To read Part One CLICK HERE
You may notice a new banner at the top. That’s Jens Voigt winning a stage at the Giro. That’s how I felt crossing the line last Saturday. My arms were in the air, pointing to the Pahg, only I didn’t look quite as fresh as Jensy. I can call him Jensy, cuz, we have that relationship, you know. But prior to crossing the line on Saturday there were some issues.
When we last left our story…
55 Miles To Go
We came off of Snyder Hill and rolled up north on Sabino with a decent tailwind. The struggling 109ers, of which I was one, were steadily cranking while the fresh 66ers were flying by. We turned onto a long, rolling westward road and I tried to find some drafting partners. I hooked onto the wheel of a guy who had to be at least 6’7″, and I thought it was going to be great. But this guy was not interested in having me suck his wheel. Every time I got within a foot of his wheel he would serve off, like swatting a fly away.
I used up a lot of energy trying to get to a drafting position and just couldn’t. There was a rest stop up ahead and I figured I would stop, recovery, eat, fill bottles and go.
NOTE: This is now around 60 miles into the race and this is where the majority of my mistakes began to be made. More on that later.
This particular rest stop was a fire station that you had to literally pull into and “park” unlike most of the stops which you just pulled off the side of the road, then got right back on. I probably spent a good ten minutes at this stop as I had to navigate through the arriving and departing cyclists, find a place to put my bike, find the porta-horror, etc., etc. My feet were beginning to burn which concerned me as I had just removed the wool socks back at the crossing. But I mounted the Unfat Machine and made my way back out to the course.
We then rolled north on Oracle (no, I’m not making that name up) which has some elevation to it, but had another decent tailwind. I managed to get into a good pace even without drafting. I was passing more people than were passing me. I saw the next rest stop coming up and — IN HINDSIGHT I HAVE NO IDEA WHY I STOPPED — pulled in. I got off the UM and just… wandered around.
Was I out of it? I don’t know. I remember being aware that I had now ridden farther than ever before (prior to this day, 58+ miles was my record), but I wasn’t taking any joy or confidence in that – it was more like… oh, crap.
Death on Rancho Vistoso
We turned off of Oracle and onto a road I was very familiar with – Rancho Vistoso. Almost every Arizona ride I’ve done this year has included a march up and down RV. Yes, RV is up and down. Lots of elevation changes, and the direction the race was heading – southwest, straight into the wind – was a relentless climb up, up, and around, before a nice downhill that would take us to the next road.
My mental state should have been “Yes! Rancho Vistoso! I got this! I own this road!” Instead, it was something along the lines of… “Dear God… why do you hate me?”
Closing in on 70 miles and for whatever reason, I was feeling like I’d already done the 109 and the 66. I was trudging up this road with all the speed and fury of a seahorse. Add to this the 40-Mile Race had begun! Suddenly, not only was there the middle mass of 66ers, but now there were hundreds and hundreds of fresh-faced families of 40-milers, all happy and excited, with flags on their bikes and their little kids pedaling away.
Nothing on this earth is as demoralizing as being dropped by an 8-year-old girl with sparkly fringe dangling from her handlebars. I want her drug tested.
I was dying on Rancho Vistoso. I knew there was a rest stop up ahead, but the more I pedaled, the further away it seem to be. I felt like I was on RV for hours, when in reality it was less than 30 minutes.
Let me pause here to talk about this blog’s mantra — You are capable of so much more than you think you are… yeah, well, guess who forgot that on Saturday? The start of the race was so demoralizing to me, and put me in such a negative mental state, that even after the Team Fatties and the Big Man, I was still coming at this thing from a bad POV. I wasn’t thinking “I can’t do it” – I was thinking “You can do it, only it’s going to be awful and horrible and it’s going to take forever.”
Yes, my feet were burning, but I’ve felt that before. Yes, I was tired, but so what? Now that I am two days removed from the race I see that all the stopping I was doing was actually hurting me much more than it was helping me. Okay, back to Rancho Vistoso…
So there I am, dying, feeling like I’m pedaling through sand, watching little boys and girls ride by me like they’re on some kind of rocket-propelled bikes, and it all just suddenly overwhelmed me.
