Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rockwell Relay 2012: "To [Fruita] and Beyond!"

Pickle Juice Has his say:

I used to be a guy that was really laid back. If something remained incomplete it was just fine by me. I lost no sleep and didn’t give those things a second thought. That was before marrying a type-A. Funny thing about spending years with someone, they tend to rub off on you. So, here I am finishing a blog entry that isn’t even my blog. Sounds like a future president of a HOA might be in the cards for me.  I am putting this thing to bed, and documenting what happened. I don’t want folks to think we were one of those sissy teams that just hopped in the car when things got rough. No sir, we started this race, we finished, and now you get to hear about it.

So this day was bound to come; the bedding down of the blog.  I’ve made promises to* myself, to Rodzilla and most of all to the erstwhile author above that I would finish this thing but have someone managed to never get around to it.  Well, nothing like having someone called in to pinch hit for you to get you back in the batting cages.  I will say it’s great to have another viewpoint expressed.  I think Ideally it would be best to have all four voices represented, since nobody really knows what’s going on in the space protected by the USCF approved helmet but the person wearing it.  That’s unlikely to happen in this case though (heck it took eight months to get the ‘Juice to cut loose).  So let’s run with it.  I’ll let his story stand as is and throw in my observations/commentary and the others (mainly Rodzilla) can do the same if they are so inclined.  It should be noted that registration for Rockwell Relay 2013 is now open, has been for several weeks.  Contemplating this year’s event is in no small part one of the reasons last year’s effort needs to be finally documented and put in the books once and for all.

*Not to Swedish Matt though.  If you can’t fit it on a post-it note he’s not reading it and I’ve been called many things but concise and brief in the written word was never one of them.   So everyone else interested, minus Matt, this is for you.

Hanksville to Torrey
8:00 pm

After a textbook exchange from Rodney, Steve was on his way to face his demons. We restocked our supplies and met him on the road.  We have now been on the road in one form or another for twelve hours. Hasn’t seemed like it. It’s gone by surprisingly fast, which was shocking considering each of us experienced a healthy dose of a HOT and steady headwind. I know on leg 3 there was one point where I heard the wind before it hit me. When it did all I could do was laugh. Giggling like a moron in the middle of the desert, while this headwind slows me to a crawl.  The wind was ridiculous. No other way to put it.

Hear, hear!  I don’t think you can adequately express on the printed page what a factor the wind was in this event.    There were a couple of stretches when it blew at us obliquely and toward the end of Rodzilla’s first leg it was almost a tail wind for about 10 miles but by the time he arrived in Hanksville we were back to taking it right on the chin.    And it wasn’t gusting either it was just a constant 25 mph right in your grille.   The gas station that served the Hanksville exchange had one of those signs that are built on springs so they can bend in the wind? The kind UDOT uses for roadside construction? As I left the parking lot I noticed the wind had bent it over so far that only a person flying  over in a helicopter would know that for $1.89 you could get a coke and a slim jim (bathrooms for paying customers only).   Team Evolo (aka Ebola, Areola, E-coli, we leap-frogged each other so many times in 36 hours under extremely adverse conditions that it felt like we were in a bad marriage with multiple trial separations, hence the myriad variations on their name*) rolled in about 5 minutes before Rodzilla and I hoped I could catch their man and share wind breaking duties but they were pulling a page from our 2012 Henrieville exchange ie:  rider four busts his hump only to have rider one unprepared to roll out.  They were still doing whatever they were doing when I took off and I figured, if I was lucky their guy would catch me in a few miles and we’d work together.  

*For the record, Evolo were great guys, we enjoyed hanging out with them, had a lot of laughs, great memories, we just had a hard time staying together ( like a doomed marriage).

This was the leg we were pretty concerned about. Last year, this is where the dreaded Fruita incident occurred.   When we finally caught up to Steve he had latched on to several riders. The sun was setting and the wind was still going strong. But if you are going to ride into the wind you want a solid group to work with and a strong rider to take the brunt of it. Steve had all of that. Jed, the no handed snacker, was up front taking good long pulls and then everyone would cycle through. They were setting a great pace and making up valuable time. It does present a problem when you are trying to sag. It’s tough to distinguish between headlights. So we were standing out on the side of the road yelling for Steve whenever we saw riders. When we would make contact with him he would shout out what he needed and we would move up the road and stand there with his request. I am not sure how many bottles or gels I handed out to anonymous riders, I just hope they appreciated it.

