NOTE: This post is rated R for mild strong language
and mature themes.
As I begin
this report, it is the Wednesday evening after the Everest Challenge
. I was going to go for a bike ride—just
because it’s so nice outside and I want to know again what warm sun feels
like—but my wife put the kibosh on that.
“Your breathing still isn’t back to normal,” she says. She’s right about that … it’s like I’m still
trying to catch my breath. I told her I’d
already talked to my doctor about it.
She knows “my doctor” means my friend who’s a doctor who specializes in
pulmonary problems. She asked if he had
any theories. “Nope, he wasn’t
concerned,” I told her. “And I know what
he’d say if pressed him: ‘You’re a pussy!’”
Challenge, my sixth, was different from the others. For one thing, I actually caught the names of
a few of the leaders, including the guy who I think ended up winning. But don’t worry, I won’t bore you with such
details. This report focuses on the
food, the difficulties, and the deranged culture of the event.
This was also my first year in the Masters 45+
category. But the biggest difference was that instead
of being unbearably hot, the weather this year was unbearably cold. So don your fuzzy slippers, grab a nice hot
cup of joe, forward your phone, and prepare for some highly indulgent
We met at
’s place, where we loaded up Paul’s kickass Endurance team van, which—being all modern and sporting
a custom paint job and a giant bike rack
—is so pro that we’re vicariously
intimidated by ourselves. New for this
year is that all five of our bikes were badass black. (I guess that’s not such a coincidence when
almost all road bikes, it seems, are now black.)
I was a bit
late meeting the others because I got held up performing an emergency Epley
maneuver. At least I had an excuse the guys
probably hadn’t heard before.
has only two rules regarding the Everest Challenge: 1) don’t talk about the Everest Challenge; and
2) bring baked goods for the drive. I
think as long as I obey the second rule, the guys will cut me some slack on the
first. My daughter Alexa baked us a
bunch of butterscotch brownies. They
were so good. So were the cookies and
chocolate the other guys brang. (Yeah, I
know “brang” isn’t a word, but that sentence was getting boring.)
Lunch was at
Priest’s Station again, though it almost wasn’t. We got there unusually early and the host
told us they weren’t serving lunch yet.
He seemed relieved to be turning us away. We were on the brink of leaving until Paul,
who’d been outside when we got the news, came up with the brilliant idea of
finding out when they did start
serving lunch, which turned out to be just ten minutes away.
I won’t go
into everything everybody ate, but we did have some intrigue when Ken tried to
[Ken] “I’d like to get the vegan sandwich, but can you
[Waitress] “No, I can’t do that.”
[Ken] “Why not?
Isn’t the customer always right?”
[Waitress] “I’d like to, but that sandwich you describe
… it cannot be. It does not exist.”
[Ken] “Look, I grasp that it wouldn’t be a vegan
sandwich anymore. But I want the
[Waitress] “The addition of cheese obliterates the very
essence of the vegan sandwich. Not being
our vegan offering anymore, the sandwich thus vanishes from our menu so you’d
be adding cheese to nothing, to a phantom, to a lack.”
[Waitress] “Hey, I’m just a waitress … I cannot alter
fundamental ontological laws.”
confess that I’ve exaggerated that exchange a bit. What really happened is that Ken wondered
aloud beforehand about whether he’d get any flak for adding cheese to a vegan
sandwich. When he (almost sheepishly)
asked, the waitress said something like “Of course!” which suggested that the
word “vegan” meant no more to her than “cowboy” in the context of my cowboy
burger (grass-fed beef, bacon, BBQ sauce, onion rings—very tasty though it made
a mess in my beard, which may be why hipsters so often order non-messy things
like tahini pita).
stopped for gas at the eastern edge of Yosemite, we couldn’t believe how windy
it was. The forecast was for
unseasonably cooler weather, which started on a promising note (mid-‘70s) but
become ominous, with some websites forecasting rain. (We enjoyed a long discourse on the probable
evolution of weather forecasting, which must have started with Ouija boards but
evolved to include almanacs just to get predictions into a saner range.) But when we got to Bishop and headed out for
our traditional spin-the-legs ride, we enjoyed sun and temps in the mid-‘80s.
