Friday, September 29, 2006

Wait Until Dark

I've heard night riding (with lights, of course) described as riding through a tunnel. This isn't really accurate--unless, of course, someone is following you with lights. I would describe night riding as this: Almost getting into a tunnel.

You see, in a tunnel, you are lit up--along with everything in front and behind you. Even with a light mounted to my helmet, I am not lit up. I am in darkness. The entire time. I'm almost there, almost to the tunnel, but I never quite make it. I can almost see my hands on the bars. Everything behind that is obscured by darkness.

Riding in the dark also makes nature seem small to me. I can't see anything around me, all I see is what is in front of me. Perhaps this is that tunnel feeling. I'm no longer in the wide-open expanse of nature. Everything is small.

Well, small and spooky.

Thanks to James' comment on my post yesterday, I stuck to the closer-to-man trails around the mouth of Provo Canyon. I wanted to go longer--indeed, my lights would have lasted at least an hour longer, but I couldn't quite bring myself to venture out into the truly wild. Okay, it isn't wild like the Amazon basin, but wild for Utah. Though I have often been in almost dark situations (especially just before dawn), this was one of the few times I've mountain biked from start to finish in the dark.

Some things I discovered
Bird's eyes reflect just like other animals. There was a particular stretch of trail that I covered both coming and going. There were birds trying to sleep on the trail. At first, I thought I was seeing mice, but then they flew away. One poor bird was too tired to fly more than a few feet. Unfortunately, it was a few feet further up the trail. Eventually, after a chasing it a ways up the trail like this, I took pity on the bird and rode far enough around it so it didn't try and fly away.

Large spiders also reflect light--though I suspect it wasn't the eyes I saw. At least I hope not. Moving on...

Though I am slow at descending, I am really, really slow at descending in the dark. Also, because the light doesn't allow me to view very far down the trail, I don't think riding a lot in the dark would help me learn to be a better descender--it would teach me to look only just in front of my front wheel.

James always tells me how a helmet light alone isn't that great because you lose depth-perception. He's right. In fact, though I wouldn't want to get rid of the helmet-mounted light altogether, I wished my handlebar light were brighter and my helmet light a little dimmer. There were times when I'd notice an obstacle, like a dip in the trail, only to look at it (with my bright helmet light) and have it vanish. The handlebar mount is very important.

Even with both lights, very tall grass surrounding very narrow trails makes it hard to see where you are going.

Challenging bits of trail aren't any easier in the dark. Perhaps this is what makes riding in the dark so much fun. If you're used to a particular trail (like the one closest to your house), you can liven things up a bit by doing it in the dark.

Besides being sick to my stomach (too much dinner), it was a lot of fun last night. If you have the lights, I recommend it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Something Happened That Prevented Me From Riding

What happens when I don't ride? I don't think.

What happens when I don't think? Well, lots of embarrassing things. Also, though, I don't post to this blog.

Posting to this blog is secondary, though. I mean, nothing can be worse than not riding. Well, of course, that isn't true, but not riding is certainly nothing I'd wish on anyone--not anyone I like, anyway.

For reasons that aren't interesting enough to include here, and too numerous to even remember, I have been cheated--yes, I said cheated--out of riding almost from the moment I came home from LOTOJA. At first, mind you, this wasn't bad. I mean, if it weren't for my utter exhaustion, I would have probably gotten out of bed and sold my bike(s). But now, now that I love bikes again, I want to ride.

First, it was nature. Yes, nature, once again, pulled out all the stops. It got cold. It rained. It snowed. The worst however--and this has yet to be rectified--is that there isn't as much sunlight. Coupled with my lack of tail-light (having broken mine going over train tracks a month or two ago), I can't ride on the road any more in the early morning.

That's fine, I have my mountain bike. And I have some nice lights.

Except this week, for whatever reason, my daughter--whom I take to school almost daily--has to be at school around 7:45 am. That means leaving at 7:30 am. For mountain biking (because I don't actually live on a trail), I have to plan for 15-20 minutes of driving to the nearest trail. I figured out that this morning, I had to get up at 4:30 to do the ride I wanted to do.

Here's a surprise: I didn't hear my alarm... or something.

I am now forced to live out the rest of my day staring out at the beautiful 75-degree weather from inside my cold, grey office.

I'm not giving up today, though. I'm going to try and ride tonight. Still in the dark, but I don't have to get up early to do it. I just have to stay up late.