So it turned out I was wrong on both counts, I spent the first 15 (of 45) miles solo, sucking wind (in every way you can be sucking wind on a bike) and battling the Deja Vu feeling of riding into the setting sun with breathtaking scenery all around me slowly disappearing in my periphery as my universe shrunk to me, my legs turning the cranks and the 10 or so yards of pavement illuminated by the light on my helmet.  Right about the time I was searching for a good spot for a ‘natural break’ and debating how likely it would be that the boys would drive right past me in the dying light if I actually moved off the road and into the bushes to do my business, I was caught by not one but half a dozen riders (including our pals from Evolo).   ‘Juice mentions Jeb/Jed, the rider in the Utah State kit with the penchant for hands free riding.  If he wanted to swap the Aggie jersey for one with a big red ‘S’ and a cape he would have my vote.  The kid single handedly saved me from Fruita Incident Deux : The Coffin Gets Nailed Shut.  We all took our turns out in front but Lion-share doesn’t begin to talk about the disparity between him and the rest of us.  Also, riding in a peloton, in the dark, descending at 40+ mph with nothing more than the tunnel of your collective headlamps illuminating the road in front of you?  That was a serious rush, somewhere between crazy-fun and completely terrifying.  

We got Steve through his leg without incident. We left him a few miles out to drop Swedish Matt off in Torrey to get ready. I left him and Rodney at the exchange with almost everything they needed, and went back to make sure Steve made it all the way in. I went back and made Steve a water bottle to get him through and left the cooler on the top of the truck bed and drove off. This was the third time I tried to break our cooler by dumping it as I sped away. After retrieving it and reloading it SECURELY in truck I took off hoping to beat Steve to the exchange. I did but barely. Matt was quickly fitted for his leg and the exchange was done.

Not the whole story, ‘Juice was sent back by Rodzilla, (who had to virtually scrape my bones off this same pavement just a year ago) the Fruita Incident left its scars on both of us and I don’t think he was prepared to live through that emotional trauma* again.  Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.  Still, seeing ‘Juice standing roadside, three miles to go, shouting words of encouragement did more for me than the (what was in the bottle?) drink he mixed up for me.   I chugged the cold beverage, tossed the bottle and pedaled toward the Sinclair gas station, lit up like an Aircraft Carrier in an ocean of desert.  And with that closed an ignoble chapter in my cycling history.

*Plus that last hill climb into Torrey is no joke, ~ three miles of 8% grade that Rodzilla had to climb in sweats and a T-shirt last year.  My guess is the Pickle Juice envoy was at least in part a ploy to avoid a reprise of the Big man’s Torrey climb of 2012.

After a burrito in Torrey I went to change into my riding clothes for the next leg. Apparently there were close to forty other riders with the same idea. I assumed there would be a place at the next exchange and we headed off to escort Swedish Matt up Boulder Mt. Here Matt was served a 3000ft climb with the ever present headwind as a kicker.  No rest for the weary.  On a positive note, it wasn’t snowing.

But the wind (the wind).  First five miles were unprotected and buffeting (I’m sure, we were back in the gas station/Mexican food restaurant eating [me] and not getting changed into cycling gear [Pickle Juice]) While Matt was fighting the 25 mph headwinds, only to follow that with a 9 mile climb over Boulder mountain, topping out just under 9000 feet.  Not a great combo.   By the time we tracked him down he was well into the climb, wind still blowing the tops of the trees all over the place but at least providing him with some cover.

Rodney was trying to sleep in the back of the truck. Had Chevy made the Silverado about four feet wider he might have been successful. We got to the top of the climb, made sure Matt didn’t need any extra clothing, and left for the exchange.

We begin our final descent into madness

It’s about this point in the relay that the combination of riding, lack of sleep, lack of good food and road miles accumulated in the support vehicle begin to catch up with you.  You’re exhausted physically, emotionally & psychologically.  All your training that convinced you that you were in shape for this, that this was the year you were going to bring your ‘A’ game and make it stick kinda goes out the window as you slide into survival mode.  You hoped for victory, now you'll settle for finishing. You wanted an ego boost, now you're happy with just not humiliating yourself, you planned on a life affirming, near spiritual experience, now you'll take your sanity and be glad you still escaped with it. 