at Astorga’s, the Mexican joint, again. They
seated us in a back room, away from the decent
guests. We were all clean and
presentable .. .what gives? Maybe we’re
too thin. Anyway, something big was
going down in the kitchen and nothing was coming out. We ate at least a basket or two of chips
apiece while waiting. I wanted the combo
with a beef taco and chicken enchilada and Craig ordered the opposite, just to spleen
me. I was unfazed until I got a beef
taco and beef enchilada and both of Craig’s items were chicken. “Boo-ya, motherfrockles!” the waitress did
left, it was significantly colder out. At
the motel we set about pinning our numbers and mixing up bottles. This year I even got organized and put a little
sticker on my handlebars telling the mileage of each summit so I could mark my
knowing he’d be groggy in the morning, wrote a to-do list for the morning:
The order is
important. If you dress before shitting,
you’ll have to take your jersey and jacket back off to drop the bib
shorts. If you eat before heating your
food, your food will be raw. Etc.
Stage 1 – 89.2 miles, hella climbing
I say “hella
climbing” instead of the normal precise number because the course had a
last-minute change due to road construction and/or an evil troll crouching near
the roadway. So we did the traditional first
climb (to South Lake, elevation 9,835’), then the standard second climb (to Pine
Creek, elevation 7,425’), and then the first climb again.
I woke up
dark and early, full of butterflies, and groped for my smartphone
the time. I was pleased by neither the
time nor the active-background weather update for Bishop:
Craig was using
some fancy-pants Weather Underground app to predict the weather at the higher
elevations, and the forecast for South Lake was for snow turning to rain and
then back to snow. D’oh.
We began our
day. I burst out laughing to see Craig’s
oatmeal in the microwave: a serving the
size of a grapefruit. I opened the door
to snap a photo and the oatmeal sank. It
was mostly air, bubbling up as it cooked.
Still, a hearty helping.
eating Uncle Sam cereal pre-race again.
It’s just like cardboard and is like 30% flax seeds. I also ate a tasty old-school granola bar
2-pack that had expired during the Clinton administration.
over whether to save my wool socks for Sunday (which had an even worse
forecast) before discovering, to my delight, that I’d brought two pairs. These were not only Smartwools
a Christmas present from my mom, so you know I was super-stoked. Alas, I only had one long-sleeve thermal base
layer and saved it for Stage 2. The rain
had stopped before we mobilized but it was still plenty cold. Less cold, of course, than what we’d be
facing at South Lake.
When we got
to the start line, my bowels asserted themselves again and I had to ride off to
the comfort station and do one last purge.
It was farther away than I’d remembered, and I rolled up to the starting
line about 15 seconds before the start.
The ref laughed. “There’s one in
every peloton,” Paul said.
climb was brutal. Determined not to wuss
out and over-conserve my energy as I had last year
, I dug good and deep and was
still with the leaders until about halfway to the summit. Then some damn climber type got a little
aggro, others responded, and eventually my heart rate got too high for too long
and I had to let six guys roll away, lest I detonate 13 miles into an 89-mile
race. When the grade flattened a bit I
eventually made it back to them, along with Ken and a couple big rolleur
types. We latched quietly on the back of
the lead group and sat in.
A few more
dropped riders got back on, and right about the time I was thinking, “Wow, this
is kind of a big group for this far into the climb,” Ken said, “Wow, this is
kind of a big group for this far into the climb!” The climbers must have heard, because the
hammer went down again. Plus, the road
pitched up with a vengeance. It was
freezing cold up there, there was snow on the side of the road, I was carrying
175 pounds of blood and guts and my solid penguin-style bones, and a gap
started opening. I saw the 0.2 KM sign
and figured whatever gap the pocket climbers got, I’d be able to close it on
heard this isk-isk-isk sound and looked at my rear brake. The rim was hitting it! Had I broken a spoke? No wonder I was hurting so bad! I turned around at the turnaround (as one
does) and stopped to put on my jacket. Craig (racing in the 35+ category
with Ian) was there, zipping up his. I asked him to check my wheel. He said it was fine. (I discovered later that one of the decals
had started peeling, and that was all that was hitting the brake, which wasn’t
Seeing as to
how the leaders we already underway, I said to Craig, “Let’s go!” I couldn’t believe my luck: descending behind Craig is a wonderful
thing. Encountering him here looked like
the best thing to happen to me since I missed my transfer (by like a mile) riding a
San Francisco city bus and the driver, having just finished her shift, actually
drove me home.