And I quit.
I stopped at a place locals know as Honeybee Canyon, and just sat down.
I just sat there watching all these people ride by, having the time of their life. They were enjoying this. Sonsofbitches.
One of the many, wonderful Bike Patrol folks rolled up and asked if I needed anything. I said no. He said there was a rest stop just up the road. All I heard was “Up.” I thanked him and he left. And I just kept sitting there. Unable to move. Unable to get back on the Unfat Machine.
For almost twenty minutes I sat there, telling myself – in a little whiny baby voice – that I could sit there as long as I wanted. That my time didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I finish. Well, looking back that was true and was absolutely untrue. It does matter. I don’t mean the actual time matters as far as hours and minutes – I mean it matters about the effort. Does finishing something really have the same impact or importance if you do it half-ass? I don’t think so.
I wish all these thoughts had hit me while I was sitting there watching families and people old enough to have voted for FDR roll by.
Eventually, I got back on the UM, started cranking again, and just like Mr. Bike Patrol said, there was a nice happy rest stop with water and food about a 1/4 mile from where I quit.
I stopped again, refilled my water, took a Gu, and continued on. After RV, we turned onto Moore – which I am sure got its name because no matter how far you ride on it, there’s always more. I rode in a daze, glancing down at Hal 9000 occasionally, but mostly wondering why I suddenly couldn’t remember the lyrics to Thunder Road.
From Moore we turned onto Tangerine – a long, straight westbound road that I’d heard stories about from Hova and The PT. They told me tales of drafting on Tangerine – that, depending on the wind, you could hook up with someone and go 33mph while hardly pedaling at all. This renewed me. I began to rebound mentally. Within the first 1/4 mile of Tangerine I saw two large, but fit men riding together. One was very tall and lean, the other large in that “big-boned” sort of way. They had expensive bikes.
I knew they were the ones.
I locked on to one of their wheels and there was NO WAY I was getting off. Even if they tried to shake me, I was going to stay on like Velcro. And I did. All the way on Tangerine I drafted. Averaging 25mph, hardly cranking, my body recovering completely. Even my mind began to feel better. And for the first time since the starting line, I was enjoying myself.
That’s the biggest regret I have looking back – I was so consumed with the negatives of my day that I never got to enjoy what I was doing. What I was a part of.
So after rolling down Tangerine at 25mph without doing much work at all, I was ready for the next phase of the race – the cobblestones of Rattlesnake Pass. First, there are no actual cobblestones – just some pavement and road conditions that are so awful we might as well have been riding the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. And this bumping, slamming, jarring section comes 90 miles into the race. Perfect.
But wait, there’s more. Rattlesnake Pass is actually a hill. Yes, a cobblestone-ish hill with an 8% grade, 92 miles into the day… with a headwind. The faces of the riders I passed looked like the undead.
Did you notice I said “the riders I passed“? That’s right. I was cranking up that hill, passing people walking their bikes. Tangerine had reinvigorated me and I was less than 20 miles from the finish. So, for the third time in the day, I was feeling good, and feeling like I could handle this.
The Winds of Silverbell
WHAM! Once again, all my joyous and positive feelings were squashed, this time by the soul-crushing headwinds of the day. The last 10 miles was riding directly into a headwind. Hard enough on any ride, but after nearly a hundred miles… brutal. At this point in the race I have basically lost all consciousness. I am just pedaling, with no idea how far, how fast, or where I’m going. I am just following the herd.
These ten miles seem to last forever. I remember looking down at Hal 9000 when I hit 100 miles, and then looking at him again after I figured I had gone another five or six miles… Hal informed me that I had now traveled 102.1 miles. It was just about this time that another one of those small children on a Big Wheel dropped me.
But I kept riding.
