Monday, September 17

The Alpine Odyssey: Alpenglow

This post is Part II in my write up of the Alpine Odyssey. For Part I see yesterday's post: Odysseus Returns.

I wanted to be at the finish as the other riders I had toiled with came across. I especially wanted to be there as Sam finished. I hoped he had been doing well and that he was going to finish. He'd told me before the start that he'd only decided a month before to do the ride so he could get into Leadville in 2013. His MTB specific training was almost non-existent and he was riding a brand new bike. The Alpine Odyssey was also his first such event.

The only time I'd seen him after the start was at the first aid station. He was close behind me, coming in just as I was leaving. After my finish I decided to take a chance and go get changed out of my bike clothes hoping I'd make it back before he came in. But before I could get away from the finish line...

Right after me a rider came in. Her name was Megan, and we had passed each other a few times throughout the second lap. I'm fairly certain she was the person that told me at the beginning of the second lap that she was done. It was good to see her come across the line looking strong and happy—and not just to be finished. She passed me on the final push up to Paradise Divide looking solid, but nose down on her handlebars.

Top of Slate River looking back down switchbacks on the second lap

Just before I walked away from the finish I recognized the rider coming in. He was a tall guy and as he came over the finish he was calling out his weight.

"230!"

He looked in my direction and said: "You're a Clydesdale too! How much you weigh?"

"Uh, like...190."

We laughed as we shook hands and congratulated each other. Green Jersey guy and the older descender came in about that time too. I asked Green Jersey if he saw me almost die in the curve at Emerald Lake.

"I thought you looked like you were in complete control," he said. More laughs, more congrats and more feelings of being part of a greater Leadville family.

I rode my bike the quarter mile or so to the car as Mandy stayed at the finish to clip chips. My fresh clothes were a sight for sore eyes, and I was soooo happy to put on real shoes. Changed, a new person, no longer a masochistic cyclist, I threw a leg over the top tube of The One and pushed on the pedal. Something didn't feel right. I stepped off the bike and gave it a once over. The rear tire was soft. I had a flat!

The racers in the SUV next to me shared a laugh over the well-timed flat. Then I overheard one telling the other: "Sorry I'm salting your truck dude."

I laughed: "I feel like a big french fry."

"Crusty and greasy!" he agreed.

It was a short enough walk back to the finish area, so I cabled the bike to Gump and headed back.

The riders were coming in a trickle by then. Still Sam hadn't come in and I had started to fear that he'd not be finishing. It was almost 4:30. Seven and a half hours. The cutoff was eight. Marvin (race staff) told Mandy he had things under control and said she could leave with me, but I wanted to wait til Sam came in.

Just a few minutes later we saw a lone rider coming down the last switchbacks.

"Is that Sam?" I asked.

"It is," she replied.

Sam had a good finish. He looked as rough as I felt. I emailed G.E. to let her know he had finished and was doing well and then we told Sam we'd meet up with him at the awards ceremony. 


MANDY'S DAY

The account of my ride is really only a part of this story. To convey the entire experience I have to tell you about Mandy's day as well. Because of her day, her involvement in the whole sordid affair, I felt like I was more immersed in the culture and atmosphere of the event. My experience was much richer in sharing her experience.

We drove in from our hotel in Gunnison. Like I'd previously mentioned, when we reached the start area there were few riders about. She chatted with Sam and I until the chute started to fill up, then she left us to go find a spot to spectate the start.


Two minutes before the start she watched Lance ride up and take his place. Then when the gun went off she got pics of the whole field riding out. I was on the opposite side so she didn't get me, but she did get a couple of good clear shots of Sam.

After the start Mandy meandered around the resort area, ate her breakfast, and called her dad to give him updates. She's a good daughter!

About 10:30 she headed back up toward the start area and ran into Marvin and Josh (the race director) and asked if they needed her to do anything. They put her at a crucial turn just before the aid station where a tricksy curb could wreak havoc.

In her spot she got to hear George announce the lead riders coming down the hill and then see them as they screamed through the narrow streets of the resort area. She got a really good photo of Lance coming through all by himself.


Clad in her cool crew t-shirt she spent the day in the midst of race central. She got to know all the staff and a lot of volunteers. She even had another volunteer come up and say: "You need a cowbell!" and so she had a cowbell the rest of the day. On top of all the perks she got to hear most of the radio conversations, so she got the blow by blow of the race from the staff's point of view.

