Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The summer of our discontent.

In my life of riding bikes I've had pretty good luck. In all the races and/or rides I've done I've not much more than a flat tire which is easily repaired on the road or trail (yes there was a derailleur in Fruita once, but that was at the beginning of the last ride of the last day so it wasn't a huge issue). All that luck came to a shitty demise this year. 

Now understand that all these issues that I had this year have been really freak things and I'd say that they probably shouldn't happen again.  We can start telling the tale of woe with the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder at the beginning of the summer and a derailleur that was torn off my bike less than 10 miles in to the race. There was mud involved, a gravel road that was a bit rough and a derailleur that was bouncing around and finally into the spokes where it met its demise. Freak right?
The Gold Rush Gravel Grinder freakiness...

Next was the Tatanka 100 and the absolute downpour that was going on at the start of the race which caused more than half the field to not even start and of those that did almost half of those didn't finish. (I was one of those that didn't start. While I'm bummed I didn't get to do it, I don't regret not starting that day, or there could be even more tales of busted bike stuff). So we had freaky weather. Chalk up one more freak occurrence. 

Black Hills Back 40 was my next chance to get freaky. I got a flat early on in the race, but I'll completely blame that on pilot error. The second I hit the obstacle that caused the flat I knew that I was going to have one. No, the real treat came 10+ miles later when I had a really light tumble off the side of the trail. The crash was about as gentle of a wreck as a guy could ask for, just causing me to get a little dirty. In said crash, my bike landed in the perfectly right (or wrong depending on your perspective) way breaking my brake lever into two pieces. COMPLETELY FREAK, right? 
Umm, is it a brake lever or a break lever?
Which brings me to the latest and greatest freak thing. The ride/race I've been focused on all summer. The one I've put umpteen hours in on my bike for…the Leadville 100

Cleaver and I at the start with a little photo bomb from the Boy.
Leading up to the start of the race, everything was proceeding as planned. Cleaver and I got lined up in our corral (not unlike leading cattle to slaughter) where the newbies/first-timers/you-haven't-paid-for-one-of-our-other-races racers go which is WAAAYYY in the back of the pack. The gun went off and we didn't. There we sat for 3-4 minutes and then we finally started to roll out. Blasting down the hill out of town on what would most likely be a long day in the saddle. 

We finally turned off the pavement and onto a gravel road and started to climb. At this point we were about 4 miles in when I heard/felt this little *PLINK* and then suddenly didn't have a seat anymore. WHAT THE HELL?!  I slammed on the brakes to find a tiny 1" stub of jagged seatpost sticking out of my frame and the remainder of my seatpost and seat lying on the road behind me as hundreds of riders went zooming by. "THIS ISN'T FAIR!" my brain was screaming. All this effort and time and you're gonna get to ride 4 fucking miles? It took me a minute to assess the situation and realize that I couldn't stop yet. I whipped my phone out and texted my Lovely, the Boy and my mom and asked them to meet me at the Pipeline aid station (24 miles away) with the Boy's seat/seatpost from his bike. I now had to figure out how to get there. I tried to pull the stub out of my frame but couldn't get enough of a grip on such a tiny piece. My next thought was to jam a stick into the stump and put the other part on top which worked for about a mile. Finally I was resigned to the fact that I was going to have stand up and ride with no seat and a jagged, cookie cutter piece of seatpost staring me right in the taint. As a SAR (search and rescue) worker on a quad came up I asked how far until the next aid station (where I might be able to get that stump out) "About two miles" he said. SWEET. Off I went, standing and pedaling as much as traction would allow. As the gravel roads got steeper, I found myself having to push up a few of the climbs as my tire would spin out because of my forward weight distribution. 
The jagged remains of my seatpost.  
(The post-mortem inspection of the seatpost revealed a couple of deep "nicks" that were stress risers where the post broke.)

As I was climbing, about 1.5 miles later, I encountered another person. He saw my predicament and said, "Wow, that sucks! You're crazy. The next aid station is about 2 more miles."  What the? The last guy said it was two miles and that was nearly two miles ago! SHIT. Just keep pedaling…

As I crested one of the last climbs, there was another racer trail side. I asked if everything was OK, to which he replied with a very stress filled "NO!" At this point I knew I was pretty screwed, so stopping to help him wasn't going to change anything.  I pulled over and helped him get his chain fixed. He was so frazzled that he couldn't figure out how to get everything together. 5 minutes later he was up and running and so ecstatic that I got him running that he said he'd buy me anything I wanted. I almost asked him for his seatpost, but I figured it might be a bit much, but I'll take some karma points instead. 