Do cougars come out at night?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Scent of DeFeet

I just wrapped up two reviews: the DeFeetUnDShurt baselayer and EarthEator socks. I found both of these products to work exceptionally well. So, instead of wishing there were more content here to distract you from the drudgery of your day, go there and read the reviews. Both products were worn to much acclaim on LOTOJA.

LOTOJA: Complete (links)

I just wanted to post this as a reference to all my other posts. Due to the nature of the Blog, to those that didn't follow along as I wrote it, everything is listed in reverse order. I have here the links--in order, no less:

A Beginning
A Cyclist
Feed Zone
The Climbs
The Finish

Sunday, September 17, 2006

LOTOJA: The Finish

The adrenaline is wearing thin and I start to revert inside myself for the long miles ahead. How do so many miles tick by without my notice. My muscles notice, though. Slowly they are starting to groan. They aren't out-right complaining, but I can tell there is murmuring among the ranks.

I'm in a group now. This one is pretty big and moving fast. It isn't that I mind going fast, but I continue to worry about finishing. I've gone about as far as I ever have on a bike. Anything further is uncharted territory. My heart rate is too high. I sit up and drop back. Alone again? Not quite. There is another that has fallen back with me.

I met him last night at the informational meeting for those, like me, who are first-timers. I can't remember his name. I do remember, though, that he works at a shop that sponsors LOTOJA. A month ago his boss came to him and suggested he fill one of the spots reserved for sponsors. He was pretty excited but it was also apparent that he had no idea what he was getting himself in to.

Does anyone their first time?

At this point in the race, I don't really want to waste energy talking. We smile and begin to work together. Am I being paranoid, or is the wind picking up against us? Though we are going slower than when we were part of that group, I can tell he is struggling.

"Keep going. I'm going to have to pace myself now." I'm not sure what he means until I glance back and see him falling behind. "Good luck," I offer as I press on alone. In life, I would have slowed to help a suffering friend. In a bike race, if it isn't helping me, I move on. This is brutal.

Afton, WY. Feed zone 5. 125 miles. I really need this feed zone. I'm tired. I haven't been drinking enough but I force myself to wait in line to urinate. James has the sunscreen, but I'm certain I've already burned my upper arms. "You need to drink more." I know, I know. I also need to eat more, but I just can't bring myself to do it. He hands me a banana for my pocket and I choke down a half peanut-butter and honey sandwich. I add more GU to my stash. I keep my vest in case it rains. There have been reports of rain up ahead.

I actually lay down for about 30 seconds before my conscience smites me and I realize I need to get back on the bike. James is encouraging though I hardly hear it now. Back on the bike. Pedal.

I find a pack moving at a fairly fast pace, but I manage to keep up. I'm not really paying attention to anything but the wheel in front of me right now. We're still moving into the wind and I need them. A short guy riding bow-legged with his saddle too low takes over. The fool has picked up the pace. We're flying now, moving about 4-5mph faster than before. At least, for a few moments we're flying. One by one, we drop of and the group shatters into 15 separate pieces. I can still see him plowing on ahead. Alone now. He probably thinks everyone is still behind him. I want to shake my fist at him. "Don't you see what you've done? You've hurt us all, including yourself!" Sure enough, when he is about 1/4 mile ahead, I see him ease up. Our group is starting to reform. I want no part of a group with this guy. I'm tired, now, and that surge hurt.

I suck down another vile GU. Not as bad as that Clif Shot, though. My stomach lurches at the thought.

After some miles, everyone has decided on different paces and that group has split and reformed with others producing other groups. The flow of the race is continual and fluid. Cyclists slide up, move back. Some bonk. Others get their 2nd wind. It is constantly changing. I know I need to eat, but the thought is horrible. I peel my banana.

I've found myself in a group of three Cat 5 riders. They all look to be in their 50s. They all are wearing the 2006 LOTOJA jersey. They all have mustaches. I find this amusing and it takes me away from the darkness. I join in the back. I enjoy listening to their banter. Obviously friends. Only friends would sacrifice such energy for laughter. I'm smiling again.

I'm too guilty a rider to do nothing but suck someone's wheel the whole way. I ease up the side and volunteer to pull. "I hope you don't mind me sitting in with you guys. I'm willing to pull my load."