Rodzilla argued for renting a motorhome (and or a driver for the same) so we could sleep, use the bathroom and not have to sweat driving duties.  Cost was my biggest argument against this.  Even doing this event on the cheap you’re into it probably about $400 after registration, gas, food lodging (such as it was) and incidentals.  Throw in a motorhome and indentured servant responsible for chauffeuring the crew?  Now you’re talking closer a grand each.   Too rich for my blood.  Also, I argued that the mental hurdle of sleep deprivation was part of the challenge, an essential part.  As I tried to find a corner of the truck that would let me get a few winks I rethought that argument, not for the first (or last) time.

Matt, riding in the dark, in the wind (Matt's the big squiggly in the middle ... I think)

Now the speed limit was about 40 mph. A rider going downhill can pretty much match that. We rolled into the exchange and found it packed. Not a single place to park. We ended up a couple hundred yards past the exchange. I got out and started getting dressed. I was about half way done when we saw a light roll into the exchange. Thinking that Matt couldn’t have arrives so fast I continued to get ready. The phone rang and our rider notified us that he had been at the exchange for fifteen minutes. Whoops.  My fault. (Note to self, get ready in Torrey next time.) I payed for my neglect with almost four hours of pavement for scenery, and no Ipod or blessed chamois creme.

2:18 am

That’s right, 2:18 am.  Any sane person would be home in bed and even the mentally unstable would not have riding a bike in their top ten things to do at this hour, but here we are.  Great thing about ‘Juice taking over the narrative is that for the next 3 hours/55 miles I have very few memories and even less video/photographic evidence that any of this took place, so we’ll turn it over to the LDS version of a secret service agent, who may or may not be riding while strapped* (to fend off varmints, see below) to tell the tale.

*serious weight penalty if he is, totally neutralizes any advantage from the carbon fiber racing frame.  So you can be light and fast or heavy and armed/prepared, but you can’t be both

A buddy of mine worked for the Utah Division of Natural Resources. He spent a lot of time in Escalante and knew the area well. He was kind enough to inform me that my leg contained the highest concentration of bears and mountain lions of any area in the state. So as if I needed any more motivation I rolled out to make up the fifteen minutes I squandered and hopefully outrun any of the local wildlife in the process. I told the guys to drive ahead and get some rest. They left me to my thoughts and the scenery. Apparently highway 12 is one of the 10 most highways scenic highways in the country.  I saw a few outlines of incredible rock formations, but for the most part the pavement that my light hit looked just like any other stretch of road. 

Link to multi-colour page
(what pickle juice saw between Boulder and Escalante)

Admittedly I did jump every time I heard a rustle in the bushes.  I did see a coyote and a few deer but none that wanted to mess with the lunatic riding his bike in the middle of nowhere.  Riding on that stretch of road was a bit surreal. Every 30 minutes an RV loaded with bikes would come by. I figured their rider was just behind me. I could see a light a few minutes behind me. The smart thing would have been to wait and work together. The wind was still blowing and we had 56 miles of it. But to do that, I would have to get the hyper-competitive side of me to shut up. Not happening. Instead, I lowered my head tried to make sure that light never hit me. 

I have only two memories of this leg.  One, the 14% grade sign somewhere between Boulder and Escalante.  It shows up after the big climb of the leg, on an extremely twisty section of road.  We had just passed the juice-master (who was still as focused as ever in the saddle) and just as we began the descent we came up on one of those double-wide extra-pimp greyhound bus/motorhome conversions.  The kind Kanye West or John Madden use to tour the country.   The vehicle in question (Team Sasquatch’s support vehicle?  No wonder they were crushing us … again) was taking up most of both lanes on the highway, with no real shoulder on either side.  I remember thinking ‘I hope that thing has good brakes, cause if it doesn’t we’re going to find out about it in just a few seconds.  Also, I hope whomever they are supporting isn’t in front of them in the saddle when it officially breaks loose and becomes a runaway motor home.  Good thing our rider is still behind us.  The other memory is of pulling off the road about 25 miles into ‘Juice’s leg and conking out completely.  Rodzilla was on an inflatable mattress on the ground, or at least half of him was, they only make those mattresses so long, but at least he was fully stretched, even if part of that stretch was in the roadside gravel.  Matt took the front truck bench, I took the back.  Our man in the saddle slowed long enough as he rolled past to tell us he was fine and ‘see you in Henrieville’.    I think we slept another half hour, then leap frogged him to the next exchange station.

