Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Race Report - Everest Challenge 2013 (Stage 1)

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


I decided to do something different with this year’s Everest Challenge report and turn it into a performance art piece with mimes acting it out for a group of homeless people down at the Civic Center, but I’m running low on time.  So I’m going with text and photos for the fifth year in a row.

I hope that, like me, you don’t really care who won or how.  All that chess-game-on-wheels stuff happened way up the road from where I was.  But you know what?  You can line up the guys who beat me—let’s make it a line at a buffet in a Vegas casino—and I’ll eat those motherfrockles under the table.  In fact I’ll bet you money I could destroy them in a beer chugging competition, the birdlike climber bastards!  And now that the EC is over I’m going to catch up on lost beer, believe me.


This year we met at Mike C’s place in Oakland because we’re born competitors and enjoy duking it out for parking there.  Paul had brought the Intimidation Van again this year and was already loading bikes on its ass-kicking roof rack when I arrived with my wife and my daughter Lindsay, who almost certainly has developed some grudging respect for me after seeing that van and grasping my association with it.  She begged to be allowed up on the roof.  She was so stoked.  Ten years from now she’ll probably be our soigneur, and by then (if Chris Horner’s example teaches us anything) we’ll all be top pro racers with giant salaries and will give her a Rolex for Christmas.

Next Ian and Craig showed up, and this new guy named Lee.  By “new” I mean not just new to our group, but freshly minted.  I think he said he was like 28.  I’m not even sure his fontanel has closed up yet.  Basically he’s like that new Death Star that was still under construction and we’re all Millenium Falcons.  He came all the way from London for the race, with no plan for getting from San Francisco to Bishop.  He mentioned his situation on some social media platform, which caught Ian’s notice.  (These Brits look out for each other.)  To sum up:  we EC veterans, when we’re not riding bikes, are all dithering with our 401(k)s and living wills, while this guy is just winging it, pointing himself blithely and vaguely at unknown distant couches … and yet he still lands a spot in the coveted Intimidation Van.  Well played!

A week ago Paul e-mailed the group recommending that everybody bring something to supplement the chocolate chip cookies his girlfriend would be baking (for the second year in a row).  I mumbled something aloud when I read this, knowing my daughter Alexa might be in earshot if the word “cookie” was involved.  That was as close as I came to issuing an edict, but on Thursday morning I was working from home, my wife gone somewhere, and Alexa and Lindsay started crashing around in the kitchen.  A couple hours, some loud disputes about chocolate chips, and three sticks of butter later we had a bunch of banana bread.  Actually, it was kind of chocolate chip cake with banana added.  Glorious. 

I thought this banana bread would make me a hero among the guys, but they’d also stepped up their game.  Craig’s kids had made like three kinds of cookies including soft ginger snaps and spicy chocolate cookies, Paul had a massive supply of chocolate chip cookies and Mike had styled us out with oatmeal cookies and auxiliary chocolate chip ones.  I just realized that the sheer number of instances of the word “cookie” in this post will draw unprecedented traffic to this blog.  Sweet.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is the terrible fire raging just west of Yosemite that required us to detour north through Sonora.  The smoke was terrible.  We stopped at a visitor’s center due to Mike’s micro-bladder and the air outside the van was really unpleasant to breathe.  The stuffy van air, filtered through our respiratory/flatulatory systems, was actually preferable.

Lunch was at J’s Place in the tiny town of Bridgeport.  The air was a bit better in Bridgeport, and the temperature quite pleasant, but the air conditioning in J’s place was jacked way up.  We all went back to the van for sweatshirts, and that’s when I realized just how fit and awesome we all were.  I’ll bet anybody with double-digit body fat would have been perfectly comfortable in there but not us elite über-athletes.  Speaking of temperature, in the endless race-planning e-mail string Mike had written, “High temps look lovely:  92 degrees in the valleys, and high 70s on the peaks.  I don’t know the conversion to Kelvin or whatever it is folks use in the UK.”  I followed up with some more advice for Lee:  “At the Everest Challenge the vertical gain isn’t measured in meters, but in shitloads.  You should calibrate your Garmin accordingly.”

My Philly cheesesteak was way better than the grey-meat, Velveeta-clad, white-spongiform-roll atrocities I’ve had in Philly, but not as good as that place in North Beach.  The fries were pretty sturdy.  Mike sort of out-ate me by supplementing his animal flesh sandwich with a salad, but I let this roll off my back.  I mean, salad?  As in, what chicks eat?  How about a nice glass of Crystal Lite while you’re at it?

