Yesterday started out dreary. I was sitting down to a cup of black tea feeling kind of lonely when the phone started to ring. First it was Larry and then Julie. After much encouragement I agreed to go hiking up Mount Dean Stone. The hike started out blue and soon I found myself out, way out, in front forging my own trail. On top I contemplated continuing to Mitten Mountain and then over to University. I resigned to just waiting up for my friends and when things got so cold our fingers were about to fall off we left the summit and headed back down.
Again I found myself hiking alone as I took alternate routes and struggled with my blue mood. I waited in a open meadow for my hike mates and started to appreciate my surroundings. Once on the move I started to skip. I skipped with my arms in the air for three miles. My friends embraced my new energy and made Carbo Rocket jokes. Back at Larry’s place we had a marvelous dinner and with the wine flowing they prodded me for a story.
“Common Bill, tell us a story. Tell us about the time…”
“I didn’t finish last weekends race you know”, I interrupted.
“What, but you won right? What is this crazy story that you stopped to watch a sunrise … IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE”
“I did … well yea. You do know I wasn’t planning solo”
“Tell us that story, tell us about the race in Frog Hollow, how it went down”
“It was a showdown really but in the end I just made a big decision. It all worked out. The showdown in frogtown”, and then I giggled.
I paused. This would be a good time to tell some local friends what went down in Southern Utah. I leaned against a wall and started to explain how it all went down.
I arrived Friday morning and sent up my camp and pit area. I soon discovered that there were more traditional pit options down the road so I packed everything up and moved to the road just down from the timing tent along the course. I would literally leave the timing tent and ride right by my pit. None of this detail is important but in the process a racer named Ben Welnak and his lovely wife Amy parked right next to me. When I moved to the road they followed suit. This kind of shadowing would continue on during the race. Little did I know he and I would be locked into a battle for sheriff of Frogtown.
Frogtown is the name of the 25 hour race venue for that weekend. It was all a buzz with the usual 24 hour affair. Everyone was excited to get underway and at 10 AM we were off and running down the road to our bikes. Once on the bike I looked up and realized that again it was confirmed that my running sucks. I put my head down and hammered up to the second pack from the front. I pulled in beside Ben.
“Is there any solos up their”, I gestured to the pack of five up on top of the gravel road climb.
“No I don’t think so”
I took the lead momentarily and realized that Ben and I should just work together until we found out if there were any solo riders in the lead. Ben took over the lead and busted out a wicked fast inaugural lap. I struggled to hold his wheel and keep from going too hard.
“beep beep beep beep beep”, my heart rate monitor was ferociously reporting a anaerobic status.
“Is that your heart rate monitor”, Ben asked.
“Yep, I am not comfortable with this pace”
“So if I keep it beeping you will eventually blow up?”
“Um, probably”, I mentally smacked myself upside the head for disclosing vital information.
“Cool”, and then he turned up the pace. He was putting the screws to me. I thought that he had to be damaging his own chances as well and gambled by mirroring his pace. As we approached the timing tent I followed him in. One lap down and many to go. No need to get to the tent first.
In the tent the personnel took a long time to find out score cards. They found Ben’s and he was off like a scared rabbit. As the volunteer ferociously dug through he score cards I watched Ben attack up the hill. Three full minutes later they found my page and marked me down for a lap. I was free to go. I got to my pit where Beat was getting his bike ready for a lap.
“They took like 3 minutes to find my damn score sheet … where did Ben go?”
“You guys are doing great”, Amy encouraged me.
I took off after Ben with irritation in my cadence. It really wasn’t fair to be attacked like this but we WERE in a race. And it was apparent we were in the lead. I needed to catch Ben and calm him down. Maybe we could ride smart to distance ourselves from the others. It took me half a lap to catch Ben. He was surging the hill climbs and I tried desperately to catch. When I finally found his wheel I was exhausted.
“I shouldn’t have caught you this fast but … WTF … what is up with the timing tent”?
I didn’t get or couldn’t understand the answer so I resigned to just ride behind him again. Maybe I could get some kind of recovery. Just after the Gem Trail section I passed on a downhill and tested his technical skills. I was able to put a gap on him and by the end of lap 2 I had a 10 second lead.
Suddenly he sprinted up and tried to pass. I put it into the dog and responded. We sprinted full cross country style to the timing tent. I won out by a thread ad got to transition first. Still though Ben was impatient and wanted to get going before I did. I made sure they had my name d
own on my score sheet and chased him to the pit area. We pitted at the exact same time.
