  I then pulled off just past an intersection to let a big-rig by, and was happy to do so at a place in the road where we could see that it was clear coming the other way so that he could move over and give Adam space.  This driver, however, did not.  He held his lane completely, and as the trailer came up even with Adam he edged even closer, forcing Adam off the pavement.

Somehow, in spite of the miles he had ridden and lack of sleep, Adam narrowly escaped contact with the trailer, jumped the berm on the edge of the asphalt, and rode down a steep 15 foot embankment of grass and rocks and kept his bike upright as he got one foot unclipped and slowed himself enough to stop without going down.  It was a world-class piece of bike handling that saved him from serious injury, or even worse had he found any of the bigger rocks in just the wrong way.

It happened so quickly that I didn’t think to do anything but get up to Adam and make sure he was OK.  No thought to get the license plate of the truck, no thought of chasing the asshole down…just get to Adam.  By the time I got stopped and out of the van, he was already climbing back up the bank carrying his bike.  The rear wheel had been forced out the frame, and the rear tire had cords showing where he had momentarily locked up the rear brake trying to get stopped before he was forced off the road.  But other than that, the bike and Adam looked fine.  Adam was incredibly calm, much more so than I.

“Do you want to take a minute,” I asked him as James got a fresh wheel on the bike.

“No, I’m fine”.

That was about the extent of the conversation.  We may have exchanged some brief, choice words about the trucker who had just attempted to murder my friend, but I honestly don’t recall because I was battling off that shocky feeling one gets after a very close call.

I am in no way exaggerating this experience with my careful choice of words.  Attempted Murder is only way to describe the actions of that driver.  The trucker absolutely knew Adam was there, and chose to attack him with a big-rig diesel.  Here’s what I know: The driver had to wait for us to get out of the lane before he came through.  The follow van is clearly marked with “Caution Bicycles Ahead” signs and auxiliary flashing red lights on the roof that were turned on and operational.  The lane was wide enough that every other car and truck that had come by us that day had slid over to leave enough pavement for Adam, even if there was traffic coming the other way.  This truck also had plenty of room and plenty of time to slide over and NOT try to kill Adam by running him off the road.  I could see down the road before I moved out of the way, and nobody was coming the other way for quite some distance.  This driver absolutely, positively acted with the intent to do harm to my rider, by forcing him off the pavement.  The only reason that bastard was not successful in his attack is that Adam was alert and skilled enough to ride himself to safety.

It took me a good long while to calm myself down after that, and I’m feeling a lot of those same feelings again now as I write this, eyes welling up a bit, sick to my stomach.  I’m sorry, my good friend, that we were not able to keep you protected at that moment, and I am forever grateful that you were able to save your own life.

On a side note, DSu (who was somehow managing crew duties AND media simultaneously…thanks David for all the photos in this post!) ran a windshield GoPRO camera in the follow van for the entire race, and I was driving right behind the a-hole trucker as this incident unfolded.  Stay tuned.

A Better Encounter

Not every intrusion into our race bubble was so unwelcome.  At one point during a very rainy morning in Ohio, Adam needed to stop to change jackets.  I pulled around him and drove up the road a bit to find a suitable location while James got the fresh jacket ready.  I pulled into a gravel side road (which, of course, had plenty of room for us to stop safely a minimum of 5 feet off the pavement, but not block any side traffic that might happen to be coming through, as per the race rules).  I noticed there was a pick-up truck parked some 100 yards back, on the edge of the gravel road, and then saw a young shirtless boy trotting excitedly toward us with a camera around his neck.  His mother shouted something that sounded like “Bickett”, which I passed off as me just hearing her wrongly.

As I positioned myself to catch Adam coming off the road and take his bike while he moved over to the van to get help with the jacket from James, the boy started shouting excitedly.  “Adam is doing great, Toone is just up the road.  He’d DOING GREAT!”

This was no random kid on the side of the road.  This was an ultra-cycling super fan.  Who knew they even existing?! His mother was yelling to us from the dry safety of her truck.  “He’s watching you online.  He knows everything.  He LOVES Adam!”

Really?!  Here in the backwoods of Ohio, this boy convinced his mother to drive him out on course just so he could see The WildeBeast ride by?  And it just so happened that we chose to pull into that exact spot to give him a chance to meet Adam face to face.  The universe is an incredible place.

The boy shouted out questions to Adam rapid fire, barely giving him time to answer:

“How much are you eating?”

“How long do you sleep?”

“Are you breathing OK?”

“You’re doing great.  You can catch Toone!  He’s right up the road!!!  Strasser is out.  I don’t know why.”  This kid did indeed know everything.  He’s a true superfan of the race.

