Friday, June 24, 2011

Rockwell Relay: Hanksville to Panguitch

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go." -T.S. Eliot

Moab to St. George – Leg 5

Leg Notes
This leg is a significant climb that follows the Fremont River (upstream) most of the way. At mileage 29.0 you will enter Capitol Reef National Park. This is park is one of the last great secrets in the USA. As the sun sets in front of you the light will illuminate the towering red cliffs. The historical town of Fruita at mileage 37.4 shows how early settlers of Utah lived. The green fruit trees of Fruita contrast beautifully against the red cliffs overhead.

Elevation Map – Leg 5

Food, water, and restrooms at Sinclair gas station. Gas station and hotel are owned by super great guy from Armenia. There is a great Mexican restaurant adjacent the gas station called “La Cueva”. Excellent Mexican food and it will be open all evening and through the night for the Rockwell Relay.

It's taken me a while to figure out what happened on this leg, if I have indeed figured it out. If I don't know it's certainly not for lack of analyzing it. Several factors came into play starting with nutrition. Breakfast was the standard pancake affair in the park. When it comes to pancakes I'm more of a snob than Swedish Matt is about bottled waters (turns out he likes the Aquafina, which I'll admit even as a non-discriminating water drinker, did the trick when I polished it off, I still owe you a couple of bottles Matthew ... don't worry I'm good for it). I'll praise just about everything about this race and the folks who organized and pulled it off but pancake prowess is not high on the Rockwell staff's skill set. What I ended up with were two under cooked Bisquick hockey pucks. I'm all for carb-loading but this didn't strike me as a good idea, so I passed. Instead I ate a couple of Fruition* bars:
Peach and Strawberry

There was a whole box of them at the start of the race. Swedish Matt looked at the ingredients (re-constituted date paste, chia seeds and other organic ingredients) and warned me "Don't do it, don't change anything up on race day, you don't know what that fruit bar will do to you." He was right as it turned out. Fruition bars are reasonably tasty given their less than delicious sounding ingredients but they are also natural laxatives. It wasn't a problem the first half of the day but when Rodzilla came storming into Hanksville I was still using the gas station's facilities. I rushed to fill some water bottles and get my shoes and helmet on. We lost about 5 minutes (and probably one position in the race) but when I left exchange #4 we were sitting in 20th position and still about an hour ahead of our predicted split times.

I rode the same tailwind that blew our team Captain into Hanksville out of town and even though I was still climbing (significantly as per the course description) I was able to keep a 22-23mph pace. I hit the first hill climb (the one that looks like hiccup on the mendacious elevation map) and dropped my chain trying to downshift into my small ring without breaking cadence. Two cyclists pass me in the minute or so it took me to right my drivetrain and get going again.

Prior to the chain drop/hillclimb I was averaging over 18 mph. This was supposed to be my easy leg, 45 miles, 2800 feet of climb. Less distance and less climb than the Moab to Monticello leg and far less intense than my final climb over Cedar Breaks tomorrow morning would be. I knew if I was going to average 17mph for my 130 miles I would need to average better than 18 on this leg because despite Rodzilla's optimistic prediction, 16mph over Cedar Breaks was not in the cards, not for me anyway and as it turned out not for many of the riders involved in this race. I get over the chain drop hill and the road continues to climb, a little bit steeper now and the wind that was pushing me along has shifted and is now working against me.

By the time the other Sons of Perdition catch up to me and hand me the required reflective vest (to be worn between the hours of 8:30 pm and 6:30 am) I'm down to a 17.8 mph average. I swap out a water bottle, but the one I get is ambient temperature (about 80 degrees), just like the full one still on my bike. I swig a little but it tastes like warm plastic water bottle and from then on I stop embracing re-hydration and start thinking about pounding out these last 25 miles and getting some Mexican food at La Cueva in Torrey.

Mile 25: The Sasquatch Hill

I make special mention of this hill climb because two noteworthy things happen. Rodzilla becomes famous and I seal my fate vis-a-vis the Hanksville to Torrey leg of the Rockwell Relay.

