Friday, June 17, 2011

Rockwell Relay, Moab to Monticello

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

"This is our time ..." -Goonies

Day 2: Race Day (Game On!)

Cap'n Rodzilla giddily flies the team colors and posts the team Standard on his Nissan Titan. (Remember the Titan ... I always will.)

About a week before the actual event Rodzilla posted a spread sheet estimate of our predicted split times and overall finish time, it was called the Rockwell Relay Time Estimator, you may have read it. Later, in the relative* privacy of personal email correspondence he gave us his official 'Commander addressing the troops' speech:

Okay boys,

So I took a stab at calculating some time for you, I wanted to be able to make some estimations. But now off the record, and off the blog site** what is realistic?

Seriously, lets set a stretch goal here. This email will never go anywhere but between us four***, so please lets put it out there.

Most of our training rides have been restrained, we are either holding back because we are waiting for someone, or because we want to save a little juice for the ride home, or possible yard work, and or play time with the kids. This race is our opportunity to tear our legs off, I dare each of you to set some personal best records out on this course. Think about it, what if we rode like we had something to prove, what if we gave it our all? We don't need to worry about coming home and cleaning the house, or mowing the lawn, or taking kids to the park. When you are finished you have 6 hours of just rest time. This race is for us, we have all earned this time, lets enjoy it.
  • Matt, you're telling me that you can't average more than 22 mph on 4,800 feet of downhill? Seriously, I am thinking you can bomb that hill!
  • Steve are you seriously saying that you're maxed out climbing speed is 15 MPH? You have a big ring, can you use it?
  • Ivan, you're the nice guy, I can feel your effortless peddling behind me just holding back, well don't...blow it all out.
Guys, we are not competing against each other, we are competing against ourselves. Each leg is different, some will have head winds, some will have tail winds, some are flat and some are up hill. This is a once in a life time chance to prove to yourself that you are faster than your average Saturday ride.

*There are 'private' conversations and then there are private! conversations. This struck me as the former.
** I may have been wrong about what I said in *
*** See ** and *

Well I didn't know about the other fellas, but that stoked the embers of my competitive fire. When I discussed it with Rodzilla I told him:

Me: "That speech reminded me of that quote from Thoreau? About men leading lives of quiet desperation?"

Rodzilla: (blank expression)

Me: "You know, how most men die never having reached their true potential? From Walden I think?"

Rodzilla: (more befuddled silence, and maybe a little irritability).

Me: "How about this, remember that scene in Goonies? When they come up on the dead body of Chester Copperpot and they are all ready to give up? But that kid stops them with the 'this is our time, down here' speech and against odds stacked heavily against them, they push past the Chester Copperpot zone and go on to find the treasure?"

Rodzilla: "Yes! Yes, that is exactly what I'm talking about! That's what I want from you guys."

Bingo, we're on the same page.

We head over to the starting line and Pancake breakfast in the park and guess who shows up?


It's Mr Irony himself, Fat Cyclist, in the flesh. And if I tracked his blog correctly, about 18 pounds less of said flesh than he was in just 2 short months ago. I stole this photo (of him waiting on pancakes and Rodzilla keeping a deferential distance) off the the Fat Cyclist website. To keep things Jake I invite him to clip and paste any of the art on this blog. For instance this Rodzilla and Swedish Matt do an 'NKOTB redux in the desert' photo shoot is one of my personal favs:

If I could do thought bubbles for this photo it would go like this:

Rodzilla: "I'm only doing this so you can see what a mountain of a man I am. If Ivan weren't on the bike he would be the one in this picture."

Swedish Matt: "I can't believe I let myself get talked into this pose. If this photo shows up in the blog I'm waiting till deebers takes off his helmet and punching him in the back of the head."

But back to the pancake breakfast, Rodzilla gets all nervous and star struck and won't approach Fat Cyclist, but if nothing else I have to ask him about the Suncrest Century. Once he confirms that, all I'm interested in is a hello and quick photo-op (there was an awkward moment when he confused my self deprecating approach with a request for a hug) he warms up and humors us. He finds the highest ground available to him, a six inch tree root that he manages to balance on precariously while we snap a photo. That nod to vanity could have cost him a sprained ankle and his team a first place mixed doubles cyclist finish (FC, in the future remember: team first).

Rodzilla finally conquers his stage fright and as a parting shot yells "Hey we have a blog too!" Which would be like rolling up to a Bentley in your Kia Sephia* and yelling "Hey, check out my automobile, it's a lot like yours!" But if the thought crosses Fat Cyclist's mind he's kind enough not to laugh out loud at the image.

*I can say that since I write a large portion of what shows up here. Rodzilla would be the one throwing the chrome wheels on this Kia, tinting the windows and dropping in a Kickin' sound system. Doesn't make it a Bentley but it helps.

