Friday, June 17, 2011

Rockwell Relay, Monticello to Hanksville

"That last hill made me want to cry." -Swedish Matt

Leg Notes

This leg will take you past the beautiful Abajo (Blue) mountains on the right. Passing thought the Comb Ridge at mile 37.5 is a majestic moment. Leg ends at the Mule Canyon trailhead where Anasazi ruins dating back to 1200 AD can be explored. GASOLINE WARNING!!! After the turn off at State Road 95, the next gasoline is in Hanksville, 121 miles away. Make sure to fill up in Monticello, Blanding, or the gas station at the corner of 191 and 95.

Elevation Map – Leg 2


The exchange with Swedish Matt in Monticello is textbook, he gets the baton/bracelet on his bike and is gone before I have a chance to unclip.



I want to join Rodney in the Taco Time for some fast protein, but my stomach is still recovering from the pounding climb into Monticello so I make do with PB&J (which at these temps and humidity goes stale pretty much in the time it takes to remove it from the ziploc and get it to your mouth) and Coke Classic. It's not the kind of sustenance that will support you over 100 miles of riding as I will soon find out.

We catch Swedish Matt just before the Blanding turn off (something we missed initially and had to double back) so we park and make sure he gets directed correctly. One of the Back Country teams missed the turn and put in an extra 2.5 miles before they realized their mistake and came back. I'm pretty sure they still beat us by 6 hours, though I doubt they are comforted by that fact.

Back to Swedish, he is absolutely eviscerating this leg. My Moab to Monticello ride put us about 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Twenty miles into the ride he has us more like forty minutes ahead.

We catch him on a flat stretch and he drafts behind at forty MPH and doesn't look like he's breaking a sweat. I begin to ignore everything I've read and suspected about this race and I start believing it's going to, if not be a cake walk, be much less challenging than it sounded. I fail to do any mental arithmetic on the matter. Had I pulled back from my 'we got this' celebration to do it, the numbers would read like this: 75 miles and 4400 feet of climb in the books, 450 miles and 20,000 feet of climb remaining. In fact this portion (and about 2/3 of Swedish Matt's first leg) are flat or descent.

The last third? Glad you asked. It is a soul crushing nightmare (see Swedish Matt quote above). I'll refer you back to the elevation graph. Knowing how that meandering worm of a red line translates into actual graded asphalt, well the end of leg 2 is just ...

Me remembering how a climb like that feels after you've already been riding for two hours and forty miles (not good times)

If pictures are worth a thousand words then I need about 3 pictures like the one above to describe the meat grinder they put Swedish Matt through in his last 5 miles. This was another theme that developed. Initially we may have chuckled when we drove over hills that our teammates would have to ride, but very quickly you began to feel them as a collective gut punch to the group. Again, it made you angry, but at whom? Each other for struggling? At the organizers of the race? Both of those seemed ridiculous so we take our collective ire and disgust out on the Race Bible with its discrete elevation map and upbeat tour-guide toned course description. If a dog-eared version of the Race Bible survived our trip home I'm for burning it in effigy.

The Blanding stomp-fest has ended. Survival mode now, Swedish Matt drops into granny gear, tucks his head and pushes onward and upward to the mouth of Mule Canyon .

Matt's thought bubble: "This is not how this looked in the Race Bible. I hate the race Bible!

Where, after what must have felt like two weeks of being stretched on a rack, he hands the baton to Ivan


and on that spot asks us to hold a funeral service and bury him with the remains of the Anasazi Nation.

The hill doesn't completely finish Swedish Matt but instead of the hour ahead of schedule I had already added up, we're 35 minutes ahead. Still looking good.

A word about Swedish Matt. He's not a guy that's prone to false bravado. He knows his abilities and is comfortable with them. Occasionally he'll make what seems like an over the top ridiculous statement like "I could ride LOTOJA today." Which causes you to guffaw and call 'bull' but then he invariably goes out and backs it up. I've lost more bets with him about things that he knows that I think I know but don't or things that he can do that I say he can't but that he actually can (and then some) than I care to remember. By the end of this relay, after watching him in action the rule became: "If Matt says it, it's true, just stop arguing with him, you'll just lose." I only mention this to bring home how miserable and unfair the final climb of leg 2 was. Swedish Matt is not a man who can be easily broken. This is as close as he may have ever come. When he says "That made me want to cry." I don't believe for a second that he is joking or making the statement for dramatic effect. It's alright Swedish Matt. That won't be the last 'pass the Kleenex' moment for team Sons of Perdition this weekend; not by a long shot.