I can see this hill looming from about 3 miles away. It looks ridiculous, like a carnival ride roller coaster going over the top of a mountain. I try to convince myself that the race course follows a different road, that somehow there's a fork and I will take the gentle path around the hill instead of directly over it but that's crazy talk. There are no other roads out this far, I'm surprised the one I'm on is actually paved as far removed from any population center as we are. I know I can't dog it over this hill; my average MPH is already down to 17.8 and that's not going to cut it so I hit the hill running and push hard to stay in the 12-13mph range as I climb the mile and a half 0f 9% grade.

The crew passes me just before the hill climb and parks at the top, where Rodzilla gets recognized as the minor internet sensation he has become in the blog-o-sphere. TeamSasquatch recognizes, of all people, the Legend of Ivan, whom if memory serves has shown up exactly once (other than actual sasquatch representations which may or may not have inspired this team's name depending on whose version of the story you are getting) on the blog. The driver from team Sasquatch recently returned from a mission to Peru, so they all sit and gab about this and that, completely losing track of time. I'm assuming that's why there is a mad scramble when they see me crest the hill much sooner than they anticipated:

I douse myself with the last of one luke-warm bottle and then chuck it. the Legend covers the guardrail so the bottle doesn't drop down the cliff and Swedish Matt blocks the space between the truck tires like an NHL goalie in overtime of game 7. These guys have ridden 80 miles with me now and they know how predictably unpredictable my bottle chucking can be. It's gotten worse as the day has gone on rather than better.
Rodzilla snaps a few photos then hands me what feels like a bottle full of water he's strained off a boiling pot of pasta; that will be refreshing. I should have made a request for something cold and with electrolytes, a cold bottle of gatorade perhaps? But again, I'm seduced by the 45 miles and the belief that this is my easy leg. This will be a snap, hammer it out, have a cold can of victory Coke, eat your dinner and try to get some sleep in the back of the truck. That's the plan anyway.

I include this entire series of photos for a couple of reasons. One: as the night came on we all lost our sense of excitement/willingness to relive the event in the future, and photos/video became sparse and Two: (especially in this next photo) you can see the exact moment when I've run my engine's afterburner too long and there's just not going to be enough in the tank to make it back to the airstrip (my two bottles of instant cocoa ready water notwithstanding).

After being disappointed on multiple hill climbs we learned never to count our downhill cycling chickens until we saw the sign with the truck. The truck on the hill is your salvation, at least temporarily.

This is how far we were behind team Sasquatch, at least for the moment. Good thing we have a photo, the moment didn't last.

I drop down the back side of Sasquatch hill into what appears to be a lunar landscape, gray and white sandstone bluffs and no vegetation whatsoever. About five miles later I'm following a red cliff canyon up the Fremont River toward Fruita. There are green trees (fruit trees I'm told) everywhere planted by early pioneers, though how the pioneers got out here in covered wagons without dying of heat stroke or dehydration is a mystery to me.

The team passes me the last time about 10 miles from the finish. I'm only managing 15mph, no way I'm averaging 18 on this leg and 17 is in jeopardy at the moment. They ask if I need anything and I (foolishly) wave them off. I'm winding down now, my lips are starting to go numb (that's never happened before and frankly I don't know what it means but I assume it can't be good) and I have that queasy 'don't bother sending me anything cause it's just going to come right back' feeling in my stomach but it's just ten more miles. Forty five minutes at my current pace. Longer and further than I want to go but it still feels possible. It's gonna hurt but then in a bike race if it doesn't hurt you're really not giving it your all. I tell Matt to go get ready for his next leg. It's his Boulder mountain hill climb, what I figured and still believe, is the worst leg/climb of the race despite the superlatives the race bible gives to my upcoming third leg.