Just after noon she headed up toward the awards table at the finish line. Shannon had told her she could help with the medals. She found George, Shannon's husband, and he directed her to where Shannon was. At that time she heard the leaders were about 20 minutes out.

Cameron Chambers finishing

By the time Cameron Chambers, the overall winner, came across the line at 3:58 Mandy was in place with the other race staff. She got to see just about all the racers finish.

When Lance came across she said it was obvious by his body language he wasn't happy with a fifth place finish. George came up to interview him and Mandy got to see/hear the whole thing from an insider's point of view. 

George interviewing Lance

George asked how he felt and he said he'd spent a lot of time recently in Austin getting his kids ready for school so he wasn't acclimated. He also said he'd not been training much for it, doing more running than biking, and that he'd done his best.

Lance placed in his age category—he didn't race as a pro—so he earned a qualifying spot for Leadville next summer. When George asked if he was going to be there he responded (paraphrased): I'm 41. I'm too old for that kind of endurance race. It's a wonderful race and one of the hardest I've ever done.

She said he then hung out with the other top finishers for a few minutes before getting on his bike and just riding away. He was gone for the day. At the awards ceremony he had left an empty spot on the podium. While it was very cool to do a race with Lance Armstrong, it was somewhat disappointing that he didn't stay and mingle. That would have meant a lot.

Lance leaves a unique legacy, as he approaches the twilight of a bright career. His presence in Leadville and in the other obscure mountain bike races around the country has brought interest to them and has drawn the attention of strong young (and older) riders. His interest has been the shot in the arm that many of these events need. And those young and old strong riders...that he's now having trouble keeping up with...are taking up a brightening torch. Lance doesn't leave the podium in disgrace. Maybe he feels that way. Maybe he doesn't. Like I said before: he is the face of American cycling.

Those of us that enjoy competive cycling, as participants or as spectators, owe a lot to Lance. He had a large role in getting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge up and running, and he shoved the Tour de France into the faces of the American public.

I mean, honestly, I've had quite a few people scream at me from their car windows: "Get off the road Lance!"


After the excitement of the leaders' finishes Mandy settled into a routine. She truly did enjoy the scene, hanging with the race staff, getting to meet all the riders as they came across, and getting to hear all the radio chatter. She said she enjoyed checking out all the different bikes, and as her job was to clip the timing chips off of everyone's bikes she got to see all of the interesting places people put them. It was like a timing chip easter egg hunt.

But by the time I came through she was deft with her snips. I never knew she took my chip, and she said there were a lot of people coming back to have her take their chip, and then she would say: "I already got yours." Puzzled look. "When did you do that?"

One guy named her the "chip ninja."


From 4 and a half to 5 and a half hours out it was busy, but never too busy. Riders came in mostly singly or in groups of three or four. The nature of the last descent was such that until the last hundred feet you couldn't really pass at all. Though she said some did try to pass and came screaming down the red carpet and right on past as she and Marvin called for them to stop. They had to chase a few down. While I was standing there one guy did a full 180ยบskid.

Of course there were those that pushed hard to the end. Some were cramping, and they had to hold the cyclists up as they clipped their chips and gave them medals because they couldn't get unclipped from their pedals. A few collapsed. No one puked. Shannon told her she always wears old shoes...just in case.

Quite a few bunny hopped over the line and she said at least one guy rode a wheelie. I simply rode across like a stiffened concrete mannequin. I debated giving the V for victory salute, but I feared crashing on the carpet on top of gravel.

We both watched as one guy stopped at the last turn, took out his video camera and rode across while filming.

Mandy was very impressed with the staff, and got to know a few of them fairly well as the day progressed. Shannon is the volunteer coordinator, amongst other things, and her husband George was the commentator and announcer. George commentated all day with little feedback from crowd and announced each rider as they came down the hill. Mandy says Shannon has volunteer organization down to a science.

There is the "Leadville family" and then there are Leadville families. Obviously Shannon and George are involved and husband and wife. Their 16 year old son raced and did very well.

Josh, the race director, signed his wife up the week before to do the race. She did the first lap, got a mile into second lap and came back and said she was done.

Paraphrasing again: "There's no downhill on the course except the last part. It might look downhill but its not."

And there is me and Mandy.