Moab to St. George – Leg 3

Leg Notes

This leg is long but offers a nice gradual downhill leading to the Colorado River and beginning of Lake Powell. Pass the Natural Bridges National Monument at mileage 17.6 where the team vehicle may want to stop for a moment and view some of bridges at the National Monument. Also notice the Jacob’s Chair landmark around mileage 35 on top of the cliffs to the right. As you come to Lake Powell you will cross the Colorado River bridge then immediately after that the Dirty Devil Bridge. Enjoy the beautiful scenery of Lake Powell.

Elevation Map – Leg 3

The first five miles of leg 1 for the Legend of Ivan are spent finishing the climb that Swedish Matt started. In retrospect, given the cruel placement of some of the exchanges (ie immediately after a spine crushing hill climb) it's surprising they didn't make Cyclist 2 clear the hill before the hand off. Not sure how many teams would still be in the race if they had. This leg had a lot of flat and gradual downhill but it was also 55 miles. If my legs were the climbing legs, Ivan's were the marathon legs. His total mileage for the relay was over 150 miles. Split 525 4 ways and you'll know that our diminutive Peruvian had the largest load to carry in terms of mileage and saddle time (thanks again, Ivan).

We took this video on a hill climb about twenty miles into Ivan's ride. He's picked up a couple of other riders (including the wrong way Capo/Backcountry team that finished hours ahead of us) and they ask if he wants to work with them, to which Ivan responds: "I've never done that" (he, like Matt, does the majority of his riding in the dirt, on trails). But they give him 5 minutes worth of instruction and he takes to the peloton like a duck to water. You've watched the video once now. Watch it again and note: The two other cyclists are riding about $15,000 worth of bike that together don't weigh* as much as Ivan's Specialized Allez. Now look at the two trailing cyclists, specifically their pedaling cadence. They are making two revolutions to every one of the Legend's which makes me wonder if the Legend ever dropped out of the big ring at all (alert Dr Maharaja Ivey, there's a new 'big ring' title holder and it's not me ... or him). I've watched this over and over again and I still have a hard time believing what I'm seeing. The Legend of Ivan is ... well, living up to his nickname and absolutely owning these guys on this hill and making it look stupid-easy. Use whatever small-man cliché you want: 'Dynamite comes in small packages', 'it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog' they just don't do the Legend justice. When I questioned him about it later, the Legend explained it to me this way (with my apologies I will paraphrase): "My father always told me, you may not be the smartest or the strongest kid in class but you will work harder than anybody else and in the end you will be better." That paternal counsel is proving prophetic on this particular leg of our relay.

*Upon lifting it, Rodzilla (after confirming it's not caught on something) wonders if Swedish Matt slipped a piece of rebar into the upper frame bar as a joke. I'd ballpark the bike's weight at about 25 lbs. It's interesting to note that Swedish Liz has this exact smae bike, albeit a 56cm instead of the Legend's 52. My guess is when she reads this and realizes how much extra work she's doing she will be looking for a bike upgrade.

Great thing about the Legend's first leg, besides the liberal amount of flat/downhill terrain, is the lack of vehicles. This is our 121 mile stretch of 'no services whatsoever'. If you didn't bring it you're not gettin' it.

Like fighter jets in formation the Legend leads the trio on this bombing run through Natural Bridges monument.

The Legend more than holds his own with the more experienced riders with whom he shares this 55 miles of desert.

One of the rare interactions with motor vehicles in this stretch of the race. If you're wondering who owns the rode today, look no further than who's riding on the wrong side of the of the double yellow lines.

Unfortunately, after riding his slipstream and using him like an Andean Alpaca gets used for its wool, the two more experienced riders drop the the Legend just before they reach the Colorado River and he's left to make the ascent (that they have again kindly placed in the last five miles) on his own. Of course the Legend will never complain about the abuse. I'm beginning to think you could serve him a dirt sandwich and he would thank you for your generosity and thoughtfulness. He's called 'the Legend' for myriad reasons. His terminally cheerful disposition is just one of them.

As we drop in elevation the temperature continues to rise. 'Zilla is on the horse next and checks his tubes only to find them at 140 PSI (lower elevation, higher temps = gases expand) and I begin to worry about keeping the big man hydrated out here. It occurs to me that though his legs feature much less climbing than the other three cyclists, which is ideal for a guy going 6'6" 270 (actually choosing a sport like caber tossing would be ideal but it's a little late for that now) they are also slated to start at the hottest points (Lake Powell and St George) and hottest times of the day. I'm wondering if this will prove to be our fatal flaw. I tell Swedish Matt we need to amend our hydration schedule. Till now we have gone every 10-15 miles or 35-45 minutes. With Rodzilla in the saddle I figure we need to make that every 5 miles and maybe every two miles for the first ten which will be his climb out of the Colorado River basin (essentially the Grand Canyon).