The other three Hijos de Perdicion arrive in Torrey. Swedish Matt gears up and gets the lowdown on his upcoming hill climb from a local rider, a gregarious female cyclist who is training for LOTOJA with daily rides to the top of that very mountain. After Matt is out of earshot she gives the real skinny to Rodzilla. What he's looking at is 24 miles of climb highlighted by a one mile section of 12% grade and then finishing with a mile and a half of 11% grade (what she a referred to with false whimsy as 'the wall'). She asks if he has a triple ring up front (more gears, lower gears) to which 'zilla responds in the negative. He tells her Swedish Matt has a 53/39 up front (see Rodzilla's blog entry 'Beat down by three gears'
for an exhaustive explanation of bike gearing if you're interested) it's one of the reasons he's able to hit 40mph on a flat road but this road will be far from flat. When the local LOTOJA participant hears how Swedish Matt's bike is equipped, she lets out what I like to refer to as a 'prayer to the diety of scatology' and shakes her head in disbelief. If the Mule Canyon climb made Swedish Matt want to cry, this one's going to make him want to hurl. Rodzilla asks the gregarious cyclist to keep that last bit of information to herself and goes back to pep talking our next rider. Swedish Matt tells him to go inside and eat his dinner, he wants us on the road (and tracking his progress up the mountain) as soon as possible. Rodzilla is about to give in but it's been more than an hour since they last saw me on the other side of the Fruita canyon and what was a sense of unease has become real concern. The feeling in his gut, the one that's crowding out his hunger for enchiladas and chile rellenos, is that something's just not right. He decides to get in the truck and go back and see what's what.

What happened next is tough for me to piece together. I remember the canyon near Capitol Reef monument. I know it was beautiful, like Snake River Canyon outside Jackson Hole at the end of LOTOJA but like the end of LOTOJA I was completely gassed and running on fumes. At moments like these not much gets through the fog; beautiful scenery is one of those things that you perceive but can't appreciate. But unlike LOTOJA, this 45 mile ride is going to end with a serious hill climb into Torrey. I've picked up a few fellow cyclist that are drafting behind but won't pass me. When I pull out a bit to allow the one immediately behind me to take the point I'm told "I can't help you, I'm sorry." Not as sorry as me but whatever. My companion/trailer rode Rockwell last year as Cyclist #2 (Swedish Matt's leg) and signed up for cyclist #1 'to change things up
'. He tells me it's a decision he deeply regrets. My regret is not eating and drinking back when my stomach would have accepted it. The same thing happened at the end of LOTOJA and I promised myself to make that the first and last time I let that happen. As the sun sets for a final time over the Red Cliffs and the shadows grow, I realize that in less than a year I've broken that promise to myself. I'm reminded of growing up in Southern California. I knew I should always use sunscreen but until the first summer trip to the beach followed by a blistering sunburn I would forget or dismiss it. The days of nauseating sun scorched misery that followed were enough to make liberal use of sunscreen the rest of the year a given. Maybe getting dehydrated and pushing yourself past the recovery point is like that. You need to be reminded every once in a while how terrible it feels and in your next event you're wiser, more careful and more prepared.


We hit the traditional cruel hill climb that marks the finish of ... well most legs on this relay, except those ridden by our captain, but circumstances are about to give him an opportunity to make up for the fact that all three of his legs end with a cannonball-run drop. As the road pitches to 8-9% grades my vision dims, more than it should in the moonlit canyon. I check my lights. My bar light is out but the light on my helmet is still burning bright. Things start to get a bit blurry as well as dim and I finally pull off and let the riders behind me pass for the last time. I can see their support vehicles at the top of the hill. It's about 2 miles off and 500 feet up but it may as well be on the other side of the Colorado River with no bridge connecting us for as out of reach as it seems. As the remaining cyclists pass them, they fire up their trucks and RVs and drive over the ridge. Their tail lights remind me of supernovas that flame red at the end of their lives before burning out completely and becoming black holes. Like an extinct star, the darkness they leave in their wake feels as infinite and absolute as Perdition, our now painfully prophetic team name. I stand unsteadily on the side of the road trying to collect myself. I try walking up the hill and I make some progress but it's cleats on pavement, like walking on marbles. If I'm really going to walk I need to take my shoes off but if I do that I'm finished, no way I get started again.. I stumble on, getting on my bike occasionally riding a few hundred yards before I'm unable to maintain my equilibrium and then I walk some more.