Like my first leg, I think I passed someone, but I wasn’t entirely sure. After being up for that long and riding a solo century into a hurricane, I had several conversations with entities that only I could see.  Slowly the light on the horizon got a little brighter. This was good, because the light on my head got dimmer.  It finally gave out on me. By now I could see well enough. I decided to just continue on and finish.  Leg 7 finishes with a gradual descent into Henrieville. And descents are the specialty of a Clydesdale. I got low and went as hard as I could. I was thinking that I was making great time until I saw the truck coming back for me. They were worried that something had happened. Like the fat guy flexing in the mirror at the gym, I was convinced I had game and then reality hit.

5:55 am 

Henrieville.  Best exchange spot of the relay.  I can’t remember who sponsored it but I give you props nonetheless. They had a bonfire burning and a couple of grilles lit, making grub for breakfast burritos.  Sounded like a great idea after 20 hours of energy bars, sports drinks and beef jerky.  Halfway up Cedar Breaks I would wonder what I was thinking putting a pound and a half of sausage, potatoes, eggs and salsa in my belly in the middle of a bike race, but on a cold morning in Henrieville it sounded perfect.

Team Evolo, running the solo show (again). And pulling away from us (again).

Rodzilla was genuinely stressed at this point.  The climb up through Bryce Canyon is a beast.  The big man gets guff for having so much downhill (mainly at the end of each of his legs which is exactly when you want/need a downhill) but Cyclist 4 does a fair share of climbing, more than cyclist 2 actually and a lot of that climbing was coming up.  

On any other day the scenery might offset the suffer factor but we’re well past that now.  On a climb this steep if you’re seeing anything more than the two meters directly in front of and below you, you’re not giving it an honest effort.  

No, what Rodzilla had on his plate (aside from the overstuffed breakfast burrito) was 2+ hours of lung-searing pain  (though blessedly protected from the wind while in the canyon) finishing with a ten mile run back  into the teeth of the invisible (but far from silent) beast.

The baton goes to Rodzilla, I ate a cold burrito, and didn’t really wake up until Panguitch. I did catch a glimpse here and there of the Cap’n.  Apparently the “Suffer CafĂ©” was still open and serving. Rodney was grinding into that same headwind. Alone. He was giving his all just to get the thing over with.  The wind was still blowing. 

Yeah, it's cold. (Swedish) Matthew commiserating with one of our buddies from Team Evolo. If I remember correctly, this guy's knee gave out on him somewhere in the last 100 miles of the race. There was a lot of that going around, the rolling wounded, or simply exhausted (the scope of Rockwell Relay took more than one team by surprise) leaving stronger riders to bear the brunt of extra miles, or for teams to simply drop out altogether. Kudos to the Evolites for sticking it out (and sticking it to us, they finished a mere four* minutes ahead of us). As a team they sprung for matching bronze, black and white bib kits. You see them in most of our photos of the event, and we saw them for 500+ miles. I asked how many kits they each got (they were never out of uniform) and I was told they only bought one each, never changed, just rode out the funk ... 525 miles/36 hours worth of funk. Rub in all the chamois butter you want, those bibs are never coming back, ever.

*Yeah I've been razzing them pretty good for most of this blog, but it's because in the end, they beat us, no getting around that. We were supposed to be trading positions (and verbal jabs) with team Sasquatch (we had certainly talked enough smack with them in the lead up to this event) but after my meltdown on the Cedar Breaks climb team Sasquatch was a pipe dream. We needed a new nemesis ... Evolo? You guys coming back for more in 2013?

8:43 am
A vindicated Steve rolled out on his final leg, his last trip into the wind. Like the rest of his legs, this one only went up. That last sentence should have been in all caps. When I say up, over 4000 feet with some additional climbing thrown in to take the burden off Matt’s luge run. Race organizers figured the guy who was supposed to do almost half of all the climbing, deserved a few extra hundred feet. Steve took to it. I had promised Jenn that I would make sure Steve ate. If you have read the blog, he has a tendency to try and ride using only fat reserves for energy. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out so well. This was one of those times. I offered him food but he said he was OK. He should refuse SAG support at his peril, it’s kind of unreliable at this point. Steve had again found a group of the LOTOJA riders led by Jed. They were going along when Jed was snacking (no hands) and got caught in a cross wind. He ended up spilling his food. He might have broken a collarbone too.  