After a hearty welcome I'm in front. I keep my pace steady. I've learned something of the devastation of surging from the squat man with the bow-legged style. At this distance, I really hate riding point. It isn't that I'm in the wind completely, either. No, it is that I know someone is exactly behind me. I know everyone else is matching my speed. I can't stand up to stretch my legs. I can't coast. I must keep it steady and smooth. Especially if I want to stay with this group.

After several miles, I peel off and slide back. "Nice pull." "Good work."

I'm not sure why it is important for me to stay with this group. It just is. Freud might say that they remind me of my father in appearance and demeanor. Surely it takes more than mustaches. One thing is certain: They are going my pace. This is how fast I want to be going, so, if I can find a group that can pull me along at this speed, perfect.

For another thing, they amuse me and help me feel welcome. I am a bit of an introvert, and normally I wouldn't spend much time trying to fit in to a group like this. However, this isn't life. This is cycling. I need the companionship. I need the support. As long as I can get that without taking from them, I'll be allowed to stay. Four is stronger than three.

Ten years ago, if someone had asked me my opinion of road cycling, I would have told them that I couldn't bear the tedium of the road. I needed the mountains. I needed the obstacles in the trail. The constant change of the medium I'm riding on. The white-knuckle descents. The grueling loose climbs. What did the road have to offer?

Something must have changed in me during that time. I love the road. I can't seem to step away from it. The road draws to me like mountain biking never did. It calls to me. It shouts at me. It bullies me into following day after day. Every road, even the same road, leads me some place new each time.

This road, apparently, doesn't have an end. Where is that next feed zone? Though the guys try and keep things lively. The wind is having its affect on them, too. Someone needs to take a "natural" break. We stop and wait for him. I start talking with one of the guys about LOTOJA. He's surprised I'm doing it alone. They've done it each at least three times together.

"You've done this before?" I ask. It occurs to me that I don't ever want to do it again. In fact, I really don't even want to finish it. I don't like this race anymore. "Yeah, it usually takes a month or so. Gradually, the memories change. By the time they open up registration for the next year, I can't wait to sign up."

Last year, LOTOJA was hit with unseasonably cold weather. There was snow in the passes. Though 90% of the riders generally finish LOTOJA, last year--due to lack of preparation for the cold weather--only 30% finished. "Yeah, we were there for SNOTOJA. We didn't finish. The weather is great this year." I can't help but agree. It must be only the 70s now. Sunny. Though many have warned of rain, we have yet to see a drop. I still can't imagine wanting to ever ride this race again. Will I even want to get back on my bike again?

On again. Pedal. Everything hurts. The dull kind of aching that comes after 9+ hours on the bike. Much further than it should have been, I see the sign: "1 KM to FEED ZONE."

"Mind if I join you for the next leg?" I want to establish myself in this group. I feel as though my success in this race depends on them. "We usually take our time at the feed zones. Probably 5-10 minutes," they replied. "If you don't mind that, you're welcome to join us. We don't mind having someone else to share the pulling."

Alpine, WY. Mile 159. "Only 47 miles to go. You can do that. You're doing awesome." James is there as usual giving me the morale boost I need. I don't really want to get on my bike again, but I also don't want to lose this group. I see a couple of them grouping around the outhouses up the road. "See you at the finish line!"

I'm off again, but only to join with them. After a little more waiting the third in the group joins us. With a big smile he proclaims he's ready to ride, "I've got more butt-butter. I'm good to go!" Another turns to me and asks, "How did he put that on?" He didn't even use the outhouse. "Nevermind, I don't want to know."

Immediately following Alpine, we turn up a canyon. I'm not sure there is a tail wind, but at least there isn't a head wind. I remember from the map that the next bit is rolling. I think I might just survive this.

We agree to a system. Every mile marker we rotate. Pull for one mile, off for three. In this way, we slowly tick off the miles. This canyon is gorgeous. If I weren't so tired, I'd really enjoy it. If I could stop, I'd really enjoy it right now. I start to lose contact with everything except the person right in front of me. Watch my speed. Watch my distance. Don't forget to eat. Don't forget to drink. Another banana. Another GU. More Cytomax. More water.

I don't care about the beautiful canyon. I don't notice the river below. A pack slides past us effortlessly. How do they do that? Where did they come from? I pedal.

Somehow, the miles pass. I'm pulling again. How many times have we rotated? The road goes up. I shift, my chain drops, and I can't get it back on. All my momentum is gone. Expecting the three companions to move past me, I mutter an apology as I reach down to stick the chain back on. To my surprise, everyone is there waiting for me. Even that 15-second break helped. I can pedal again.

