Sunday, March 1, 2009

More Grasshopper

(somehow this post ended up almost as long as the ride itself. It hurt less, though)

This was probably the hardest day on a bike I've had, other than last year's Shasta Lemurian.

There were, I think, close to 200 people who started this ride. From what I hear, there were at least 3 mountain bike olympians, as well as a ton of miscellaneous fast folks. The ride started out with a big road spin. 200 people in a big pack, when many of them do not know how to ride in a group (like, me, for example) makes for a sketchy beginning.

About 20 minutes in to the ride, the pack declared a "nature break". Davin and I joined in. A little struggling with camelbaks and other kit, and by the time we were done, we were well off the back. We started rotating back and forth to try to catch the pack, since we had only a vague idea of where we were going. We picked up another rider at one point, and he slotted in nicely with us, till we hit the bottom of the first climb. This climb was surprisingly steep, but we made it up in good order nonetheless. Around the top of the first climb we went by Derrick, and on the way down managed to almost make the Cherry Road turn. We rode the next flat section in a group of about ten people, which promptly broke apart when we hit the next big climb, Old Caz.

Unfortunately, I was on the wrong end of the broken group. Davin just waltzed up out of sight, and meanwhile I struggled up the hill, getting passed by pairs of people chatting away, guys 20 years older than me, and probably people walking. I knew I was really in trouble when most of the way up, Derrick blew by me on his full-suspension mountain bike. Getting passed by someone on a duallie uphill is not usually a good sign. Fortunately, I was able to keep up with Derrick til the top of the climb, where Davin was handing out whiskey shots, and waiting with a couple other folks.

I grabbed some food out of my pack and had a quick nip or two to get in the right frame of mind, and then Davin, Derrick, Evan (the East Bay Alleycx organizer) and I started down the pretty swoopy dirt descent. Our fun was cut very short when we ran across a pretty horrifyiing sight. A dog tied in the back of a pickup had jumped out of the bed. Unfortunately, the rope was not long enough for it to actually reach the ground, and it was struggling to keep from hanging itself. We stopped, and not eager to try to handle an agitated dog struggling for its life, we started shouting for its owner, who had passed us going up the road on an ATV a minute before. Davin just started to go up the road to chase him down when a woman came from the field and tried to get it into the bed. Derrick dropped his brand new bike to help out, and between them, they wrestled the dog back into the truck, hopefully to stay.

The rest of the descent was pretty damn fun. Twisty, a little slick, and only slightly rocky. Since I was running pretty high tire pressure, though, it was pretty bumpy. But I made it to the bottom, where I was confronted by a 25-foot wide stream. I picked up my bike and waded across, in water up to my knees, to the far bank, where I saw Blake Van Knopka from Team Oakland (who'd apprently had a flat), Dustin from Touchstone, and a few other folks. Davin had apparently stopped to help someone with a screwed up chain, so I ended up waiting five or so minutes for him, while everyone else I know took off.

Eventually he showed up and we started the climb up out of the streambed with a guy in a Rock Lobster kit. He and Davin chatted about cars while I struggled grimly to stay with them. Eventually, we got to the paved road, which was a stunningly twisty downhill to a bridge and back along a road we'd already ridden the other way. We almost made the Austin Creek (?) turnoff, and only had to backtrack 25 feet or so to get to it. Austin Creek is a rolling, moderate uphill, and I was slowly starting to get my wind back, so the three of us ended up putting together a pretty good pace here. Eventually, we picked up a crew of around 5 people, including Rock Lobster guy and a guy on a Trek full-suspension bike. Davin and I each took a pull, then Trek guy took a monster pull, which dropped everybody else off the back, and then caused him to blow up spectacularly immediately after, leaving Davin and me to roll away.

As we turned onto 116, we saw a group of about half a dozen riders up ahead, and decided to catch them. Davin threw down a big effort and dragged me up to the group, which included Evan, Paul from Team Oakland, and was led by the mighty Blake Van Knopka. Earlier this month Blake spent a week with the MASH/SF guys riding the Tour of California route--on a fixed gear. So he turns out to be in pretty good shape these days. He was setting a pretty good pace, but every time he'd pull off to let someone else come through, no one would. Eventually, Davin and I (having been sitting on the back of the group for a couple minutes) started to feel bad about this, and jumped up to the front to help share the load.

I pulled first, and then when I was done, Davin stepped up, but whoever was on his wheel had left a big gap, so I dropped back just to second. Some of the guys in back missed this exchange, I think, cause about 30 seconds later someone called out "that's a huge pull, Sasha." I, of course, was not even pulling at all at that point.

Eventually Blake came through again, only to have the group shattered by a moderate climb as we hit Highway 1. On the short stretch of 1 we passed Derrick, who was valiantly barrelling along at the end of another group. As we turned back inland, our group of folks had been reduced to just Blake, Davin, and myself. The next 5 or so miles we spent trying to stay on Blake's wheel as he rolled along. I started to have a better understanding of what happened earlier, as every time I tried to take the lead, I would immediately redline, and he'd have to come drag me along more.

Eventually, we started the dirt climb. At first it was pretty moderate. We stopped for a food and nature break, and then after we started up, it became clear that we were just holding Blake back. He eventually rode off, and then the real suffering started. That climb was endless. We went up and up and up, both starting to cramp, starting to hurt in parts that rarely hurt from a bike ride. At one point, Dustin came wailing by (no idea how he'd gotten behind us) and disappeared around a switchback in pretty short order. There was one super-brutal steep section that presented a problem: how slow can you go and still turn the pedals? It was here where we were wishing for a triple chainring or mountain gearing or a motor or something. I spent what seemed like hours with a cramp just lurking in my right calf. Any exceptional effort made it seize, but it was constantly twingeing a touch, telling me it was lurking there. This section was by far the longest, most painful of the race. It felt endless, and there were parts where it seemed like millenia of geology had been somehow designed specifically to crush my spirit.

We finally made the top of the climb, and after a little milling about trying to make sure we knew where we were, we cruised down to the finish line, where we toasted the race with the rest of the whiskey, before dropping the rest of the way down to the car.

I realized from this ride that I am undertrained (and specifically, I have not done enough climbing) and that I do not understand how to eat sufficiently for a 3-4 hour race. I think I bonked several times on this ride, and given that I only ate one Mojo bar (risking salmonella, even) and one packet of clif blocks, I think I ate too little, too late. I think I am finally starting to understand the Gu thing.

1 comment:

murphy aka daten said...