Super excited guy with full mouth smile riding up front? = not Jed, he's currently on the outside (behind excited guy) pedaling his way toward his date with disaster/Mother Nature. I of course am doing my best impersonation of a barnacle, trying to attach myself to the hull this passing ship and hold long as long as I can

Understatement here.  We were riding in a group of five, Jed out front (of course) when he pulled out to have a snack.  Again, both hands occupied opening his energy bar (note to Jed, have your snacks open and ready to go.  In a wind? keep at least one hand on the bars)  though that last piece of advice may not have mattered.  One of those howling (literally) gusts came screaming down the mountain and hit Jed just as he was sitting upright.  From five yards back I could feel it and it nearly pushed me into the rider next to me, even with both hands firmly on my bars.  For Jed it hit him broadside and lifted the front of his bike a foot off the tarmac and dumped him on the pavement.  He bounced, no joke bounced, about six inches, hitting his hip, shoulder (twice) and cracking his helmet (but fortunately not his cranium).   When I got to him he couldn’t talk, just twitched and made grunting noises and I thought maybe he was having a seizure but in reality he just had the wind knocked out of him (and maybe broke something but we couldn’t tell that yet).  When he did finally gain the power of speech his first question was about his bike.*  We checked it out, confirmed it was mechanically sound and he hopped on (now with a look of not just determination  but anger too) and took off.  

* Classic cyclist move: multiple abrasions, contusions, possible fractures, probable closed head trauma and his first concern is his ride

A rare break in the constant climb to Cedar Breaks.  Better enjoy it while it lasts (no break from the wind though).

There was another big climb (double digit grades for more than two miles, the whole leg was one big climb but this was decidedly worse) just before the lake and it was on this climb that Jed dropped everybody.   His three friends and I worked hard to catch him, and did, just after the summit but it took everything I had to stay with the group.  About a mile further on (and just before the turnoff for the cabin), I let the gap between me and the wheel I was pushing into the red to hold onto grow just barely too wide.  The wind that was causing whitecaps and 3-4’ swells on Panguitch Lake blew me back a few more feet and that was that.  I felt like I was pedaling through sand, a lone cyclist in the desert with the caravan still in sight but far enough away that it might as well be on the other side of the moon.  By the time I got to the cabin turnout Jed & friends had disappeared over the horizon. Gone and gone.

Steve’s support went to the cabin for some showers and food and time with the ladies.  Steve stayed on the bike. The shower got the accumulated salt and road grime that the hippie baths missed. It felt good to get clean even though it was a temporary relief.  More temporary for Matt then it was for Rodney.  By the rate we were going, we were going to be lucky if we finished by dark.

Cleaned and refreshed, we jumped back in the car and went off to find Steve.  He was plugging along. We leap-frogged him a few times and checked to make sure he had food and liquids. We then made the fateful error. We drove to the exchange point to see how far it was. It was maybe 5-6 miles, no big deal.  Apparently a couple of miles in a comfortable car is not the same as a couple of miles into a gnarly headwind with 10000 feet of climbing on the legs. What didn’t look like much from the cab of the truck was enough to revive the demons of Fruita. We parked the truck at the exchange and left Steve to whatever he was carrying.

Okay, so here’s what happened near as I can recall (and it’s probably this next ninety minutes that kept me from finishing this blog report.  More pain.  More scars).  So after meeting up near the cabin I refilled the water bottles, drank a coke, ate some homemade energy bars and just tried to catch my breath.  I did this climb last summer when everybody else was doing the Desperado Dual, mainly because last year’s leg was re-routed due to late season snow on top and I wanted to see what I was actually going to be up against.  This year they went back to the original route on the ascent but due to a mudslide in Cedar Canyon (this is a dangerous event, for many reasons.  Not sure if we’ve actually stated that this year but it’s true, whether it’s cattle grates, errant/rabid wildlife or road conditions, it’s dangerous, see below)