I’ll get to the dinner report, but first check out this photo.  Zoom in.  See all those little white specks on this bike?  No, not some new spatter-paint bike finish; that’s ash from the fire.  I’d also like you to check out how new the tire is on this bike.  More on that later.

After checking into the motel we went for our traditional spin-the-legs ride, joined by Jamie and another guy from the UK.  I can’t remember who was forcing the pace at the front—I was sitting in as usual—but it was ridiculous.  (Craig would mention later that this was the hardest he went all weekend.)  This was on one of those grades that are common in Bishop that are much steeper than they look.  Plus, we had a headwind.  My legs felt terrible.  I finally had to go up to the front just to slow it down.  Then we stopped for a photo-op and headed back to Bishop.

We’d got to the registration early this year, and the pasta feed wasn’t really going yet.  Having the race a year early shrunk the size of the fields, and the overall operation was scaled back appropriately.  So we decided to skip the free meal and tank up at Astorga’s, the Mexican place our teammate Marybeth recommended last year.  Just about everybody ordered the Twelve, their three-item combo platter (chile relleno, enchilada, taco, rice, beans, garnish).  I got mine with a side of flour tortillas so I wouldn’t have to tinker with a fork while eating all my platter-shrapnel.  It’s much better to pack it into a burrito that I can guide into my mouth like a branch through a wood-chipper.  Oh, I just remembered that Mike got steak fajitas, because I got one of his tortillas, some of the steak, and most of his shrapnel.  Glorious.  I’d say we each ate at least 3,000 calories there, but we didn’t get any guacamole because, you know, we had to stay fit and trim for the race.

Stage 1 – 88.5 miles, 14,965 feet of climbing

We had two suites this year in the motel.  I was in the MegaSüite which had four beds, and it was a hive of pre-race jitters on Saturday morning.  There was only one bathroom, which meant the toilet was busier than a Model-T assembly line.  The Bishop water table probably still hasn’t recovered.  The bearings in the bathroom fan are probably shot. 

Breakfast was Crisp Lice, which is what I call house-brand Rice Krispies to make my kids laugh.  (If you didn’t laugh, or at least chuckle, how did you get so bitter?  You didn’t even race!)  Mike had some highfalutin home-cooked meal with quinoa and a low glycemic index.  I’d have thought he was trying to intimidate me, but we were racing different categories!

“You’re putting on deodorant?  Before a bike race!?” I heard Paul ask.  “Yes,” Lee replied.  “I have to smell nice for the ladies!”  A  moment later he added:  “Because I’m going to be riding with them!”  Laughs all around.

During the race I drank eight bottles of Cytomax, one bottle of Heed, and a bottle or two of water.  Ian was working support for us again, though he started the support role a bit later so he could ride the first mountain pass.  (I know, so selfish, right?)  Mike, an EC newcomer, had given Ian very clear but complicated instructions, I think even in writing, but somehow for the second year in a row I simply neglected to do this.  I guess I don’t learn because every time I do this race I destroy another few billion brain cells, plus the desire to race it indicates that a certain amount of memory has been repressed from the previous year.

My strategy for the race this year was a peculiar mix of fatalism and a desperate, groping embrace of my radical free will.  You see, last year I had my fastest-ever time on Stage 1, only to completely crack on Stage 2.  I was determined not to repeat this, and thus to go easier on Stage 1.  This meant willingly letting other riders go on climbs, even when I could simply choose to ride faster.  This takes a lot of discipline because it means descending solo, which is slow.  A group is so much faster because you can all slingshot off each other (really, one of the most exhilarating aspects of this sport).  The fatalism comes in when you remind yourself that the time gaps between places are pretty big, and dinking around on a downhill or stopping to get fresh bottles at the van won’t make much difference in the overall placing.

Still, that crucial moment of letting myself get dropped by the leaders, maybe 2/3 of the way of the first climb, didn’t go quite like I’d planned.  I was sitting in sixth and saw that the grade was only getting steeper.  We’d all been absolutely hammering for a good while and it was time for a gel.  I’d have liked to wait for a lull in the action but that clearly wasn’t going to happen.  The problem was, I ripped the top off the gel package too high up, and couldn’t get the bleb to break (i.e., I couldn’t get any gel out).  I thought of putting it away, but figured it would burst in my jersey pocket and soil everything.  Plus, I needed those calories.  So I tore at the plastic with my teeth, getting more and more panicked and violent, my breathing more labored, and I imagine I was thrashing my head around like a bull terrier trying to rip the bull’s nose off.  I kept catching little bits of plastic with my other hand and stuffing them into my jersey pocket to assuage my liberal guilt for expelling so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while cycling.  Finally I got the damn thing open and the gel down my throat, but I was breathing so hard I actually kind of inhaled it, and by this point I was completely anaerobic.  I backed off my pace and moved to the side to let the rest of the pack pass me, hoping that by the time I hit the back of the group I’d be recovered enough to latch on.  (As always, we had a stiff headwind for most of this first climb.)

