Third Leg: Montpelier, ID to Afton, WY (45miles/75km)This canyon road is less lush than Emigration Canyon leaving Preston, some scrub oak and sage brush but starkly landscaped which has a rough beauty of its own that I can generally appreciate but not today. Today subtlety is shouted down by the job at hand which is to grind out the miles.
We're hardly out of Montpelier before we start climbing again. If you're sensing a theme at this point, there's a good reason for that.
dregger and I take turns pulling each other up the hill, the road loops slightly southeast and we encounter our first real headwind of the day. I get out on the point, push myself for about a mile and look over my shoulder and see that there are a dozen riders between dregger and me. I signal out, get a congratulatory "good pull"' from the #2 rider in the peloton and let myself drift to the rear. When I try to connect with the tail of the group, the hill is too steep and the wind is pushing me back. I try quickly to evaluate how my legs and lungs are doing at that pace vs how they would do if I go it alone. In the time it takes to debate the topic the line of riders pulls away and the decision is made for me. I settle in for what turns out to be the worst climb of the day. Most ride summaries you find on the internet include the normal stats: miles covered, total time, average mph, finishing position and a blurb about 'darkest moments'. As I put my head down and slog up the hill I naively tell myself this is my darkest moment.
Thirty minutes into my climb we round a bend that I figured brought us to the top but it turns out we were only half done. This climb is unyielding, unattractive and unfair. Strawberry summit was demanding and longer than necessary but had the good sense to be visually engaging. This hill lacks any charm whatsoever. There are no trees, just dead brush and gray-brown mountains. There are no cars because the road has been closed so the only sound is the wind and the slow turning of bike cranks. A rider has pulled off and is cradling his head in the crook of his arm against a road sign that says Geneva Summit. It looks to me like he's praying but as I get closer I realize he's having a roadside disagreement with the lunch he ate back in Montpelier. I think how incongruous this mountain pass' name is with its reality. The name Geneva Summit conjures up images of Alpine peaks and vacation lake resorts or deténtes between heads of state looking to make peace
The only good thing that came from the Geneva Summit (other than the guidelines drawn up to require civilized nations to make war on each other in a gentlemanly fashion and to outlaw torture, the Idaho version of the Geneva Summit disregards that last point with shocking impunity) was that it made the prospect of entering the loathsome state of Wyoming seem absolutely inviting by comparison.
I pedal through the town Geneva (ID) and out into the countryside. No farmland or trees out here, just windblown plains. I head northwest toward our third mountain range of the day and run into lots of automobile traffic; mostly support vehicles with LOTOJA numbers posted on them but also non-LOTOJA participants. They've come to a virtual stand still and some are even sticking cameras out the window and snapping photos. I look ahead and off the right side of the highway I see a cloud of dust and emerging from the cloud, what looks to be a man on horseback, only he's some how much larger than your average horseman and he's drawn the full attention of the motorists, so he's something more than just a guy riding a horse. I briefly wonder to myself if he was actually riding an elephant or possibly a camel. It registers in my mind that a man riding an elephant in the middle of a bike race is really unlikely so I check the Garmin see that I'm 100 miles and 5 1/2 hours into this ride and figure that seeing cowboys on elephants just means I'm not drinking enough water. When I finally catch the dust cloud what I find is more disturbing than a circus sideshow hallucination. The men (I realize now there are several) on horseback are desperately trying to keep 60 head of beef cattle from storming the highway and destroying the slow moving vehicles. They are currently losing this battle as at least a dozen cows are trotting skittishly on the highway's shoulder. I can see at least six cyclists ahead of me that are about to be stampeded, I don't dare take my eyes off the road to look behind me but in my head I figure we are about to become part of LOTOJA lore that trumps even SNOTOJA 2005. I watch the cyclists ahead of me negotiate the cattle run and think briefly of the time I followed two cyclists past an unleashed dog, and can't even gauge how much worse this might turn out but I pedal through. For whatever reason, maybe it's the cowboy on the elephant that stops them, the cows stay just off the highway and we make it through unscathed.
I wonder to myself how I missed the 'Welcome to Wyoming' sign because what just happened could only happen in Wyoming.