Adam answered every question and thanked him for the encouragement. The boy took tons of pictures, but was very respectful to stay out of Adam’s way.  The entire encounter lasted probably 2 minutes, but I know that the effect of it will be with all of us for the rest of our lives.  If ever a young man was inspired by a hero, it would be in a moment like this.  The WildeBeast he had somehow found and followed online just bashed directly into his life.  Not a flyby, not a split second to get a few blurry photos.  Adam Bickett was no longer a flashing dot on a map of the United States on his computer screen, he was a real, living, breathing, talking man–with legs like tree trunks!  I’m certain the story of meeting the WildeBeast will be told again and again until that boy’s friends and family beg him to stop.

But we were still in race mode, and there was little time to waste.  Several minutes down the road after this spectacular encounter, I realized two regrets:  I didn’t get the boy’s name or any way to find him again after the race was over, and I didn’t think to grab his camera and take some pictures of him with Adam.  Young man, if by some miracle you ever happen to read this, send me or Adam a note on Facebook.  I sure would like to see some of those photos you took!

 

The Brazilians are coming, or are they?

Just a few miles past Mc Henry Maryland the road tilts up for a tough little 1000 foot, 3 mile climb.  As Adam rolled onto that climb, I saw a rider approaching fast in the van mirrors and passed on word to Adam through Anabelle (who was on the radio with him) that there was a team rider coming up on him.  No reply from Adam on the radio, but I did see him pop out of the saddle as he started into the first steep part of the climb.  Not an unusual move for the Wildebeast on the bumpier sections.  He still had the energy and power to get out of the saddle and grind out climbs right to the end of the race, 3000 miles in!  There seemed to be no end to the strength in his legs, though he may have something different to report from his perspective.

I watched how he was climbing, always looking for any change in his mechanics that might signal some sort of issue.  Nothing out of the ordinary, just the smooth powerful pedal strokes that are his trademark (aka, the Wildebeast Stomp).  What I didn’t notice was that he had apparently bumped up his watts, and when I looked back in the mirror I saw that the approaching team rider had stopped gaining ground and appeared to be struggling to hold his position with us on the climb.  Whether this was a calculated response, or just Adam continuing to do what he does, I do not know.  James got the number off the rider’s van behind us and reported it was a four man Brazilian team.  Adam was outpacing a four-man team on a climb some 2800 miles into the race!  I saw the racer behind us looking back at his van as if to ask if they were seeing what he was seeing.  He was visibly struggling on the climb now, out of the saddle and throwing his bike side to side.  Adam was still out of the saddle as well, but seemed to be floating on the pedals.  We had music playing through the speaker mounted on the van bumper, and at one point he did a little dance, as Anabelle let him know that he was out-climbing the team behind him.

The Brazilian follow van clearly saw the incredible performance in front of them, and I could see the passenger hanging out of the window shouting, whether at his rider or Adam I’m not sure.  Probably at both, and though it wasn’t in English, the meaning was clear.  Roughly translated I think it was something like, “Holy Shit!”  There was no other traffic on the road, so I eased our van over into the lane, to give the chasers a clear view of Adam as he pulled away from their rider, and I could then hear their shouts of appreciation double in intensity.  About halfway up the climb, the Brazilian’s second van pulled up around us to set up a rider exchange.  As they came by, they filled the open windows of the van and screamed and shouted their appreciation and encouragement.  Adam was STILL out of the saddle, happily crushing the climb for us all to see.  Goosebumps flooded my arms and legs.  Again, emotions that were hard to put my finger on, but it was clear that I was watching a performance of grit and strength like nothing I had ever seen before.

We were over 9 days into this race, Adam was operating on less than 2 hours of sleep per night, and yet he looked as fresh as if he were just out crushing a century ride.  The new Brazilian rider set up on the side of the road to take over from his suffering team mate, and the entire crew was out of the van cheering Adam on as we went by.  We had gained so much ground on the rider still out on the road behind us that we lost sight of him before they exchanged to the fresh rider.  A few minutes later, as we approached the top of that nasty climb, their leapfrog van came by once more, this time the rider that Adam had just dropped hung halfway out of the passenger window to shout his appreciation to Adam.  Again with the goose bumps.  Again with the lump in my throat.

I had told Adam at one point early in the race that crewing for him made me feel like a real badass, and this moment, watching him dig deep and put on a show of Beastly proportions, multiplied that feeling by a factor of ten.  That’s my rider out there, Adam f-ing Bickett, putting the hurt on a four-man team, for no other reason than that he can.

On the following descent, the Brazilian team did indeed finally pass us, and the rider on the road gave Adam a wide berth, a huge smile, and a shout and wave of ultimate respect.  Again, Adam created a story that I’m sure will be repeated for anyone willing to listen in group rides and coffee shops all across Brazil.