I turned off the Road of Windy Death and into downtown. I could feel the energy from the Finish Line, though I could not see it. But as excited as I was, I could not bring myself to pedal faster or harder, or do anything other than just ride. So ride I did. And as I crossed the line I raised my hands like Jens and couldn’t believe I had done it.
I was stopped by a woman who cut my timing chip off my ankle, then a soldier came over and patted my back and told me congratulations and that I done an incredible job.
Okay, a soldier, a freaking soldier is telling me I did an incredible job? A guy who has volunteered to lay his life on the line for a nation of strangers?
I could not find Hova or The PT, or Hova’s Friend, or anyone at the Finish line. So I just found the nearest curb, laid the Unfat Machine down, sat down… and cried.
My feet were on fire. My legs were gone. My brain was coleslaw. But I did it. Yes, I had performed horribly. Yes, I had abandoned the very mantra I have been preaching here for weeks and weeks. Yes, I stopped way too many times.
But I did it.
That night I felt like I’d been hit by a train. I remember thinking I never want to get on the Unfat Machine ever again.
The next day I nearly went on a ride.
The next day I was calculating the 55 minutes I’d wasted sitting, wandering, whining, and crying during the race.
Today I want to do it again next year. Only better. Faster. Okay, 66 Lead Pack, I get it. Time matters.
But for now… I did it. In 8 hours, and fifty-seven minutes. But I did it.
There are some people I have to thank – for without them, without their help one way or another – I would never have been able to accomplish this year-long goal. Please take the time to read all the names.
Team Fatty #3407 and Team Fatty guy on the tiny-wheeled bike — Without you two giving me emotional CPR early on, I would not have made it.
The Big Man in the Caisse d’Epargne kit — He did not have a 1% body fat, Schleckian body, he was big. But with that came a BIG engine. He reminded me of the old American adage: There’s no substitute for cubic inches! Your jersey # was 2366. I do not know your name, Big Man, or if you even remember me, but I would not have made it without you.
Hova, 9Toes, and The PT — You guys started this odyssey a year ago when you presented me with the Unfat Machine. You changed my life. I’ve ridden nearly 2300 miles this year after not being on a bike for nearly twenty years. You supported me throughout the year, and Hova and The PT pushed me whenever they could – including up Mt. Lemmon – never letting me settle, never letting me be satisfied. Without you, I would not have made it.
The very large young woman on the rickety hybrid — You did it. 109 miles. And though I was on a better bike, in better shape, had way more experience and knowledge riding, and finished ahead of you, you did it without ever whining once. When I passed you for the final time at mile 101, I wanted to turn and say thank you for inspiring me to keep going. Without you, I would not have made it.
Jens Voigt — Words can’t express what an inspiration you are. “Shut up legs!” went through my mind on several occasions during the ride, and without you I would not have made it.
Ken Chlouber — the man behind the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race. I taped the words “Dig Deep” to my stem and thought about the brutality of your Leadville race and if those people could do that, then I could manage this. Without your race and inspiring words, I would not have made it.
Bruce Springsteen — “Thunder Road” “Born To Run” and “Jungleland” kept me company via the iPod in my head. Without yoy influence on me, not only would I not be a writer today, I would not have made it on Saturday.
Elden Nelson — The Fat Cyclist of fatcyclist.com. I don’t know you, but your blog inspired me this year, and you taught me how much more could done on a bike than simply riding. Livestrong lives strong because of people like you, and I will continue to fight like Susan every day. Without you I absolutely would not have made it.
My family — For love, support, giving me the freedom to train this year, and encouraging me to go for this goal even at the expense of personal family issues. Without you all, I would not have made it.
Gaz of the 39 Stone Cyclist — You, sir, should be knighted. Your hard work, never give up attitude and positive outlook kept me going on days this year when I wanted to give up. Without you and your blog, I would not have made it.
And finally, to all the Bike Patrol people, all the police officers, and all the amazing El Tour de Tucson volunteers. Without all of your hard work and selfless dedication, NONE OF US would have made it.
Ride your bike.
Lose the gut.
Fair winds and following seas, Willy