NOTE: This post is rated R for mild strong language.
Ideally, you’re reading this because you’ve already read my race report for Stage 1 of the 2014 Everest Challenge and are dying to find out what happened in Stage 2. If, however, you stumbled upon this page by googling “pastrami not lean” or “Jennifer Lawrence nude cycling burrito race,” please don’t leave! This post really is where you need to be … just go read about Stage 1 first. That way, much of this report will make more sense (though, honestly, probably a lot of it still won’t).
On Saturday night, I was filled with near-absolute dread. Given that Saturday’s race had featured dire cold, rain, sleet, and snow, you might assume that I dreaded a continuation of awful racing weather. Well, not exactly. In fact, I was dreading the prospect of the weather not being bad enough. I was holding out some small hope that the cold and wet would be so grossly extreme that the race would be shortened in the name of safety, or my pals would say “Let’s bag it,” so I could shrug my shoulders and follow along, thus escaping both the race and the disgrace of cowardice.
I voiced this strategy when chatting with my daughter Alexa on the phone. “Dad, you can’t quit!” she protested. “No matter what the weather’s like, you have to race! If you drop out, you’ll never forgive yourself!” Translation: “I’ll never forgive you!” And imagine the repercussions: every time my daughter gives up on something, she could throw it in my face. “Yeah, I’m a quitter!” she’ll say, “and I learned it from you!”
On Sunday morning I dressed in a long-sleeve Patagonia thermal top, shorts, jersey, leg warmers, arm warmers, Smartwool socks, a jacket, and Craig’s extra pair of full-finger gloves. (Yes, I was humbled by his superior planning, just as I’m humbled by his greater strength every time we ride.)
I confirmed at the check-in what I’d gathered the day before: I was sitting eighth in the Masters 45+ category; in ninth was the Talented Mr. Ridley, some four minutes behind me; and in tenth was Marco, whom I’ve seen every year at the EC, another ten minutes behind. So all I really had to do was finish this race without completely cracking and I could hold onto eighth. Sounds simple, eh? Well, considering I’d completely cracked two out of the last three times on this stage, and I hadn’t held anything back this year on Stage 1, things didn’t look so hot.
Stage 2 – 73 miles, 14,030 feet of climbing
There was a mile or two of neutral riding before we crossed the highway and started the real racing. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I hoped everybody would chill out (pun intended, sorry) for a good long time before dropping the hammer; it takes enough energy just staying warm. But as soon as we reached the end of the neutral section, a guy went to the front and laid down the smack. This was Chris Walker, who had finished third the day before, and was obviously wanting to turn the tables. I saw my heart rate go into the 150s and decided my legs weren’t complete shit as in years before, which was kind of nice. On the other hand, this meant I had to actually try. (You see what a frail ego I have to work with? Go ahead, pity me.)
I hung in there for a couple miles, but this was all too much. I let eight guys roll away. I looked back; the peloton was shredded like confetti behind me. As the front group continued to distance me, it shed another guy: Bobby, who had finished four minutes ahead of me, in seventh, the day before. I was soon joined from behind by Marco, his teammate Jaycee, and one other guy. We eventually caught Bobby, to form a group of five.
I was stoked to have riders to work with, but they were going a bit too fast. I couldn’t bear to let them ride away, so I just had to suffer. Can a person get better at suffering? Of course. Does suffering ever become any less unpleasant? Please. Read my lips: it sucked. It’s kind of funny how I train hard for like ten weeks for this, and my reward is abject misery for six hours, two days in a row. It’s kind of an odd thing to plan your summer around. Maybe my kids are right (“Dad, you’re crazy!”). I’m reminded of what my brother Max swears my dad said to me when he heard I’d ridden over Trail Ridge Road during a thunderstorm at fourteen: “You’re not very bright, are you?”
At least we weren’t being rained on. It was really wet at the top, though, enough that the spray got our legs and butts all wet. There’s a distinctive squeaky sound a cyclist’s wet shorts make when, after climbing out of the saddle, he sits back down. It’s like a windshield ice-scraper being dragged across ballistic nylon, and we were all making that sound. At the Glacier Lodge turnaround I took a bottle of water, mainly as ballast. A minute into the descent I saw the Talented Mr. Ridley heading up toward the turnaround. I reckoned we had three minutes on him. My group took the descent easy due to the wet, and he caught us just as the road leveled out at the bottom.