Well, imagine my surprise at discovering the pack was no longer there!  I’d been the last rider in this front group without even realizing it.  Of course I’d have loved to glom back on the first five guys but it was simply impossible.  I drifted back to what was left of the group (it had pretty much shattered by this point and had been a small group to begin with).  By the way, I’m not trying to imply that the gel mishap cost me the race.  My plan had always been to release myself from the race leaders on my own recognizance; this just forced the issue.  You cannot imagine the amount of grief the guys gave me when I told this little gel story.  You’d think I started out by saying, “I had the race in the bag until….”

I found a few guys to ride with until very near the first summit, when I decided I was bound to detonate if I kept it up.  So, I did the first descent solo, and in fact for most of the race I was all alone, fighting the wind.  By the way, my compact crank certainly cost me some time because I only have a 50x12 top gear, and spent a lot of time coasting when pedaling a 53x12 would have been faster.  But then, I’m kind of a grandma on the descents these days anyway, after a big crash in 2011.  I’m not going to run out and buy an 11-25 9-speed cassette (if I could even find one) because I just don’t care.  I get major points with the wife for being such a wussy descender.

Still, things went pretty well for most of the first stage.  On the second climb I was able to dial in the pace I wanted, vs. struggling to turn over my lowest gear.  I kept my heart rate around 150, my cadence around 70, and was comfortable.  Sure, I had the impulse to say “Screw this!” and start hammering, but my memory of destroying myself on the final Stage 2 climb the year before kept me in line.

I only had one moment of difficulty.  I was pedaling along into the wind on a straight section where the grade had eased off a bit, and having gotten a bottle of water from the neutral support decided to mix up some energy drink.  I had a Ziploc baggie of the mix, but when I pulled it out of my pocket I realized it had ripped.  I desperately tried to guide the powder into my bottle but the wind was blowing it everywhere, especially right into my face.  (This was Cytomax, which has such fine granules it makes baby powder seem as course as gravel by comparison.)  With one hand I held the bottle, with the other tried to increase the size of the rip in the bag, and the cap of the bottle was in my teeth, and my precious drink mix was literally slipping between my fingers.  Then I hit a bump and my bottle splashed all over my hands, making them a magnet for the drink powder which quickly formed a sticky pink candy on everything.  It was like one of those disasters at the Willy Wonka factory.

On the flat section leading toward the Paradise climb (a nasty little bonus grade on the way to the final of the three main climbs) I caught two guys who had dropped me earlier.  One of them was a pretty tough-looking dude with his arms completely covered in tattoos, and biceps so big he’d had to slice the cuffs on his jersey’s sleeves.  He was leading at the base of the Paradise climb and suddenly veered left and started swinging his head around as if looking for something.  “I keep hearing voices,” he said (soberly).  I joked that if the voices told him to do anything violent, to please ignore them.  He didn’t chuckle or anything, just kept looking around.  I took this as my cue to exercise my radical freedom and get the hell away from him.  In the process I dropped the other guy too, and was all alone again.

On the final climb I passed two fellow Masters 35+ racers who had dropped me at least three hours before.  I don’t mind admitting I enjoyed that.  And, due mainly to the smaller field, I got my best result ever in an EC stage:  sixth place.  For the nerds out there, here are some power and heart rate stats:

 - 281 watts at 155 bpm on the first climb (vs. 285 watts at 154 bpm last year);
 - 253 watts at 152 bpm on the second climb (vs. 260 watts at 153 bpm last year);
 - 233 watts at 147 bpm on the final climb (vs. 240 watts at 148 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.  Being solo for more of the first climb is surely why I put out less power than last year but at a higher average heart rate.  (No, I wasn’t fitter last year.  I’m fitter this year.)

Food was a bit more sparse at the top, though they had burgers, leftover pasta, some ad hoc soup, Coke, and granola bars.  I had something better:  my kids’ banana bread.  Man, that was good.  Jamie was already there, having placed a stellar third in the Masters 55+, and the other guys rolled in before long, one at a time according to their start times.  (Oddly, no two of us raced the same category this year; because of the August heat, Craig was doing the Clydesdales so he could start earlier.)