“What do you need”, Jill queries me as I flung a bottle in her direction. I grabbed a bottle of Carbo Rocket and jolted back to Bens wheel.
“Bye Jill”, I looked back to see a excited smile. I almost crashed into a fellow competitor.
“Bye Bill, good luck”.
This time I was on Ben’s wheel immediately and as we started the first climb. On lap three around 2:20 into the 25 hour race Ben had a bobble. He dropped his water bottle. I picked it up and rode up to him.
“Are you OK”, I looked into his eyes.
“Yea, sure, go ahead, I’m fine”
“OK but Ill go slower”, and pedaled in front of him.
He didn’t appear to be fine and I saw some doubt in his eyes. His breathing was labored and the fact that he dropped his bottle was the first sign of weakness I saw. I rode steady and kept my heart rate right where it needed to be. I was finally in charge of the race. Once out of sight I picked up the pace and rode the downhill single-track with great passion. I knew I would be faster on the downhill and I took advantage of it right away. He disappeared in the distance behind me.
When you are in the lead you make gains in the pit area. If you pit slow your competition comes along and has the chance to catch back up. But if you pit fast and you can get out before they come in, it is a huge mental advantage. At first Ben would ramble in, then later I would be leaving as he rode up to his pit, and then after a while I was totally gone out of sight before he came in. When this happened I surged and attacked pretty hard. I needed to lap him. I knew that if I wanted to win the race I would have to have a lap on him.
My mind wondered as the sun started to dehydrate me. What was I doing this for? I didn’t plan on doing a solo. Why would I do this to myself. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to bee in a heated battle for first place in a solo n mountain bike race. My heart just wasn’t into it. Then in a rock garden I started to make mistakes and then dizziness set in. Damn, I was getting sun sick.
“Are you OK, what do you need”, Jill asked me with a concerned look on her face.
“It’s the sun, its frying me, do you have any Endurolytes?”
This is when I discovered Jill had special powers. It was like 3 seconds after saying that she just had them in her hand and I downed 4 of them. Ah, she was a jeanie and could make things appear. I looked around and it was snowing and there were unicorns in the field.
“Bye Bill”, I heard in distance.
I looked in her direction and she smiled. I turned and started pedaling. I pedaled because it is what I do. It is what I do when the hallucinations start and I have been going hard for 8 hours in the sun.
The next pit it was Beat’s turn.
“Do you have endurolytes”?
“Um, no but I have salt sticks”, Beat went to the car. He emerged with a bottle of pills.
“Thanks man, can I have a couple?”
“Watch out, they are stronger then endurolytes”
“What is my lead?”
I was shocked. A couple minutes. Shit, I was fading. I got back on my bike and continued on. I continued on because it is what I do. It is what I do when things seem bleak. I just continue on.
Meanwhile in Bens pit there was excitement. I was fading and this left a door open. Even though I would eventually lap Ben I was frazzled and Bed was feeling stronger. There was reports that in my pit area there was a sense of desperation.
Out on the trail the sun was going behind the clouds and finally the sun was ready to set. I felt better. I did puke up the salt sticks but the endurolytes saved my race. I was looking forward to the darkness and the cool night air. I had obtained from Amy that our lead was enormous and I had nothing to fear. I rode conservatively.
Just as the sun left us all in the desert and I was struggling to see I spotted Jill. I rode up to her and stopped. I looked at her smile and thought to myself how great her smile was. I mean no one out there was smiling. But she was and I thought of giving her the “best smile” of the race award.
“Cool sunset”, I blurted out.
“Yes, this is awesome”, Jill said with so much glee I felt re-energized immediately.
She was having a great time and I admired her for how she was embracing this event and becoming more involved as the race wore on. I could tell she wanted to be riding in the solo division. She was getting stronger. Even with stops to take photos she came in right behind me on the lap.
“I need to bee more like Jill”, I told myself and I pitted and went out for my first night lap.
And the night did wear on. My front shock started to malfunction. As I pitted with Jill it became apparent that I may have to abandon the race.
“You can use Beat’s bike.” “Bill I am sorry, what can I do”
“Its OK Ill keep fixing it, no problems, Jill my bike is falling apart”, I struggled to tightening the pure delight knob and pump up the fork. My pit times are like 20 minutes to keep the fork from dismantling.
“I could use some soup on the next pit”
“OK, I’ll have it ready”
I rode out another lap and the fork came apart again. I was discouraged and hatched a plan to score the threads to prevent the lock nut from loosening. On the next pit stop I went to work. As I finished up the repairs I was handed a hot cup of soup. Then I realized that not only was Jill a Jeanie she was also a angle of delicious soup. It was marvelous and I felt energy for the first time.
