Friday, June 22, 2012

Rockwell Relay Redux Part 2: Monticello to Hanksvilleey

"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong ... but time and chance happeneth to them all."

-Ecclesiastes 9:11

Moab to St. George – Course Overview

Elevation Overview
Swedish Matt picks up where I left off, riding with team Rusty Cranks. They (the Rusty Cranks) are among the 11 teams that DNF, but of those that don't finish they make it the farthest. to Enoch (leg 11) I believe. It's a game effort and honestly, with the race conditions as they were a DNF is completely understandable. Nearly 20% of the teams that start the race don't finish. For now though, the 'Cranks are aiding and abetting the cause of team Chain Whipped and for that we are grateful.


At Blanding the course veers to the right, stops heading directly south and we are now all making our way west-ish.  The wind, obliges us  and begins blowing out of the southwest, instead of directly out of the south.  The Swede digs deep and manages to hold the wheel in front of him for most of his 44 mile leg.  It's not an easy task and when he hits one of the early climbs the physical exertion actually makes him see stars ... "Literally" he later tells me, "I saw stars."  Like one of those cartoon characters that gets whacked on the head with a shovel.  I know exactly what he's talking about.  On my first leg there was a period of time when the world turned red and there was a dark spot in the center of my visual field, a kind of reverse tunnel vision.  It didn't last long but it left an impression, like the stars did for the Swede.  I should ask my brother Nigel (the eye doctor) what it means, though I suspect it has nothing to do with vision and everything to do with the amount of oxygenated blood that is actually getting to your brain and not being usurped by your legs, lungs and heart.

Once you leave Blanding you see a lot of this:

In fact, for more than a hundred miles (122 to be exact) there are no services of any kind, whatsoever.  So if there's something you need and you didn't bring it?  Well you're not gettin' it.  Not any time soon anyway.

We catch the Swede on his last hill climb.  If you look at the elevation map you'll see that leg 2 is a downhill  leg.  Mostly.  There are a few short, steep climbs but overall there's about 2000 more feet of descent than climb but the problem with this leg (like many of the legs in the Relay except those ridden by Rodzilla) is that it ends with a climb.  A big one.  about 1500 feet of the 2800 feet of ascent in this leg are packed into the last 6 miles. So basically Suncrest* after you've already ridden 40 miles in the desert heat at the edge of your physical limits.

*Suncrest is a training climb we do so often and have become so familiar with that  it has become a unit of measure.  1600 vertical over 4.5 miles (average grade 6%) = one Suncrest, or Sc.

Like I said, we catch the Swede on the climb.  If he was ever enjoying this ride, he is not currently doing so.  Our competition (the Sasquatchers) were caught and dropped at some point during this leg but they are currently closing the distance.  Swedish Matt doesn't want to hear about it and would prefer I shut up and leave him alone, thank you very much.  No chance of that ... except we're 4 miles form the exchange point and the Juice needs some prep time.  So we offer a water bottle top off to the Swede and speed to the Mule Canyon turn out and exchange point.

If 'Juice was yukking it up before (and let's face it, he's been pretty focused since ... well pretty much since he committed to this event more than 5 months ago) he's all business now.  Time to put up or shut up.

The Swede rolls on the scene like the Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens, delivered his battle news and died on the spot.  He holds out the baton with a look on his face that says "Take this from me, and never show it to me again ... now I'll go throw up in the bushes."

We get some fluids into the Swede and he doesn't start singing bad 90's rap at the top of his lungs but he does begin to speak in complete sentences.  It's a good sign.

Meanwhile, the 'Juice is on the loose.  If we hadn't already dubbed him Pickle Juice (maybe Sir Pickle Juice, after his performance in this race he deserves to take his place among the Knights of the Relay), Iceman would also have worked as a blog name.  The man was a machine.  Wind him up, point him the direction you want him to go and stand back.