I catch dregger at the neutral feed station at the base of the King/Queen of the Mountain hill climb. I fill my water bottles, eat some dried fruit and choked down an orange vanilla cream Gu They have the consistency of marshmallow cream and honey. The flavor is an affront to oranges and vanilla beans everywhere but somehow they are going down easier. I drink half my water bottle as dregger asks a fellow cyclist how much hill we have left. Four miles, maybe four and a half is the answer. dregger turns to me and says "did you hear that? just four miles left, let's do it!" I give him what I assume is a blank "Yeah, sure, whatever" stare. If this ride were following the grief pattern we've arrived at the last stage of our terminal illness: Acceptance. Denial started the minute I stepped to the starting line with Men's Licensed Cat 5 5300s, I Bargained my way from Preston to the top of Emigration Canyon, I get Angry just writing about Geneva Summit which brings us to: Salt River Pass, 4 1/2 miles of 7-9% grade topping out at 7900 feet. So yeah, if you want me ride my bike over a mountain pass so blighted and ugly I wished I was blind or trample me to death with livestock, or after 105 miles make me ride up the steepest mountain pass yet, as fast as I can and call it 'the race within the race', go ahead, do your worst, I'm past caring. anymore. I accept my situation because it's all that's left to do.
dregger takes off fast and starts dropping one rider after another. I wonder to myself, not for the first time, why this ride isn't beating him down like it is me, when I get a surge of Orange-Vanilla cream Gu authored energy and start charging up the hill and passing riders myself. The burst lasts about as long as it takes to wash the taste of Gu from your mouth and I repent once again of the sin hubris which seems to have plagued me pretty much since the halftime of the BYU/Utah State game in 2009. I settle back and stop thinking about anything other than making progress up this mountain.
Dropping down from the summit we enter Star Valley WY, which is much easier on the eyes than the Wyoming with which I've had congress. This part of the valley is also the only continuous stretch of negative grade that lasts more than a few miles. The Strawberry summit tailwind is back and I settle in to a 25mph pace so effortless I feel guilty for not pushing it harder but the guilt is fleeting. One thing I've learned in the last 6 1/2 hours is to ride out your waves of energy for as long as possible and save some for the hill you're going to have to climb soon.
I ride through Smoot Wyoming and even on a bike it's a town you could miss if you sneezed. In orientation they told us that the 400 people in the conference center constituted a larger population than many of the town we would ride through, Smootwould be one of those micro-towns. The road through is packed with LOTOJA support vehicles and I'm reminded again of how completely this race violates the ethos of many cyclists who eat only vegetable matter and worry daily about their carbon footprints. Eleven hundred cyclists and a similar number of vehicles leave a large footprint, carbon and otherwise, on towns as small as Smoot. That said, about twenty Smoot-ites are out roadside, ringing cowbells and cheering us on.
Somewhere between Smoot and Afton Jennifer and Lisa drive past me, but take some time to do so and I look and see that I'm back to 30mph and I wish to myself that this entire ride would be downhill with a tailwind. I arrive at the Feed station in Afton find dregger but no Lisa or Jennifer. I really need to eat something non-slimy by now so I'm concerned that Jennifer's not around but at the same time more than willing to stop moving for a while. I drink some Gatorade and give in to the temptation to lie down but it feels too good, too right and I know if I spend more than a few seconds on my back I won't move until Sunday morning, so I force myself to my feet and Jennifer and Lisa arrive. I eat ... stuff, I don't know what but Jenn will tell you it's not enough. Nathan calls to get an update and to have Jennifer tell me that Virginia Tech has lost to George Madison in a huge upset. I'm amazed that while I've been riding that the world has continued to turn. People have been eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, BYU is even playing a pivotal conference game vs Air Force all while my world has been reduced to pedals, sweat and hills. Nathan asks how I'm doing and I'm pulled from standing stupefaction and respond that I want to die. It's 125 miles of mostly up hill and more than I could have possibly expected or prepared for. There's still another 80 miles to cover and that seems incomprehensible at the moment.
First official race picture of me. I feel worse than I look (if that's possible). Nothing I've done in the last 6 months prepared me for what I did the last 7 hours. It's this race ... this race.
By the time we get back on our bikes the food and the bottle of Coke I drank are starting to have an affect. My legs don't feel wooden and Star Valley is slowly and in minuscule measure changing my opinion of Wyoming, the state. Good thing because I still have 80 miles of it to cover. (cont)
Next Leg: Afton, WY to Hoback Junction, WY (60 miles/100km)