leadville, i have figured out how to quit you
August 11, 2008
I used to think I didn’t know how to quit Leadville. And by quit, I don’t mean what I did last year when I separated my shoulder and broke my crank and actually QUIT. I mean, you know, Brokeback Mountain quit. Give up. Stop going. As in, I will race Leadville no more forever. That kind of quit.
But now I do. And I did. The way to quit Leadville is to make your goal. Why does Elden keep going back, year after year? Because he’s never broken 9 hours. This was his 12th time. 10:06. Think he’s going back? Of course he is. This was Kenny’s 10th year. And while he’s broken 9 hours, he’s never won the singlespeed category (several silver medals). And Rick Sunderlage? 9:30 last year. 9:21 this year (with a broken chain, no less–a stomach punch mechanical if there ever was one–fixable, but not fixable FAST–my heart breaks for him–and what’s with all these dashes? I can’t stop). So what’s the last thing Rick did before leaving town this year? Yup, he booked a room for next year. In the hotel that reminds me more than any other of the hotel from The Shining. Keep your eyes open Rick.
So why is Sam Clark going back, even though he broke 9 hours on his first attempt (8:47)? Because now he has to do it on a singlespeed.
And finally, then, why do I get to quit since all I did was merely FINISH on a singlespeed, no sub nine hours, no winning anything? Simple. I set the bar lower. Life is so much better down here.
Originally, the plan was for me, Elden, and Brad to ride singlespeeds together, wanting nothing but to finish in under 12 hours. But Brad recently won the Park City Perfect 10 bike race in the solo category, and was clearly too fit to lounge with the likes of me and Elden. So just me and Elden then. Or not.
At registration, Elden received a shiny red, white, and blue bracelet indicating he had finished fast enough last year to get a reserved spot at the front of the field. Obviously way too tempting to pass up.
And since Bob’s goal was to finish in under 12 hours, that left me, solo, and my goal was to finish with a 10 at the beginning of my finish time (a goal I thought at the time to be pushing it a bit, and I very much regretted announcing it out loud before the race). At the start I put Johnny Cash’s “Solitary Man” on repeat.
Apart from entering the pain cave for about an hour on Powerline at mile 80, really the only bad thing to happen to me all weekend happened the night before. On Friday’s fun ride around the lake, I broke a pedal. No big deal, it’s just Friday. I went to the local shop, and bought a new set of Times. And when I finally got around to installing them late Friday afternoon, I discovered that not only did I have two left feet, but I had two left PEDALS. I ran down to the shop, where they were closed, but conspicuously drinking beers in the back. They sheepishly found me a matching right pedal. Whew.
I felt really good at the start. Elden graciously waited for me right after the start, and we rode together for most of the St. Kevin’s climb, and I could tell it was going to be a good day. Elden and I were trading good natured sarcasm on the climb, but after a bit, he said “hey, are you going to be talking like that ALL day? Cuz if you are, let’s just separate right now.” And then he rode away from me, and I never saw him again. It may have had more to do with him having the best day of his life than my rapier wit. But maybe not.
Just before Twin Lakes, I passed the hill where I crashed and broke my crank and shoulder last year, and stopped and looked at it for a moment of silence. Really. Every mile past that point was a gift. I think I cried a little. Maybe more than a little.
When I rolled into the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 40, I felt happy, fit, and confident, despite the 10 mile Columbine climb ahead of me. Kim and company took great care of me, made me eat soup, V8, changed my bottles, gave me a kiss (just Kim on that one), and sent me on my way. I’ve never had a crew before. Having a crew rocks. Sorry Bob. But thanks Kim and company.
Columbine was better for me that day than it had ever been. I had Rick’s Flip video camera with me (he had set far too lofty a goal to be carrying a video camera, so I got it), and I used it frequently on Columbine (I posted the finish line video yesterday, and I’ll post the rest of the video later this week). Here’s the thing with a singlespeed–when the grade is very steep, it’s brutal. But when the grade is MODERATELY steep, a singlespeed is an advantage, not a handicap. You just plain climb faster. Which was great on St. Kevins in, Sugarloaf in, and Columbine in. Unfortunately, Powerline OUT falls more into the VERY steep category. We’ll get to that.
I passed and hung out with several friends on the climb, got to shout out to faster friends as they went by on the downhill. Sam came by so early all I could shout was HOLY SHIT SAM! You’re not supposed to be that fast on your first try. Let’s cross Sam off the friends list. I even got some video of Brad and Rick S coming down, both of them looking very close to their sub 9 hour split.