I take inventory of my situation. I'm alone in the desert, 220 miles into a 530 mile race. I have three teammates somewhere several miles (between 2 and 5 miles near as I can tell, my Garmin says I've put in just over 96 miles today) ahead waiting on me so they can continue. I'm completely tanked and if/when I finish this leg I have a night of roadside naps ahead of me before I have to complete the hardest of my three legs but first I have to somehow figure how to get over this last hill. I feel desperate, beaten and ... broken. I've never been broken by a bike ride before but there's no doubt that's where I am now. I wonder, not for the first time, how long I will have to be out here before the team comes to look for me. It feels like hours since the sun went down but I've stopped being a reliable witness of timelines or events. All I know is it's dark, I'm alone and I'm broken.

The broken part, that's tough but if it were just me I would accept it and move on but there are three other guys relying on me. Letting them down is adding a layer of bitterness to an already difficult to swallow pill. Cell service has been spotty to non-existent since Blanding, 150 miles or so ago. I resort to the only resource still available to me or anyone this deep in outer darkness. I look to the heavens and offer up a plea, not for strength to get me to the top of the hill, at the moment in spite of the grandeur of creation all around me and the infinite nature of God's universe painted on the sky I'm pleading to, there still seem to be limits to what can reasonably be accomplished. Rather, I ask for a life boat, "send Rodney" is my prayer, stripped down to the bare essentials, it's all I need at the moment and the only thing that can get me out of my current predicament. I continue my trudge up the mountain for what may have been a minute or thirty, it's hard to gauge now. The only sound other than the wind is the chirping of my Garmin unit that tells me when I stumble into the 3 mph zone and then again when the auto-pause features stops tracking me as I drop below that threshold. There are no cars, just the mountains around me, the stars overhead and the ridge line silhouetted in moonlight in front of me. Finally a pair of headlights crest the hill and descend toward me, the first since the other support vehicles left. I don't doubt for a second who it is.

Cap'n Rodney pulls off the opposite side of the road and I tell him (this is all pretty much second hand from him, after I get off the bike and begin walking things are hazy) "I'm cooked, I'm done". Which I would call a fair and accurate summation of my physical and mental state even if I don't remember saying it. He parks, walks over, takes hold of my bike and says "Why don't you sit down, we'll talk about it." I let go of the bike and plant my flanks on the shoulder of highway 24. He gives me a look that says "I was thinking more about the truck, but here's good too." We sit for a while and I'm pretty certain the only solution is for Rodney to hop on the bike and finish the last two or three miles, no way I'm making it; not tonight, maybe not ever; depends on exactly what 'broken' really means. I don't want to be the one to suggest it however, so I sit for a minute and try the bike again. Rodney gets back in the truck following close behind. I make it a few hundred yards before I start to weave like a six year old on his first post training wheel ride. I manage to unclip. Rodney grabs the bike again and this time I go all the way down on my back and not on the shoulder but in the middle of westbound highway 24. I tell Rodney he's going to have to finish the hill for me. He looks doubtful and I reassure him that the hated Race Bible allows for subbing in cyclists in the event of an injury, I'm assuming broken would fall under that rule but at the moment I don't care. Turns out he's more concerned about his truck. He's seen me try to pilot a bike and has no confidence in my ability to drive. I tell him it's our only option and he relents, puts on the reflective vest, shoes and a helmet and racks my bike and takes his off and we climb the hill together.

The hill is even longer and steeper than I imagined it in the dark (and my imagination already had it really long and really steep). When we get to the parking lot of a motel this side of the Sinclair gas station we switch again and I coast into exchange point #5. I assure Rodney that I don't care who knows that I bonked but from the start, probably the first thing Rodney says to me is "It's OK, nobody has to know." At the time I was past pride and just wanted to find a place to lie down and either recover or die. Now, as I write this, having mended and eventually finishing the race I feel it's necessary that the story of how Rodney saved me, saved the race, saved the team, be broguht to light. There's a reason he's the leader of this crew. What I've come to think of as 'the Fruita Incident' is just one example of why.