 A long, difficult, fantastic night

There are a thousand other moments and a thousand other stories to tell from this adventure, but in the interest of getting this rambling post out before next year’s race rolls through, we jump now to the final night, which was truly one of the most special parts of the entire trip for me.  I had been in the follow van since 8:00am (OK, roughly 8:00AM…my brother Terry is sure to be grumbling something about how I never arrived for the morning crew exchanges quite on time, but whatever).  As we approached what we knew would be the last night of the race, I could not imaging going off shift and sleeping away the final hours of the race.  James and Bill had been pulling huge crew shifts, and were ready to get some rest, but DSu and Anabelle also said they wanted to stay on through the night and help ensure we stay on course and get some final night-time media shots.

So, Bill and James set out ahead with the third vehicle to secure our hotel rooms in Annapolis and get some well-earned rest, while the remaining five of us strategized via cell phone about how we might arrange the final night shift.  Airey and Terry came on early, also too excited to sleep and wanting to give Adam every possible advantage on what we all knew would be a very tough night for him.  As Adam put it, all the cards were on the table.

Incredibly, since rejoining the race in Colorado, and after losing roughly 35 or more hours of racing time, Adam had battled his way from last place, back into the top 10.  And, there were 4 racers within about 50 miles of us on the course.  Lack of sleep was certainly catching up with him, but Adam and Airey hoped to race through the whole night without an “extended” sleep break, relying only on a few 10 minute (or less) power naps to keep him alert and riding.

After some discussion, and admittedly at my own suggestion, DSu and Anabelle generously offered me a position in the follow van with Airey and Terry, which would be my only chance to crew with my brother during the entire race.  I was thrilled!  Terry and I have crewed together on several other occasions for Adam, and this chance to be with him on the last night was more special to me than I can adequately express.  When we mentioned this plan to Adam, he also immediately understood how important this was to us and gave a big thumbs-up to making it happen.  And so I took my seat in the back of the follow van while Airey settled into the navigator’s seat and Terry took the wheel to shepherd Adam on to the ultimate goal.

The rapport between Airey, Terry and Adam was fun to watch.  I got a clear vision into how they were able to keep Adam’s mind engaged through the long night shifts so that extreme sleep deprivation did not affect his riding. Airey and Adam chatted continuously on the radio about topics ranging from current events in the news, to what this race meant to each of us, to silly things that could only be absorbed in the context of the wee hours of the morning, late into a 10-day non-stop bicycle race.  We read incredibly supportive posts from Adam’s fans on Facebook, gave him reports of other riders’ positions, and recounted events from the past 10 days.  This was a night I would not have traded for anything.  As we entered Gettysburg in the eerie, still hours of the morning with a light fog settling over the rolling landscape, Airey ad-libbed a stirring monologue of what it must have been like for the soldiers fighting there to Adam.  It was a stirring moment, with all of our emotions already raw from the efforts of the race.

Just about two hours before sunrise, it became apparent that the lack of sleep was really taking a toll on Adam.  He was not able to hold a straight line on the road, and his power and speed had dropped off considerably.  Adam battled hard to stay on the road, but eventually we all came to the agreement that a power nap was absolutely essential in order to get him back on track.  We found a good spot and got Adam into the van to take on more calories and close his eyes for a few minutes.  He did not want to be stopped, but the moment he closed his eyes, he was asleep.

The nap was short, actual sleeping time less than five minutes.  When we woke him, Anabelle had joined us from the other van, and when Adam saw her face he asked if she would be joining the follow van.  Absolutely, we all agreed, Anabelle should most definitely be in the van for this final stretch.  I took my spot with DSu in the second van, and rolled ahead to mark turns.  Adam got back on the road after that brief nap, and was once again able to ride as he had been for the past 10 days, in perfect control of the bike and pushing out the watts.  Amazing that such a brief rest put him back in good order.  If I’m making this sound easy for him, it’s only because he makes it look easy.  You can all imagine, it most definitely is not!!

And of course, RAAM was not done presenting its challenges just yet.  As the horizon just barely began to lighten with the impending final daybreak of the race, the rains came.  We had been watching this storm all night on various weather sites, and had hoped that we would finish before the worst of it hit.  But as it turned out, Adam would do his final hours of racing in weather that ranged from steady drizzle to absolute deluge, with crazy swirling winds that would have put a fresh rider into serious distress.  Adam soldiered on.  DSu and I leapfrogged from turn to turn, to help ensure that Adam stayed on course.  In spite of the obvious fatigue, and the brutal conditions, Adam managed a smile each time he passed us, and still appeared to be riding strong.

DSu wanted to be sure he was set up to get good photos and video at the Ram’s Head Inn, the official end of the timed portion of the race.  So at about 10 miles out, we forged ahead and posted up there.  While we waited there in the rain, I chatted with several members of an 8-man team from Ireland, who had done the race without any support!  They had two vans and 8 racers who did all of their own driving and everything else required to keep themselves moving.  They finished just minutes ahead of Adam (teams start 4 days after solos), and then hung out in the rain to cheer him in as well.