But here I was
deluding myself. “Sorry dude, Ian’s
taking a piss,” Craig said. “You better
get going—your leaders are down the road.”
He didn’t need to add, “You bozo!” because this was implicit. I’d have hauled ass down the twisty, narrow
road except I was afraid of frost and ice.
I took it easy for awhile. When I
got back into the sun I chased like a mofo and eventually caught the
leaders. In fact, after I passed them I
accidentally dropped them all via my aerodynamic tuck and my penguin bones. So
then I had to coast awhile, untucked like a slob’s shirt, and let them
catch up. I kind of missed the hammering
I’d been doing … at least it had kept me a bit warmer.
climber bastards. They’re even skinnier
than I am and a few weren’t even wearing leg warmers. A couple of these guys were shaking so badly
they could barely control their bikes. I
gave them plenty of room.
about my constant climber-bashing: I
actually have nothing against climbers and in fact hold them in high
regard. But their ability to roll away
from me on pivotal uphills just isn’t something I can take sitting down. Or standing up. It rankles.
It would be dishonest not to share with you the feelings I had during
the race, even if these feelings evaporated immediately afterward.)
On the flat
section it was really windy and I was hoping to put more distance between our
group of 11 and the couple dozen guys who’d been dropped. But the climbers wouldn’t help. Their attitude seemed to be, “Who cares how
many guys latch back on? I’m a climber
and another climb is coming up and I’ll just drop them again, ha-ha!” Fine.
But they don’t get to self-identify with draft horses or oxen … just
little ponies or maybe lapdogs. Ken and
I did most of the work until the second climb.
from the summit the pace got too high and again I released myself from the
leaders on my own recognizance.
Fortunately, two big guys decided to detach with me. One of them, Marco, I’ve raced with pretty
much every year at EC. The other didn’t
look familiar but he had a cool Belgian-themed bike and good form. I later learned his name was Bobby. So we suffered along together for awhile
before Marco said, “Hey, welcome back” to this fourth dude. This guy was particularly lean, with really
veiny legs and a fancy Ridley bike. But
he didn’t hang around … he went by us and gradually pulled away. This seemed kind of stupid to me. I mean, he wasn’t going to catch the leaders,
and we were bound to catch him on the descent or the flat section later, so what
was the point of expending extra energy opening up a gap on us? But hey, free country.
after reaching the summit together and sharing the wind on the descent and the
flats for about ten miles, our trio caught the veiny-legged Ridley guy. As we approached the road where all the cars
were parked, I thought about stopping for a couple fresh bottles. (The race-supplied energy drink tends to give
me debilitating gas, along with others I know who have used it. Paul said it once blew his belly up like a
balloon, and when he was finally able to begin farting post-race, each passing
of gas shrunk his belly visibly.) Of
course it’s a shame to break up a group, so I was contemplating suggesting to
the other guys that we all stop at our cars and then sync back up. At that moment the veiny/Ridley guy suggested
exactly that. So we all stopped at our
cars—except him. He just kept right on
going! “Aha,” he must have thought, “I tricked
them!” Bobby said mildly, “That wasn’t
We had a
strong, cold crosswind on the final climb. Marco must have fallen off at some point. Bobby and I picked up a couple other good riders (from other
categories) and were steaming along pretty well when I saw the Talented Mr. Ridley
ahead in the distance. I knew I
wouldn’t last in this group for the whole climb, but hoped we’d pass and drop
this guy before I had to back off. When
we went by him I didn’t even look back to see if he’d latched on. I just settled in and suffered. I know the road would turn eventually, so the
wind might not be so bad. When I finally
eased off and peeked over my shoulder, the
Talented Mr. Ridley was way off the back.