At the exchange point Swedish Matt asks no questions and requests no explanation, he's been waiting impatiently for about 45 minutes. He takes the baton and he's gone. If Ivan is wondering why Rodney is wearing a yellow safety vest and sweating like Biz-Markie running a 10k, he doesn't say anything. I find a dark corner in La Cueva (the aptly named Mexican restaurant adjoining the Sinclair station) and pass out until Rodzilla and Ivan come looking for me. We order and eat Mexican food (pretty sure we do at least that's what I've been told) and then we leave to chase down Swedish Matt.

"It's just you, your bike, the mountain and God." -Anonymous cyclist to Swedish Matt, describing the spiritual nature of his midnight ascent of Boulder mountain in the 2010 Rockwell Relay.

Moab to St. George – Leg 6

Leg Notes
From Torrey start climbing up UT-12 into the Boulder Mountains. Climb is steep up to a false summit at mileage 15 then after a short decent and 5 more miles of climbing you will hit the boulder pass. Take a moment to enjoy the view the east. The mountains seen in the distance are the Henry’s that you just passed earlier in the day. After summit you have a steep decent down to the quaint town of Boulder and to the exchange. Take caution and watch for cattle, deer, and elk on the road during the descent.

Elevation Map – Leg 6

After eating we head out of the gas station and into Torrey and are arguing about whether or not we missed the Boulder Mountain turnoff when Rodzilla's cell phone rings. He gets a 'this can't be good' look on his face. He's still a little sweaty from his extra 3 miles of hill and I'm sure he's thinking "If that's Swedish Matt in trouble it's the Legend's turn to bail him out." It is Swedish Matt. I set aside the minor miracle that both he and Rodzilla have cell service this far out in the sticks and watch as Rodzilla's face goes from concern to semi-amusement. He tells us that Swedish Matt saw some lightning and wants us to bring him his jacket. I don't get the joke. A thunder storm when you're biking up a mountain in the dark doesn't sound fun or funny but Rodzilla assures me "he's just lonely, he wants some company." I know that feeling well and I don't blame him a bit.

By the time we catch Swedish Matt it has indeed started to rain and the temperature has dropped significantly. He claims it's not rain but snow. It's actually not that cold yet, but we're only at 7500 feet. Swedish Matt is going up to 9800 feet before he descends which, after the Cedar Breaks re-route would make him the undisputed King of the Mountain on this ride even if he wasn't going up to 10,800 feet tomorrow afternoon. The night is young however and we're still early in this ride, snow may indeed be in the cards. Hard to believe that 4 hours ago we were sweltering in 100 degree temps alongside Lake Powell. Epic seems too small a word to describe this race.

Swedish Matt knows beforehand he's going to be climbing this hill for at lest a couple of hours. The race bible describes a false summit (one) and once we hit our third such false summit (which we begin to refer to by their proper name: filthy lies) he tells us to drive ahead and tell him how much more he has left. Half a dozen times we do it and half a dozen times the news is bad. After the third such scouting mission we're tempted to lie to him and tell him he's close but the Legend of Ivan won't allow it. There are plenty enough lies in the Race Bible already and he's unwilling to add to them.

When we finally do summit the mountain (not really there's still more hill ... there's always more hill, let's just agree on that point and stop pretending otherwise) at about mile 24, when Swedish Matt's climbing should be done, we come to a clearing with several support vehicles (the first cars we've seen in over an hour) and what looks like two ambulances stopped on the road ahead. For some reason I don't believe there could be ambulances up this high. I can't give you my reasoning here (I probably just don't get it or maybe I'm just scared?) I just remember doubting it and telling Rodzilla as much. As we inch forward a (traffic cop? could that be? He looked like he was 14 years old and how many traffic cops do you need on Boulder mountain?) tells us that indeed those are ambulances parked ahead. One of the Rockwell Riders from Team Give hit the cattle grate in the road at the wrong point and his wheel dropped in, stopping him so abruptly that his cleats stay in his pedals and he and his shoes go over his handlebars. The impact of his head as he summersaults onto the pavement shatters one of his cervical vertebrae and he is currently in one of the ambulances waiting for Life Flight to take him to the nearest trauma center.