The moment that Adam pulled up to the finish line is burned deeply into my mind.  DSu stood to the side, capturing the moments with his amazing array of cameras.  The rest of the crew was in the Wildebago, following him in.  And I stood out on the road, the fortunate one to be the first to welcome Adam to the finish line.

Oops, wait.  Crap, forgot my safety vest.  You know what?  Fuck the rules.

Adam rolled up with the follow van honking and cheering behind him.  It was a brief moment before the rest of the crew rushed out of the van, just long enough for me to give him a hug that could not possibly convey what I felt about his accomplishment.  It is a moment that I will hold in my mind forever.

The End

Adam made his way through the parade route in the rain, to the stage on the docks at Annapolis, the same place where he had watched Christoph Strasser finish just 3 short years prior.  That was when he had told us that he had plans to tackle this race solo himself one day.  And now, as a deeply emotional George Thomas interviewed him, Terry and I smiled on from the side, feeling incredibly proud of Adam, and of ourselves and the rest of the crew.  The enormous expanse of this race is impossible to fully comprehend, even having seen it as up close and personal as I did.  To know that Adam is now among the very short list of people who have completed it, and to have watched how amazingly well he performed, gives me an entirely new perspective on what each of us can and should dare to attempt.

Adam finished 8th overall, completing 3004 miles in 10 days, 15 hours and 53 minutes.  It had been less than a week prior that we had thought very seriously that his race was over.  Cheers my good friend Adam Bickett.  Thank you for an experience that I simply could not have imagined without having met you, and for making me challenge my own view of what might be possible.

Finish 2

Saddle Up and Ride – Stagecoach 2015 Ride Report

The Stagecoach Century is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable rides I have ever done!  Seriously, I cannot recommend this ride enough to anyone looking for a great excuse to get on a bike in the depths of winter, and enjoy the rugged beauty of the Southern California desert.  For those of you who aren’t from around here, the depths of winter in the desert this year meant clear skies, calm winds, and temps in the 70s!  A more perfect day for a bike ride has never existed.

Start at the Beginning

My original plan was to hook back up with my brother Terry for a two-man effort.  This wouldn’t be a relay like the 24 hour TT, but a two-man team time trial where we basically sucked one another’s wheel the whole time and fought about who was taking longer pulls.  However, as things go, life got in the way for Terry and he wasn’t able to get in enough training…OK, he wasn’t able to get in much training…OK, the truth is he hadn’t been on his bike more than a couple times in the past 8 weeks or so.  And so it was to be just me this time.  I had read on the Shadow Tour website (http://www.shadowtour.com/Century_Rides/Stagecoach.htm) that there was a 150 mile option, which sounded intriguing. And so with no more planning than that I signed up and tried my best to prepare for my longest solo ride ever.

On Friday, the day before the race, I got a text from Terry saying he was able to make it after all, and despite no training at all, he was coming out to ride the Century.  WooHoo!  Even though we wouldn’t ride together, I would have my number one riding partner and friend with me for an epic adventure in the desert.  Life gets no better than this!

 

Even the windmills are asleep at this hour

I was able to roll early, because I was going after the 150 mile distance.  Even though it meant getting up at a ridiculously early hour, this turned out to be one of the greatest things about the ride.  Terry and I rolled out at 6:25AM.  The sun was just rising, and once we got a few hundred yards from the start, there wasn’t a soul around.  The desert is breathtaking at this hour.  We rolled the first 10 or so miles together, warming up and chatting.  At some point, I dropped into my aero bars and gradually picked up the pace.  I heard Terry call from some distance behind me, “don’t try to keep up with Rich”.  It’s not that my pace was blistering, but he intended to cover more miles in one day than he had ridden in the past two months total, so he wanted to watch his pace carefully early on.  But this my brother we’re talking about…he’s just not like the rest of us.

The first 50 miles out to the turnaround were an absolute dream of a bike ride.  The course is gradually uphill all the way out, with a couple of punchy little climbs that get your attention.  I saw one other rider, who had started about 20 minutes ahead of us.  I chatted briefly with him, but unfortunately didn’t get his name.  He was also out in search of the 150 mile distance.

An absolute dream of a bike ride

I had to make a couple of bathroom stops on the way out (by the way, when you start early…you enjoy clean port-a-johns), and spent a little more time off the bike than I had planned, but still managed to make the 50 mile mark at 3 hours even.  My overall goal was to finish in less than 9 hours, and given that the trip out is considerably more challenging that the trip back due to the elevation gain, this put me right on schedule if not a little ahead.