Five miles after breaking the post I got to the first aid station where a person had a big ol' set of pliers that I used to get the stump out of my frame.  The stumpy portion (pictured above) went in and I was off! My seat was about 4" too low, but I could sit and spin up climbs, at least as much as having my knees come up to my armpits would allow. I pushed as hard as I could to get to the Pipeline aid station, never getting passed by a rider, but passing many myself (this isn't bragging, there is actually a point to me telling you about passing people, just hang on). After losing almost 30 minutes of time (according to my Garmin's "stoppage time") just fixing my seat, much less the slower pace I had to ride at standing up and with a seat too low,  I knew it was going to be very close getting to Twin Lakes before the 4 hour cutoff. I approached one rider named Conner that was sporting the Leadman number plate (the Leadman/Leadwoman are also doing the 100 mile running race the following weekend) and we rode together for quite a while. It was good to take my mind off of the situation for a while and just churn the pedals. As the climb over the Powerline got steeper, he pulled away from me for a bit. Cresting the Powerline was a great moment as I knew I'd have some decent downhill to the Pipeline aid station. 

I passed about 50 people on the climb to Powerline and the subsequent downhill and rode hard on the pavement to get to the aid station. On the road I caught back up with Conner and we conversed on our way to the aid station. He said I was crazy (There it was again, crazy.  Am I?) for going this long in my predicament and he thought I'd totally lose him once I got a seatpost that was the right length (I did pass him shortly after changing my post out and didn't see him again until later that day.)

We rounded the bend and I saw the Boy waiting for me! I don't know if I've ever been so excited!  He yelled directions to me of where my Lovely and mom were and I pushed hard to get to them. I quickly switched my seat and post out and took off. It was past the 3 hour mark and I had about 12 miles to go. It was probably unlikely that I'd make it by the 4 hour mark, but I couldn't just quit.  

I rode as hard as I could for the next hour, once again passing many and not being passed by anyone. As I crested the last hill before we started to descend to Twin Lakes my clock ticked over the 4 hour mark. I knew I was screwed. I pushed on anyhow, hoping against hope that I'd somehow get through the checkpoint. 

As I crossed the dam at Twin Lakes, I could see the timing station. As I got closer, the lady that pulls people from the race stepped out of the shadows and pointed me to the right. She walked up, said "I'm sorry," and pulled the timing chip off my number plate and gave me a hug. 12 minutes. I missed the cutoff by 12 damn minutes! I turned myself inside out for the last 35 miles and it wasn't enough by 12 lousy minutes. 

As I slowly rolled over to our crew, I had a rash of confusing emotions. I was happy with my effort and ingenuity in light of the circumstances, I was really disappointed in how things turned out. I was thankful for my family and how they tried so hard to help me but I was completely pissed that I dragged them 500 miles for such a shitty ending. I was happy that I was OK, but super bummed that all those people that I passed, most of whom put in a ton of training and a valiant effort that day were also done. 

We stayed and crewed for anyone that needed it and our guys, Cleaver and Andy (both of whom finished under 12 hours). One guy came in with a flat rear tire, but had lost his tools somewhere on the long, bumpy Columbine descent.  I got his wheel off, helped him get stuff rearranged and going again.  More karma points.

On a side note, as we were driving the 22 miles back into Leadville, a few miles down the road we came across a guy riding toward town. He had a number plate on his bike, so I pulled over to see if he needed help. He also had missed the time cutoff and didn't have a ride into town. We loaded him up and took him to his car.  If nothing else I was racking up serious karma points. 

A bunch of the crew including Andy and Cleaver (two on the right) with Ken Chlouber, the Leadville 100 founder.  Note,
I am NOT in the picture. Grrr.

The next day my mixed emotions turned mostly to anger as I watched all those people get their belt buckles and finishers jackets. I should have been their with them. I know I could have done it especially with how close I was with all the issues I had. And now I'm gonna have to do it all over again next year. Except this time you can be damn well sure I'll have a new seatpost or I'm turning in my punch card with all those karma points.