With that sobering news freshly delivered, Swedish Matt threads his way past the parked cars and roadside emergency medical personnel and begins his descent of Boulder Mountain in the dark.

Before the race Swedish Matt warned us about the cattleguards in the road. The temptation is to hit that solid band of metal and avoid the bone jarring corrugated iron grate. But as evidenced by this photo, you do so at your peril. Some grates (and it's completely random which ones) are not solid but rather have gaps almost exactly the width of a road bike tire. Better to slow down and take your lumps.

Even post roadside trauma and with the specter of cattleguards in the road, Swedish Matt tucks and runs down the mountain at 35-40 mph.

Setting aside the many race bible lies (the most recent being the length and nature of the Boulder Mountain ascent) the heads-up about deer, elk and cattle was useful, if not completely heeded by cyclists. Team Brute Force (the eventual winners) had their cyclist hit a deer on this descent. We roll past a suspicious looking group of 5 or 6 ... what would you call them Rodzilla? Teen-agers? They looked half asleep or animitronic, like cyborgs. Certainly they were many miles from any city or town and doing ...what exactly on the side of a mountain in the middle of the night? As we pass them we realize that they are collectively keeping a herd of sheep from bull rushing the road. We contemplate the import of what would likely happen to 200lbs of cyclist hurtling down the highway at 40 mph had they not been there and we offer another prayer, this one of thanks, for the ... shepherds I guess they were.

We arrive in the town of Boulder around two in the morning. Matt's midnight run has been nothing short of heroic and coupled with the Mule Canyon hill climb has more than earned him the free pass he was originally slated for on his third leg from Cedar Breaks to Cedar City.

Moab to St. George – Leg 7

Leg Notes
This section of State Road 12 is what makes it famous! It just cannot be put into words, but here we go with a meager attempt. As you descend from Boulder down to the Escalante river, you will thoroughly enjoy cycling down the famous ridge at mileage 6.3 with steep drop off’s on both sides of the road. You will feel as though you are cycling in the clouds. As you near the Escalante River you will pass the Calf Creek Gorge (home of Calf Creek Falls) on the right. Excellent views from a top the road down to the green bottom of the gorge are breathtaking. Shortly after climbing up from the river on the other side you come to a windy section of road that contours a rugged white slickrock. At mileage 26.1 you will pass through the town of Escalante and begin an ascent back into Dixie national forest. After reaching a mild summit, you wind down the narrow canyon and end in the town Henrieville, population 159.

Elevation Map – Leg 7

I wish I could say I remember more about this leg but I don't. It's apropos that all the photographic evidence we have on the Legend's second turn on the bike is of us, sleeping or trying to sleep, as the Legend pedals on in solitude.

Rodzilla tries to sleep but is awoken by a whispering ghost. Something like "Just don't move!" In a hushed voice but one that sounds like it's coming from next to him in his sleeping bag. Later we realize it was one of the tandem bike teams talking to each other as they pedaled over the mountain. The incident shook Rodzilla up pretty thoroughly though. No more sleeping after that.