We've reached another feed zone. This one is neutral. I fill up my water. Only now do I remember that James gave me extra Cytomax. Good ol' James. At least someone can still think. None of the food they have looks good, but the volunteers are friendly. Someone mentions BYU won their game. This news shocks me, but not because of BYU or their record or their team. It shocks me because something is going on outside of this race. It reminds me that this is a bike ride on a normal Saturday in the fall when many people are mowing their lawn or watching a football game. I can't believe there is more than this race.

We're off again. Three miles off, one mile on. Pedal. I start to notice two pains rising above the din of the rest of my body. My knees. I've never felt pain in my knees on a ride before. It goes away, but comes back again--sharper, this time--when we roll up another short hill. The next small hill causes me to wince as the pain redoubles. I don't know how to describe it except to call it cramping. The rest tell me not to worry about it, but to take it easy and work it out. Again, gratitude that I found these guys.

After more miles, the pain starts to become part of me. I can accept it. Here's a hill. There's the pain. Downhill again, and I'm fine. I pedal on.

Less than 20 miles to go. Easy, I tell myself. That's a ride up to Vivian park and back. I could do that without food, water, or preparation. I don't believe myself. I no longer feel solid. I don't think of myself as accomplishing something great, or doing well. I only think of the miles to go. I only watch my cycle-computer and try and will them to pass by more quickly. I glance at my speed: 22mph. That's pretty good. Why aren't the miles going by? I look down again and see we still have 19 to go. Is this thing working?

We're part of a larger group now. I'm irrational in that I don't want anyone to come between me and those three guys I'm riding with. One thing's for certain, though. I don't have to pull anymore. The lead riders are determined not to let someone slow get in their way so they are rotating amongst themselves without sharing the load. Fine by me.

Jackson. About 10 miles to go. Everything is black. My arms are cramping. My wrists are tingling. Of all the many positions available on standard road drop bars--drops, flats, hoods, etc.--I hate them all. This pace is fast but I no longer care. I just need to reach the end. I'm not going to eat any more food, though my stomach feels empty. I know I need to drink, but my left arm seizes when I grab the bottle with my right.

I remember reading that the last few miles are the most beautiful of the ride, with a vista of the Grand Tetons. All I see is that it is getting closer to dark and I'm not done yet. Still 10 miles to go? I can't believe this. It is never going to end. I hate this bike. I don't notice my legs, but part of me thinks they must be tired. 10 miles? That's a ride to the mouth of the canyon and back. I could do that with flat tires. I could do that in a sprint. I can't do it now.

I know I'm going to finish because I'm in a large group. I'm surrounded by cyclists. I'm pulled along. I can't slow down. I can't turn. I can only continue. Seven miles to go. I guess my computer isn't broken. There is a right turn and I find that some of the group is dropping back. Not me. Pull me in. I'm not slowing down until I cross the line. Then, I may die, but it won't matter.

I finally realize it is dark because I still have my sunglasses on and the sun has gone behind the mountains to the west. Inside, I think this is funny. My expression doesn't change. If I weren't so tired and in the middle of this group, I'd put my vest on. I've carried it in my back pocket for the last 100 miles. I'm chilly now. Can't do it. Besides, I'm so close now.

There is a line of cars in the road. They all have their brake lights lit up. Support cars. We must be close. A sign: 5 KM. Could it be? Am I that close? That's a little over three miles, right? I might make it. A few more kicks of the pedals. I'm close now. Kilometers are much shorter than miles. I'm going 20mph. How long will it take me to get to the end? My mind struggles with the math. Is that 3 minutes for every mile? 10 minutes? That can't be right because I'm not sure I can make it 10 minutes longer.

4 KM. I'm so glad they have these markers. I bet those guys in the cars wish they were on bikes. We're flying past them. Who knows how long they'll be there stopped. Of course, if they felt like me, they wouldn't wish for this. I don't want this any more. So close! Pedal. Keep kicking. Don't worry about the water. Too close now.

3 KM. How many miles is it now? Two? I can't remember. My mind is slow. The group has changed and I haven't even realized it. Keep pedaling. Close. I can't keep going. My legs are black. So are my arms. What was serious discomfort in my butt now pales to the rest of my body. Does it hurt? I don't know. I can't tell.