Beware the Beasts of Bone and Flesh and METAL

One thing that surprised me quite a bit was that I hadn’t seen any sign of the monstrous four-man TTT team that I knew was somewhere behind me.  This team consists of three out of seven of the guys who carried me across the country in 2012 when we set the 8-man RAAM record: Adam Bickett, Andrew ‘METAL’ Danly, and Jeremy Gustin, along with Philip Tinstman from Spy Optics.  I knew these guys were out to smash the TTT record, and that they would be coming fast and furious. I was desperately looking forward to seeing them scream by, knowing they would be burying themselves for 100 miles straight just to set this record.  I had been doing some math in my head, and figured them to catch me sometime between 8:00 and 9:00AM, which should have had them blowing by me well before the turnaround.  When I reached that aid station without any sign of them, I hoped that everything was OK with them.

Just after I made the turn around, I saw my brother Terry heading toward me.  I couldn’t have been more that 5 minutes ahead of him.  The freakin stud was matching my performance with basically no training at all for the past two months.  He had zero time off the bike up to that point, and so I had given back a bit of time…BUT STILL!  I love that guy like a brother, so I flipped him off when I saw him just so he knew how I felt about him.

As for the four horsemen of the METALacolypse (Danly’s name, I couldn’t come up with that), turns out there was nothing to worry about.  Just as I turned back off the 78 onto S2, I saw them coming.  Even though they had started late, they had already passed the entire rest of the field and were the first riders I saw, and they were indeed flying!  I gave them a wave and a shout, and heard my name shouted in return. and they were gone in a flash.  My heart rate bounced up and I had to tell myself to relax…these guys are capable of going flat out for 100 miles…I’m not!

Aside from the gorgeous and quiet first 50 miles and the clean toilets, one of the other great things about starting early was the fact that I would now see the entire rest of the field coming toward me as I was riding back.  What a treat! I waved and shouted at rider after rider as they climbed toward the 50 mile turnaround.  I’m convinced that the energy of seeing all these other riders added at least 1MPH to my average speed for miles 50 to 75.   That, however, may have been a mixed blessing.

It’s all fun and games until the road tilts up

So many rest stops, so little time

The Stagecoach is an out-and-back course.  For the century, you ride out 50 miles, and back 50 miles.  For the 150, you do that, and then head back out to repeat the first 25 miles of the course.  What’s brilliant about this course design is that it allows the riders to take the most advantage possible of the four on-course aid stations by hitting them on the way out and on the way back.  You are, in fact never more than about 6 miles from an aid station for the entire ride.  The volunteers at the aid stations are true gems of the human race, and I cannot than them enough for spending the day out there just so I can ride my bike through the desert with complete peace of mind.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

Anyway, the reason I bring up the aid stations is because at mile 75 I made my second stop at station #2 to refill my bottles and take on some calories.  I had been surviving on a combination of Ensure shakes that I carried with me, and PB&Js and bananas at the aid stations.  At the 75 mile mark I downed one more Ensure and ate a few banana pieces and headed back out on my way.  Shortly thereafter, something started to wrong.  It started as a mile discomfort in my stomach that eventually got bad enough that it forced me to sit up out of aero position.  Aside from the discomfort, I was really not happy about giving up the free speed that being in my aerobars would give me on the long gentle downhills on this part of the course.  My stomach got a bit worse, to the point where I was getting really concerned about being able to finish the 100, much less the 150.  I was fairly certain that this was just a combination of me riding a bit too hard for the past 25 miles, and taking in too many calories too quickly.  My gut didn’t want to process calories any more because I was taking away all of its resources to keep my legs moving.  Luckily I had some idea that it was possible to recover from this kind of thing while continuing to ride, because I’ve had the great fortune of hanging out with Adam Bickett for the past few years (yeah, one of the guys in the four-man team I was talking about earlier).  I’ve crewed for Adam in the Hoodoo 500 and in last year’s Race Across the West, and I’ve seen him recover from much worse than my silly little sour stomach.  So I told myself to relax, back off a bit, and just keep moving.

Smiling away an upset stomach

While I was having this little internal dialog and starting to feel rather sorry for myself, the SPY Media van pulled up next to me and rolled down the windows to shout out words of encouragement and snap a bunch of photos.  I suddenly felt like a rockstar.  OK, like a really awkward rockstar with a sour stomach, but still it was a perfectly timed boost for me!  As luck would have it, in the media van was one more powerhouse member of that 2012 RAAM team, Ryan Denner, who snapped the picture of me in aero position near the top of this rambling post, and Connie Hatfield of Pink Shorts Photography (http://pinkshortsphotography.smugmug.com/) , who took the rest of the pictures seen here.  Thanks to both of you for capturing these shots, as this blog post would be terribly boring without them!

And of course, if media van is here, then Team SPY isn’t far behind.  Having those four guys rocket past me at well over 30MPH was truly one of the highlights of the entire ride!