The upper Columbine downhill is the crappiest piece of trail I have ever ridden. I know I’ve probably ridden rockier, looser, maybe even worse, but not crappier. Columbine gets elevated to crappiest due to the circumstances–4 day road trip, $Gazzillion entry fee, 8 hour drive (the road washed out almost directly in front of us at Soldier Summit, causing a 3 hour detour), and highest elevation in a 10o mile race. I felt like someone had helicoptered in several metric (not sure why I went with “metric” here) tons of baby head rocks. Pure crap. On the other hand, being on a rigid single probably didn’t help to enhance the experience.
Back to the Twin Lakes aid station, more kisses from Kim, and I was still feeling good. This has never happened before. They kept telling me that Elden was only 10 minutes in front of me, but more and more I was enjoying the solitude, and I was still mad he didn’t want to hear my jokes on St. Kevins.
At the Pipeline aid station, about mile 70, I still felt good, but no longer like Superman. Not even Batman. Maybe the older Batman from the new comics. I ate a little, got a kiss or two, and headed out, but a bit weaker. Who knew that I had just eaten my last food for two hours.
I approached Powerline with another singlespeeder from Arizona, and as we talked he mentioned what a beast Columbine was. I know I shouldn’t have said anything to dampen his spirit, but all I could muster was an evil laugh, and “son, compared to this sumbitch coming up (Powerline), Columbine was like riding to Grandma’s house, but without the wolves.” (How funny you THINK you are while riding Leadville is inversely proportionate to how funny you ACTUALLY are–that Grandma’s house joke KILLED me on the trail, now it makes me cringe a bit.)
About a third of the way up Powerline I went into the pain cave. People I had passed hours back were now passing me. It’s not like they were riding away from me–no, rather they were simply WALKING a bit faster than I was. Just over halfway up Powerline, the rain started, gently at first, then pouring, with a bit of hail for good measure. The weather had looked good at Pipeline, so I had what I’d been wearing all day–base layer, jersey, arm warmers, bibs, and my cotton plaid shorts. My by-now-very-heavy-droopy-cotton-plaid shorts.
As I topped out on Powerline, and the thunder crashed all around, I began to think that the BEST excuse for quitting Leadville ever would be getting hit by lightning. How could anybody ever top that? I began to pray for it. Out loud. In verse, in song, in colorful sailor language. But alas, I was like Lear storming at the storm, ranting at an indifferent mountain. But without a cute little fool to keep me company.
On the descent to Turquoise Lake, I’m pretty sure I got hypothermic–I couldn’t hold the bars, couldn’t squeeze the brakes, my teeth were chattering, my legs were rigid, and I was getting downright silly. But when I finally bottomed out on the pavement section, and began to climb St. Kevins, and realized that I was NOT going to get hit by lightning, I got my senses back and realized that while getting hit by lightning might be the BEST excuse for quitting Leadville, quitting Leadville at mile 90ish because I was COLD might be the LAMEST excuse ever. I also remembered that Kim was waiting for me at the finish line, that she had come with me on this ridiculous 4 day bike race road trip, that she had crewed for me all damn day, and I couldn’t NOT make it to the finish line to pay her back for all the effort and sacrifice.
And at the top of the pavement, lo and behold, a secret aid station! It had been what, like 8 years since I had ridden Leadville to this point of the course, and there had never been an aid station here before. They had hot soup, coke, hot soup, and yummy latte powergels, and hot soup, all food that for the last hour had made me gag just by thinking about them. I had forced a vanilla gel at the top of Powerline and promptly vomited.
But now, NOW, I had no less than FIVE cups of soup, several latte powergels, and refilled with plain old water, dumping the vile coca cola that Elden had convinced me would be the best thing ever on a climb. It wasn’t.
Suddenly revitalized, reborn, and armed with the knowledge that if I pushed it, I could still finish with a 10 in front of my time, I set out to use up all the food I had just ingested.
After the dark tunnel of pain that was Powerline, St. Kevins and the Boulevard into town were the most pleasant of the race. I was soaked through, muddy, sweat-stained, and exhausted, but I felt wonderful. I flew up the Boulevard, and hit the top of the pavement before the finish line feeling a euphoria that was not that different from the hypothermia I felt on the Powerline descent, except, well, exactly the opposite. I soaked up the love from the people lining the streets (funny thing, you get a LOT of love out on the course of Leadville, but you get extra helpings of love when you’re on a singlespeed–people DIG it), and I coasted across the red carpet.
10:53:06. Yay me.
Kim was there to greet me, and I’m relieved that I had dark muddy sunglasses on, because I was crying like a baby.
Leadville, I have figured out how to quit you. I am NOT coming back.