I do remember this stop and this overlook. It's a scenic pullout but not much scenery to be had at this hour. I walk to the wall and spy what I assume is a mountain biker, it's a solitary light and moving too slow to be a motorcycle. It's so far away and so far below us that I wonder if I can actually see all the way to Moab in the dark. I call Rodzilla over to get an opinion and as I do, a set of headlights pulls up behind and then alongside the single light and it occurs to me that it's actually a Rockwell Relay rider. Somewhere down there is the Legend of Ivan and one way or another he will have to pedal up to where we are currently parked. The thought makes me want to weep for him, but then I've been on the emotional edge, pretty much since the Fruita incident. Rodzilla takes a deep breath, blows it out slowly and asks "Is that what Ivan has to climb?" Neither of us answers, but neither of us has to. There's only one road out here and like the tiny specks of light that are this cyclist and support vehicle, the Legend is on it.
Highway 12, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

We spend the night riding ten miles then stopping and sleeping with our heads against the truck window or curling up in sleeping bags on the roadside, trying to stay warm. I enjoyed the most profound sleep in recent memory for thirty glorious minutes in a sleeping bag on the asphalt of the Escalante High School parking lot.

As night moves toward morning and our elevation goes from 5500 feet to 7500 feet, the temperature drops to about 34 degrees f (close to 0 celsius). At one point the Legend's helmet light burns out and he pedals through the frigid night navigating by moonlight and the solid white line of pavement that runs along the road. He can see the flashing red light of another cyclist a few hundred yards ahead and he's wearing a reflective vest and has a flashing light of his own, so he feels relatively protected from oncoming traffic (of which there is of course very little other than Rockwell participants). He tells us this in response to our apologies for pretty much sleeping through his entire ride and letting him pedal down the road blind. When we ask him "What about potholes, what would you have done then?" He allows: "Yeah, potholes would have been bad. But I was lucky, there weren't any." If you were expecting to hear complaints, complaints that he had every right to vocalize, you haven't been paying attention to who the Legend of Ivan is and what makes him legendary. The frozen 56 mile Boulder to Henrieville ride is just another chapter in the Legend's book.

Our last roadside stop and sleep is at an overlook from which you can spy Bryce Canyon National Park, but I'm too tired to open the truck door and walk to edge of the parking lot. In 3 hours or so I'm back on the bike with 30 miles of mountain to climb. I'm not certain that 45 minutes of sleep in the back of Rodzilla's truck can repair what's been broken but it's what I've got available and I've got to try.

Moab to St. George – Leg 8

Leg Notes
Shortly after leaving Henrieville you will pass through the small towns of Cannonville and Tropic. In Cannonville at mileage 3.4 you can find a visitors center for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. After Tropic enjoy the views to the west of Bryce Canyon National Park from below. At mileage 10.9 you will enter the Park. The road winds up the canyon with spectacular red hoodoos all around. Yes, the official name is a hoodoo. Reach the summit at mileage 14.4 and stay on top the plateau for about 9 miles, then begin the decent into Red Canyon. Again more hoodoos in every direction and pass though the 2 red rock tunnels at mileage 24.4 and 24.5. At the bottom of Red Canyon take a right in UT-89 and finish the leg into Panguitch.

Elevation Map – Leg 8

We arrive in Henrieville just before 6am. Ivan has been on the bike for four very cold, very dark hours. The exchange point staff has spent that entire night wrapped in sleeping bags on lawn furniture. The Rockwell people ask us vote for the best exchange station, based on services provided, congeniality, helpfulness etc. Rodzilla instantly throws The Frutia/Torrey exchange out there "They had music, videos, t-shirts, massage station, a hot tub ... fresh churros..." I don't remember any of that. I do remember this couple who sat outside in the same arctic night that our legendary Peruvian rode through. They get my vote.

Rodzilla gets the rundown from the exchange point couple huddling together to conserve body heat. This will be his biggest climb of the race, nearly 2000 feet in 10 miles. He gets out all his winter riding gear. Yeah the calendar says it's June 10th but it feels like February outside.

Apparently Rodzilla Includes a mouth guard in his winter cycling gear, just in case a hockey game breaks out I suppose.

The first part of the ride is through farmland and then a town called Tropic. It's 7:30 on a Saturday morning in June and I can see my breath. They may want to rethink that name.

The ride through Bryce canyon is as beautiful as advertised. There are plenty of photo opportunities, from the hoodoos (still unclear what exactly they are despite Swedish Matt's patient attempts to explain it) to the double rock tunnels just after the canyon climb, but road fatigue and sleep deprivation is beginning to take its toll on everybody. At this point we are as likely to throw a camera at someone as take their picture.

