About a year ago, some cycling friends made plans to do a big bike race, and were looking for takers. The race was the Everest Challenge, the California-Nevada Climbing Championship, a two-day stage race covering 206 miles with 28,035 feet of cumulative vertical gain. I was intrigued, but couldn’t get fit enough after being hit by a car that summer. The intrepid three who raced it last year—Paul, Jamie, and Craig—decided to do it again, and I determined to give it a shot. I even managed to bully another rider, Lucas, into joining us.
What follows is the official race report I sent around to my bike club. As I explained at some length in an earlier post, my race reports tend to talk a lot about the food involved. After all, most of us are in this sport for the food, and food is arguably more interesting than bike racing. If you doubt this, consider the following two passages:
I came to regret passing up the penne—pronounced “penny PAST-ah” by the locals—choosing instead a fettuccine dish consisting of limp pasta in Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, with the lightest dusting of fresh Parmesan cheese, dispensed ineffectually by the waitress, who was new, and who held the excellent Zyliss rotary cheese grater backwards and upside down, thus turning the handle the wrong way and unscrewing it from the grater, until finally I gave up and said “when” and that’s all the cheese I got.
So anyhow, I was in perfect position, about eight riders back, but knowing that this one Team Spine dude in front of me had a really good jump and would probably take me past a least a few guys, when we come around the last turn and my tire hit this Botts’ dot, one of those domed round white ones, and I didn’t exactly lose traction, but it kind of made my tire drift just a bit, so I was just a bit off balance, and I knew I wasn’t going to crash but it just kind of screwed up my timing a bit, and lost the Spine guy’s wheel, and then I got totally boxed in by this Morgan Stanley guy and ended up with another pack finish. But I was so close to having a top five at least!
Okay, I think you can see where the real human interest is. So now, with no further ado, here is my official Everest Challenge race report. (Note: if you're still interested in the story of the actual race and not just the food and camaraderie, click here. That's my Daily Peloton story, in two parts.)
After much logistical discussion, our group of five arranged ourselves in two cars: Jamie and Paul in the “Climbers’ Honda” and Lucas, Craig, and I in the “Goliaths’ Volvo.” The climbers dropped us right away, getting on the road about an hour before us, which is a pity because they missed a glorious lunch at a little taqueria in a strip mall in Escalon that I miraculously remembered from having eaten there with Erin at some point. I had the carnitas burrito, which was glorious, but Lucas was issuing serious yummy-noises over his al pastor burrito. The place had all the hallmarks of a great taqueria: grilled (not steamed) tortillas (flour and corn only, none of this sun-dried tomato, spinach, or whole wheat crap), refried (not just pinto) beans, very spicy salsa, and cabeza and lengua on the menu. And guacamole came stock—none of this nickel-and-diming us to death like that damn 360 place.
We did a quick spin-the-legs ride before our dinner, which was provided by the race organizers. This was your standard-issue mass-pasta, four on a scale of zero being mush, ten being hard, and seven being al dente. There was some tasty sausage too, and when they ran out the volunteer server picked several slices out of the sauce for me, which was a nice touch. There was some chewy garlic bread that was pleasantly low-brow, almost vulgar (in the best possible way). It was a fine meal all around, though Lucas, ever-competitive, tried to keep up with my consumption and ended up with a stomachache. (Lucas, just with whom the hell did you think you were dealing?)
Stage 1 – 122 miles, 15,465 feet of climbing
Breakfast, early the next morning, was Golean cereal, courtesy of Craig. I guess it’s supposed to be pronounced “go lean,” but I’ve trained my kids to say “GOAL-iyan” so it sounds like something Captain Kirk might eat. Oh, and a banana. We were pretty nervous.
During Stage 1 I consumed seven gels, four bottles of my standard energy drink, a bottle of water, and two bottles of the race-supplied energy drink everybody had warned me not to use. It didn’t turn my stomach as I’d feared, and as everybody had predicted, which was a relief (though I actually stopped at the car for the second two bottles of my normal energy drink as a precaution). At the finish I had two or three large bean-and-cheese quesadillas, a tall stack of real Oreos, a Coke, a V-8 juice (far higher in electrolytes than any energy drink), a cup of homemade spicy chicken soup, and a pesto-and-sun-dried-tomato quesadilla that was, hands-down, the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten.
Dinner that evening was at a groovy Italian place the Everest veterans ate at last year. We had a large pizza as an appetizer, and though we all agreed on mushrooms, only compromise kept a fistfight from breaking out over pepperoni vs. sausage. I couldn’t tell whether the waitress was a bit dim or I simply wasn’t speaking clearly, but it took several tries to get her to understand that we wanted mushrooms on the whole thing and half-and-half pepperoni and sausage on the rest. It was damn good pizza. Then I had this mushroom soup that the waitress had warned me was “a little spicy.” That sealed the deal, not because I like spicy mushroom soup (who ever heard of such a thing?) but because I couldn’t have my masculinity called into question with a stage remaining in the race. It ended up being very fiery, probably capable of stripping paint, and I liked it.