Swedish Matt makes the comment: "Seriously, that guy calls himself Fat Cyclist? I'll bet we're the fattest team out here, I mean do you see anybody else that even comes close?" With that comment echoing in my ears I slip into my head:

Rodzilla (not pictured) "Let's hear it team SoP!"

Swedish Matt: "Let's go team!"

the Legend of Ivan: "Team, Yeah!"

Me: (thought bubble) "Swedish Matt is right, we're about to get worked, and it's going to start with me in about ten minutes."

What can I say about the start of the race? Tactical errors were made, mostly by me and it started, but didn't end with me getting into my head. Rodzilla actually laughs at me as he can sense my anxiety. "What are you so wound up about? It's going to be OK." He'll find out all about getting wound too tight soon enough, but at the moment he's the picture of calm leadership.

Tactical error #2: Distractions

Matt: (thought bubble) "Man, deebers has been pounding out that text message for a good 20 minutes. The race starts in 15, I'm cyclist #2. Should I just put my helmet on now or do I give him a few more minutes?"

Me: (thought bubble) "OK, I know these buttons do both letters and numbers, but come on, that makes no sense!"

OK, the oldest joke there is about me is my lack of tech skills and reluctance to carry a cell phone, my logic being, everybody's got one. If you want to get ahold of me call (dregger, Nigel, Briski, Rodzilla etc.) and just ask for me but one by one my friends stopped allowing me to usurp their airwaves. One friend, Briski, even offered/threatened to buy me a throw away phone with 1000 minutes and duct tape it to my forehead so it was always with me. Anyway, I now carry a cell phone but occasionally I resort to the old me (there were four of us in the truck, 3 cells besides mine, why carry it around in my pocket?). On this occasion my kids apparently didn't know I would be gone when they got home from school and when I called La Canadienne a half hour before the race I got an earful, mostly about waking her up at 7:30 (editor's note: not true) but also about not answering the texts my children sent me the night before ... so texting was what I was up to when I should have been gearing up.

Tactical Error #3: Lack of Preparation

Me: "So, I was thinking of maybe checking the PSI in the old tubulars and possibly adding a pound or two before we light this candle."

Swedish Matt: "Wait a minute. You don't have air in your tires? It's two minutes to the start of the race. We've been standing around in this park for most of an hour. There were at least 20 minutes that you didn't use up wrestling with your cell phone, you think that might have been the time to check your tire pressure? Maybe first you should put your shoes and helmet on and let me get your bike off the rack and if there's time after that we'll put some air in your tubes."

I tend to write hyperbolically, that is I exaggerate incidents and characterizations for the purpose of engaging narrative. You might even say I don't let the facts get in the way of a good story, but on this occasion that is pretty close to how this race started. The plan was to have all four of us ride out of town together, Rodzilla, Swedish & the legend would peal off a mile or two out and ride back to the truck. Unfortunately we were a bit rushed at the end. I neglected to mention the sealant in my tubular tires that exploded all over Swedish Matt's tire pump, leaving him at the truck trying to rinse it out before his pump was sealed shut. I got to the line about 30 seconds before we were released. 'Zilla was there, laughing a little and shaking his head in disbelief. The legend made it too and I don't know that he's capable of feeling consternation about anything or anybody so, I was safe with him. I think Swedish made it eventually but I can't be positive. The video evidence is sketchy.

Tactical Error #4: Giving interviews before you've done anything worth talking about

I want to blame Rodzilla here. After all, he's the one sticking a camera in my face and asking questions. But this is my leg of the race and I have responsibilities. Looking good and being funny on camera ... well I have a hard time pretending that's not important but it's not the priority at the moment. I have a strategy and that is to start out with the lead pack and push myself to stay with them as long as I can. I figure it's 55 miles, if I gas myself after just 10 miles of stomping it out I can dial it back but still push hard since I'll be able to stop in less than three hours. 8 hours to recover then do it again. That's the plan anyway but while I'm mugging for the camera in the middle of what I think is the peloton, the actual lead pack blazes out of town leaving me with what turns out to be the other 3/4 of the riders, the ones who will be heading back to the park in 2 blocks.

So, a less than auspicious start to the 525 miles of cycling (now 523) that lie ahead.

The Rockwell Relay: Moab to St George


circuitous [səˈkjuːɪtəs] - deviating from a straight course; "a scenic but devious route"

To call the route this race takes 'circuitous' really unfairly stretches the parameters of the word's definition. The word is derived from circuit, which would seem to imply forethought of destination prior to departure. The Rockwell Relay Course, if you look at it on the map, but far moreso if you actually drive (or certainly if you ride) it feels like the meanderings of a lost hiker, crazy with heat and dehydration and no compass to give him bearings. There really are no direct routes between the eastern and western borders of Utah this far south but the one we are taking definitely qualifies as the road less traveled.

