NOTE: This post is rated PG-13 for mild strong language and coarse humor.
In a perfect world, I’d have written this report in the van on the way home from the Everest Challenge, or I’d have stayed another night in Bishop and written this after a long soak in a hot tub. But instead, it’s four days later, my sunburned lips have only just finished molting, and I still just barely have enough energy to sit up in a chair for long enough to write this.
What follows is my report of the 2012 Everest Challenge California-Nevada Climbing Championship (Stage 1). If you’re looking for a blow-by-blow of the Masters 35+ race, you’re in the wrong place: I don’t even know (nor do I care) who won. If Upton Sinclair, in writing The Jungle, “aimed for the public’s heart and by accident hit it in the stomach,” I am aiming for the stomach and might nick your heart, possibly even your brain.
I highly recommend using a checklist when packing for such events. Here is mine, notable mainly for the non-checked-off items I didn’t manage to scrounge up. I sorely missed a few of those items.
This year I decided I wasn’t messing around and actually had a pasta breakfast. Then I headed out to meet the rest of our crew—Paul, Craig, John, Mark (a friend of Paul’s), and Ian—at Ken’s house. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at Ken’s to find that the van Paul scored for us wasn’t nearly as huge and awesome as I’d expected:
But that didn’t matter because Paul immediately produced a giant Ziploc bag of chocolate chip cookies that his girlfriend Tammy made. One bite and I could tell these were the classic Nestle Toll-House recipe. Delicious. My wife, bless her heart, always sneaks in wheat germ and flaxseed and other nutritious elements, but these were the more basic, and classic, butter delivery mechanism. You might think the cookies were just a treat, but actually they fit right into the very scientific “caloric density” strategy that obsessive Everest Challengers must embrace. Polar explorers are known to bring sticks of butter to eat; we’re just slightly more recreational and hedonistic. “Tammy actually asked if she should make a double-batch,” Paul said. That got a good laugh.
We stopped for gas and Ian bought a giant bag of potato chips. Not those super-fancy Kettle Chips, and not some fancy modern flavor like “sea salt and fresh ground pepper” or “roast cumin and Echinacea,” but your classic Lays: plain, salty, and greasy. Ian was nice enough to share them around, and I must confess, I surely took more than my share. I couldn’t help it. Maybe this rankled Ian, because for much of the drive he complained about my concussive flatulence on the Friday night of last year’s EC. He contends that only pure intent could have made my flatches so loud. (“Flatch” is my kids’ verb form of “flatulence,” as they’re not allowed to say “fart.”) I promise you, as I promised Ian, that I wasn’t even awake to have such intent. Each blast had startled me from sleep. Some of them actually frightened me.
Imagine if we were the kind of über-modern multi-sport athletes who dabble in Yoga and Pilates and such, and drink soy milk with our lattés. That would mean snacks like tabouleh (with its requisite raw onion) and hummus (full of garlic), and the stench in the van would be immediate—nothing would even need to work its way through our digestive tracts before starting to reek. Plus we’d be all Zen and kind and everything and would have to keep our complaints to ourselves. Surely that would be harder on our hearts than saturated fat.
Lunch was at Priest Station, at the same burger place as last year. When something works, you don’t mess with it, especially when it’s delicious. We paid extra for grass-fed beef. All burger places should offer this. Some of the guys got all fancy and ordered sweet potato fries. You know, the same kind of guys that had compacts on their bikes. I didn’t say anything; superciliousness is best savored silently. (Sibilant enough for you?)
I never got my side of mayonnaise, nor my side of barbecue sauce. I decided not to wait for them, because the staff was trying to rush us through. “We’re expecting some decent people at 1,” the hostess had said, when she intercepted our van in the parking lot. (I’m paraphrasing.) The deal was, a bunch of old people driving vintage Mercedes Benzes was expected. Why would anybody expect these people to tip as well as us? We drove out, on-time, just as they started to roll in. I hope they weren’t too tired after their long drive. Huh.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, with beautiful scenery out the window. As we approached Bishop, one of the guys said, “I can tell we’re getting close because I’m starting to get an erection.”
