First the good stuff. Elden is incredibly gracious and warm. He clearly gets a heartfelt joy out of seeing so many people wearing FatCyclist jerseys, bibs, and stuff. And he made everyone feel like they were part of a family and equally clearly, everyone there embraced the Nelson family as inspiration for the fundraising, and felt the pain of the recent loss of Susan—amazing considering most of us never came close to meeting her in person. There were also so many amazing stories… and fortunately the ride was long enough to hear some of them. Congrats to Elden and the entire Nelson family, to Philly Jen, LizzyLou, Jenni, Rita, Gene, Jamieson, and all the folks I met on the road, if only as “Hey Fattie! Nice job!”. Now on with my story.
[Executive summary: I was up all night driving down to Philly, I changed, rode my bike 60 miles over a bunch of short steep hills, got back in my car and drove home. So about 6 hours of driving, 5 hours of biking, two hours standing around in the start area talking to “Fatties”. Details below.]
It was Saturday night Aug 22nd. Lisa and Noah had just left for a trip to her parents and to visit some old friends of hers. The house was unusually quiet. I spent a few minutes gathering my thoughts, and then I started gathering clothes, shoes, food, and tools. Bike trips always seem to include a lot of paraphernalia.
I hadn’t been to a Livestrong Challenge before, if all goes well and I go back next year, I’ll know that they do an excellent job, with plenty of human and bike support. I can pack far lighter.
Since I was not entirely sure of all the variations of my plans, I grabbed a sleeping bag, and mini blanket that stuffs into a pillow. I also loaded up two chairs (in case I had company) and some beach towels to preserve my sense of dignity and frankly, everyone else’s since I suspected I’d be changing near my car.
Well prepped, I took a few moments to again consider all the people involved. Susan Nelson, who recently passed away, the “raison d’être” of Team Fatty, my friend Wendy who recently learned of her illness… and all the others who had their lives derailed by cancer attacking their family or friends. I shrugged away the sadness and rested for a while and then at 12:30am it was time to hit the road.
The drive down was estimated at 2.5 hours, and I assumed no traffic at this late hour, but didn’t mind getting started. I could take my time, and still have plenty of extra for those “the map/gps says it’s here, but it’s not” moments that always occur in the last 10 miles of a road trip. And things went apace. The hotel where I was meeting my friends had an address of blah, where my gps had “east blah” and “west blah”. And when I got to the spot the gps pointed, there was nothing even remotely hotel like. No worries, it was only around 3am, I still had an hour and half to meet my friend and pick up my registration stuff.
I punched in the event start and drove the few miles over there. I scoped out the ride and decided that I did not want to ride to the hotel just to turn around and ride back. The parking deal at the College was cool, and going there gave me some comfort that I would be able to find the hotel since I had looked up the route from the event to the hotel earlier and it felt like the right distance. Having found a nice place to park later, I turned around and left in search of the hotel. I tried the other “blah” this time, and it looked more promising, but still nothing. What should have been the next building over had a security guard, so inquired within. He gave me simple directions (Make a U-turn straight away, then 3 lefts starting at the light at the corner) into a corporate park and right to the hotel. Sheesh.
I walked inside (still way early) figuring a bathroom stop would be in order… but I couldn’t accomplish all I wanted since there were only urinals in that men’s room. Being sleep addled it didn’t occur to me to use the woman’s room. Ah well. I went back to the car since the lobby was freezing, grabbed my pillow, pushed the seat back and cat napped for about fifteen minutes before my phone went off to remind me to walk back inside to meet Jenni and pick up my stuff.
About 4:20am the event staff started coming down to get over to the site and get moving, aid stations, med folks, and all the other staff. Amazingly there wasn’t the usual grumpiness of folks getting up that early. Nice. A couple even had the energy to ask me about my team and ride.
Having collected my stuff from Jenni and schmoozed for a few minutes, I got back in the car to drive back to the venue. This time I figured I could get a real nap in… but by the time I got there (around 5:10am) folks were pulling in, and I changed my plans. I was going to try a much smaller lot, in the hopes of finding a more deserted corner. And it was more deserted for about ten minutes when I realized that this was right next to the staging area for the rest stop supply trucks—now a beehive of activity. Sigh.