Moab to St. George – Leg 1

Leg Notes
This leg has a lot of climbing, but it is also among the most scenic. It is a great way to start off a great race. Watch for the Hole-in-the-rock at mileage 15.9 and Wilson arch at mileage 25.8.

Elevation Map – Leg 1

Moab to Monticello may have been the one exception, the one leg that didn't have people asking "You're riding that on a bike? At night? ... Really?" There was a lot of climbing (says so right in the course description) 4400 feet worth, actually, but as advertised (again in the course description,) it is beautiful country. The problem, and it is a problem we will visit enough times that you might even call it a theme, is that the elevation graphs they provide don't do the actual ride justice. They appear gradual, reasonable, even gentle when compressed to 4 inches on the page of your race bible ... they weren't. I'll leave it (for now) at that.

So I've been dropped by the peloton but part of me, the main part, the part that trains alone, and enjoys the pressure free solitude of riding alone, couldn't be happier about that. This was supposed to be the year of the 'conserve strength by working together' group rides but thanks to a cold-wet spring, there haven't been a lot of opportunities or excitement for group rides. So alone is what I've done and it's what I'm doing now. At least it's something that I'm comfortable with. There's no real headwind so I'm fine. Fifty five miles, that's all I've got on my plate at the moment.

After about 70 minutes and 25 miles the crew catch me and snap a few photos.

Our first bottle exchange is a bit pathetic actually; apparently I'm not the only one who didn't take time to plan things out. I end up crossing the highway to get to the truck parked on the opposite side of the road. My day has been spent tracking and running down a series of solo cyclists* and this roadside stop & stand isn't helping.

*Every leg had its unique challenges. There were plenty of hill climbs and distance for all four cyclists as you will come to find in future blog entries. But at the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, no other cyclist was responsible for as much climbing as cyclist #1. It's the alpha leg. You want your strongest cyclist, or at least the strongest climber in the saddle for these legs. Knowing I was probably competing with the best cyclist from each team was part of what was getting in to my head in the weeks before the race but at the moment I was holding my own and feeling pretty good about it.

The fourth one on my hit list is in a white jersey and seems to be holding me off. I'm about 400 yards back and gaining when I have to break off and cross the street for my water bottle. If I'm bothered by it it's only briefly; it's hard to be upset with your crew when they are handing you cold beverages and throwing encouragement your way. I tell them I'm gunning for white jersey and take off.

Some clutch* camera/chase car work featured here (Next up Rodzilla & Swedish Matt bring you la Giro d'Italia). The second to last cyclist you see, the blue & white flash, is me (I think) hard to tell but I include the video not to prove I was there (because seriously would you be able to testify to anything in a court of law based on what you just saw?), but for the commentary that points out how far I am behind Shane (is that right?). It turns out he's a Back Country employee on one of the two teams that held together long enough to start the race.

Shane/White Jersey/Capo man (I counted no fewer than 13 Capo logos in the 2 hours he and I shared the road) take turns dropping each other for pretty much the next 20 miles. Back to themes now, we continue to pass amazing scenery but at speeds too fast to take it all in.

*OK maybe that and the NKOTB desert pic comments might count as jabs and I made a commitment (of sorts) not take them, but come on fellas, if it's all sunshine and lollipops who's going to believe it's me writing this?

The last hill climb (at mile 42 on your graph) looks significant but not back breaking. I would call that a true/false statement. I could see it coming from miles away and when I finally rolled up on it, it was longer, steeper and more work than I anticipated but at the time I had Shane/White Jersey Back Country dude in my rear view mirror, and Rodzilla's team captain challenge still fresh in my mind, so I imagined Ivan belting out chords of Eye of the Tiger while climbing Suncrest and pushed myself over the top and thought (not for the last time) that a hill like that should be at the beginning or middle of your leg, not at the end. Shane/White Jersey catches me just after the summit and we work together for the last ten miles and finish side by side as we enter the exchange point in Monticello.

I finish the leg in 3:06:00, at a 17.5 mph average. Ten minutes faster than I projected and twenty five minutes faster than mandated by our Rockwell Relay Time Estimator. If the rest of my legs featured more of the same I'd be calling out for the blog credit promised by cap'n 'Zilla. At the moment I was just happy to have the first leg in the books. I got dropped by three riders but then managed to catch two of them and I passed about ten cyclists before we reached Monticello, making us the 17th team to check in at the first exchange point. It was a 'lay it all out there' effort and one that I still look back on with some pride and sense of accomplishment.

Acting in the role of team captain, coach and trainer, Rodzilla comes over and hands me a cold beverage, takes my bike and even brings me my flip-flops. I shake Shane's hand, tell him good ride
and retire to the truck to start the recovery process.

Next up: Rockwell Relay, Monticello to Hanksville

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