I soldiered on, drinking as much water as I could manage, but not feeling confident about taking on any more calories.  Luckily, it seemed that I had enough food in me and I was able to carry a good enough pace to carry me back to the start-finish line (for the first time) in just under 6 hours.  And now I was at the point in the ride that I was most worried about in the days leading up to it.  The moment of decision…do I head back out for another 50, or do I just call it quits?  As it turned out, the SPY Team and media were there, cheering me on and giving me so much crap about “enjoying the next 50 miles”, that I never even considered stopping.  I was so pumped up by my former team mates that I quickly filled my bottles, dumped my arm warmers and gloves, and cranked it back up for the last lap.

Heading back out for another quick 50

In a repeat performance from the 50 mile turnaround…I saw Terry heading for the finish line within 2 miles of my turning around.  I NEVER DROPPED THE GUY!  Later that evening, over a few beers at the charming Lazy Lizard bar in Ocotillo, he told me about how he threw up while riding, but even that didn’t stop him…he just sprayed himself with water from one of his bottles and carried on.  Like I’ve said before, my brother doesn’t handle adversity the same way as most people…which makes him a handy guy to have around when you’re trying to do something difficult.

Anyway, as I tried to get over the fact that Terry had more-or-less done the same thing as me but with no training, I regrouped and settled into the long slog back out to aid station 2.  This second lap heading out was the toughest part of the journey.  It’s mentally disturbing to be heading away from the finish line when you’re already 100 miles in.  And yet, once again just as I was starting to feel sorry for myself, somebody showed up to cheer me up.  It was my brother.  After Terry finished his century, he changed out of his puke-stained Roadies Hideaway kit, and came out in his car to give me some “morale support”, which mostly consisted of shouting disparaging things at me as I went by.  But that’s what we call support in my family, and I could not have been happier than to see him!  He also had the brilliant idea to go get me a Mountain Dew and handed it to me as I rolled by  (hope that doesn’t get me DQ’d, as there’s no roadside support allowed).  That Mountain Dew may just have saved my life!

And so it went, back out to Aid Station 2, where I stopped for the third time that day to say hi to my favorite volunteers, before finally turning back for home a second time.  The last 25 miles are a blur.  My stomach finally fully recovered, and I was able to lock down into the aerobars and really crank it up.  One last climb over Sweeny Pass, and then a 6 mile sprint to the finish!

I finished the 150 miles in 8 hours and 40 minutes (give or take), and was the only rider to complete the 150 mile offering that day.  When I hunted Jim Knight down to thank him for putting on such a great event, and let him know that I had finished the 150, he grabbed me and gave me a huge heart-felt hug.  He’s a great guy, doing great things for this sport, and I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to get out there next year and take advantage of one of the finest organized rides in the country!  You can bet I’ll be there, trying to figure out how to slow my brother down.

The end of a great day on the bike

Though not really a standard post-ride report, I’m compelled to jot down a few of the highlights from the experience that my brother Terry and I had at the 24 Hour TT Championships last weekend.  First, for my friends who are not familiar with the race format, you get on a bike and ride as far as you can in 24 hours.  The true champions of this event do it solo, but old guys like us do it as a 2-man team, trading off every hour-or-so until we’ve managed to live through the full 24 hours.

Betty

Racer Support Vehicle Extraordinaire

I’m not really an Ultra Cyclist

I met Terry in Borrego Springs around 9:30AM on Friday.  We got Betty (our race support vehicle) parked in an appropriate location at the very back of the pits, and then went out to find some breakfast.  As things go with us, we happened to sit next to one of the solo racers, a fellow named Meurig James. 

We hit it off with Meurig pretty quickly as he began laying down stories of his solo RAAM efforts in 2013.  At one point, he told us he’s “not really an ultra racer”.  Uh yeah…but you finished solo RAAM, and now you’ve flown half way around the globe to compete in the 24 hour worlds?   THEN, to make the story even better, Mr. James (without any support and being very far from home) lays down an incredible 24 hour performance…completing 484 miles in 24 hours…just 9 miles short of winner Stuart Birnie’s winning run.  Again, he did it WITH NO SUPPORT!  Cheers Meurig, one hell of a performance!

OK, so on to the race.  After a bunch of equipment wrangling, butterflies in our stomachs, a racer meeting, and a big Mexican food lunch that would come back to bite me later…we were finally racing! The race started at 6:00pm, putting us in the dark for the first lap. I went out a bit hot (of course), finishing the first 18 mile lap in just under 47 minutes, averaging 23mph (no, I’m not going to bore you all with the stats from every lap…but hey, that’s not a bad lap for a 51 year old dude, right?).  Anyway, I managed to stay in control enough as to not completely destroy myself, and handed off to Terry at the pits.  He was off racing and I headed back to Betty to get some calories and as much rest as I could before heading back down to the pits for the next exchange.

That’s how it went through the night and into the next day.  At some point we were adopted by the crew of friend and fellow racer Greg Musser, that fabulous crew being, specifically, Teresa Beck (California Triple Crown Hall of Famer) and Mark Shalauta.  They kept us company with stories and words of encouragement as we waited for one another to arrive back to the pits for the exchange.  Thank you Mark and Teresa, you made the long cold night immeasurably shorter!