I decided to use the cover of darkness for my changing routine, and got into my cycling clothes with the help of the towels and chair in a few moments of quiet between truck dispatches. That done I estimated that it was time to eat some pre ride food. (While it is not artful, this should be considered foreshadowing). I ate and drank stuff I’ve had many times before without trouble. I don’t believe I ate quickly, and do believe I washed it down with quite a bit of water. Everything seemed fine. It was later than I thought by the time all this unpacking, dressing, repacking, etc was done. So giving up on the nap, I hopped on my bike to ride around for bit and stretch my legs.
A couple of laps around the event area and a crowd was beginning to form like storm clouds on a sunny afternoon. I saw a couple Team Fatty jerseys and stopped to chat. It was nice to get to know some of the other folks on the team, and since I had no opportunity to participate in the other team events, this was going to be the only chance except random meetings during the ride. Little did I know how long we were going to be waiting there. The ride was supposed to start at 7 but didn’t, in the end, get started until around 8. That was lot of standing around. And a lot of time to meet people.
Philly Jen and Elden had a few words for the gathering team, some prizes were awarded. People took a moment to say hello to Elden and have pictures taken with him, and have him sign their jerseys. He’s amazingly gracious through all of this in a very unassuming way. He treated everyone like family. (That’s family you actually like…)
After cheering our way through the usual pre ride stuff. It was finally time to start. Elden warned that he was going out fast, but that he’d be stopping at the first rest stop for anyone who wanted to say hi, pictures, etc…assuming he didn’t keep going (which he did). After that he was going to cruise. Jenni, Jamieson, and I were up at the very front, which I felt was far safer than in the pack for this start. Plus we ganked into a lot of pictures, including the NBC news story. And before you knew it we were cranking. Of course, for me, any warming up I did was long gone, and worse, I felt a stitch form on my right side in an instant. “Gee, that’s new” I thought. And not at all welcome. But I thought it would pass before too long, we weren’t riding that fast. And it did… about 45 minutes later. I’d know more exactly except clearly in a related aspect I started to feel some gastric distress… and not the kind that a porta potty visit would remedy, but the kind that says, until I finish digesting whatever this is, it’s gonna hurt. And so the distress and the stitch vied for attention. Lovely way to start a 100 mile ride.
I noticed that my ride buddies were not next to me or even just behind, so I sat up letting the first group go, since that was clearly getting me nowhere. It was cool to ride at the very front, seeing the cops close the roads ahead, and there was one quick look over my shoulder to see an endless stream of riders behind me (the event had over 6000 registered riders and runners). A brief conversation with Jenni (who was also not feeling well) and I found a pace that felt as comfortable as possible given how I felt.
The next tribulation was a brief little steep hill where my front derailleur refused to drop out of the big ring. I tried a few times, but it was not going, and I was at that moment in the middle of pack as the hill was hidden by a corner. There was tendency to bunch up as folks slowed on the hill and folks coming around the corner didn’t know there was one. Stopping seemed like a terrible option… so I hauled with all my might on a gear combo completely unsuited to the steep little hill. I finally get enough power in there to slack off and get the rear gears changed and then after cresting, got the chain to drop to the small ring. I feel very lucky that my shoes stay clipped in, and that the shoes stayed on my feet, and that I didn’t perform a face plant when either of the above could have come undone. I’d have been crushed! I would.
I’ve never hauled so hard to help get the cranks over the top. One genius called out “wrong gear combo” as he passed me. “Thanks, I must have missed the meeting where they said 50×13 is wrong for climbing 12% grades.” thought I. Funny, I actually think he meant well. All I said was “It’s stuck.” between grunts.
About 9 miles in was the first rest stop, and after the usual stuff I rested and waited a few minutes for Jenni to show. After the initial frenzy and some more schmoozing with staff and volunteers we headed out… and so the day went. Stops were 9 – 13 miles apart. Serious climbs seemed to start just after a rest stop… so while I was freshened, I always seemed to be hauling two full bottles up the hills. Knowing that I just left a stop on this rapidly warming day I didn’t jettison any water. Not helpful.
