Friday, September 30, 2011

Race Report - Everest Challenge 2011

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


I meant to post this race report last night—I’d already written it for my bike club—but I fell asleep unexpectedly at around nine. My wife found me, sitting up, holding a water bottle in my hand that I must have been about to drink from when sleep overtook me. This was four days after the race. That’s how tiring it is.

Anyway, what follows is my report of the 2011 Everest Challenge California-Nevada Climbing Championship. I hope you’re not looking for a tightly edited perfectly-paced action drama, nor a feel-good bromance, nor a soap opera of who did what in the never-ending Masters 35+ dynastic saga. As usual, and as with life, it’s all about the food.


Three of my East Bay Velo Club teammates and I drove to Bishop in a two-car caravan: Ian and I in his sporty Euro-edition Golf, and Paul in his element in his Element with Rob. (Two others, Jamie and Steve, had gone up in advance to adjust to the altitude.) As we passed through Oakdale we tinkered briefly with the idea of eating at the House of Beef. Next door was House of Tykes. Either you drop your kids off while getting barbecue, or it’s a cannibalistic venue.

As we’d hit Oakdale too early for lunch, we instead stopped later at Priest Station where Paul and Jamie had dined the year before. We had a great table out on the deck and paid extra for Premium Burgers (i.e., grass-fed beef ). Ian and I had mayonnaise with our fries and could tell that everybody—Paul, Rob, those at the next table, and the proprietors—were pretty impressed. In fact, the staff must have decided to keep us around as long as possible to attract other diners, because the service was remarkably slow. It worked, though … by the time we left, the place was hopping.

Alas, because of this delay we reached Bishop too late for the happy hour at Whiskey Creek Saloon. (No, we wouldn’t have any booze the night before the race, but there was discounted food.) It was more important to get in a good spin on the bikes, to sort out our legs after the long drive.

Dinner, therefore, was the free Everest Challenge pasta-feed. Last year, you may remember, was almost a fracas as the volunteer staff unwisely tried to throttle the flow of pasta. This time, none of the rider/diners got any flak. But we didn’t get any sausage either. “In this economy” etc. There was plenty of garlic bread, at least for me. Absolutely nothing prevented the others from taking like ten pieces on their first trip through like I did, and yet I was chided for hogging it. Excuse me, but is this a pre-race meal, or a little snack before a fun run? Are you going to throw elbows or throw tantrums? Anyway, the bread had giant chunks of garlic, and I had three huge plates of spaghetti (on a scale of one to ten, ten being the best, this was … free).

Of course it’s a bit hard on the stomach to eat so much. Alas, I was unsuccessful in my normal bedtime evacuation ritual. I was reminded of that old restroom graffito, “Here I sit, my hopes deflated, tried to defecate, but only micturated.” (I’ve cleaned up the language of that ditty for this report.)

By now you’ve guessed the rest: extreme flatulence, EC Edition. It was bad. I slept fine until about 4:15 a.m., and then suddenly was fully bloated with gas, like a large dead hoofed animal that has ballooned up enough to actually float on a little lake until a boy scout with a .22 shoots it and it fricking explodes. Neither Ian nor I could sleep with flatulence of this magnitude. (Rob, in the main room on a king size bed, probably slept like a baby. We’d played Ro-Sham-Bo, odd-man-out, to decide who got the big bed, and Rob won fair and square. Of course that didn’t stop Ian and me from berating him all weekend for being a prima donna.)

Our breakfast stuff overwhelmed the little mini-fridge. The thing was unplugged to begin with and it took it several hours to drop below room temperature. I suppose there’s a commentary to be made about three kinds of milk—regular dairy milk, rice milk, and soy milk—for three guys, but I won’t be making it. We had some cheap yogurt from Smart & Final, a traditional EC destination, and though the yogurt said Grade A it seemed kind of marginal (off-brand, corn syrup, etc.). Who gets the Grade B stuff? Inmates? The military? Rob had a big Coke in the little fridge, and then all our bottles of various energy drinks, and I spent about twenty minutes trying to get the door to close.

So, breakfast. In addition to the iffy yogurt, I had my Uncle Sam cereal, with 10 grams of fiber per serving, less than a gram of sugar, and the consistency of cat litter. It’s probably the second-hardest breakfast cereal to eat (next to Grape Nuts, or “grape pits” as my brother Max calls them). You take a bite and then chew for a couple minutes while you put on sunscreen or pump up your tires. It tastes like cardboard. Very high-end cardboard. Ian, ever loyal to the Crown, ate his Weetabix with its lowly 4 grams of fiber.