Smiling in the face of adversity

On one of those occasions while I was waiting, Terry came rolling into the pit with one leg hanging off the side of his bike.  He rolled up next to me and said nonchalantly, “I broke a cleat…did half that lap with only one foot clipped in.”  He was smiling like it was the funniest thing he’d ever said.  My brother doesn’t react to difficult situations like most people do…which is why I always want him around when I’m doing something tough!  As he stuffed the timing chip into my jersey pocket I shouted, “I have spare shoes in my bag, take one from there”, and I was off.

At something like 3 in the morning, I suddenly couldn’t figure out how to get the timing chip out of my jersey pocket to hand it off to Terry.  I fumbled at the back of my jersey and started swearing and panicking.  Luckily, as I said, we had been adopted by Greg Musser’s all-star crew, and Mark calmly walked over and said, “You have a vest on”.  Thankfully he left the word “Moron” off then end of the sentence, though he most certainly would have been justified in adding it.  Not really his style though, it seems.  Anyway, he lifted the vest out of the way, retrieved the chip, and handed it to Terry.  Some things get much harder when you’ve been awake and pushing your body to the limits for too long.  Thanks again Mark!

Just after 5:00am I started a lap that would have me riding into the sunrise.  That lap was the coldest one I did, but it was pure heaven.  I posted to Facebook at the end of that lap that there is no drug better than sunshine.  My average lap splits dropped by about 2 minutes, just from racing in the light and warmer air.

Hey, are you METAL?

At 6:00AM, the 12 hour racers started, which included Andrew “METAL” Danley, a friend and former team mate of mine (I just love saying that).  We had raced together in 2012 as part of the 8-man ViaSat RAAM team.  On my next lap after they started, METAL came screaming by me like I was standing still, letting out a banshee scream that lifted my heartrate and bumped up my speed by 2MPH.  I had to concentrate to relax and slow down, for fear of completely blowing myself up.  METAL went on to win the 12 hour race, finishing with 254 miles, and an average speed of 21.5MPH!   That’s 21.5mph for 12 hours straight…yeah…that’s METAL.

A few laps later, we were visited by another member of the 2012 ViaSat team, rising ultra-cycling star Adam Bickett (aka Wildebeast).  Adam was out for a little training ride…he had ridden 115 miles from his home in Del Mar, just to say “hi” to Terry, METAL and me.  We chatted and relaxed for a while as Terry was pounding out miles on the course.  Eventually he filled his pockets with Ensure, Mountain Dew and a banana from our food stash, and was off!  That break, talking with Adam, gave me a boost that would carry me through to the end of the race.

On my next break, Larry Bice stopped by to see how we were doing.  Larry is the man who is responsible for starting the ViaSat RAAM team some 9 or 10 years back.  He rode his motorcycle out just to be part of the experience, and it was fantastic to see him.  Thanks for stopping by, Godfather!

So it was a great morning, all in all.  Terry and I were cranking out the laps.  We had our exchanges working smoothly and neither of us were having any issues with nutrition or hydration.  Everything was going along swimmingly, until…

More adversity please, we’re Irish

OK, I don’t even know what that subtitle means…it just popped into my head and I’m going with it.  Anyway, everything was going great until lap 21, when the winds from hell hit.  I swear on that lap that I rode into a headwind the entire way around the course.  Don’t take my word for it, check out what one of the most legendary ultra-cyclists in the world has to say about it… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nKdx4L5APQ (fast-forward to about 2:00 in).  Once I got to the little section of 2-3% climbing (which, until this lap, had been my favorite part of the course), the winds became a direct gale-force headwind.  I had been riding this section at 16 to 17mph, but now couldn’t even sustain 10mph.  I felt like a feather tossed in front of Etta James’ mouth, as she belts out Stormy Weather.  Yeah, stretching that a bit thin I know…but you get the idea.  Anyway, we fought our way through the winds, and at 3:30ish, the race officials mercifully moved us onto the short lap, about 1.5 hours early.

Terry banged out 3 laps there before handing it back to me.   The short lap was fantastic…a really great way to end this crazy thing.   I cranked out 4 laps as hard as I could possibly go.  My body was about done with aero position at this point, but I knew METAL was still out on the course, and there was no way in hell I was going to let him come by me and catch me sitting up!  I handed the baton back to Terry with less than 30 minutes left, and challenged him to get us 2 more laps.  That he did, with plenty of time to spare!

In the end, we covered 457 miles at an average speed of 19.2 mph. We finished 4 miles behind the 1st place 2-man team, but incredibly, Meurig James completed 27 more miles than us, and winner Stuart Birnie did 36 more for a total of 493!