In this video we (I) foolishly try to have a tête-à-tête with the man in the saddle.  We (Rodzilla) have lost track of the mileage on the odometer (poorly secured load, multiple objects, mostly garbage, flying out of the truck bed incurring various double backs to retrieve them) have left us without info as to how far our rider has gone.  We try to get updated information based on the GPS data the 'Juice has on the unit strapped to his handlebars.  The GPS will track a lot of things: distance, speed, average speed, temperature, altitude, climb, descent etc. etc. but near as we can tell (sir) Pickle Juice has turned every one of those options off and is following the only stat* that matters: watts.  ie, the power you are putting into the pedals.  Everything else can be affected by the myriad of variables that present themselves on any ride (hills, wind, traffic, weather and on and on).  You can howl all you want about the headwind that seemed to only affect you, or the amount of climb you did vs another rider that did the same distance or how light someone else's Carbon Fiber bike is, or how aero their deep dish wheels were and, yes, all those factors will affect your finish time, but your watts, the power your legs put into moving your bike, that trumps everything else.  So the answer to all our questions:  How far have you gone?  How long have you been riding?  What's your average speed? Do you need some water?  Do you miss your wife and kids?  Is the same:  "I'm averaging 230 watts!" Great.  Thank you Pickle Juice.  We'll just be up the road a few miles if you need us.

*When you're training at least, in a race you may want some other info ... just sayin'.

Our opportunities to ride together as a team before the event were limited (too many conflicting schedules to make it work) but when we finally did ride together 'Juice observes that we are the noisiest, chattiest, most social cyclists he's ever had the (mis?)pleasure of riding with.  Apparently he and his normal crew ride along silent and stoic.  If that's really the case Cyclist 3 duties fit him to a 'T'.  It's just him, the road, the sagebrush and the sky* ... and an occasional bottle exchange from the crew.

*And the heat, which has now become formidable.   This leg drops to the lowest elevation on the course.  But unlike going down into the basement of your house, the lower the elevation in this desert the hotter it gets.  we were in the mid nineties at Mule Canyon.  From here to Hanksville it will be triple digits the entire time.

Rodzilla will be the first to tell you his training regimen for this race was nowhere near where he hoped it would be.  We may pretend that cycling is life and everything else is just details but in actuality life comes with real responsibilities, like jobs, spouses, children etc.  There's only so much of that you can neglect, no matter how badly you want to beat team Sasquatch this year. But what he may have lacked in miles on the road he more than made up for in finely honed bottle exchange skillz.  Exhibit A: this next video.  (I'm still in Yell-mode from my first leg in the saddle ... it's been 4 hours, hope it goes away soon.  My point is hit the mute button and just take in the near ballet-like grace of the 'Juice/'Zilla bottle pitch & catch):

It's tough to appreciate if you don't freeze the frames, but at one point both bottles are in the air, neither ever touches terra firma and 'Juice barely breaks his cadence   Poetry.

The obvious next level is to add, you know, actual dance moves to the performance.  Unfortunately, Rodzilla has only one move, a sort of combo Michael Jackson/Roger Rabbit/running man (call it an 80's medley of motion) but he takes a page from my book and uncorks the bottle waaay too early.  A man can only dance in the desert for so long before he realizes, he's a man, dancing in the desert.

If  'Juice notices or appreciates it he's not letting on.  Until he punches the clock to end his shift he will remain a rider with one focus and only one.

The rest of us?  Not so much.  We've reached the location where we traditionally (does twice, a tradition make?) take pictures of the limitless expanse of sandstone cliffs and bluffs shaped by eons of pressure from wind and water.

We marvel at the vastness of this empty space,

at the hubris that is our belief that we can cross this immeasurable distance with nothing more than the water we've carted here in the bed of a truck and the power in our collective legs.  We wonder anew at the wisdom (or lack thereof) of even making the attempt ...

and then Rodzilla and Swedish Matt make the 'Hangin Tuff' pose from NKOTB (circa 1989).

as 'Juice rolls past:

 Thought bubble:  "That's my crew?  Really ... Really? I'm going back to tracking my watts."

We arrive at the Lake Powell exchange point and what was a 15-20 mph wind is now gusting to 25 mph.  It's been pretty much in our face all day.  Even with the headwind (sir) Pickle Juice logs a 20.2 mph* average pace for 56 miles.  We have collectively been losing time from last year's splits since I first turned a crank back in Moab (that would be 9 hours and 150 miles ago) but 'Juice has gotten a lot of that time back for us with his dialed in performance.

*Yeah, Mr. 'All-I'm-concerned-about-is-watts-because-watts-is-all-that-matters' did track this stat and he checked ... eventually.

It's either a used truck and road bike tent sale Exchange area #3, the lowest elevation point on the course (just below 2500 feet).  The silver truck that pulls out from behind our support vehicle belongs to team One Nut Light.  We'll see them again.  In fact they will save my bacon on Cedar Breaks (the highest course elevation at 10,600 feet) 

Anatomy of an exchange:

 We arrive and the next rider up scrambles to find ... stuff.  Gloves, helmet, shoes ... his bike.