In its defense, Weetabix seems exactly like the kind of cereal Wallace and Gromit would eat. Nonetheless, you’ll be happy to know that I asserted my American pride, alerting Ian to the fact that Uncle Sam has been around since 1908, whereas Weetabix is a relative interloper, not appearing on the breakfast scene until 1932. (I gleaned these dates from the cereal boxes.) Of course Ian immediately rejoined that Weetabix was officially recognized by the Queen. Those British are so fricking pompous.

Stage 1 – 88 miles, 14,965 feet of climbing

During Stage 1 I consumed five large bottles of my preferred energy drink and one bottle of the race-provided drink (which is widely rumored among our ranks to cause serious stomach issues that make you look like Moomintroll or ET or something). I also had like four gels. Let me explain how hard it is eating gels during the EC. Lacking any particular muscular strength, I strive to be as efficient as possible. This means not rocking a lot on the bike. I’d like to think my upper body isn’t rigid, but merely still. It was so still during the extra-hot second climb that some sort of strange membrane of air or sunscreen or something was being created between my skin and my sweat. I would only become aware of it when my arm would shift slightly and send the sweat sliding off this membrane and suddenly I’d feel a swish of cool. Being this still, my body sort of reshaped itself into this climbing mannequin, more like a sculpture than a puppet. So when I tried to access my jersey pockets, my arms were so stiff I could barely reach anything. It was like trying to get a finger to bend again after it’s been in a splint for six weeks. The tops of my pockets seemed halfway up my back. I got gel on my number, gel on the other stuff in my pockets, residues of gel I couldn’t get out of the package draining down into puddles in my jersey … it was a mess. I also had a half banana someone passed up. Oh, and I had a giant mouthful of bile that I had to re-swallow after I half-barfed. That kind of sucked.

The last climb was crazy. A storm was brewing (though without coming to fruition), which hampered the accuracy of my bike computer because it uses barometric pressure to calculate altitude, and uses altitude gain plus speed to calculate my power. In certain sections there was a terrible headwind, which made it hard to keep the bike moving given my not-so-low gearing. These sections gave me my most inaccurate power readings of all—it read like 90 watts when I had to have been putting out over 400. I held back on the non-windy sections to save energy for the windy ones, which ended up being less frequent than I’d feared. Thus, I sort of loafed for much of the last climb—not a problem, since the second stage of the race would certainly use up any surplus energy I carried forward.

After I finished Stage 1, atop its final climb, I had like eight Cokes. Not eight cans, but eight cups filled by the volunteers, who are all distance runners who volunteer here just to be cool. Now, when it comes to booze, I’m careful not to fall prey to the “bottomless cup” model, where it’s hard to modulate your intake and you might end up downing, say, a pint glass of bourbon without realizing it. Discrete units like bottles of beer are much safer. But with soft drinks, especially after a ride like that, who cares! Worst case scenario I get too much caffeine and can’t sleep … but then who can sleep after Stage 1 of the EC anyway?

All the same, I switched to ginger ale at some point. My throat was so parched I couldn’t talk, but boy could I burp. After a liter or two of carbonated fluids I could talk again, though by that point I was busy gobbling quesadillas and Reese’s peanut butter cups and potato chips. There was chicken soup, too, with noodles. I have figured out what’s so strange about the EC soup noodles: they are never boiled, but rather thrown in to non-boiling broth. So they’re both crunchy and soggy at the same time. You could probably pay big bucks for such a novel thing at a fancy restaurant, along with lobster foam and quail eggs and such.

Jamie won the first stage among the Masters 55+! We’re all very proud. Not only that, but based on when his category started, he was actually the very first rider—out of 335 total—to finish. Nate English was glued to his wheel at the end.

They switched the course around this year, swapping the first and last descents. (This was to eliminate pelotons in the one residential section of the course.) The new course had about ten fewer miles of racing, most of which were downhill. This meant it was hard to compare times from last year to this year. Since my main goal with this race is to be faster each year—part of my effort to battle the ravages of age—this difficulty of comparison was kind of a bummer. Still, I was almost an hour faster on Stage 1 this year so I’m pretty dang stoked. Here’s the course profile with my heart rate and power:

For the data nerds among you, here are my climbing stats (power and heart rate):

- 242 watts at 155 bpm on first climb;

- 239 watts at 157 bpm on second climb;

- 215 watts at 150 bpm on last climb.

Note that these are "dog-watts"—that is, they're based on my rate of vertical gain, my speed, and my weight (f=mgh) without considering wind resistance, etc. That 215-watt stat is particularly off (i.e., low) based on the headwind and the stormy sky.

Dinner was, once again, at the little Italian place. I have done some special research this year and can actually tell you the name: The Upper Crust Pizza Co. No, this isn’t the Boston chain with the award-winning TV commercial. (Who ever heard of such a thing? The only TV commercial that deserves an award is a really short one, like under a second, or maybe a beer commercial with really hot babes.) We went to the one-off Upper Crust whose domain name is up for sale.