I needed more Cytomax, but as we came through the parking area before heading up Waucoba Canyon, I couldn’t find my team’s cooler. So I pulled a baggie from my jersey pocket and mixed up a bottle while riding in our paceline. “Really?” someone said. The Talented Mr. Ridley rode away from us. Marco seemed surprised. “He’s kind of a lone wolf,” I explained. Some twenty minutes later, the guy reappeared ahead, gradually drifted back to us, rode next to us for awhile, and then fell off. “There goes Lone Wolf,” Marco said.
I’ll get right to the point: our group of five got to the second summit turnaround together. It may seem like this took no time at all, the way I’m reporting it, but believe me, it took a good while. The race organizers lengthened this climb a couple years back, and I’ve never adjusted. Imagine going to the dentist and having the hygienist poke and scrape at your teeth and gums for the entire normal duration, and then—just when you think it’s all over and you can get your new toothbrush and leave—she starts all over again and goes another round with her poking tool. That’s the new, improved Waucoba Canyon climb.
We worked well on the descent and were still together when we reached the cars again. We’d all agreed to stop to refuel and shed some clothing (it had warmed up a bit). A couple of the roving race volunteers gave us some encouragement. “You’re our favorite racer!” one of them told me. I must have looked as bewildered as I felt because she went on to explain, “You smile more than anybody else!” Now I was more confused than ever. Could I have actually smiled at any point during this race? She must have mistaken my rictus of pain. Still, as misguided as the statement was, it’s still the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me, and I suppose I was encouraged.
I toiled away solo, buried in my lowest gear, starting to actually get too warm for the first time all weekend. Paul and Ken drove by in the Intimidation Van. “Do you need anything?” they called out. I did—I needed a lot of things, starting with a higher VO2 max and improved lactate threshold—but I didn’t need anything they could provide. I hoped I didn’t look too pathetic, pedaling away like a girl scout fighting the fierce current of Lake Chabot in a crappy little paddle boat.
Paul drove ahead and parked so I could ditch my jacket and arm warmers as I came by. Ken was quick enough to snap a photo. Look carefully at my crow’s feet—which are actually longer than an actual crow’s actual feet—and Paul’s waiting hands at the right edge of the frame.
The group of four that I’d dropped from was still visible at various points, and it disgorged another of its riders, whom over a period of twenty minutes I caught and dropped. Then Jaycee fell off the pace, and I gradually made up ground on him for another thirty minutes until, along a straight, shallow section of road, I saw him off the side of the road peeing. It seemed a pity to pass him under such circumstances, but my supersized bladder is one of my only athletic talents and I suppose I should take advantage of it when I can.
Not long after thus moving into ninth on the road, I suddenly felt completely nauseated. This happens sometimes, particularly at altitude (I was at about 7,000 feet elevation), and I truly hoped I wouldn’t hurl. Barf is really caustic so even just a mouthful can make your throat burn for hours. Fortunately I only dry-heaved. I did this a number of times. You know things are bad when you “only” dry-heave and feel fortunate about it. I retched wretchedly for a couple of minutes, and then felt a bit better and soldiered on.
Paul and Ken drove by again. I’m sure they felt a bit awkward trying to say something encouraging to somebody locked in such a seemingly pointless struggle, with so far still to go. What could they say? “Almost there!” No, that’s not true. And “You’re doing great!” might come off as sarcastic. But these guys know what they’re doing. “Dana, there are two bearded riders behind you!” Paul called out. “You are leading the bearded division!”
The temperature steadily dropped. The next time I came upon the parked van I got my arm warmers and jacket back from the guys and put them back on. Riding on, I was aware of a rider gradually catching up to me, but knew by his form that it wasn’t the Talented Mr. Ridley. Eventually the guy caught me. It was one of the bearded guys, and he pulled level right at the 5-KM-to-go sign. I felt oddly demoralized: not because I was getting passed (this guy wasn’t even in my category), but by how tired this guy looked. I thought he’d just roll away from me, but he couldn’t; it was like catching me had taken all he had. He was a living reminder of how hard this was. And for the first time all weekend, I began to battle despair.