Shortly after finishing, I got the following text from my incredible wife, who was keeping everything together back home while I was out screwing around with my brother in the desert…

You're awesome (pet name that I won't share here).  I could cry.  I am crying.  I'm so glad you're done.  Take it easy.  Satch (our dog) says he's prod as shit.

Yeah…who could ask for any more love and support than that!

One more brush with greatness

That night, we relaxed in Betty as the rest of the racers packed up their gear and headed off to hotels and the banquet.  By 10PM we were all alone, and basked in our own glory for a bit until exhaustion finally got the better of us and we finally dozed off.  The next morning we packed up our own camp and headed off in search of breakfast once again.  We found our way back to the same breakfast place and sat in nearly the same spot as we had 2 mornings prior.  This time we found ourselves sitting next to the winner of the 24 Hour Women’s Solo division, Danielle Grabol.  Danielle is yet another incredible athlete, who finished 420 miles at 17.7MPH in the 24 hours.  She was super gracious, asking us about our race and telling us about how things went for her.  Another shining example of how open and friendly the superstars of this sport are!

After breakfast, it was time to split ways with Terry, sending him off toward Phoenix in Betty, as I made my way back up the glass elevator toward San Diego (but in a car, unlike the Wildebeast).  This 24 hour race format is perfect for anyone looking to enter into ultracycling.  The short-course format makes it very easy to race with minimal support, and the whole event was very well run.  I highly recommend it!

Roses!

Nothing says spring like the first big rose bloom of the year.  This is the second year for our new roses, and they’re loving our dry hot summers!

roses1 roses2

Satch gets into the act

Satch gets into the act

sorry, don't know the name of this one

sorry, don’t know the name of this one

A nicely formed miniature called Hot Cocoa

A nicely formed miniature called Hot Cocoa

A classic old fashioned bloom

A classic old fashioned bloom

Love this color

Called JC’s Rose.  I love this color!

John J. Walsh Memorial Happy Hour Deck

Vicki and I often find ourselves sitting under one of the huge old oaks on our property at the end of the day, enjoying the cool breeze and a cool refreshment.  One day we decided that since this was quickly becoming our favorite place to have happy hour, we needed to make it more comfortable.  From these humble beginnings were born the John J. Walsh Memorial Happy Hour Deck, so named because nobody enjoyed a good happy hour, or a good happy hour location, more than my dad.

A fine spot under our favorite oak.  This tree is probably 60 to 80 years old.

A fine spot under our favorite oak. This tree is probably 60 to 80 years old.

Spirit poles were quickly erected and several happy hours spent in the planning stages.  Then one day there was nothing left to do but to build it.  So we headed down to the lumber yard and returned with a truckload of hope.

The understructure was framed from pressure treated 2x8s, with 2×6 joists running latterally.  I like to use words like joist and laterally, so it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, but the fact is…I just make this stuff up as I go along.  I’m hopeful that this thing will hold a handfull of guests and an ice chest full of beer.

The deck starts to take shape.

I brought in a young back to help out with the decking.  My nephew Greg as all too eager to learn the finer points of using a drill to drive decking screws…only one boy in a hundred can do it the way it needs to be done.

Nephew Greg looking like a pro.

Decking in placesOnce we got a few boards down, the rest of the deck came together pretty quickly.   Note the split level effect. This makes the deck fit better into the landscape, and the step will be a good informal seat.  It also adds the potential for some good comic relief on more extended happy hours.  The posts in the foreground are going to support a bench at some point in the future, but we’ll need a few more happy hours to finish the design.

 

Chair’s eye view

Chair’s eye view

 

 

Today we added a coat of stain, which is still drying, so sadly we’re not able to use it today, but by next weekend the John J. Walsh Memorial Happy Hour Deck will be ready for action, just in time for the Last Sunday ride.

Almost ready for a trial run.

Last Sunday Ride, January 2014

Had a nice group of 5 of us for this month’s Last Sunday ride at the Hideaway. preride2 Today’s route toured all the best climbs around the neighborhood, covering 60 miles with 6100 feet of climbing. ride2

Kim

ride5

ride6 All in all a perfect day for a bike ride.  We did have one small mishap with a flat tire in a corner that resulted in Jim leaving a bit of skin on the road, but he carried on gamely, as if it never even happened.  

LastSundayJan2014

Thanks all for another great day of riding!

PostRide

Lucky to ride a bicycle in San Diego in January

Took the TT bike out today for a good long jaunt down the coast.  I met up with friends Wei and Sean at mile 30, then continued on to La Jolla cove, where we stopped for a cup of coffee and some nice conversation.

Coffee in La Jolla Cove

Sean was nice enough to pose across the road, showing off our view from the cafe.

Sean at the cove

Unbelievably, on the return trip my Garmin read 75 degrees!  When I got home, I watched a bit of the Green Bay game, where they reported temperatures on the field was 5 degrees.