“Do I have to go back out there”, I asked Jill.
“No, unless your having fun”
Ben had come in and watched me try to do repairs and must have seen me getting comfortable with my new found cup of joy. He left his pit and attacked so hard he was enveloped by darkness before I even looked up.
I saw him leave his tent and knew this was it. This was where the race would be decided. If he were to take back his lap he would of won. I had to catch him or loose everything I had worked so hard for.
“Jill I have to go”, I said so despairingly it sounded pathetic.
“Its OK bill, your doing great”
It took me 15 minutes to catch Ben and found that I had legs. In fact I felt marvelous. Jill had saved my race. That cup of soup was working miracles. I wondered if it was indeed the soup or just that my fitness was finally coming through. Finally I didn’t question anything I just stuck to Ben. he was ripping up the hills so violently I was left momentarily shattered at the top. but then he would slow to catch his breath and I would catch back on. And the dance continued. He surged and I struggled to catch back up. Surge, struggle, surge, struggle …..
Near the top just before the downhill single track we were sided by side gasping for air. The battle was just about over. We both gave it everything and the next slight uphill before the single-track would be the entire race. Who had enough to make that final attack and push the dagger onto their rivals heart.
I got out of the saddle and put it all into my bike. We reached the single track first and coasted to the mandatory dismount. I was in the lead and this would be the last time Ben saw me as I ripped away into the darkness that night. I knew at this point I would be able to win if I could keep my bike in one piece.
I came into a empty pit area and did a quite celebration. Jill was out riding and I had a chance of chasing her down. Apparently she was riding lap after lap and feeling great. It gave me some inspiration and I busted through without stopping. I wanted to put the nail in to coffin and disappear before Ben pitted.
I pushed out another strong lap, perhaps to strong. I started to unravel. Mostly because I got lonely. The pit was abandon (which I didn’t mind because it meant Jill was riding and riding and riding). The two laps before day break were hard. I started walking the technical sections and found my body was dismantling itself. I have experience and I knew I would make it to the end. But I started to feel like I didn’t want to. What was I doing out here. I kept telling myself to just keep on going. Carry on. Don’t stop.
Suddenly I realized that I no longer needed my lights. The sun was trying to emerge and I started to see the landscape coming back to life. It was beautiful out there and I was in pain. The physical pain I could handle but the emotional pain and just not knowing why I was racing was so heavy that it was dragging slower and slower. I was reduced to rolling over one rock at a time.
Straight over this rock, around the side of that rock. Over this rock and onto the next. Between two rocks and balancing over a narrow rock and off its painful edge. This rock, the next rock. Just hang in there and focus. 2 maybe 3 hours to go. One rock at a time. one rock at a time.
“Wow”, Julie said as I realized that I was back in Larry’s house surrounded by a dozen eyes. All starring at me. And I paused.
“I looked up and saw Jill”, I continued with out anyone probing me for more detail. I searched for words. And then I continued on my own, not telling the story any longer but reliving it out loud.
“Biking really sucks”
Jill giggled, “yea, you look great though, your doing awesome”
We watched the sun struggle into view.
“Beautiful … hey, what are you doing next Wednesday”, I asked. I was trying to avoid my emotions by cracking a joke. It is what I do. it is what I do when I have ridden for 20 hours. It is what I do after facing my very soul. It is what I do when I realize something that is uncomfortable to discuss is about to be disclosed.
“What, what do you mean”
“Do you want to go for a ride next Wednesday”, this time becoming serious. I really did want to secure a ride. Jill smiled and looked back to the sunrise.
Ben rolled up to us after a couple minutes.
“We are watching the sun rise”, I disclosed so matter of fact like. Jill giggled. It was true, we were watching the sun come up.
“Man, I feel like shit”, Ben said then the rode past us. He rode off into the distance and I watched him. I realized what a great time I had racing with Ben and the battle we had. A great relationship and now he was still riding. And I was standing.
“There goes my lap”, I released the words into the morning air.
“Yea, but he cant catch you Bill, don’t worry”
Did I say how positive Jill is, yea, it felt good to have strategic support at a time when I didn’t care. It did matter though .
YES! I suddenly realized why I was there. I was here to ride for my friends, more specifically Jill. I wanted to win one for my friend Jill. I felt weird trying to find a way to disclose that I wanted to win a race for her. It felt so kind of tacky … but after the big Showdown in Frogtown it seemed like the thing I wanted to do. And I wanted to ride some more.
“Will you do the last lap with me”?