2 KM. I can't believe how many cars are stopped. Is that the finish line? My thoughts fade. Pedal.

1 KM. I can see the finish line. We start to slow. There are no sprint finishes for those who just finish. I start to realize that I'm doing it. I'm finishing. I've made it. I can't believe that's the finish line. I can't believe I've done 206 miles. I hurt, but the hurt is fading now. I see cyclists walking away from the finish line. They've done it and so will I. Do I raise my arms and shout? Can I? James is there shouting for me. I did it, James. You were right.

Though I want the moment to last--this moment of triumph, where I show the world I did it--it only lasts what it is: a moment. They're telling me to slow down. I'm stopped now. I shake hands with my three companions. I don't think they realize what they've done for me. Someone is taking my radio timing chip off my ankle. I'm surprised to see it still there. I've forgotten about it. How much energy did that band cost me?

"What's your number?" I have a number? I've seen numbers on everyone else's bike. I'm used to their numbers. What's mine? I look down and read it, "Eighteen forty-six." Someone hands me a medal. My time is 12:07. I gave myself 13 hours. I won!

James hands me my Crocs and I take off my cycling shoes and hand them to him. I joke around that my bike is for sale for anyone interested. My legs are screaming at me now and I want to sit down. I want to lie down. The car is 1/2 mile away. I'm smiling. I did it!

Suddenly, I'm ravenously hungry. The thought of food now sounds wonderful. I've got to find a restaurant!

I finished.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

LOTOJA: The Climbs

Though I find myself unsure about what my pace should be for a 200 mile race, I know how to do hills. I'm totally relaxed as I shift to lower gears. I find my pedaling cadence as the climb gets steeper. It feels like coming home.

Most of the cars have been diverted other ways. Though we can't cross the yellow center line, we take up our entire lane. As the pitch increases, so does the number of riders. Of course no one is drafting any longer. At our speed, there is no benefit. That, too, makes me smile and helps me relax further.

I notice that for the first time today I'm really starting to pass people. Lots of people. This surprises me and, for a moment, I panic that I'm going too fast. I check my gears and look at my speed. No, this is exactly right. I can keep this up all day.

I pass more riders.

A few months ago, I decided to try to combine two tough climbs for one long ride. Well, it didn't end up being that long, but 72 miles felt long enough with the 6000' of climbing I did. Though I could get many more miles in if I eliminated the climbs, I couldn't bring myself to do it. The more I trained, the more I discovered that climbing was the part I enjoyed. Whenever I daydream about riding, it always includes some combination of climbs I like to do--or new ones I've never been on.

There's congestion and it frustrates me. I'm glad to not be drafting, sure, but I want to go my pace now. I see an opening and I sprint past 10 or 15 people so I can get to where it is clear. I find it interesting that it doesn't kill me to do so. What is going on today? There is no way that I'm better than the rest of these riders. How did they end up in front of me?

I start looking around and I notice by their numbers that many of them signed up as Cat 5--much higher (and with a much earlier start time) than my mere Citizen 27-34. Were they all bluffing when they signed up?

I pass more riders.

When I was studying the course map last night, I remember finding comfort in the feed zone located about 1 mile from the summit of this climb. I now find it more of an inconvenience. I don't really want to stop and, because this is a neutral feed zone, I know I'm going to have to. I take a pull from my water bottle and find it empty.

On the other hand, I'm starting to warm up.

As with all the volunteers I will encounter on this long stretch of road, everyone here is very friendly and helpful. They seem to understand both my hurry and my need. I'm back on my bike in less than a minute.

The closer I get to the top, the more I start to think of the descent. I hate descending. I'm terrible at corners. I know I'll be passed and that I won't utilize my kinetic energy as efficiently as I should.

There it is. I reach back to grab my vest out of my rear pocket and my hat, which shared the same space, comes out too. I only know this because the cyclist behind me points it out. Great, I think. I haven't even started down the hill and I'm already fumbling.

My speed increases and I'm glad to have my vest on. I realize these turns aren't at all the tight switch-backs I was dreading and so am able to let myself go. A rider slips past me effortlessly. I know enough about cycling and aerodynamics to know there are better ways of going fast with gravity. My hands are in the drops with my finger tips on the brake levers. At this speed, I don't want my hands any further away from my brakes.

Another rider glides past.