A word on water bottle hand offs. What seemed like an operation so simple, practicing it seemed laughable, even quaint, was anything but. We've already discussed my first failed attempt. Several miles down the road the crew stopped again to hand me a bottle and I poured most of my full bottle over my helmet, ostensibly for a dramatic photo op and instead of handing off the empty bottle I put it away and then had no place for the full bottle (and now two empty bottles on my bike). After that incident I started chucking my empties as soon as I saw the truck stopped on the side of the road. 'Zilla would claim I threw them any time I saw brake lights, whether it was my support crew or not. On road rides I tend to pop out of my pedals well before and occasionally in anticipation of red lights. The practice has garnered me the (additional) nickname of 'Quick Release' deebers. I figure the premature bottle tossing was just an extension of the early pedal release. Rodzilla is exaggerating exactly how early the bottles came out, but I did notice that the boys in the truck stopped wearing flip-flops and put on running shoes when I was on the bike. When I asked about it they told me they never knew what sort of terrain they would encounter when I chucked my empties.

Setting me and my troublesome tendencies aside, the water bottle exchange, like most things you see professionals do on TV, is nowhere as easy as it looks. The way I figure it, the most important (of many) variables in a good water bottle exchange involve:

Speed of rider

Willingness of rider

Temperature of the beverage

That second one may seem counter intuitive but you would be surprised how hard it was to get guys to take on water. You would think they were on a sinking ship and we were offering to throw a few extra cannonballs on board.

Exhibit A:

Rodzilla gets a "talk to the hand" from the Legend. Speed may have been a factor. When a guy is going fast he feels like he's on top of the world and in need of nothing:

That extra weight is just going to slow him down, and slow is the enemy.

Swedish Matt displays impeccable technique on this bottle hand off.

Over time we realized if you wait for a hill, your man on the bike will slow down, start to sweat and feel needy, not necessarily for a water bottle but you can only give so much to a moving target. That said, we found you were more likely to have a successful hand off if your beverage (be it water, gatorade or vitamin water) was chilled. Very few things are more disappointing than getting a water bottle that's been heated to roughly body temp and tastes like garden hose in August.

Moab to St. George – Leg 4

Leg Notes

This leg has a gradual climb out of Lake Powell up to a plateau summit followed by a gradual decent into Hanksville. Enjoy the view of winding red rock canyons all along the ascent and tall rock pillars and layered cliffs along the descent.

Elevation Map – Leg 4

After Ivan's astonishing 55 miles in 2:49 we're back to an hour in the black compared to our predicted times but the ambient temperature is now creeping toward triple digits and we've got Rodzilla in the saddle and 1500 feet of climb ahead.

8 1/2 hours into the race, Rodzilla mounts up for the first time

Honestly I'm more nervous about this leg than I was my own. I don't doubt Rodzilla's grit, in fact it's his 'Don't quit. Don't ever quit' attitude that has me (and Red Rider I'm sure) most worried. Even on temperate days he can sweat liters in a matter of a few miles. We're nowhere close to temperate and unlike a sensible mule that will work to a point and then stop before things get out of hand or more specifically before it gets hurt, Rodzilla more resembles the draft horse, huge heart, massive strength and no abort button to speak of. He's not going to stop until he's done or he's dead. Rodzilla could easily pedal himself into heat stroke in this canyon and would probably drop while still clipped into his pedals. Remember we haven't seen civilization for almost 100 miles and if someone goes down out here I'm not sure how long it would be before we saw EMS but I'm pretty certain we would be measuring response time in terms of hours rather than minutes.

Rodzilla calls this section of road the 'clay oven' as his Garmin records temps of 102 degrees f. That would make this largest serving of Tandoori ever cooked at one time.

Not cheating, just lending a helping hand, not the last time Swedish Matt will put his not insignificant upper body strength into physical support of the man in the saddle. I remember my attempt at pushing Rodzilla up Suncrest and I'm doubly impressed.

It turns out my worrying was unnecessary. 'Zilla climbs out of the canyon without incident (even passing two smaller, lighter weight riders) and hits the flats the way he always does, like a semi-truck in overdrive. We have the unforeseen benefit of a stiff tail wind and Rodzilla, the human main-sail, takes full advantage and knocks out the 45 mile leg in 2:32:00, 16 minutes ahead of his predicted time.

We do one last bottle exchange (see how we've honed this skill to a fine point? only took us 11 hours and 200 miles) and Cap'n 'Zilla's last instructions: "Let's focus on [deebers] now!" haunt me as I'm forced to recall how my second leg unfolded.

Next up Hanksville to Panguitch.

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