My legs felt fine after the race, but my gut was roiling.  I had had to resort to one bottle of the race-provided energy drink.  I’m sure it works just fine for a great many riders, but EBVC lore is full of horror stories and now I’ve lived one.  I figured a trip to the outhouse would settle everything, but I couldn’t find one.  Some joe said there was one around the other side of the parking lot, but he was probably just making me waste energy and wear down my cleats because he has a teammate in my category or something.  Fortunately, during my walk I had two of the most amazing bursts of flatulence of my life.  The second one actually lifted me off the ground I think.  After those I was golden.  Needless to say I described this to the others, and Paul and Craig have both had exactly the same experience.

Here we are maxin’ out at the top.  Note the sweat on Craig’s sleeve.  Mike’s too, for that matter.  By the way, that bike in the background of the second photo isn’t one of ours.  I assume that its owner wandered off into the woods, curled up into the fetal position, and died (which is what Mike was fantasizing about doing). 

Ian had driven the Intimidator Van to the base of the final climb, and we all rolled down there to sit around in the heat and wait for Lee to arrive.  His category started over an hour after the rest of us, but still it seemed to take forever for him to show up.  He’d kept us waiting a bit after the shake-the-legs ride too, due to his advanced hair styling regimen and other sartorial niceties long abandoned by our ageing set, so we were less than patient.  Craig even managed to recruit a replacement—a guy who would call himself Lee and fake a British accent, so we could pretend we made good in driving Lee the twenty miles or so back to the motel—but finally the real Lee showed up.  He’d ridden well, with a respectable rolling time, but had punctured twice.  He only had one tube, so he had to bum a tube off another rider, but its valve was too short, etc.  He ended up spending forty minutes battling this. 


Remember that photo above, of the bike with the Willier-branded SRAM brake caliper and the ash, and the brand-spanking-new Continental 4000S tyre?  (It’s a tyre because it’s on a Brit’s bike; click here for details.)  Well, the quality and newness of those tires deprived me of the opportunity to play my favorite game, Blame The Victim.  Lee just had some bad luck.  The shard of glass responsible for both punctures stayed in the tire and he didn’t find it within the tire tread until we were back at the motel.  Here it is now:

The maid had neglected to replace our shampoo, but it worked out for the best because I borrowed some English shampoo from Lee that is designed specifically for men.  Not only that, but it’s a revitalizing formula, as well as a sport formula.  (If there were a doping control at EC, I’d probably have washed my hair and man-parts with mere soap, just to be on the safe side.)  Did this shampoo actually revitalize me?  Damn right it did.

Dinner was magnificent.  We went to the Upper Crust Pizza Company for the fifth year in a row.  Last year I vowed to get my own pizza for an appetizer, because it was so painful not eating more than my fair share last time.  (Ian said this restraint was also painful to watch.)  But Craig offered to split a pizza with me, and then Ian said we could all three share one if we got the XL “Giganticus” size (as Ian called it).  So we did that, and refused to share with the others.  This didn’t bother Mike or Jamie, who also ordered appetizer pizzas.  Plus our entrées came with soup or salad.  This year they didn’t have the curiously spicy cream of mushroom, but instead potato-leek that was so good I discreetly licked my bowl.  I hope nobody saw me.  Actually, I don’t even care who saw me.  And I’d do it again.

My entrée was the spaghetti Bolognese.  It was very good, though the sauce was not so rich that it would be a solid at room temperature, which is my gold standard.  Not the hugest portion either, but the pizza helped and I also inherited some steak.  This steak was very rare, which I really dug.  It awakened something primal in me, in fact, and I’m thinking of having some rare steak in the cooler during next year’s EC, just to prime me for an attack.  I don’t know who I’ll attack or why, but it’s going to be glorious.

To be continued…

You probably feel sorry for yourself because this story has been so long.  Gosh, I feel really bad.  But don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to rest and recover, maybe put a cool washcloth over your tired eyes and get a manicure on your mouse hand, before I get around to writing the second and final installment.  Check back, because something disastrous happened on day two that’s almost daytime talk show material.  You won’t want to miss it.


  1. Dana, we spoke to each other briefly after day 2. We had finished in succession and each mentioned how we had taken it easy all day until finally riding harder at the very end. Anyway, I was poking around looking for EC race reports and came across your blog. I have to say, by the standards of NorCal race report writing, your work is brilliant. Very enjoyable reading...thanks!

    Scott (45+)

    1. Yeah, I remember you! Glad you found my tale and enjoyed it...