Sticking closely to our script, we did a 9-mile spin-the-legs ride in Bishop. It’s useful to have a fresh memory of the bicycle being something fun to ride, not just a torture rack. Amazing how fast such a memory can be obliterated—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Dinner, needless to say, was the free pasta feed at the fairgrounds. Plenty of food this time (which was a relief), but no water. Just iced tea (which would have kept me up all night) and Country Time lemonade. I don’t know why anybody drinks that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, frozen concentrated lemonade with all the corn syrup and such is fine by me, but that vulcanized powdered stuff is just revolting. It’s especially wrong for this crowd. I mean, if we were a bunch of kids trying to get high, and fat, off the sugar, that would be one thing. But we were all facing two days of guzzling energy drink in the 90-degree heat … could we really be expected to want this stuff now? I realize I’m being kind of negative here; after all, we did get free pasta, and it was pretty good. I guess I’m still just too shattered from the race to be looking at the bright side of everything.
Stage 1 – 88.5 miles, 14,965 feet of climbing
Breakfast was Uncle Sam cereal, like last year. I’d almost grabbed the Weetabix—we had a box—but I thought I might be rooming with Ian and, it being British, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Besides, that stuff gets mushy. The milk, which we’d bought at Smart & Final the night before (another EC tradition) didn’t say anything about “no rBST,” which I took to mean it does have it, and probably rBGH too. What are these hormones? Could they be similar to HGH? I poured some more. Dammit! I should have been drinking this Monsanto milk all along!
My roommate, in the event, was John Lynch, my old pal from Boulder. He and I were teammates on the Leisure Time Products squad for the 1981 Red Zinger Mini Classic. I was close to dead last in that race, but he was around tenth, and I’ll never forget what happened in the first stage: his plastic bike-mounted number wasn’t attached at the down tube, and swung out and sliced his leg. He just shrugged it off. I was in awe. So imagine my distress on this morning when he stared at his cereal like he was facing down a foe. Sure, Uncle Sam is hard to eat, but moreover I think John was worried about the race, his first-ever EC. He lives in Ithaca, NY these days, and though he has plenty of hills to train on, there are no proper mountains.
The motel was pretty nice this year. It even had a Trimline phone mounted in the bathroom, right next to the toilet. A nice touch, for those who don’t want to worry about dropping their smartphones during a heated moment. But then, you can’t really talk with the fan going, and with no window in the bathroom that fan worked overtime. My biggest complaint was with the toilet, which, plumbing-wise, was an underachiever. It was really touch-and-go there, several times, especially on Saturday morning. I found myself cheering on the toilet. “C’mon, buddy! You can do it!” It was like the Little Toilet That Could: I think I can, I think I can! Nobody wants to run late because he’s plunging, or mopping up.
Okay, I lied earlier about the van. That flowery thing above did come into play, but not until much later. The actual van, to quote Ice-T, was “the flyest new shit rollin’ off gasoline,” the “ultimate super-fly ride.” We were almost intimidated by ourselves, rolling up in that thing. It even had platforms on the roof to walk on while attaching bikes.
During the race, I ate four gels and drank six bottles of Cytomax, two bottles of Heed, a bottle of water, and a Coke. New for this year was the dedicated soigneur, Ian. That’s right, he drove up with us just to provide support. I only wish I’d thought harder, ahead of time, about how to best equip him. He had coolers and ice and I brought plenty of drink mix, but (being cheap) I didn’t bring enough bottles. Ian had two fresh bottles for me at the beginning of the second climb, and another two after that, but then he was out of bullets so I gave him a baggie of drink mix I’d been carrying to mix up myself somewhere. That made sense; he’d turned it into a nice bottle by the next—and last—time I saw him, and so I tried again, handing him my last baggie of drink mix as I went by. He stared at it, like, “What did you give me this for?”
It was at this final water stop—something like 70 miles into the race, with one minor and one major climb still to come—that Craig decided to wait for me. Despite being sick as a dog (he’d caught a nasty virus earlier in the week), he’d been off ahead of me all day, but often visible on the horizon like a blue-and-orange mirage. On the first two climbs he’d distanced me by a fair bit, but I’d had better luck finding riders to descend with and had made up time. On the flat sections he’d had particularly bad luck. The problem was, by the time he decided to wait, I was pretty well knackered and would have been content to dink along at a humble pace. Instead, I was determined to make good on his strategy. Perhaps he foresaw all this, in which case you could say he dropped back to make a man out of me—to give me a chance to do something bold, like he’s the respected Indian brave and I’m the unproven upstart, with a humiliating name like Dribbles Down Leg or something, and after this heroic ride I’d get a cool new name, like Mans Up For Once.
