Thursday, October 9, 2008
The Thunderdown @ The Underground Parts II & III
Part II: The Actual Bike Race…Or Life without Coffee is NOT worth living.
As eluded to in Part I, after my salvation and subsequent deliverance to the race site the rains came just as I was setting up my tent. The tent, while well made in Todd Bibler’s garage, is twenty-five years old and leaks precipitately, but at that point a few drops of water were not going to bother me in the least. Yet all was not well in my humble camp for as my heavy head hit pillow I was struck with the realization that I was missing a fundamental necessity of my pre-race ritual; namely the life-giving elixir known as coffee. I am hopelessly addicted to coffee and without itz recuperative powers I am rendered impotent and confused. I knew I could not start a twelve hour race without coffee, I was sure of it…What to do??? Despite the heavy rain, in an attempt to draw my harried mind away from the coffee dilemma, I climbed out of my little tent and went to my car trunk to retrieve a soothing micro-brew from my trusty cooler. Instantaneously upon seeing nothing but water-bottles and Slim-fasts in the cooler the full weight of my total negligence hit me like a sledgehammer; First No map, then almost getting assaulted by morons, then No coffee and now NO BEER- OH THE FOLLY!
Over eight hours to get to this god-forsaken place, then No coffee to get me going for the start and NO beer to look forward to and to celebrate with at the ending of the race…At that low point, sometime in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I felt like an AIG executive, like no one loved me, like a rolling stone with no direction home…Like Elvis’ croon ”with the rain in my shoes, looking for you”…Overcome with grief, I bitterly wept as I limped back to my tent. In a desperate cathartic effort at refocusing my acrimony, I pulled out my trusty little yellow legal pad and took a few general notes and supplemental musings about endurance racing in general and specifically the Thunderdown course. Below is a summation based on my tear-strained scribbles retrieved from my tent post race—
Apart from attempting to emulate the hydration practices perfected by one of my favorite American writers, E. Hemmingway, a primary motivation behind my writing is that I simply like to put pen to paper; long before the Internet I kept copious journals and as my friends can attest, I wrote long letters. Some of my most valued processions are the long letters that I received from my climbing buddies (Rocky Hardman and Mike Conway represent some of the best of the lot) as we corresponded back and forth regarding the logistics and anticipations of upcoming alpine expeditions. Essentially, I love the written word. However another reason I currently keep a record of my cycling exploits is to promote the fantastic sport of cycling. Over the last four years or so I have become especially intrigued with long endurance cycling events; perhaps because the experience is quite similar to alpine endeavors. Yet one problem that I have with most long mountain bike races is that one is only “out-there” for an hour or oft-times even less as the venues are almost always short circular affairs. The result of these short laps is that ones “support-team or apparatus” (or lack thereof) can to some extent benefit a racer’s performance but at the high expense of self-sufficiency and forfeiture of ones sense of personal adventure. While not close to some of the classic point-to-point gravel and snow races in terms of self-reliance, The Thunderdown at the Underground with itz extraordinarily long lap distance and remote position allows one the opportunity to extend ones experience as a soloist. It is important to note that while I submit to the reader that these lapped mountain bike endurance events do not comparatively challenge the rider in terms of the compelling requisites related to aspects of the pure autonomy associated with events like the RED ASS 300, they do in many concrete physical ways require more from the rider in terms of keeping ones wheels rolling fast over the required timed constraint. Case-in-point, the Arrowhead 135 is a penultimate winter cycling challenge (perhaps overshadowed only by the Alaskan Iditarod Classic) that requires a major commitment in both logistical planning and physical endurance, but the 24 Hours @ Wausau with itz one hour+ laps, beats me up physically (and mentally) substantially more than the Arrowhead. But I digress…so in any event, I really like the Thunderdown because of the comparatively long laps. Also the Thunderdown has everything that a good course should have from lots of climbing, technical single-track, fast sections, bumpy sections, beautiful vistas, lakes, streams, etc. I miss my beer…and I am worried about falling asleep because what if I fall asleep and there is no coffee available in the morning? What then???
