Saturday, August 31, 2013

Race Report - Everest Challenge 2013 (Stage 2)


NOTE:  This post is rated PG-13 for coarse humor and mild strong language.

Introduction

A few days ago, when my lips were still too sunburned for me to smile comfortably, I regaled you, or somebody like you, with the exploits of my bike pals and me as we tackled Stage 1 of the 2013 Everest Challenge stage race.  I’ve forgotten half of what happened during Stage 2 already so I better get to it or I’ll be reduced to the classic one-line race report, “There was a race and somebody must have won but it sure wasn’t me,” which could be used for just about any athletic endeavor, come to think of it.

Pre-race

I slept pretty well until about 2:00 a.m.  Anybody with such a daunting race ahead of him, and one just as daunting already behind him, could be forgiven for having night terrors.  But I didn’t have night terrors—I had night bowels.  I suppose we should all be grateful that our bowels shut down and night … when they do.  But to whom much has been fed, much is to be expected.  I was up again around 4 a.m. for another round, and then somebody’s smartphone alarm—something between a purr and a growl—went off at 4:45 and we were all up and about with our pre-race preparations, which consisted mainly of groaning, committing brazen acts of flatulence, and making sophomoric jokes of the very highest (and lowest) order.


Halfway through my bowl of GoLean Crunch (which I pronounce “Goal-ee-an Crunch” and pretend is the food they ate in “Star Trek”) I began to hear murmurs from below.  They were the non-verbal equivalent of “never send to know for whom the bowels move; they move for thee.”  It was time, once again.

Needless to say, with four nervous bike racers sharing a motel room, there was no chance of the toilet being free.  I puckered and squirmed and waited and finally heard the happy gurgle of the toilet flushing.  I was already on my feet when I heard a cry from the bathroom and one of the guys came staggering out, looking (as another described it later) as though he’d just witnessed a murder.  And in a sense he had:  he’d killed the toilet.  Totally overwhelmed it.  Kicked its ass, you might say.  The water level had risen to the rim and beyond, carrying his fecal offspring with it.  This couldn’t be happening!  I needed that toilet!  I needed it now!  I was already crowning!

Fortunately, Paul’s friend Rich had another room just a few doors down, or this report might move from daytime TV territory into another “Silence of the Lambs” installment.  I won’t dwell on the devastating effect this overflow had on our group other than to say that a) I plunged that bad boy myself once the maintenance guy dropped off the plunger; b) we tipped the maid very well, and c) when we got to the race I still wasn’t caught up from that giant dinner the night before.  So I had to brave the trailer-mounted San-O-Let near the start line. 

The line wasn’t too bad, but the tiny trailer’s suspension was shot and/or its tires were low, because being in there was like being in a ship during a storm, or maybe being in a NASA flight simulator.  There was nothing to hold onto and I couldn’t shake the thought that some mistake might be made and the trailer driven off toward some far-flung rest stop with me still in there.

Stage 2 – 73 miles, 14,030 feet of climbing

During the race, I had seven bottles of Cytomax, one bottle of water, one bottle of Heed, one foil pouch of Capri-Sun, half a banana, and five gels.  I thought of the Capri-Sun as a Capri-Sonne; I first became aware of this beverage in 1981 because they sponsored a pro cycling team in Europe that rode kickass Koga-Miyata bicycles.  (That was, incidentally, the first year Capri-Sun was sold in the U.S., and the year I got my first Miyata.)  During the race, the prospect of a) a drink associated with a cool pro team, b) a drink that wasn’t Cytomax or Gatorade or Heed, and c) a drink that might actually be cold, was thrilling to contemplate.  This was at a brutal part of the race when the temperature was 96 degrees and … wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.


Imagine this.  It’s the summit of the first climb, to Glacier Lodge, and I’ve crested it with the leaders!  In fact, as they slow to take water bottles, I cruise right past to take the lead.  As we begin the blazing descent, I look back and yell, “OKAY DUDES!  ARE YOU READY TO SHRED THIS GNAR’?!

Now forget that whole vignette because it’s absurd.  Of course that’s not what happened.  In reality I hung with the leaders only until a good number of riders had fallen off, and then I backed off my pace, hoping not to waste all my energy early and then utterly crack on the final climb as I had the previous two years.  I think seven or eight guys dropped me.  I counted two of them whom I’d beaten the day before, when I’d placed sixth, so I figured if I didn’t see them again, I’d slip down in the overall standings.  My hope, of course, is that they were foolishly going out too hard and would pay later.

On the second climb, Waucoba Canyon, I was totally alone, and it started to get hot.  Traditionally it hasn’t been such a bad climb, except that last year they lengthened it (for complicated reasons you don’t care about).  Look, and zoom in:  Waucoba is almost as high as the first climb now (original course is on the left):


I kept my pace ridiculously mellow, my heart rate in the 130s.  It was just a slog.  It was the bike racing equivalent of Traffic School, except more boring.  I’ll tell you the highlight:  I was pedaling along, the air dead still, not a rider in sight, even my breathing so quiet the whole world around me was one huge hush, and then this giant and very loudly buzzing fly, probably a horsefly, flew by, from my left side past my face before flying off to the right, and I got a pitch-perfect example of the Doppler effect.  It was as perfect as an animated short showcasing the THX sound system before a Pixar movie.  And then it was over and things got boring again.