Though we spread out on the descent, we gradually come back together as we roll through the valley. My mind goes blank as I get back into the rhythm of the pace line. A glance at the time and I suck down a GU. I must have already had my banana.

I've been riding for 4.5 hours as we approach Montpelier for the third feed zone. I'm already finding discomfort in the saddle so I'm looking forward to this stop. There is something emotional about finding James waiting for me after my toils. I find comfort and relief that he is there supplying my basic needs: food and water.

"You haven't been drinking enough." He says this, not as criticism, but like a worried parent. I make up something about how it's been all downhill since the neutral feed. He's right, though. I tell him that I'll need sunscreen the next time I see him. Unfortunately, that won't be until I get past the next neutral feed zone.

After much too long of a wait at the outhouse, I'm refueled and off again.

The next climb is short, and the lowest of the three today. Once again, I find the groove--my own without the constraints of a pace line populated with strangers. I climb. I relish my time fighting against the mountain. I revel in the people I pass. This climb is also steeper than the last. This doesn't bother me. I love it.

Another benign descent brings me to the next feed zone. I know I've been drinking enough now because I need to wait in line again. While I'm waiting a guy tells me that he's broken two frames just like mine. Is he trying to psyche me out?

They've got Clif Shots here and I grab a mango flavored one. A quick pull and a quick squeeze almost brings me to quickly vomit. How can they destroy a flavor so well? I'm glad I brought so many banana GUs.

The last climb of the day and the King of the Mountain time check. I've heard the last few miles are a 7% grade. Though I'm probably a little cocky, I smile at this thought. Is that it? Many of the climbs I do are 8-10%.

Of course, those aren't followed by almost 100 miles more of riding. I'm at mile 105. I'm no longer feeling fresh, though it never occurs to me that I couldn't make this climb. I always make the climbs.

I try to shift down and find I'm in my lowest gear. I take a pull of water and a GU. Steady. Keep the pace steady. There's no need to speed up, and I don't have to slow down.

I pass more riders.

A cyclist hastily stops at the side of the road to vomit. I can't help but shout out, "I'm so sorry, man," as I pass by. This is one hard race. Among the body parts I've begun to take more notice of, so far the stomach hasn't made it to the long list. I wish I could say the same for where I sit.

I glance down at my computer and notice that I'm over half-way through the race now. How long has it been? 6 hours. Last night, James said, "All you have to do is a 6 hour century followed closely by a 7 hour century. You can do that." And I almost have all the climbing out of the way.

I unzip my jersey all the way.

I don't realize how little my mind is working until I notice that the man shouting at me and taking my picture is James.


James, my thread of reality. My contact with the world. He's shouting praises and running along beside me. "You are doing awesome! You've got it! You rock! Ride through the chute over there and get your time-check and I'll see you at the next feed zone!"

I'm full of adrenaline. I shout and pump my fists in the air as I pass the King of the Mountain check, "Woo Hoo!" In fact, I'm even excited about the descent.

Now, I'm flying!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

LOTOJA: Feed Zone

My biggest fear going into this ride--outside of just being able to finish--was the feed zone. I worried I wouldn't be able to handle the hand-off of the musette (feed bag). Mixed in with this fear was the fear that if I stopped each time, I wouldn't actually have enough time to finish.

As we enter Preston, ID I look up and see a sign: 1 KM to Feed Zone. There are 7 feed zones in this race, and the longest distance was the one I just covered: 34 miles. There are a few children out cheering for us.

Am I going to be able to grab the musette and move on? Will I fumble? Will I wreck?

"Jon! Over here!" And there is James amid the mass of support people lined up. He isn't holding up a musette at all. In fact, it is over his shoulder. I come to a stop and he starts asking me how I'm doing. What I've had to eat. How much I've been drinking. He has it all there, just like we talked about. I stuff the Fig Newtons into a pocket. Add some GUs to my stash. I eat the half peanut butter and honey sandwich. As I'm doing so, James stuffs a banana into my right pocket. He also gives me a plastic bag full of Cytomax powder. The next feed zone is neutral, so I can't count on restocking that there.

"Do you want your arm-warmers still?" I answer yes, but leave my full-fingered gloves with him. My vest comes off and into my middle pocket. There are climbs still to come and it's still early.

I suddenly realize why I'll be stopping at every feed zone. I need to pee and there are outhouses here. Why don't they have more here? I'm waiting in line at a race? While I'm waiting, James is looking at my computer and HRM--trying to figure out how I'm doing. He seems satisfied that I've been sensible.

