Saturday, January 1, 2011

LOTOJA Blog 2010: Chapter 1

LOTOJA: A Novice Cyclist's perspective


The genesis of this entire experience took place almost exactly one year ago, during halftime of the BYU/Utah State football game which is held annually the Friday night before October General conference. dregger was still finishing his Masters Degree through a satellite program at the UoU and was in town for a presentation or a class or an exam or something. He had arrived late to the game and halftime was the first chance I had to talk to him. Our conversation began with one word: "LOTOJA." Which he said with a grin and a nod, like it was the answer to everything. I was reminded of that scene in The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman gets advice about his post college future in one word: "Plastics." Of course I asked dregger to explain, which he did. The graphics below pretty well summarize what he told me. Without giving it the requisite thought that any sane person would, I told him I wanted in. He told me I needed to buy a bike. I told him that since I had put slick treads on my mountain bike I was a lot faster and could cover lots more ground. He told me "yeah, you need to buy a bike". I had already decided that my mountain bike had served its purpose: make me work harder than necessary to burn calories and drop weight and I was at the point where a road bike made more sense. The challenge of LOTOJA presented a good excuse to carry through with that plan.

Lotoja route

As I did more research on the event I discovered two important and somewhat disconcerting facts (beyond the obvious ones that come to mind when presented with the data above). 1) Lots of people want to do LOTOJA, far more than there are available positions. A lottery would be used to award the 1100 coveted slots to the more than 4000 cyclists who wanted in. I thought how disappointing it would be to do all this training, only to be denied a starting position. And 2) in order to finish the race before dark (assuming you started at the crack of dawn) you had to average 16.7 mph (25kph) for the entire 206 miles/338 km. I felt daunted by both those facts, but dregger was confident. He had an inside track on acquiring a starting position (by signing up as a member of the Logan Race Team through his cycling friend, the anesthesiologist Dr Ivey, the one who I blame for all this madness) and as for finishing, dregger remarked glibly "of course we'll finish." At the time I doubted it but figured one way or another I would get into shape and if the race didn't work out, at least my health would improve. So I began the training process I summarized in my last blog entry which brings us to:

Saturday, September 11th. Race Day Logan, Utah. 6am

First leg: Logan, UT to Preston, ID (34 miles)

It's really, really cold (38 degrees f according to the thermometer in my car) and dark as dregger and I check the air presure in our bike tires, stuff our pockets with spare tubes/tool kits, energy bars and shot blocks and roll out of the parking lot of the hotel he and Lisa stayed in the night before. I'm wearing underarmour under my cycling jersey and the cycling windbreaker I borrowed from Briski the day before. I was told by Dr Ivey, by way of dregger, that I would look ridiculous if I wasn't wearing arm/leg warmers; essentially removable sleeves/leggings that can be pulled off quickly and tucked in my pocket or handed off at a feed station. I debated the purchase briefly and then took inventory of what this whole venture had cost me so far (rough estimate @ $3,000 between bikes, tune ups, equipment, apparel, bike racks and entry/licensing fees) and figured it was an unnecessary expense. I didn't even price them but knowing what I do about cycling it would have been over-priced and frankly I was getting tired of all the preening and primping that went into cycling. I figured I would wear what I had and let my riding speak for itself. If my fashion and form were worthy of ridicule, so be it.

We arrive at the starting line about 6:15 for an anticipated 6:55 start. The first group released is the fun ride group. They aren't racing and are not wearing the racing chip that was issued to the rest of us and which was now strapped to our ankles like the tracking devices they use to monitor felons on house arrest, making us look very much like a he rd of fugitives on bikes making a break for it. The fun ride is the group they referred to in orientation as the 'Picnic Ride' you ride some, you eat some, you ride some more, you eat some more ... in retrospect that would have been a good plan for me as well. I start looking around at cyclists with the same group number Mens Licensed Cat 5, which means (with the exception of me, dregger and possibly one or two other riders) cyclists with lots of racing experience and a USA Cycling license. I look around and feel decidedly outclassed. I settle onto my bike seat and it feels squishy, like I'm sitting on a bowl of pudding. I'm initially alarmed and then I remember the chamois butter that I have liberally applied to my bibs and my person. On long rides it cuts down on the friction and chafing. I was doubtful at first but then I remembered the trauma that accompanied my only ride of more than 100 miles and went ahead and used it. It turned out to be a really good idea but at the moment I wasn't so sure. Too late to do anything about it anyway. I had just enough time in the starter box to find an empty space among the 57 riders that formed our race (the race is technically against them and not against the field of 1100 riders, there are 24 such individual races going on within the race) and start my Garmin which when fully charged will track my movements for 12 hours. I figured I might need all 12 so I turn it on and hope it can locate a satellite within the three minutes remaining before we're released. With about 10 seconds to spare the display shows 00:00:00, I hit start, hear the countdown 5-4-3-2-1 .. have a great ride!. And we're rolling down the street in the pre-dawn shadows of the Logan temple, making a hard left on 200 North and out into Cache Valley farmland.