As always, we started with a pizza as appetizer. Steve celebrated his EC Rookie status by choosing the ‘za: we had the, dang it, what was it called? Something silly like the Ranch Hand or Wrangler or something. I tried to find the place’s menu online so I could get the name of our pizza but I only came across a two-star review from a guy name Jesse G. who complained, “they put way too much cheese on the pizza for my taste.” What a pussy. Hey Jesse, why don’t you go ride 117 miles over three mountains and then get some pizza. Too much cheese? Hell, I was salting my pizza! Just for the salt! I was craving salt. I’d have eaten a whole stick of salami if it had been provided as garnish, which come to think of it is a pretty good idea.

On a pizza called the Ranch Hand you’d expect toppings like hardtack and tumbleweed, but it was a classic: mushroom, sausage, pepperoni, something else. (I can’t remember the fourth topping—I guess I ate too fast.) Then we had pasta. I heavily promoted the chicken Marsala and two others had it. Jamie had something that looked exactly like it but wasn’t, apparently. I will publically apologize to Rob for not warning him that it was a cream sauce. It never occurred to me to classify this as a cream/non-cream dish. Just that it was chicken, and pasta, and fattening, and actually this time the pasta was a bit overcooked but dang, it was good anyway. So was the oddly spicy cream of mushroom soup. I’m doing EC again next year just to eat at Upper Crust again.

After dinner we had to go to K-Mart, America’s Favorite Store, so Ian could buy some earplugs. Why earplugs? Because my flatulence had kept him awake from 4:15 a.m. on the night before. (When he first complained about this, I thought he said his own flatulence kept him awake from 4:15 a.m. on, and I thought, wow, what a coincidence, I was gassy too at that time! And I started to wonder if, like female roommates end up on the same monthly cycle, guys sharing a room might start to have synched-up flatulence. But no, it was just me doing the flatching.) Ian purchased some Hearos, despite his misgivings that the attenuation chart and noise reduction info on the package didn’t cover flatulence. I told him not to worry because my concussive blasts were doubtless much louder than the norm anyway.

Back at the motel, Rob studied an impressive legal textbook, and I couldn’t help but feel sheepish about the fact that, though cycling may be enough for some of us, others are actually getting somewhere in life, making something of themselves. It didn’t help that I was pretty much brain-dead and struggling just to transfer my race numbers to a clean jersey. I mean, here Rob was deep in thought processing complex ideas about law, while I was somehow managing to pin my number not only to the jersey but to the bedspread. When I was finally done, and Rob had realized he wouldn’t get any studying done with me forgetting every thirty seconds to shut the hell up, we headed out to McDonalds for some freedom fries. We brought some back for Ian. Look at this happy customer.

Stage 2 – 88 miles, 14,070 feet of climbing

During Stage 2 I drank four bottles of my preferred energy drink, about a bottle (two halves, really) of the race-supplied beverage, and a bottle of water. It’s hard to take on a bottle of water during the race because you don’t want to use up limited water bottle cage space for a non-caloric beverage. So during the hottest stretch (90+ degrees) of the third pass I rode along holding the bottle of water, drinking greedily from it, like Landis in that famous Tour stage. It didn’t work as well for me. (Maybe it was the testosterone, blood transfusion, and Jack Daniels that worked so well for Landis.)

Oh, and I had three gels and a half-banana. I didn’t want the banana—the very idea of eating it made me want to hurl—but it was a little kid volunteer offering it up which was so cute. Once I took possession of it, of course I wouldn’t waste it. That’s just how I was raised. So after carrying it for half a mile or so I choked it down.

I was fricking dying on that last climb. It which gains more than 6,000 feet over 20 miles, and I’d blown up before even reaching it. I was nauseated and weaving and fighting off despair. My heart rate was stuck in the 130s, sometimes dipping into the 120s. I was afraid to look at my bike computer’s mileage reading: to know how many miles I had left would be too demoralizing. At one point I saw the 6,000-foot elevation marker, and was elated because somehow I’d missed the 5,000-foot marker and thought I was still below it. But the elation didn’t last long as I realized being at 6,000 feet wasn’t actually that great of news: I still had over 4,000 feet to climb. During this climb I only passed one guy in my category. That gave me a little bit of a morale boost, because at that moment I hated him even more than I hated life. This was the kind of suffering that I wouldn’t wish on anybody except maybe the other Masters 35+ riders, all of them , damn them.