Rodzilla survives the hill climb and fifteen miles outside of Panguitch he waves off the proffered water bottle and requests a banana instead. I peel one and Swedish Matt angles in close enough for me to hand it out the truck window. Rodzilla will tell you it was the culinary equivalent of my thirty minute black top nap in Escalante; the best thing he'd eaten the entire trip, maybe the best thing he'd eaten in weeks. When he catches up to us five miles later he's amped, like the banana was full of caffeine instead of potassium. He tells us we can still finish strong. If we really push we can make up as many as six spots before the finish line. I ask Swedish Matt what he put in the banana and he says he doesn't remember doctoring it with anything, though he admits his short-term memory is down to about seven minutes at this point. He does point out that we've covered another five miles since talking to Rodzilla and have yet to see another cyclist, so unless someone hits another deer or there's a second herd of sheep, this one without a shepherd, somewhere in the coming miles it's unlikely we will move up. The best we can hope for is to hold the the position we currently occupy.

Rockwell Relay Day 3, Panguitch to St George.


  1. Here's the thing:
    Originally I was going to add some editorials throughout this posting. I thought it would enhance the story and give our readers another perspective on the events that unfolded that night. As I started making my additions, I concluded that this wasn’t adding value, in fact is was taking value away from deebers hard work.

    The fact is, I am very appreciative of his ability to remember the details so clearly, and weave those memories into a great story. Deeb’s you’re the best a sincere heart-felt Thank you!!

    Also, because it is my blog I can broach this subject: High Power, Holy Spirit.

    Deebs, couldn’t tell this side of the incidences that transpired in Torrey and I wasn’t, but it is important to me to share these feelings. That night in Torrey, I felt something much stronger than my stomach telling me to go get some much deserved Mexican cuisine. In fact, I felt the spirit so strong that it is hard to put into words.

    Here we were, the three of us standing around in what was clearly the best transition spot of the entire race. There were plenty of distractions, weather it was the live “recorded” music, the free massages, the local legend breaking down the next leg in great detail, or the Mexican restaurant that I had been looking forward to for over 5 hours. However, there was something greater at work. As we got Matt ready for his next leg, I kept making unexplained trips back to the truck, feeling as though something wasn’t right. I often get bouts of nervous energy, but this was different. I felt the need to get away from the loud music to think. I climbed into the truck and re-parked. As I turned the engine off, and listened to the quit.. I distinctly, felt, not heard, but felt the words, “Your friend needs you”.

    Well that is all I needed, it was so clear. I was so resolved in my decision, I jumped out of the car, approached Matt and Ivan and told them, I am going back for him. I hopped in the car and drove. This was the hard part, as all I could see was single head lights of many bikers. I remembered that deebs had two lights on, so I was focused on looking for that configuration, but I couldn’t actually make out the riders until I was almost past them. I felt like it was looking for a needle in the haystack. After passing five or six riders, and the support vehicles I started thinking, I must have passed him. I past him and now I am missing my Mexican dinner.

    I started to turn around, when I heard / felt the same thing, which was so strong it sent a ball of energy through my body and collected in my heart and throat. I re-corrected the car, and drove much faster into the darkness. Sure enough on the other side of the hill I found my friend.

    The rest of the story you have already heard, but I wanted my side to be heard. I don’t often share my spiritual feelings, and I need to embrace them more, so sorry for the long comments…..But when I read that Deebs said a prayer, and I heard it in that same instance is in my mind one of those memories that I will never forget.

    So without any further adieu, back to the final chapter.

    PS Mad Bro-Love for The Deebs, I know that night was hard for him to accept, but liked everything about it.

  2. Harrowing and touching and ... epic. Awesome also works, as you mentioned.
    And how did you ever survive the cattleguards? I can't even look at them without grimacing.

    Anyway, congrats to you all on a Tennysonian accomplishment!