The first two climbs come before I'll be able to see James again. I get on my bike and he gives me a shove. I'm off. Just like that, I'm past my first feed zone. Mileage-wise, I'm 1/6 of the way there. I feel fantastic as my legs spin me up to speed and I head out of town. Have I forgotten anything?

Sunscreen. Dang. No sunscreen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

LOTOJA: A Cyclist

In an instant, all my questions are gone. I'm no longer wondering, I'm doing. It is such a relief that for the first time today I'm smiling. Really smiling. One more glance at James as I clip in and I'm off in the mad rush of cyclists.

As we stream out of Logan, I notice a couple of things: There are cops at every corner and intersection clearing the way for us. This is really cool. Somehow I've become a real cyclist.

Also, we're flying. Everyone is rushing--anxious to prove themselves and anxious to let out some of that anxiety they've been suppressing the last few hours (or even days). I can't help but think: "This can't last. Not 200 miles." Slowly they stream past me. All of them. One by one. I can't go it alone--not at any pace--so I hook up and get in the rhythm.

My heart-rate is 157. Too fast. I can handle this for a few hours--maybe 4 at the most--but this isn't the effort I can sustain all day. After 10 miles of fast riding, I sit up and drop back.

Alone? Not really. I know there are cyclists behind me. After all, I wasn't in the last group. To console myself in my solitude, I smugly decide that all the rest really are going to fast for themselves, too. I'm the only one sensible enough to hold something in reserves.

My conscience fades and I'm a cyclist on a lonely highway running through rural Cache County, Utah. I pedal. I watch my heart rate. I drink. It doesn't occur to me to think of where I'm going. I don't wonder about when the next group will catch me. I just know I'm here. I'm moving. I'm a cyclist.

As if out of sleep, there's a line of cyclists streaming by me and someone shouts out, "Hop on!"

Riding in a paceline is not the same as riding. An experienced cyclist would disagree, but I have only a handful of thoughts at this point--and they are very acute in my mind: "Too far." and "Too close." For miles I'm studying the back of the person in front of me. If I drift back more than a foot or two, I'm lost--as are those behind me. If I get too close, or stop paying attention, I will cause a massive pile-up.

Pedal. Soft pedal. Coast. Pedal harder. Soft pedal. Pedal.

Though there are twenty or thirty of us, no one speaks. The only sounds are the freewheels ratcheting and derailleurs guiding.


And simple directions that might be missed by the hand-signal language of the pack. Together we move quickly--much faster than I was going alone, but reasonable this time. 139 bpm. That's more like it.

The sun is up over the mountains. The fog has cleared. I don't think I'll be needing those full-fingered gloves I have stashed in my pocket.


Monday, September 11, 2006

LOTOJA: A Beginning

I woke up at 5 am on Saturday. I was so tired. The previous night had been spent too hot, followed closely by too cold (once the opened window started doing its job). I hadn't slept well. I took a shower trying not to think too much about what lay ahead. The hot water helped to get my blood flowing. Taking more care than usual, I dressed in the clothes I had decided on the night before.

Should I put chamois cream on now, or wait? I'd better do that last before I leave. It will need to last a long time.

I filled two water bottles while James got ready for the day. One filled with Cytomax. I couldn't eat. Nothing sounded good. Nothing tasted palatable. This would turn out to be a common theme throughout the day. I forced myself to eat a Clif Bar. I stuffed 4 Gus into my pockets.

I stepped outside to load the car and found everything cold, foggy, dark, and wet. Back inside for the chamois cream.

James struggled to get the Caution Bike Race and LOTOJA Support Crew signs taped to the inside of the car. I was too nervous to pay much attention. I kept looking around at the bikers pouring in to the starting area. Are they more prepared than I am? He's wearing a windbreaker. Am I dressed right? Is a vest going to be enough? Should I bring my full-fingered gloves? Should I head the line now, or do I have time to ride around the block a bit?

I ended up riding over to the line while James struggled with a wet window—wet on both sides. They were calling out the 1600's to line up. Plenty of time. I rode back to see James finishing up. Another rider forgot a pump and I needed to help him with mine. Am I missing anything? How much time do I have?

When James finished up, I had him hold my bike while I used a purple outhouse. I didn't know they made them in colors other than green and blue. They do.