Nervous time.  I gotta pee, where's the porta-potty?  No porta-potty? How'm I gonna put on this chamois butter?

It's too hot, I'm thirsty, where's my bike.  These aren't my shoes (feet swell at least two sizes in the desert heat, Rodzilla goes strapless [shoe-wise] on this leg).  Where's my bike!?

Our rider approaches 

With any luck then next man is waiting in the saddle (with helmet, shoes, gloves x chamois butter all where they should be).

The new guy can't work the slap baton so Swedish Matt takes the opportunity to give him a roadside tutorial (while Rodzilla circles nervously like a shark who will die if he stops moving)

Then he runs it to Rodzilla (don't even try having a running in flip-flops race with the Swede, he will take you down)

who grabs it, slaps it on the frame of his bike

and he's in the wind (literally).  

As precise as a hand crafted time-piece.

There's really nothing to do at the Lake Powell exchange.  No services means no services.  So we're on Rodzilla in no time.  He's got a big climb out of the Lake Powell basin through sandstone cliffs that trap the waves of heat and direct them right into your grille.  The temperatures have eclipsed the century mark long ago and the ubiquitous wind makes it feel like a convection oven down here.  Rodzilla hates a hill, but his real fight today is against this heat.  It's become oppressive and adds a level of difficulty to the ride that is impossible to train for unless, you know, you live and ride here on a regular basis.  And since there are no signs of civilization (other than the solitary paved road we are currently on) for 60 miles in either direction, it's safe to say nobody lives down here.  We're going to stay close, keep the big man on the bike well supplied with ice water and cold compresses.  Every once in a while I try to talk to him to make sure the heat hasn't pushed him over the edge.   This video would suggest that if he's not there yet, he's getting close:

     If this photo were a painting the title would be Diesel which would also work as a nickname for Rodzilla

Speaking of diesels: The truck.  What to say about the truck?  Almost the same day we extended the invite to Pickle Juice he told us we could probably borrow his in-law's truck (and stay in their St George condo when we finished the race).  If anybody was on the fence about the roster change they shouldn't have been at that point.  When the race was over (well, even before the race started) I felt I needed to do something to show my gratitude for the generosity of the Juice's in-laws.  I was assured there was nothing they needed or wanted, so I planned on sending a thank you card but the only cards I could find were the left over "you're in our thoughts, the Park 6th ward Relief Society" from back when la Canadienne was the Relief Society Pres.  That didn't work for me so I'm giving a blog shout-out to the Juice's in-laws.  Thank you so much for allowing us to use your truck and residence.  It was incredibly generous of you.  A lot of suffering and misery took place that weekend but none of it was due to our transportation or St George accommodations.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Rodzilla crests the last hill of his first leg and begins his runaway train descent into Hanksville.  The wind was actually at his back for about half of this leg.  That fact and his never quit until you're dead attitude get him to the exchange point at a faster split than last year.  He even passes at least one rider before the cyclist from team Evolo*, the team that will swap positions with us at least a dozen times in 36 hours, passes him about 10 miles out.

*I think that's what they were called, also acceptable variants:  team ebola, team Viola, team evil ... among others

This time around I'm prepped and ready to meet him.  No last minute scramble to get shoes on and equipment prepped this year.  I've been impatiently waiting for my opportunity to undo last year's second leg performance, what I've come to refer to as the Fruita Incident, for almost a year now.  The Team Evolo rider arrives just as the once tail wind shifts back to being 'a full in the mouth' headwind (again) and it picks up strength.  The Exchange 4 sign blows over (and almost away before a volunteer manages to corral it) and I stand at the ready.  Team Evolo's Cyclist One is nowhere in sight (if he had a fruition bar for breakfast I have a pretty good idea where they can find him) and soon The unmistakable form of Rodzilla on wheels comes barreling in.  He slaps the baton on my bike frame and I pedal into the setting sun.  We're an hour behind our 2011 split, the wind is blowing steadily into my face at about 20 mph and I've got 44 miles and a year's worth of regret and self recrimination in front of me.  Time for some redemption.

Next up Part 3 Hanksville to

1 comment:

  1. Great write up on this. Where's the next part? I wanna know if you got past the "Fruita incident".

    I really enjoy your blog by the way. Nice work.