SR-14 (Cedar Canyon) or what's left of it post mudslide. Even on Matt's best day, on his favorite mtn bike, he's not making that descent

only with the additional 500’ of climbing mentioned earlier.  Four extra miles and 500 extra feet of hill don’t sound like much on paper but after 26 hours of relaying and more than 125 miles & 10K of climbing in the books already it was more than significant, it was a back breaker.  About 5 miles and 1200 feet of climb from the summit (let’s call it front side of Suncrest, that’s what I had left) the crew pulled alongside me.  Matt was hanging out the window and jibber-jabbering at me, not sure about what.  I told him a climb like this makes me wish I ponied up the extra $$$ for the Strava Premium account, so I could get a suffer score for this ride, cause I couldn’t remember the last time I suffered like this.  I think his response was something like:  “That’s great.  You know animal control doesn’t start service for this stretch of highway till after the fourth of July, so if you think you might die, try dragging your carcass off the road and maybe under a bush so you don’t impede traffic.   It’s called being a responsible citizen."*  With that he rolled up the window and disappeared around a bend on the mountain road ahead and that was the last I saw of them until I got to Brianhead Ski Resort.

*Yeah, I may have some resentment I need to work through still

I continued on as best I could but as I got nearer the 10,000 foot mark the fir trees that were acting as a partial wind-break disappeared (nothing like riding your road bike above the tree-line) completely and I was faced with the same hurricane winds we’d been fighting for 400 miles, only now it was the Alpine version of it.  Going was slow and rough.  I kept expecting to the support truck over the next rise or around the next switchback but no joy.  I drank, I ate, I even stopped to drink and eat (though I figured once I stopped I wouldn’t start again).  I did start again but I was completely tanked.  By the time I reached the mountain meadow at 10,400 feet (where I was supposed to hand the baton to Matt before the re-route) I was done.  Out of food, out of water and completely and totally empty.  When I did pedal it felt like the wind would blow me backwards.  It did blow me off the road and into the gravel at one point.  The Jed incident was fresh in my mind as I got off the bike again and walked into the wind, feeling as if all it would take would be to hold my arms out at my sides and I could blow away.  That’s the way team ‘One Nut Light’  (the Testicular cancer survivor team) found me.  They asked if I was broke down (bad wheel, broken chain, something like that).  I told them it wasn’t my bike that was broken but me.  I asked if they had anything with sugar in it and they busted out some powerade they picked up way back in Hanksville.  They spent a few seconds trying to break a chunk of ice into pieces small enough to shove into my water bottle before I told them not to worry about it (the wind was butt-cold up here and I was shivering already) and I chugged heartily on the powerade.  Like magic, my legs came back, my vision cleared and the air had more oxygen (maybe not but it felt like it).  I hopped back on the bike and legged it past Cedar Breaks monument and onto my 3 mile descent to Brianhead.

Matt got ready. No Steve.  We waited a few more minutes. No Steve.  A few of the riders that we had seen around him started trickling in. Still, no Steve. Finally, about 30 minutes later than he should have been, he unclipped for the last time.  Thankfully another team had given him a bottle with just enough calories to bring him home. This was good because Jenn would have killed us if we had killed Steve.  Once again, we failed at our support job. Now there is the Cedar Breaks demon to exercise. Like I said, ignore SAG at your own peril. You never know when or if it will come back.

There was a point where I sped past a parking lot on a 15% negative grade and thought for sure it was the exchange station and I just missed it.  I slowed enough to hook around and head back up (not easy on a grade like that) and wasted more of my already spent energy pedaling back up 200 yards of this beast of a hill before I gave up and figured if it was the exchange I would ride down the mtn and call the boys from the bottom and let ‘em know I took care of even more of Matt’s leg for him.  A mile further on I saw the signage for the the ski resort. I rolled in, completely spent and more disappointed in myself than exhilarated.

12:17 pm

Matt got the baton and headed down. We meandered around the parking lot and got loaded up. By the time we caught Matt, he was on the flats. His last leg was thirteen miles of descent and twelve miles of flat. No big deal right? Wrong.  The last twelve miles were straight into the wind. We tried to provide some draft for him but it didn’t do too much. It took over an hour of riding to reach the exchange. No riders to work with, just our buddy the headwind to keep us company. Again our mental faculties failed us and we missed the turn to the exchange. The sign had blown over. By the time we finally got there, Matt was only a few minutes away and I needed a bathroom. I found one across the park and ran in to get changed. I heard Matt arrive, and headed out on my leg. I gave up another ten minutes here. I paid for it again, no Ipod and no chamois cream. 