Well I did eventually fall asleep and I did wake up to the dismal reality of attempting to ready myself for a twelve hour race sans coffee. My good friend and ardent training partner, Tim Ek, too was in a bit of a quandary come Saturday’s dawn. His torment is reflected in the following piece he generously crafted and sent to me with his consent to publish on my little blog. It makes for fun reading—
"I knew stacking two12 hour epics together back to back in two weekends would test my willingness to live, but I had no idea how bad I would want to die. Given the fact that my White Brothers (W.B.) front shock seized-up on a legendary course the previous weekend @ Blue-Mounds, I was forced to mount my super-fly HT S-Works. As the W.B. shock was residing in some Grand Junction, Co. laboratory getting its obligatory re-build, I was in pursuit of the lead pack, sans rear shock. The hard tail that I own is purely designed for fast 2 hour efforts, built entirely for speed and ease of climbing. It is fitted out with a butter knife for a saddle and numerous other replacement parts to make this thing feel like Balsa Wood. Sure, I felt light and nimble, but as anyone who has attempted these beast-like races knows; light and nimble doesn't suffice when the trail calls for plush and burly. After two hours I couldn't stop asking myself why I didn't switch out the saddle at least; how could I think that a 130 gram paper thin, saddle would feel good through 12 hours? I quickly lost the lead group on the first lap as the bike felt awkward and somehow new compared to the old full suspension I had been racing and training on all season. I watched Rosscoe float away from me on the wings of a butterfly while I twitched and over steered through the demanding single track, all the while cursing my own name. I found resolve after 5 hours in that I was on my own and the prospect of winning was now gone. I pushed, plugged, and fought through the course feeling last weekend's effort creeping into my legs in that sort of DEEP fatigue one feels after say a dehydrated double summit of an “Everest” attempt. The worst was the fact that the laps were so long that one's head became one's worst enemy. Loneliness came to me in many forms and visions. I found myself in dialogue with her (loneliness) and even singing to her at times. As the hours wore on I longed for some sense of the time. Without a time piece (no watch or heart rate monitor mounted on this rig) I actually began to look to the sun for answers. I started to make friends with the squirrels and even got excited by the occasional honking of geese overhead, calling out to them, "Hi friends.” In one particular instance a chipmunk darted out in front of my wheel and I heard my own voice cry out, "careful little buddy". What was happening to me? Those in the know would refer to it as "SLIPPING ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE". Pulling in to my pit I confidently reported to my crew/wife, Amy that I was going for six laps and that's all I could muster. However, through the fifth lap I knew the gig was up and five would be the number I would go to bed with that night. It just wasn't happening with the hard tail; in fact I was planning out what I would say to the doctors in the Wausau hospital. Something like this..."Well, Doc, I don't know how to say this so I'm just going to say it, will you please remove my anus?" I pulled in finishing the fifth lap awaiting the reception of my wonderful wife, fully expecting applause and congrats all around. Instead, I was greeted with the cold hard reality of her sleeping in a lawn chair looking snug as a bug in the sleeping bag (all joking aside, she was instrumental in my accomplishing 5 laps and keeping me fueled and moving, thanks Amy). I dismounted saw her eyes open and I simply said, "I'm done honey". So goes the life of a 12 hour racer. It don't mean nothin'."
Tim Ek and I match up very well, both of us thriving on the inherent sickness and folly that are fundamental components of these long races. The goods news is that Tim is moving up and has great potential; the bad news is that the author is sliding deeper each year into the abyss. Yet, as far as the Thunderdown was concerned, in my world, I left the start of the race confident that Rosscoe would win the race. Rosscoe Fraboni has seriously raced in only three twelve hour events in the last two years and he has never lost one. He did an initial 12 hour race three years ago at the 9 Mile course near Wausau, but he was not on his game that day and had actually decided to do the race at the last minute with no planning or really any understanding of what long races require. However, he is a quick study, and since that first race I have always considered him the favorite if he shows up. Now it would be very interesting to see how he would compare with Ron Stawicki, Scott Cole, Chris Schotz, Chris Strout, Brad Majors, Charley Tri, and a few of the other local proven enduro-players, but from what he has shown me over the last two years, I would take even odds on Rosscoe. He has the perfect temperament, endurance, and skill at single track to someday be a great endurance racer. Like two other up-and-coming stars, namely Constantine Peters and Justin Lund, he also is quite young and yet he is not at all afraid to hold back and pace himself. Plus he has the tools to ride incredibly fast even when it’s late in the game.
At the Thunderdown, Rosscoe and I set back on the first lap in about fourth and fifth position. I did so because of an incredible headache from not having enough beer the night before coupled with zero intake of coffee during my morning race preparation. Rosscoe probably stayed with me partly out of respect for his elders and more importantly because he knew he could turn it on and catch the leaders. I must say I was greatly impressed by his nonintrusive confidence. For example, on perhaps the second lap, I remember telling him that the very strong and talented single-speeder Lee Unwin was ahead of us and that maybe it was time for him to leave me and chase down Lee. He responded in a kind of matter-of-fact manner that he would wait for another lap or two and then reel in the leaders. Later on during that lap we did catch up to Lee who was attempting to ride the course using a very stout gear configuration. Note: It was very impressive to see Mr. Unwin battle the numerous hills with his single speed. As I recall, Rosscoe and I rode together for the first three laps and then early on the fourth lap, I set him “free.” I remember saying something dramatic to the affect, “Go Rosscoe, if you love someone, set him free!” So he took off and left me with ease. Once on my own, like Tim, I settled into the rhythm of the forlorn forsaken ones. The ones that ride neither for glory nor for fame, but only to finish…so it goes…I really suffered on the last two laps. I remember distinctly on the fifth lap “crotching” myself on a hard hill when my hands slipped off the bar-end grips and thus being forced to lay down for a bit to “collect” myself. I remember this clearly as I did the same thing at the same place on the sixth lap. I remember laying there a second time in agony muttering to the unsympathetic wilderness “please beer me, someone PLEASE beer me!”
Part III: The Ratkovich’s hospitality is unmatched…
Upon finishing the race well behind the top two (Rosscoe and Justin Lund) and a few minutes behind Lee Uwin (third overall and winner of the single speed division), I was treated to a wonderful meal put on by Kate Ratkovich’s Mom and Dad who live on a beautiful place only a few miles from the race course. I sincerely hope I got the spelling right, but if you are reading this…please know that I greatly appreciate your generosity and I hope that I can raise my child in the same fashion has you have with your three most impressive children.