My entree was the chicken marsala, which the waitress all but insisted I get, having shot down my first two tentative choices. (I always have the waiter or waitress vet my food choice.) The marsala was brilliant: very rich and fattening without being greasy, with copious amounts of chicken breast that was tender and actually had flavor, unlike the blasted raspy retreads you get at Outhouse Steakback. Craig and Lucas developed a technique for dredging the oil from their primavera, and I guess they liked it okay, but I’ll just come out and say it: I pitied them their inferior choice. Perhaps I was just in a competitive spirit after doing a hard race, and doing it jolly hard. Anyway, Lucas felt the pasta was overcooked, and though it was about 6.5 on my doneness scale I had no issue with it. We didn’t have dessert, though Paul clearly wanted to; I’d had enough sweets for the day and also felt that if somebody ordered a pansy dessert like tiramisu or crème brûlée we might all be cursed the next day and never find the big ring.
Stage 2 – 86 miles, 13,570 feet of climbing
Breakfast on the second day was more Golean cereal, which was mighty hard to eat because nobody slept well and you could practically see the low cloud of flatulence that had gradually filled the room all night. My own flatulence was concussive almost to a window-shaking degree, which was a big part of our insomnia, but another rider’s gas (I won’t say whose) smelled just like an outhouse. So much for breakfast.
During Stage 2 I ate six gels, four of which were this foreign brand of gnarly race-provided gels that were supposed to taste like apple pie. Back in 1983 I did a bike tour in Canada and subsisted almost entirely on individually wrapped Pepperidge Farm cookies that were like a precursor to the Powerbar, and they were mostly apple pie flavored, and I swore I’d never touch them again. These gels tasted exactly like the Pepperidge Farm cookies, so needless to say they didn’t go down easy.
On the second climb I started having pretty bad stomach problems, so I consumed as little of the race-supplied energy rink as possible and managed, during the race, to have four bottles of my preferred brand (two of which I mixed myself, one while riding). I ended up with just one bottle of foreign drink, and several bottles of water because it was really hot (over 100 degrees) and the support was so awesome. At the top I didn’t eat as much as after Stage 1, because I didn’t have to replace my muscle glycogen—in fact, the idea of paralysis was very appealing at that point. Nevertheless, I had a couple bean quesadillas, a cup of chicken noodle soup (the noodles a crunchy 9.5), a V-8, and a Coke.
Our second lunch that day was at this bakery in Bishop. It was a huge operation that could probably provide bread for a large army, and I wonder how it can exist in such a small town. They had about eight or ten sandwich choices, each a rather pricey $8, but I was in no mood to pinch pennies. My brain was pretty muddy after two brutal road races, so for a few minutes it was hard to decide what to order, but then a little sign on the menu board settled the matter: “Note: our pastrami is not lean.” And it wasn’t: it was gloriously fatty. The rye bread was excellent, the cheese melted, the sauerkraut good and sauer, and the whole thing just eyeball-rollingly exquisite.
If my arms hadn’t been so tired from all the climbing I’d probably have beaten down my biker friends to steal their sandwiches. Lucas was very pleased with his “Mule Kick” sandwich, but I suspect he just liked the name. (It’s sort of the Hootie & the Blowfish of the sandwich world.) I have to say, the sandwich Paul had looked meager and vegetarian, but he didn’t seem to have any problem with it and I should really learn to resist gloating inwardly at my superior restaurant choices, or at least to refrain from documenting them.
The trip home
For the next several hours I dreamed of the burrito I’d be eating at the little taqueria in Escalon. Lucas, Craig, and I had talked the place up to Paul and Jamie, and we took some pains to drive together, caravan-style, so we could eat there together. This wasn’t easy because it got dark during the drive and we were all completely knackered. About thirty miles out of Oakdale (where we mistakenly thought the place was) Lucas realized it would be closed. He mourned this loudly and at length, and though I felt his pain—acutely—I was in denial and exhorted him to hold out hope.
Of course he was right, and though we managed to find the taqueria, it had closed at 3 (over six hours earlier!) and we were screwed. We went to Taco Hell, where the service was the worst I’ve ever experienced. Orders were flying out of the drive-thru window but we waited at least ten minutes for our grub. I even went and complained, causing the others to fear that our food would have spit in it. I really doubt this kitchen crew was that organized. I had five Cheesy Bean ‘n’ Rice burritos, which were heinously full of that grotesque plasticized nacho cheese goo. I was so hungry I actually ate them.
And that’s about it for the race. Once back in the Bay Area, my next two lunches were proper Mexican meals, and tonight I’m eating at Gordo Taqueria. My body is still trying to refuel itself and every night I dream about food. In summary, I highly recommend the Everest Challenge for anybody who takes eating, and suffering, seriously.