I have no real recollection of this.  Having finished my assignment, I curled up in semi-fetal position in the back seat.   I do know that frustration was mounting on all fronts.  We’re now 28 hours into this ride the wind that has made our lives miserable (and culled the herd of Relay teams by a good 30 % at this point) has not abated, if anything it has gotten stronger and now we’re venturing into Iron county farmland and sagebrush wilderness (ie nothing to stand between or even slow down the runaway freight train wind).  Also, no ipod?  On that bleak stretch of road? Respect.  That would have pushed me over the edge.

All hail Pickle Juice! I've said it before and I stand by my assessment that If the Relay were one of those two man horse costumes, Cyclist 3 is definitely the hind quarters of that project. All three legs are marathon distance, the first on the most desolate stretch of road in the conterminous United States, the second is on one of the most scenic roads in the US, but in the dark, in the middle of the night, with little to no support and the third is on one of the most wind swept stretches of road in the entire state. Give it up for the 'Juice (we're not worthy)

1:50 pm

There are a few things that are constant. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Death and taxes are going to get you eventually, and the wind coming out of St. George toward Veyo in the afternoon is fierce. My wife and I rode down it and it blew the shell of her helmet off. A helmet that was built to withstand a fall going 20mph and the wind dismantled it. From the start of this my hope was that we would be finishing before that wind picked up.  Well, that didn’t quite work out.  Best case scenario, I would be meeting him at about 4:30 for the exchange.  We were screwed.

As I rolled out of town, I was kind of shocked to see two other riders.  They didn’t look like very experienced cyclists, but at this point I had ridden 110 miles into a headwind all by my lonesome. Not to sound elitist but riders in tube socks don’t strike fear into their opponents. I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Finally, I thought, some help. This was fine until about 3 miles down the road one of the riders hopped in a car and drove off. This left me and a young guy from Utah State. The road turned to the SW and the wind picked up. Pretty soon the Aggie was fading. Fast. So I was left alone. Again! 

The guys met me right outside of Cedar City and started leapfrogging. I could tell that my power output wasn’t where it needed to be. My motivation was sapped. It didn’t help knowing I had 40 miles of this left to deal with. I knew I needed something so I went to what works. Coke. After 32 oz, I was a new man. The long gradual climb was still no fun, but my output was back to where it needed to be. When I finally hit the summit I saw a rider a few miles ahead of me. I had my rabbit. I thought if we can’t beat the wind, maybe I can catch this guy and Rodney will have someone to share pulls with to St. George. I tucked and I went for it. I had the guys drive forward and give me the gap.  It was a five minutes. If I was going to catch him, I needed to make up as much ground as possible while on the descent. 

After about 15 minutes of hard riding I was reeling him in. When I pulled up to him I 

offered to share pulls. He was from team EVOLO. We had been leapfrogging them since my first leg. I checked, no tube socks. Did a quick look at his rig, Specialized Venge, PERFECT! (I didn’t let him see me check her out, don’t want him getting all jealous.) After a few pulls I could see he was struggling. I was all proud to have reeled the guy in and come to find out he is spent. What little ego remained quickly disappeared. I offered to pull the guy to the next exchange thinking his teammate would help in a similar fashion for Rodney. After a few minutes the guy gave up. He said he couldn’t keep up. I guess their second rider was having knee issues so he had ridden his leg as well. OUCH!!  I wished him good luck and headed for the exchange. 

We were in farm country. No trees, just wide open fields. And wind. You could see for miles, but I couldn’t see an exchange. The map on my garmin showed that I was pretty close to the exchange but I couldn’t tell for sure. I got some more food into me and started the countdown. When I am suffering, I like to break down the distance to something more manageable. 5 miles becomes the last flat part of my commute home. Easy.  I was suffering now. I asked the guys how much further it was thinking it was about four miles to the exchange. They came back with “Thirteen Miles.”  (I remember when he asked this I thought back to his first leg when we were trying to estimate his distance & time to the exchange because we had lost track of how far we’d gone and the only information he had for us was “I don’t know, I’m averaging 230 watts” I wanted to shout “I don’t know how far, how many Watts are you averaging?” But I was too tired to even be a wise-a**… that’s tired.)  Thirteen MILES! Crap. Just a commute home plus two miles. I put my head down and went. If Rodney was going to have someone to ride with I needed to give him a good cushion so that he can climb the first part of his leg. (EVOLO’s fourth rider was a stronger climber.) I could tell my legs were fading but I was almost there. On the flats, 30 minutes and I would be done.  Matt even offered to get out and share pulls with me. (Hypercompetitive guy would have torn my legs off trying to drop him just on the principle that he shouldn’t have any legs left to ride this soon after he finished.)