The third pass, to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, has been accurately described as a ░░░░.  That’s right, a word I can’t even put in this blog.  The climb starts at just under 4,000 feet and finishes at over 10,000 feet (with a demoralizing little screw-you descent along the way).  It’s always hottest at the lower sections, where there’s usually a bit of tailwind.  It’s a sauna, in short.  This is the place where you know whether or not you’ve saved enough:  if you start crying, you’ve squandered your strength too early.  I felt okay and only wished it didn’t go on so long.  Sometimes I’d see somebody up in the distance and, over a period of five or ten minutes, overtake him.  Sometimes somebody would pass me, and ride away just as gradually.  It was like one of those car race video games, except in super-slo-mo.  (I could be blasé about any rider passing me whose bib number didn’t start with a 4—that is, any rider who wasn’t in my category.)  It was along this section I got the Capri-Sun.  Somebody had brought it specially for his son, but the son rejected it, the little ingrate, so:  my gain.  Dang it was good.

So, did you notice that just now?  How I started the tale of this race by telling about the Capri-Sun, and then backed up and started the story from the beginning, and then caught up to the Capri-Sun bit again?  That’s a very sophisticated literary technique called in medias res and it’s generally considered a privilege of the élite to get to enjoy such masterfully constructed narratives.  I’d like to thank my mom and dad for paying for a good bit of the English degree that makes such things possible.

I had some trouble with allergies and blew some giant snot comets out my nose.  Twice they refused to detach, and flew out behind me like some grotesque narrow scarf, and I had to pinch them off with my forefinger and thumb and fling them away.  I pretended I was finally expelling the tapeworms that I (and others) have long suspected are living in my stomach.

I just kept pacing myself, going no harder than I needed to, which meant hardly working except for the really steep sections, which were kind of a treat because I could just plow over them by digging a bit deeper.  This went on until I got to around 7,000 feet and passed a guy in my category.  I recognized him from the day before when I’d introduced myself to him.  I remembered distinctly that he was either 5th or 7th place the day before.  (Okay, I guess that’s not actually remembering it distinctly.)  It was one or the other, meaning one of us could pass up the other in the GC based on this stage.  It had taken me awhile to overtake him and I was level with him long enough to exchange looks.  Who knows what my look really said, but to my mind it was something like “Sorry about this, but sometimes a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.”  His look was less inscrutable; it said something like “Damn you all to hell you soulless life-ruiner.”

I pulled away only gradually, and occasionally I looked back to see where he was, and he was never very far behind.  I feared that he’d been loafing and only needed a little extra motivation to dig into his reserves.  No matter how long the climb lasted—and any EC veteran can tell you it’s seemingly endless—this guy was never far back.  He was starting to really stress me out.  I lifted my pace to where I was starting to suffer properly, and thus to doubt how long I could keep it up.  But he just stayed there like some Masters 35+ doppelgänger.  And then, horribly, he started to close in.  Suddenly my dream of “touring” the EC was over, and I was actually racing.

Oh, I did what I could, my heart rate well into the (gasp!) 140s, the memory returning of how cruel this climb could be, but there was really nothing I could do to defy fate.  Soon my opponent had teamed up with some other guy and they were trading pulls in the headwind sections.  (Yes, of course there were headwind sections.)  And finally, after maybe twenty minutes of this mutual struggle, he had me.  I was trying to figure out what to say.  “Chapeau” seemed a bit twee, but “Hey, nice job, way to dig deep” would give him too much encouragement and help seal my doom.  Of course, there was always “Damn you all to hell you soulless life-ruiner,” but that wouldn’t capture the cowardly relief I got by giving up.

But to my sudden amazement, as he pulled up alongside, I realized this wasn’t my Masters 35+ opponent at all—it was one of his teammates from another category!  Somehow, the two had traded places on the road.  I’d been chased up the mountain by a phantom rival!  I could have laughed, except that this would probably have started a coughing fit.

Now it dawned on me that I didn’t have to slow down just because I wasn’t being pursued; I was close enough to the finish to stop saving my legs.  It’s kind of like when I ran out of money in college and thought, “Could I use the Uncle John inheritance?  No, I’m saving that for college … wait, I’m in college!  I can use it!”  So I kept up the higher pace, and hung with the two guys who’d just caught me.  As we gradually neared the finish we caught a couple more guys. 

And then, in the last quarter-mile, I saw another Masters 35+ rider a ways up the road.  How cool would it be, I thought, to pass him with like fifty meters to go?  He’d be morally shattered, of course.  A real sucker-punch, after all that suffering.  Yeah, I figured, I had to do it.  Now, normally a quarter mile wouldn’t have been enough to overhaul anybody, but the last quarter mile of this race is special.  It’s over 10,000 feet elevation and you’ve got almost 170 miles of racing in your legs.  A quarter mile is a vast distance in this case, especially when the guy you’re chasing is totally blown.