The 1700's are starting to line up. I'm 1846. We're next. After a few parting words of encouragement, I ride away from James into the chaos of the assembling riders. Some have pretty nice bikes. Others not. How fast are these guys? Am I going to be able to find a group to stick with? Am I going to make it?

"1800's line up. 1 minute to go," says the announcer. "You need to finish this race by 8:30 or dark, whichever comes first. If you don't finish by then, train harder next year." I smile, but inside I'm still wondering which group I'll be in at the end of the day. James is over on the side taking pictures. I force a smile.

"About 25 seconds to go." She continues to give more details about the course. "Still pretty foggy out there, so be careful, but I imagine it will burn off soon." Music is blaring. I don't recognize the tune. I'm at the front with my wheel sitting right on the line. I guess I'm in a good position, but 15 groups have already left this morning. Would it even matter?

"Go! Everyone have a great ride!"

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Zero Hour

Less than 24 hours.

I spent most of last night and some of this morning packing up for the ride. I have much more food than I need, but I suppose that is better than not having enough. It looks like it will be a cool day with lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s (that's Fahrenheit), so I am bringing a base-layer, arm-warmers, long-finger gloves, a skull-cap, a wind vest, and a waterproof jacket. It isn't supposed to rain, though.

I think I have all the right gear, and I think I have enough training miles in (though, just barely enough). I'll report back as to how prepared I really am.

Meanwhile, I have to go scrounge up some carbs.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Of My Love for Carbon

1+ day to go.

Last night, while cleaning my bike and getting it prepared for the race, I got to take a nice close look at all the carbon. Especially with my rear wheel. It seems among the list of things I don't do well on my bike, I can add “lube” to the list. I seem to get an inordinate amount of lube splatter on those pretty carbon/aramid spokes. Also, spraying my chain with degreaser only seems to exacerbate the problem.

As a consequence, I got to take a nice close look at the various carbon parts of my bike. I have learned something about my love of carbon: It isn't entirely driven by the marketing of the bike industry.

Why I love Carbon
I love the un-even look of the fibers. I love that you can see around joints how the lay-up had to change. I love the natural look to it (as opposed to the machined, industrial look present in metal frames/parts). While cleaning the spokes on my wheels, I can feel/see that they aren't identical. Each spoke is unique. Much of what is done, is done by hand.

Besides appearance, I love the way carbon can actually be repaired. I love the way it has enormous fatigue life. I love the way it kills the road vibrations. I love that a frame manufacturer can tweak with the carbon to get totally different ride characteristics out of frames that look identical on the outside.

Calfee has a great whitepaper about why carbon is the perfect frame material.

Will all those fantastic qualities of carbon help me finish LOTOJA? They'd better, or I'm getting my money back.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

With Fear and Anticipation

2+ days to go.

I now have a very large list of items to bring with me for the ride. There are still food items I need to purchase, but I think I have everything else I need. Except about 1 month of additional time. Yeah, that might be nice.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Countdown Continues

Only 3+ days to go.
I woke up sick today.
This isn't a good sign.

Yesterday officially started my taper week, though some of you may have suspected I was tapering all summer. I only rode for 1 hour, and I kept my heart rate down to an average of 127bpm. It was a very relaxing and easy ride--despite the 94-degree weather. When I arrived at home, I felt about the same as before I left--except maybe a little bit sweatier. It was, after all, quite hot outside.

Riding at an easy pace like that reminded me of life before training. Or, even before that: Life before information. I remember the first time I was on a really nice road bike. There was no computer mounted so I had no idea how fast I was going. I just flew along without effort. These days, I keep an eye on my speed and average speed. I track my miles. I watch my heart rate very carefully. Sometimes, I think I spend way too much time worrying about how my riding will affect my overall preparedness for LOTOJA.

Yesterday, I rode just to have fun. My only goal was to make the ride not too long, and to keep my effort down. I was smiling the whole way. Instead of making sure I kept my average speed up, I just watched out for holes in the road. Instead of worrying about how far I was going and, as is often the case, how that distance compared to 206 miles, I looked around at the beautiful vistas.

Suddenly, I find myself without much stress about LOTOJA. Why? Because I know it is too late. Last week was like the last hour before a college exam. I was trying to cram in all I could. This week is like the last minute before the same exam. Too late to do any preparation. Either I'm doomed or I'll succeed. No matter what the outcome, though--and this is unlike the final exam--I know I'll be having fun.

Time for another Vitamin C.