Lost in the telling of 'Relay 2012 is the fact that Rodzilla developed a semi-cultlike following. Every exchange he got shout outs from anonymous admirers (though most probably came form the other Rodney, pictured above, on his back, giving us the 'crotch cam' shot). But by the time we finished everybody knew who the big man was, everybody gave him props, but nobody would hold back on the hills so they could work together on the flats. Maybe next year.

I came to a “T” intersection and prepared to make a left. Off to my right I saw something like an oasis to a Bedouin. A scout troop on their bikes all tucked in behind a truck and trailer, shielded from the wind. The practical side of me said “Sit in! That is PERFECT.”  The hypercompetitive elitist said “No way they get ahead of you.” Listening to the latter I made the turn and drained what I had left in the tank. My Garmin said I only had 3 miles. The problem was I still couldn’t see the exchange. Garmins do lie on occasion. I got in the drops and pushed as hard as I could. Two miles left. No exchange. My back was cramping from riding in the drops, my legs were screaming. One mile. No exchange.  It had to be close. I kept up the pace knowing I was done. I was out of food and water, legs were cramping, and no one was in sight. This was a flat road! I should see cars or SOMETHING! I checked my Garmin, it read .3 miles. It was about to get thrown into the road when I came over a small rise and saw the exchange. I am pretty sure I could hear angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. I gave the baton to Rodney and collapsed against the shaded side of the gas station. I needed pickle juice and Coke, and lots of it.

Juice rolls into the last exchange, wearing his poker face. If he was about to pass out 1/2 a mile back you can't tell from looking at him here. That picture of equanimity won't last though (see below). Team Evolo present and prepping their man to catch and drop us on one last leg. They've got to come back for an encore performance. They owe it to us. Right? Right?

5:19 pm

Rodney pulled out of the exchange. The final leg. We were all tired, it was getting late and the wind was STILL blowing. 

Pickle Juice Thought bubble: "What just happened? Seriously, what the ... just happened?"

 After changing clothes and getting some much needed calories, we met Rodney on his big climb of the leg. Other than this hill and one outside Veyo. It looks easy but after 37 hours of a race, nothing is easy. Evolo’s rider had reeled him in passed and pulled away.

We actually stopped near the top of this climb, the Big man sweating up a storm and looking vexed, depleted and more than a little sad to be on a bike.   I held up both hands like a third base coach urging his runner to stop at the corner (you’ll ever beat the throw) and Rodzilla stopped pedaling and coasted to a stop.  The fact that one of my hands held an ice cold Mtn Dew may have helped convince him.  We talked for a bit and I told him to stop killing himself.  Team Ebola was out of our reach and there was nobody close enough on his heels to help him out either.  We weren’t gonna beat last year’s time and it was 2:3 odds and pick ‘em whether or not we would finish before they handed out awards and broke camp.

Once he crested the climb, he was in his element.  Descents are the panacea of a clydesdale. We forget the misery of the ascent and all our mass is working FOR us instead of against. Rodney was closing. He caught the rider on the flats. Unfortunately, there was enough climbing to allow for a five minute gap to open up and it stayed until we reached the finish.


Done. We were treated to a Christian rock band and some burgers at the finish line. Festivities looked to be winding down but several teams were still out on the road. For the next ninety minutes refugees trickled in. Most of the celebration was because the ride was finally done.  The first year I did lotoja I finished in the dark. In fact, most of the finish line was taken down. BUT there were still riders out on the road. It brought some sense of relief that I wasn’t last. This felt the same. We definitely didn’t win any records, but we rode the whole thing fair and square. This deserved a Dallas Fillet at the Texas Roadhouse.

When a ride like this ends, there is a series of events that take place. First you swear it off. (Steve’s LOTOJAs.) Then you reconsider and finally you start to plan on how you are going to do better. It was a great event and next time will be even better.




"I love these guys!" -Rodzilla, Rockwell Relay 2011 (still true in 2012).

Watch for us in '13.

Team:  What's our name again?

(How about Team 'Quick Everybody Suck In Your Gut for the Picture'?)

1 comment:

  1. Love reading your blog, hope you keep it up this summer!