This stoked my coals. I don’t
mind telling you, I hoped we’d completely crushed his morale.
he was not all I had to worry about. Survival
was very much on my mind. It was getting
ever colder as I gained altitude, and then it started to rain. No, it wasn’t a deluge, but enough but enough
to soak my chamois, which makes Hank cranky.
How much weight does a drenched jacket add? Oh well.
Then the rain turned briefly to sleet before becoming snow. Again, not a lot, but—snow! Dang!
And there was that damn wind. I
won’t go into tedious detail about how long the next ten miles felt. If you really want a taste of what it was
like, read this paragraph repeatedly for the next hour while punching yourself
with a bag of frozen peas.
up next to me in the Intimidation van and called out encouragement. He would go on to park it as far up the climb
as he was allowed, so we wouldn’t have to descend the full twenty miles to the
start area after the race. HUGE.
made it to the finish, though this required some paperboy-style weaving on the
steepest pitches. (Despite having
already disgraced myself with a compact crank
maybe I’ll use a wussy 27-tooth cog
next year—there, are you happy now!?
) In case you’re wondering, I reached
the finish almost four minutes ahead of the Talented Mr. Ridley.
it was dry at the top and the sun even managed to poke through a bit. I was drying out nicely. A volunteer handed me a cup of hot cocoa which
was so perfectly appropriate, it almost brought me to tears. It even had a few clumps of un-dissolved cocoa
mix, like chocolate croutons. Then I had
a bowl of hot noodle soup or two and various sugary treats. I found the sag vehicle and my (sadly under-stocked) warm-clothing
Barnes, the race director, recognized me despite my beard (which is more than I
can say for many people in my community, such as the shocked school mom who
wondered who this dangerous-looking stranger was walking along with my daughter). Steve asked how the beard was treating me,
and I pointed out that not only did it keep my face warm, but the moustache
traps snot, which can be harvested later for its valuable electrolytes. He’d not been aware of this, perhaps because
I’d just made it up (though I think it’s actually true).
Ian rolled in and had themselves some calories.
Here we are.
photo is intended to showcase the dusting of snow on the mountains, and I
suppose it does (though such things never look as good in photos). Bonus:
it also showcases two other bearded racers.
We had just
started our frigid descent to the van when I realized nobody had grabbed Ken’s clothing
bag. (He’d ended his race at the van on
the way up, having suffered a moment of clarity about our absurd situation and
an ominous tightness in his chest.) So I
screamed for Craig (ahead of me) to stop, and the three of us re-climbed the
200-meter 16% finishing wall. That
really hurt, in every way. I felt like I
should have something to show for such an effort, so while Ian fetched Ken’s bag
I had Craig take my photo with a couple of local superheroes. If you look closely at this photo you’ll see
that the snow had started up again.
By the time
we got to the van I was completely frozen.
Hanging around at the finish line and diverting all my blood to my
stomach had serious consequences, as had neglecting to bring full-finger
gloves. Craig reported that my lips were
at our old standby, the Upper Crust Pizza Company. For some reason I listened to Ian and Craig,
who thought that last year’s strategy—splitting an XL pizza among the three of
us as an appetizer—was overkill, and that we should just get two smalls. That place has seriously good ‘za and (though
I say this every year) next time I swear I’m going to get my very own pizza
appetizer. But the ‘za, some bread, a
bowl of soup, and the yummy chicken marsala pasta did a good-enough job of replacing
my lost calories.
I was pretty
happy with how I rode on the first stage.
(I was 8th in a good-sized M45+ field.)
I was less happy with the weather, and with the forecast for
Sunday. In fact, the wimp in my brain
was half-hoping the weather would be so bad for Stage 2 that we’d be able to
bag the whole thing without completely sacrificing our dignity.
tell you right now, Stage 2
And as I’ve pointed out many times before, recovery is my greatest
weakness: the better I go on Stage 1,
the more I pay for it on Stage 2
. So if
you’re not satisfied with the level of misery I’ve described above, check back
because believe me, there’s more to come