The ride was a lot of fun since there were a lot of Team Fatty folks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find a group to ride with for more than a few miles. Either I fell off the back when we hit a hill, or I was way faster on the flats or downhills. The upside of this was that I got to “meet” quite a few “Fatties”. A bonus surprise was that Elden, the Fatty In Chief, came up behind me at the crest of an incline saying hi to all the Team members as he rode. I didn’t think anything of these latest “Hey Fatty, Team Fatty” calls since this had been going on all day… but when I turned to my left it was Elden with a fist bump awaiting a response. “Hi” I said in a surprised tone, since I never expected he was behind me somewhere. Since the road had just leveled, I sat in with the group of strong riders who were with him and rolled for while with the bunch. Of course, the road eventually turned upward again, and I was quickly dropped. I rode with Fatty in the Challenge. Cool.
Risky as it was, I managed the gastric distress by not eating. Not a good plan overall, and my energy was failing fast. Boo. But the stitch in my side had passed a while back. Yay. But my right sock had been torturing my right pinky toe, and were too thin to pad the ball of my foot. Boo. The next rest stop I took a chance, found some Kirkland brand trail mix and had a couple of shot cups full. No pain and some energy. I was offered some Poweraid by a bystander, almost icy cold. Ride magic. Nice! That helped a bit too.
I had decided not to attempt the century feeling like I did and took the 70 mile cutoff. I was beginning to wonder how many more hills I had in me. They were short, steep and repetitive. It was hot, and getting hotter. I hadn’t eaten very much at all. Jenni decided to pull off at 50. I thought I could finish the 70. But ten miles later I was baking in the sun in the black team jersey (the ride was not as shady in the first/last ten miles as it was elsewhere), the pavement was sending waves of humid heat up at me. I was spent. 3155 feet of climbing, 60 miles, and a bunch of pointless ups and downs left to go. Decision made. I saw a shady tree and some folks up the road just a bit giving out ice cold water. This was the spot for me. One of the event bike riders stopped by a few moments later to make sure I was not in need of “real” help as I lounged in the shade of the tree. He offered to roll up the road to the folks giving out water and fill a bottle for me. I still had water, and would’ve done the same for myself in a bit, but he was so kind and desiring to help that I said “sure” and passed him a bottle. I was able to pay that forward immediately as there were now two other riders stopped under the little shade tree. I passed the bottle around, for all to enjoy. I called Jenni and asked if she was still in the area. And of course, she was willing to come back and get me.
And that was that. I did sheepishly roll down the finish line because it was shortest route back to my car. I know a lot of “SAGed” folks did that. It’s not a race. And I could accept the cheers of the folks waiting there with a certain sense of accomplishment and grace. I raised some money to help the fight, I had ridden over 60 miles, and I had given it what I had after a long night’s drive. Naturally, Elden was at the finish to greet as many Team Fatty folks as possible, and I understand he was there until everyone was off the course. I then walked just far enough (they asked folks to walk) to get back on my bike and roll to the car. I struggled to change into some compression tights (chair, towels, and sweaty legs all don’t help. I’d hope that the compression would keep my legs from getting sore on the long trip home—either this worked like a charm or the heat made me feel worse on the bike than I should have.)
In the car I had plenty of fluids in the cooler and some munchies. Only a bit of congestion traffic on one section of 276. A slightly longer than the trip down, I was home 3 hours later. The shower felt awesome, as did the vegetable sushi I had waiting for me. I dozed off waiting for Lisa and Noah to get home, and was awoken with the happiest of sounds “Daddy, Daddy… are you done with your bike ride?”.
So for all the folks who’ve inspired me, Susan, Elden, Wendy, Steve, my father-in-law Irwin Wolfson, a cancer survivor, all the folks who contributed, who rode with me. Thanks. Fight like Susan!
[Things I learned: Be even more careful about eating after staying up and driving all night. Watch out for bad sock choices (not enough padding underfoot and a seam that rubbed my small toe the wrong way). And how about some training? Yeah, that would be nice. Also, carry far less stuff. I probably could’ve carried at least a pound less between food I didn’t eat, large water bottles I didn’t all the capacity of, etc.]