So I dug deep and started completely drilling it.  I was surprised—pleasantly or not, I couldn’t say—that I could get enough air to make my legs burn.  But burn they did, and gradually I closed the gap.  I realized maybe I’d actually catch him too soon, and he’d have a chance to react, but once I was upon him this fear was stamped out because once again I’d hallucinated—this wasn’t a fellow Masters 35+, just another innocent bystander in another category.  I felt like the dog who finally caught the mailman.  But a minute later it was all over and the race was finished.

A guy I’d beaten the day before took second on the day, so I slipped to 7th in the overall.  This stage had seemed to take at least an hour less than it had the year before, but looking back it turns out I was only like four minutes faster.  And since I went so much faster on Stage 1 last year than this year, my overall GC time was slower this year.  Lesson learned:  suffering works!  Next year I’m going way harder.

For the nerds out there, here are some power and heart rate stats:

 - 259 watts at 143 bpm on the first climb (vs. 248 watts at 142 bpm last year);
 - 221 watts at 135 bpm on the second climb (vs. 220 watts at 133 bpm last year);
 - 232 watts at 136 bpm on the final climb (vs. 220 watts at 136 bpm last year).

Before you get all smug about being way stronger than I, consider that those are “dog-watts”—that is, they’re based on my rate of vertical gain and my weight (from the formula f=mgh) without considering wind resistance, etc.  A real power meter would’ve read higher.

Presently Mike arrived, and before long he started digging through his bag.  He pulled out a large shiny foil-wrapped thing that ended up being leftover pizza.  Amazingly, he had enough to share with Craig and me.  Because Mike’s initials are MC, he gets lots of ad hoc nicknames (e.g., MC Everest, MC Hammer) and through this gesture he earned the moniker “MC Genius” which seems to have stuck.  Here are some photos of us at the top.  Paul, Mike, Jamie, Lee, and Craig ... if you don’t know who these guys are, check out my Stage 1 report.





Post-race

For lunch we went to Erick Schat’s Bakkery in Bishop, a tradition we somehow didn’t follow last year.  In the report I filed two years ago I called it a Bakery but it’s actually a Bakkery, as Ian pointed out, or maybe it was Lee.  (I was tired and those British accents all meld together, especially when they’re saying non-English words like “Bakkery.”)  Lee was all excited about the pastrami sandwich until I pointed out the placard that says “Note:  our pastrami is not lean.”  Amazingly, this turned him off to it. Obviously he’s got a lot to learn about food, but give him time … he’s still young.

While we stood in line at Schat’s, Craig challenged me to a sandwich-eating race.  Over dinner the previous night I’d bragged about my Burrito World Championship victory and I guess he thought it was time for my comeuppance.  He also decided that for some reason it would be fair for him to get a head start on me and start eating as soon as he got to the table.  Well, I was delayed finding a fork for my potato salad, and moreover forget all about the race, and he beat me.  Man, was he stoked.  He gloated like he’d just won Everest.  To quote Lermontov, “I feel that one day he and I will meet on a narrow path, and one of us shall fare ill.”

Note that it was impossible to get everybody to pose for this photo.  They were all too into their food.  My pastrami sandwich was not lean, and I mean that in the best possible way.


During the drive we stopped at Bridgeport again, at a little shack where we got milkshakes and whatnot.  Look at MC Genius here, two-fisting it with a shake and curly fries:


The smoke was just as bad on the drive home.  Man, it stunk.  It all but blotted out the sun—check it out.


In the grim town of Escalon (at least, it was grim when we rolled through) Paul badly needed some dinner.  I was a bit hungry myself.  We stopped at Taco bell, a good 15 minutes before closing time, but the good-for-nothing staff had decided to close early.  We could see them in there, cleaning up.  I’m sure Paul considered driving the Intimidation Van through the glass doors at high speed, but was just too tired.  So we did a driving tour of Escalon, growing increasingly despondent as place after greasy place was closed.  A little cat was lapping water from a puddle in a parking lot and we slowed to a crawl, considering its plight.  We passed a supermarket.  “You could just stop there and buy a big bag of frozen shrimp,” I offered.  Finally we found a McDonald’s that was open.  My fries came from a totally fresh batch—the fry cook seemed pretty proud of them—but they were oddly disgusting, even to my starvation-softened palate.  Paul ate some damn thing, I don’t remember, and everybody else just kept up the post-Everest patter, words that drifted away instantly, like smoke.

MC Genius loaned me his truck to drive home.  Along the way, I noticed an ominous dashboard light:  Tailgate Open.  I could lose my bike right out the back!  That would be a disaster, of course, but as I pondered the bruised state of my respiratory system, and suppressed a coughing fit, I reflected that there would be a silver lining to such a mishap.  I’ve had enough cycling for awhile....

Postscript

It turns out that, although I was indeed 7th place in the second stage, I maintained my 6th place overall.  That does it, I’m going to race again next year!  (Actually, this was never in question.)

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