How could I, with just 5K to go? Well, they’re long kilometers. I had about 1,000 vertical feet yet to climb. And it just suddenly seemed as though I couldn’t do it anymore. My legs simply didn’t want to turn the pedals. What if I stop? I wondered. Just for a minute? Just a little rest? I knew, of course, that these were the crazed delusions of a madman. I was like a car with an almost-dead battery: if I shut off the engine, I’d never get it going again. But 5K? It couldn’t be done! I reminded myself what was at stake: Marco (in tenth) was surely only a couple minutes ahead, and The Talented Mr. Ridley was behind me and unlikely to catch up, much less drop me by four minutes. All I really needed to do was finish. But that made it worse: so close, yet so far.
And so: I just kept pedaling, somehow. And after a few minutes, the damnedest thing happened: I started to feel better. Not so much physically, but emotionally. My mind relaxed. Yes, I can do this, I realized. Perhaps the grade had let up a bit, or the energy drink was doing its thing. Whatever the case, the despair melted away and in fact now struck me as having been silly. This was an epiphany of sorts: the idea that despair can just be a passing mood, that goes away all by itself. I suppose I’ve heard words to this effect before, but now I’ve experienced it. I’m going to remember it.
I reached the finish, made sure the ref got my number, rolled down to the refreshment station, grabbed a couple Clif bars, got my medal and t-shirt, and rode immediately back to the van before my tired body could cool off. Even still I froze my ass off before reaching the van. Ian and Craig rode by after a bit, and made a quick turnaround after the finish themselves. We didn’t even pause for a photo-op; this was the only shot I managed to get.
We showered at the hot springs. I had a beer stashed in the cooler and chugged it: doctor’s orders. We went to Erick Schat’s for sandwiches, where we encountered (at like 3 p.m., spang between lunch and dinner) a crazy mob of people. We had to sit outside in the cold. Here we are.
Here is my sandwich. It became more glorious when I’d stuffed the tomatoes, pickle, and sauerkraut into it.
Not shown: the crazy bird that attacked Paul, and then attacked Craig. Also not shown: the little kid who started crying when Craig violently shooed away the crazy bird. Seriously weird goings-on. At least there wasn’t a group of firemen seated next to us, as there had been at Astorga’s and then at the Italian joint the next night. For them to have joined us a third time would have been too much. Instead it just started to rain. We finished our lunches standing under the eaves.
We got on the road earlier than ever before, only to see on a flashing roadside sign that Highway 120, through Yosemite, was closed, along with the next highway to the north over Sonora Pass. Getting home looked like it would take forever, meaning our merry band would go the way of the Donner Party, or the guys in “Deliverance” or “The Osterman Weekend.” Fortunately, Highway 120 was open when we reached it. Look closely in this photo (taken at the park entrance where we stopped to pee) and you’ll see the blowing snow.
We stopped at the pizza place in Groveland. The staff seemed really out of it, bickering over who had to make the pizzas. Ken asked if we could get a basil and tomato pizza and the cashier said, “No, we can’t make that.” He asked which ingredient they couldn’t do, and she absolutely could not parse the question. When I described this to Ian (outside) he said, “But that’s a classic Margherita pizza!” I replied, “If I tell her that, she’ll say they don’t have a liquor license.”
I think the pizza-making job finally went to this fat guy in a filthy t-shirt who was chewing on a toothpick. The poor cashier took a long time miscalculating the check. I asked for a receipt and she had to write it out by hand on a scrap of paper, misspelling the name of the restaurant. We got the two pizzas to go and ate them in the dark (the dome light seeming unwise as Paul was driving us down Priest Grade). Ken said, “Dana, I’m gonna be pissed if I come across that guy’s toothpick.” The thing is, it was nevertheless pretty dang good pizza. Or were we just insanely hungry?
On my third (short) ride after the EC, I went to shift into my big ring and my front derailleur cable snapped. Bizarre. I can’t help but feel grateful that this hadn’t happened during the race, when—despite the awful weather and rote suffering—nothing major went wrong. And now I’ve been clobbered by a virus, which so easily could have struck earlier. I’m pretty jazzed about this race, really; on my sixth try, I feel like I pretty much finally got it right.