* My cycling buddy Rodney recently told me he likes the blog but is bothered by the 'stock' photos that I lift off the internet to add illustration to the narrative. "
Where are the pictures of you?" "Where's your bike?" "I want to see you in there." I think what really bothers him is the fact that most of the photos feature riders in much better condition than me with much nicer bikes. So for disclosure sake unless I make a point to identify myself, don't look for me in any of these pictures. I wish I could afford to pay a photographer to chase me along the course and provide me with my personal photoblog, but ...(see above re: expenditures). Besides, these photos are excellent and stir memories that haven't yet had the chance to fade.

Out of my class or not, about the most effortless thing to do in cycling is to let a peloton of 50 riders sweep you along flat roads at high speeds. We settle in to a 23-24 mph (36-38kmh) pace and the riders in the peloton stay tight on one another's rear wheel, nobody's trying to break away from the pack, we're all just warming up our legs, which by rights should be difficult despite the activity given the biting cold but there's enough adrenaline pumping now that I don't feel it. Even my fingers feel OK. We stay in that same tight peloton for most of an hour and 15 minutes, the time it takes us to cover the 34 miles to Preston. The only time the group deviates from its snaking straight line charge is when we come upon a car or farm implement. There's an occasional cyclist, one an old man riding a beach cruiser and wearing a birdhouse on his head (siting of said cyclist confirmed by dregger and Jennifer who drove past him shortly after we did. I've come to accept the theater of the absurd mental haze that accompanies any long ride that drains your electrolytes and saps your energy, you recede into your head, you imagine things, you see things ... but this was too early in the race to excuse it away like that. I was glad to hear Jenn saw him too). We nearly ran down another cyclist from the fun ride, first of many I would catch, and some of whom would return to catch me again, that day. This one was a woman dressed, in dregger's words, 'like a Sherpa' with full parka, ski pants and backpack riding a hybrid street/mountain bike. One of the anonymous cyclists from Mens Licensed Cat 5 5300s observed knowingly "that woman is in for a long, looong day."

Cache county disappeared under our wheels in a blur of farmland, farm smells, cows, cowboys, tractors and trucks. As we came to a slight hill in the road, a Rodney* sized cyclist in a red windbreaker sat up in his saddle right in the middle of the peloton and began doing albatross wings with his arms. His wingspan was roughly equivalent to his height, so this was a bold and perhaps ill-advised move. I looked over at dregger and said "Check it out, Gigantor can fly" to which dregger replied "That's really going to help him on the hill climbs." And it went like that: pedal, coast, crack a nervous joke, sip some gatorade even though it's too cold to sweat and repeat until finally we arrive at:

Preston Idaho Homes and Real Estate picture
The small town in Idaho that probably wishes it were known for something more than being the quaint hamlet where they filmed the movie Napoleon Dynamite.
_Napoleon Dynamite_ star Jon Heder wears a bewildered expression as he stands against the backdrop of Preston, Idaho.
Today the town could put that possibly embarrassing fact aside and instead be proud to be the first feed station on the LOTOJA route (as well as the home of 'That famous Preston Night Rodeo' and The Idaho Festival of lights ... see above) I still kept an eye on the passing fields looking for the casserole eating Llama whose stage name is Tina. We arrive at the feed station and I use the facilities because I can, not because I necessarily need to but better to anticipate rather than be forced to react in that regard. We opted to have Jennifer and Lisa skip this feed station as it seemed unlikely we would need anything we didn't already have in our pockets at this point. Sending them to the feed station in Montpelier would give them an extra hour or two to sleep and save them about 60 extra miles of driving but it would also mean we would be 80 miles, 4 hours (and one very long/steep mountain pass) into our ride before we met up with our support crew. We top off our water bottles and head out of town. The 57 man peloton is now down to about 20 riders and not all necessarily from Mens Licensed Cat 5, 5300s. (cont ... next up Preston to Montpelier, 46 miles)

*Rodney-sized = any man over 6'6" and 250lbs

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