For most of the (ironically named) Paradise section, up Old Sherwin Grade, Craig dragged me along. I could just barely hang. It wasn’t until Highway 395, which the race traverses for a short section to Tom’s Place, the beginning of the final climb, that I first put my nose in the wind. We stopped briefly at the bottom (he got some water, I got a Coke—actually, it was a cup of Shasta, the volunteers volunteered) and then struck out for the final climb to Mosquito Flat. (Why is “Flat” part of the name of so many peaks?) Perhaps a third of the way up this, I started to feel strong for the first time in the race, just as the heat and altitude started to get to Craig. I struck off alone (a hostage to my not-so-low gearing, to be honest).
After I had suffered for a great deal of time, a car came down the road toward me. It was the race director, Steve Barnes, and he called out, “Three and a half miles to go!” At this moment, it dawned on me that I was actually going to finish. Sure, I’ve finished this race before, but this year was different: after breaking my femur ten months ago, and having to re-learn how to walk, I wasn’t even sure EC was a realistic objective. This race has been my singular goal for so many months, it was overwhelming to suddenly realize I was going to achieve it. The memory of my long suffering, through countless physical therapy sessions and humbling training rides, was suddenly distilled into this moment. I started crying.
So long as it doesn’t interfere with your breathing, crying is just fine during a race. In fact, I think it gave me a boost. After all, cycling legend Eddy Merckx was known for crying during races—a great many of them, in fact. Perhaps I’d finally arrived as a suffering cyclist. The tears didn’t last long and then, in the last couple miles, I passed two or three other Masters 35+ riders. I made sure to pick it up a bit and blow by them good and fast, looking as composed as possible, to crush their morale and make sure they didn’t try to latch on. Not very nice, I know, but this was a race.
At the finish, the food was a bit humbler than in previous years. The Oreos were fake and there weren’t any quesadillas. I did have a whole bunch of V-8 juice and Cokes, which hit the spot. Thinking back, I really didn’t eat enough up there. Maybe I was too knackered. Or maybe too giddy: though I didn’t confirm this until later, I was pretty sure I’d done the course faster than the year before. (As it turns out, my time—6:09:26—was almost 6½ minutes faster. That’s the good news. The bad news is coming.)
I used the outhouse up there. As outhouses go, it was brilliant. Not stinky at all, and plenty of TP. Something dawned on me in there: you never have to worry about dodgy plumbing with an outhouse—there isn’t any. You can do whatever damage you want and it just sits there, a seat over a hole over a pit, and takes it all. (This is where EC is much more humane than La Marmotte: the outhouse at the base of the Col du Galibier doesn’t even have a commode. It’s just a hole in the floor with a couple of clown footprints to show you where to squat.)
John arrived after awhile, having endured terrible muscle cramps that stopped him cold, again and again. He probably suffered more than any of us, and for longer. Here are some snapshots of our gang maxin’ out at the summit.
At the pre-race meeting the race director had pointed out that support vehicles are allowed for all but the last climb of the race, to shuttle racers back to Bishop (saving us a pretty long and, under the circumstances, unpleasant schlep along Highway 395). As we prepared to make the short descent to the van, John overheard somebody complaining about this. “What? People are getting rides back in cars?! I can’t believe that! What a bunch of limp dicks!” the dude cried. I didn’t think of the proper comeback until much later: “What … descending in the heat after an 89-mile race actually gives you a hard-on?”
For the data nerds among you, here are my climbing stats (power and heart rate):
- 285 watts at 154 bpm on the first climb;
- 260 watts at 153 bpm on the second climb;
- 240 watts at 148 bpm on the 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.
I won’t pretend there’s anything novel to report about our dinner at the Upper Crust Pizza Company. This was our fourth year of dining there after Stage 1, and we followed the same strategy: pizza appetizer, ultra-rich pasta entrée. However, I would like to point out, mainly to my EC brethren (hi guys) that I worked really hard to be polite at that meal, though it may not have shown. You all might think you know how much I eat, but in truth, you have no idea. It almost killed me to eat only two slices of that pizza (and yes, I do feel guilty for that second slice, especially after watching guys cut slices in half). If I were an asocial predatory beast, like my housecat, I’d have eaten the whole damn thing. Then, after my entrée, which I’d easily have polished off, I’d have gone after your plates. You see, even after eating some of Ken’s surplus lasagne and that basket of bread, I was far from truly full. Imagine if you’d only been served a couple of Saltines: that’s about how I felt. Next year, I’m bringing an extra $20, and I’m going to order a whole damn appetizer pizza for myself. Then you’ll see what I can really do.
To be continued...
That’s really enough for now, isn’t it? Keep an eye on albertnet because the next installment of the 2012 EC saga is where things get dark. If you can’t stand the smurfiness of this post and are developing a real appetite for Schadenfreude, I think you’ll enjoy reading about Stage 2.