I thought I’d do my best to keep this short, but since I’m not particularly good at that to begin with and it was a rather eventful weekend in Moab, you may want to go get some popcorn or something.
Anyway, Thursday after work, Aaron and I left for Moab. Our original plan was to ski in the La Sals on Friday and ride RAWROD on Saturday, but the snow in the La Sals wasn’t so good, so we decided to just ride trails both days instead.
Aside from having to borrow a pillow from Aaron, nearly running out of gas after a wrong turn on our way to camp, and a great deal of wind through the night, the trip there went without incident. On Friday morning we headed towards town to ride Slickrock, passing the Samurai, Bart, Adam, and Kenny all headed the other way for the fast guys’ version of the White Rim ride. We were happy to let them have it and to be meeting Brandon in town for some fun rides.
It was my first attempt at riding slickrock on a single speed; same for Brandon. We used this as an excuse not to climb the Road to Paris (I don’t know if this feature has a name, but it’s the steep pitch off the trail rider’s right when riding clockwise shortly before Cogs to Spare, which until recently was unmarked but now has white dots and jeep rubber on it.) But since Aaron had never done it before and had gears, we insisted that he try it. He cleaned it on his second attempt. Nice. Slickrock felt fresh on the single, although Cogs to Spare earned it’s name and found me walking.
After some lunch, we met up with Keith and headed over to Sovereign. If you haven’t ridden Sovereign in a while, it’s worth revisiting. It’s no longer one trail but a network of trails, with spurs and connectors winding all along the mesa.
And it was great fun. Except for the part when I was trying to ride up a steep rock ramp and spun out and took a little spill, coccyx-first, on a large pointy rock. It hurt so bad that everything went black. And I yelled. And howled. To the point that Aaron thought my weekend was over and that maybe they’d need to haul me out on a stretcher or something.
Thanks to my one physiologic advantage, I escaped without a fracture. And if there’s any one thing cyclists can do, it is endure pain, so I pedaled out under my own power.
The best part about RAWROD is Friday night. We sit around a campfire and eat. And while eating in and of itself can be fun, eating with the reckless abandon of one about to spend twelve hours on a bike the next day but not in a race is a completely different kind of joy. Cookies, cake, chips, thank you very much. No guilt whatsoever. And of course, the bratwurst.
I had one the traditional way, with mustard on Kenny’s bread. Then I had another and a whole new world of indulgence was opened up to me. It was identical to the first except that in addition to the mustard, I added mayonnaise. I hate myself for even thinking about eating it, but it was delicious. And so, along with the shake I had at the Moab Diner just hours previously, bratwurst with mayonnaise joined the rarified air of food worth getting fat over.
My brother Steve had come down with Kris Friday night, and the two of us set off Saturday morning at about 7:00. I’m pretty sure this was the third time Steve had been on a mountain bike in the last five years, but I’ve learned with him that it doesn’t seem to matter what he’s pedaling.
I am in better shape than I was last year, yet I knew I was in for a tougher day. First of all, I was on a single speed. Second, last year my biggest problem was with asthma, and with the wind blowing the way it was, I knew this year the dust would make it worse.
The first 60 or so miles are fairly flat and easy. Then you get to the first of three big climbs, Mirphy’s Hogback. I learned last year while pushing my bike up the last pitch of Mirphy’s that one could walk pretty much the whole climb and then get on and pedal before coming around the last corner and into visibility of those waiting above and still get cheered as if he had ridden the whole thing. So that’s what I did, and that’s what happened. I didn’t need the cheers or feel like I deserved them, but it beat the ominous silence that greets anyone pushing his bike.
Instead of hanging out and eating lunch at the top of Mirphy’s, everyone was shivering in the wind and hoping it wouldn’t rain. I would have liked to keep going, but I was out of food and water and needed to wait for the truck. It started raining right before the truck arrived, so Steve and I scarfed our sandwiches, refilled with water, and kept going. It’s good we waited, because it would be the last water I got. Aside from the rain and hail that pelted us as we descended.
Between Mirphy’s and Potato Bottom is a lot of flat riding that this year included 30 mph headwinds with gusts as high as 40 or 50. Steve, Kenny, Dug, and I got into a paceline with a handful of others and dropped the hammer through this section. I would have loved a little more gear through here, but you gotta dance with the girl that brung ya.
Our only break before hardscrabble was to throw rocks off of a cliff. I took no part—no way you’re getting me near the edge of a precipice like that—but Kenny and Dug reminded us precisely why my son breaks things for entertainment—it’s just plain fun. Check out the end of Kris’s video if you want to know what I’m talking about.
Just before Hardscrabble, I dropped my chain and fell out of the paceline with no expectation they would wait. I put it back on but once I resumed riding, the asthma and associated hypoxic state I had tried to ignore all day finally came to a head. I couldn’t fill my lungs more than about 25% without coughing violently, so I just soft pedaled along figuring I’d get there eventually.
I didn’t even try riding up Hardscrabble, and I figured my one goal for the day—cleaning the final climb up Horsethief—was out of the question as well.
With just a couple of miles before Horsethief, I was plodding along, hoping to muster the energy to finish. Then I got caught by one of the support trucks—the one with my cooler in it. “Do you need anything?”
I got out my cooler and found an apple and a diet coke in the bottom. I pounded about half the diet coke and poured the rest in my bottle. Then I just pedaled slowly and ate the apple as I went.
I started to feel better and was able to fill my lungs about 50%by the time I got to the bottom of Horsethief. Sitting and waiting for me was Steve. Then Elden pulled in right behind. Elden had his helmet camera, so I told him he needed to go in front of me so it wasn’t on film when I got off and walked.
“No way, man. You’re my subject. I’m going to ride behind you.”
Steve passed along Dug’s simple yet profound advice: ride as slowly as you can without tipping over.
This seems a no-brainer, but the natural tendency as a cyclist is to attack every climb and try to get it over with as soon as possible.
The three of us, along with Jilene, started up the hill. Slowly. Steve and Jilene had gears and used them. Elden and I pedaled very, very slowly. Horsethief is 1.6 miles, so it isn’t a long climb. And with only 890 feet of elevation gain, it isn’t that steep either. But all bets are off when you already have 99 miles in your legs and you haven’t eaten properly for the last 40. It may as well be Mont Ventoux.
About 3/4 of the way up, we were still pedaling. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t much care about cleaning the climb. I didn’t much care about anything except not riding anymore. I told Elden and Jilene I needed some crazy Belgians to ring a cowbell for me. Or to paint “Allez Mark” on the dirt. Or to yell hurtful things at me. Or to dress like the devil and run alongside me.
Jilene took this as a cue to become my cheerleader. Except that she yelled nice, encouraging things that a woman would want to hear when what I really needed was for someone to tell me I was fat and pathetic, an embarrassment to the $400 bicycle I was riding. Or that Fast Friday was a stronger rider than me. I wanted a fight or flight response. What I got was kind, gentle words, with slightly sexual overtones. But whatever. It seemed to work.
I kept pedaling. And finished. And went back to my car, which, even though I had the keys, was wide open. I asked Aaron how he got in. “Oh, I grew up in West Valley. I know how to get into cars.”
If Friday night brats are the best part, then the second best part is eating a burger at Ray’s Tavern in Green River when it’s all over. As Dug walked out of Ray’s, he stopped at my table and said “I’m not sure I was even aware you had a brother, let alone one who can ride like that.” Nice job, Bro. Thanks for waiting for me at Horsethief.