23 June 2015

Around the Rock

I toed the start line for a local race on Wednesday evening but I was already thinking ahead to Saturday. Ten mile XC race? Nothing new. 155 mile road/dirt ride? Something else entirely.

The race was fine. I got third, same as last year, but managed to shave almost two minutes off my previous time, without going completely anaerobic, on the Stag, a bike six pounds heavier and with two more inches of squish than Lisa. Fitness is a cool thing.

With that race over I could direct my attention to this looming event, Around the Rock: a solstice ride that circumnavigates the Grand Teton. Figure out how to prepare for eighty miles of gravel with literally no amenities (unless you bring iodine tablets). Borrow a bike--a cheap commuter cyclocross bike from Fitzgerald's--with less aggressive geometry and a gentler gear ratio than the Deutschbike. Better to go with possible comfort than definite discomfort, I guess.
Together for the last time
Pic courtesy of Fitzy
At six-thirty we met at the shop, eleven antsy participants. Fitzy said, "I don't like to call this a 'group ride'. Think of it as more of a 'shared experience'." His words proved to be so true.

We took backroads to the hinterlands of the northern valley. The first 45 miles of navigation were tricky and while I had written a little cue sheet, I was very motivated to hang on the leaders' wheels until at least the Jackass Meadows road. We were going hard and the groups had already broken apart, but I stayed cranking in the big ring up and down rutted farm roads. The pace was unsustainable but I had a strategy: I will blow up and slow down at some point (soon) so get as far as possible with the help of others.

I was right, of course. As soon as we hit forest service roads with tough climbs and technical descents the lead pack splintered. I ate and drank pretty well but my whole body was already sending out distress signals as I jolted over the washboarded rocky dusty hot road.

On the final technical descent I felt the front tire slam the rim with a sense of finality, and then all the air was gone. I sat down on the side of the road and fixed the flat as mosquitoes dined on my sunscreen-flavored skin and all the other riders passed me by.

I tried to give chase but knew I had lost something essential in those eight minutes. Finally I reached Flagg Ranch, the end of dirt, the beginning of concessions and tourists. Some of the group was still there and I was thankful for their presence. Cyclists with heavier baggage milled around and after eavesdropping I realized we were on the Tour Divide route. Those absolutely crazy people! They do back-to-back rides like the one I was on...for weeks.

I chugged water and ate my salami sandwich and fruit leather and got on the bike again. Everyone who trickled out alone made noises about accruing a peloton and crushing the miles once we hit the park roads. I kept waiting as I struggled through the headwind, but we were too spread out--the promised peloton never materialized. Thus I spent miles 45-145 riding completely by myself, which was so, so hard.

Riding through Grand Teton National Park was crowded, but the shoulder was ample and the feeling of smooth tarmac orgasmic. Of course the park is a scenic marvel but I felt a compulsion not to stop or take pictures, and besides, a cursory Google search will yield much more beautiful images than my shitty camera can.
Seriously, it's really pretty
So I took one picture
Cletus the Crossrip in front of some big rocks
Many hours of pain later I was in Wilson, facing down the demon I had been dreading all day, all week, ever since I decided to ride Around the Rock. Teton Pass. It's not too long (six miles), it's pretty steep (2,500 feet gained), and my god it's daunting after 135 miles. I sat outside the convenience store, ate a Snickers bar and a cucumber of all things, drank a Red Bull, hid my Garmin so I wouldn't have to stare at its devastating readout of "3.5mph...3.2mph...2.9mph...", and saddled up.

Yeah, it sucked.

Then at the halfway point an angel floated up next to me with a cheerful greeting. Matthew was a friend of Fitzy who met up with us at Flagg Ranch to do a long ride and pull along anyone who was struggling. I gasped with happiness just to see someone else, and pedaled a little harder to keep him in sight. And survived! We regrouped at the top, we bombed the descent, and then he gave me the kindest gift ever: he pulled me at high speeds across the eight or so flat windy Idaho miles to the brewery. There are a couple little rollers at the end; he stomped the pedals and I, to my utter shock, answered the intensity in kind and finished 155 miles by blazing into town like it was Tuesday Night Worlds. Earlier finishers and friends crowded the lawn and cheered for newcomers. After I laid on the ground for a minute one of the shop guys handed me a pint and I sat with a bunch of friends who were full of kind words. Best part of the day.

Days later I'm still dehydrated, covered in mosquito bites, sore, and I get ravenously hungry once every three hours. I did not get sunburned, which I am inordinately stoked about. White armwarmers look nerdy on a hot day, but after using them for twelve hours of exposed high-altitude solstice sunshine, I am a convert. I also fueled and drank well; seems like I'm finally figuring that one out. I don't feel any need to embark on that particular adventure again but I'm glad I did it. All the way Around the Rock.

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