I don’t know how I made the summit without losing my shit entirely. When I crossed the line I thought I was going to burst out crying. Its’ the kind of bike-induced misery that—now that it’s over—I wouldn’t trade for anything. A real Vision Quest kind of suffering. The kind of torment that forges you, like heat-treating a frame, as long as you survive the process and don’t come out warped like a damn Cannondale.

After finishing I had a bunch more Cokes, but really couldn’t touch anything else sweet. I did eat a whole bunch of the feta, spinach, and mushroom quesadillas. Actually I couldn’t tell if they were mushrooms or olives because the feta was so salty. Let me tell you something about salt: it’s good for you. I’ve been telling people for years that it only raises your blood pressure if you have a genetic predisposition for high blood pressure. I’ve been contradicted on this point so often I was starting to doubt myself until Rob volunteered the very same fact. And he’s got like a Ph.D. in some related field. He said he used to get muscle cramps as a kid because his well-meaning mother fed him a low-sodium diet, and then when he moved into the dorms and started eating their salty food he never had another muscle cramp. And I’ve never had one either. I eat salt like crazy. And my blood pressure is, well, good enough. If I had some more of those feta quesadillas right now, I’d eat them recreationally even though my body is probably pretty much back to normal.

Looking back at my heart rate and power stats for the second stage, I see that I wasn’t really as slow on the final climb as I’d feared. Here are my stats for Stage 2:

- 244 watts at 146 bpm on first climb;

- 224 watts at 140 bpm on second climb;

- 214 watts at 138 bpm on last climb.

Compare those to the stats for the first day, and compare the graphs, and you can see how much the first day took out of me! I was pleased to learn that, meltdown notwithstanding, I was 3 minutes faster on Stage 2 this year than in 2010.

We all had a great time in the race, and then a great time descending for twenty miles back to our internal-combustion rolling saunas. We all showered in Steve’s room (he stayed an extra night—brilliant!) and then headed over to Erick Schat’s Bakery in Bishop—an EC tradition. I got the last two slices of rye bread with my famously “not lean” pastrami sandwich. They’d run out of rye bread the previous year, too. What is it with these people? They do make good food though. Rob got two sandwiches: a turkey sandwich and the Mule Kick. Somebody always gets the Mule Kick, doubtless because of the catchy name, but I’ve never seen anybody order it a second time. At least Rob had the balls to admit it was a terrible sandwich. I don’t know how a place that makes such a killer pastrami sandwich can also make something lousy.

Now, I’d asked Rob about his sandwich purely to gather material for this report, but of course the others made it out like I was hinting around for a handout. As much as I denied this, I couldn’t convince Rob and soon I’d inherited one of the pieces of bread from his Mule Kick, with a bunch of Dijon mustard, and some cheese. Why does Dijon mustard exist? Just so men can show off that they can handle a spicy mustard that tastes like ass, if ass were spicy? Dijon is to a sandwich like hops is to beer: it turns a flavor into a pissing contest. “Pardon, monsieur, mais avez-vous du Grey Poupon?” / “No way, dude, I’m an American! I like French’s mustard!”

The trip home

On the way home we stopped at this little restaurant in Groveland we ate at last year. Pizza. Now, last year they had some weird quirk with the menu where a one-topping pizza cost like $5 more than a plain pizza, and yet the super-combo with like five ingredients was only $1.80 more than that. I was hoping to exploit that loophole this time, but they’d closed it up. But here was something new and just as weird: to get a single topping on a 16-inch pizza cost like $5. But to get a single topping on an 18-inch pizza was only a buck. How did these guys come up with their prices? A Ouija board? We didn’t care. We went with the 18-inch pepperoni.

Rob announced, shockingly, that he wouldn’t be having any pizza. He said he had heartburn. I’m pretty sure that almost any female would have said, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Since I’m a guy, this didn’t occur to me (at least not until later); instead, I tried to convince Rob that pepperoni was really good for heartburn. When this failed I asked the waitress if we could get Tums as a pizza topping. She said, politely, that we couldn’t. Rob had split pea soup with ham and I could smell it from here. He said it was pretty good but oddly not that salty. Easily fixed.

I got home just before midnight and when I put the dodgy Smart & Final yogurt in the fridge, the crappy wire shelf flexed too much and dumped the yogurt container on the floor where it burst open. The cat, ominously, gave it a sniff but declined to lap it up. My motor skills were shot and I was barely functioning and it seemed to take forever to clean up the mess. I got the towels too wet and was just smearing it around and my god, the Everest Challenge is so hard. Be sure to join us next year!

dana albert blog

1 comment:

  1. Great story, sounds like a blast. Your descriptions certainly made me hungry, and your recounting of the rides themselves were inspiring. I certainly would not be up to that level of effort right now, but to be able to eat with such reckless abandon... Great pictures, too!