For me it was just the best part of the experience, to get to come across the finish line and have Mandy put the medal over my head. She's done as much to earn that medal in the past year as I have. She's been the support I needed even when I didn't know I needed it. She was supportive when I gave up at Leadville. She was adamant I do the Alpine Odyssey and that I go back and finish in Leadville. She's got as much or more invested in this quest as I do. I owe it all to her. And I am so thankful I can share it all with her.

I have to thank Shannon for being so cool and letting Mandy do that. We are both so thankful and so ingratiated to the staff for doing such a fantastic job, working so hard, and making the experience truly unforgettable.

Again, as at Leadville, I tried my best to verbally thank every volunteer I saw. I've been there, and I know what it means to give up your day so others can play. My wife knows even better than I do, and her experience has inspired me to want to volunteer when I don't ride.


TIL MY TROPHIES AT LAST...

After my finish I was ecstatic to discover that we didn't have to wait to eat. There was food by the stage. I piled up about five pounds of pasta and tucked in some salad. I planted myself by the retail tent in case I decided I needed to buy a t-shirt. Sam came along shortly. He collapsed in the grass and we both set about stuffing away our pasta. 

Mandy showed up and we listened to the band and talked about our respective days. It was nice to relax in the cool grass, watch the kids roll down the hill below the course and listen to the band.

Finally the awards ceremony began. For those that placed in their category there were holders for their finishing medals. For qualifying spots coins were given out to those who did qualify for Leadville. Very few that qualified turned down their coin. The male 30-39 category was allotted 10 coins. Those were burned through really quickly. Neither myself or Sam got one of those coveted pieces of currency.

I wanted to leave. I didn't really think I'd get a lottery coin. I mean, with only 221 riders, and 35 performance qualifiers, that left 35 lottery slots for 186 people. Presumably not all of those 186 would want to go to Leadville either. I'm bad at math, and so now my brain really hurts, but I had about a 1 in 5 chance of getting a coin before factoring in those who would pass on the coin.

And then Josh called my name. 

I walked down to the stage and claimed my heavy little trophy. It was kind of anticlimactic. I'd finished, and in a good time for me. And...and, the golden cherry on top was a slot in next year's Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Based on my finish time I will be in the purple corral on 6th next August.


Sam didn't get a coin. I was hesitant to do a happy dance on the way back. I wanted to hold off until I knew if he would get one. Toward the end of the names being called there was a bona-fide slew of people that didn't claim the last few coins. Fingers crossed. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! In the end I bet he was down to like 1 in 2 odds or better.

I knew the remaining options well. I'd listed them in my own head many times over the past few weeks. 1) Qualify. 2) Regular lottery. 3) Qualify next summer. 4) Volunteer next year and ride in 2014.

I have a good feeling about Sam getting into the lottery. I think he's got a really good chance. Based on his performance on such little training I think he'll be a force to be reckoned with come August with a year of training under his belt.

We said our goodbyes and began our long journeys home. From Crested Butte to our house is about four hours. We got on the road about 7:00. It was almost midnight before we rolled into the Bikeport. Blessed sleep came quickly after a shower. It was such an amazing day, so memorable, packed with so many incredible experiences, encounters with great people, in such a phenomenal place. We are truly blessed to have had (and shared) that experience.

Again, I have to thank all the race staff, especially Shannon Gipson, and ALL of the volunteers. If I saw you anywhere wearing your blue t-shirts I tried to verbally thank you, if I didn't it wasn't because I didn't appreciate your presence. I want to thank the other riders for being supportive and positive. I'm so impressed that the overwhelming majority of finishing riders made the cutoff. The last rider came in at 8:02!

And I very much want to thank all of my family, friends and acquaintances that offered supportive words, well wishes, prayers and just positive vibes over the past year, and especially the past month.

Thanks Sam and G.E.! Glad we could share the experience with you guys! Hope we get to do the same in Leadville!

And to my family: Mandy and Boone and Lily...

Thank you so much! You are the best, the greatest, the most awesome SAG crew a guy could have!

3 comments:

  1. What a completely wonderful experience! We are happy to have had the opportunity to share it with you as well! Hopefully, the next time I will be physically present. :O)

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  2. Lance was 5th? Wow, I was second in my race this weekend. So that means I did better than him ;)

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  3. Green jersey guy was Tim Walker #117. The "older" descender (my apologies Patrick!) was Patrick Morton #147. The Clydesdale that finished two places after me (just after Megan) was Damien Macaluso #122.

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