Tuesday, August 13

An Apprentice No More

To Have the Apprentice Dig Deep

"What time is it?" I called frantically as I approached the turn onto dirt at Carter Summit, 10 miles from the finish.

"You have forty-five minutes," the volunteer looked at me with somber finality.

I gritted my teeth.  It was…possible

"Thanks," I replied and pedaled on to the aid station for a quick water refill.  I'd been dry since halfway up Powerline

Then I was off on the hardest chase of my life.  I was going to finish, that was a given,  but my chance at a buckle was dependent on whether or not I could muster better than a 13+ mph pace all the way in.  And I still had to climb to top of St. Kevin's and then up the Boulevard.  

I didn't feel my phone vibrate or see the text Hurry baby!!!fifteen minutes later as I was fighting my way the last few yards to the apex of St. Kevin's.


All week I was cool as a mountain breeze.  I was never nervous; even Friday night, even Saturday morning.  I rolled into my purple corral feeling really good.  Everything to that point had gone just as planned.  Well, except I was still carrying the 20 pounds of blubber around the middle I swore I'd lose a year before.

It was 39F.  It felt almost balmy compared to a lot of my bike commutes to and from Golden.  Since the high was only supposed to be in the low 60s I put on my standard jersey and bib shorts kit with arm warmers and a long sleeve jersey and tights over all that.  I felt overdressed for riding, but very comfortable for standing around the start line.

My mind was solid in that place.  I knew what to expect.  I had three such races under my flab-domen.*  I was ready to get a buckle.  I was at peace, I was content to be where I was at the time.  I was a Zen Master Dude.

Mandy and the kids showed up with less than ten minutes to go.  Hugs and kisses went around.  Mandy suggested I give her my long sleeved jersey so I did with my tights too.  Then they moved on down the street to watch the start.  

I was ready for anything.
The gun went off and the field flowed out of town, down CR 4, and onto the dirt road up Tennessee Creek.  At the choke point I went down on some softball sized rocks when a woman swerved into me.  I banged my left knee hard, jumped back up, and tried to determine if I was okay.  Once I was pedaling again the knee seemed fine, but my sensibilities were bruised a bit because the woman didn't even mumble an apology.
St. Kevin's was St. Kevin's.  The field slowed as the course bottlenecked.  I don't remember if I walked any of it last year but I rode all of it this time.  Once at the apex the fun began.  I was in a thicker pack than before bombing down to Carter Summit and out onto Turquoise Lake Road.  I screamed down the long paved descent with my chest on my saddle and knobby tires whining like a TIE Fighter.  No one tried to steal a draft from me, and I managed to jam down food and water before the climb up to Sugarloaf Pass.
On Hagerman Pass Road riders passed me in droves. I kept telling myself: ride at your own pace.  I figured that out early last year; recognizing that too many people go too hard too soon.  It was still early in the day.
Somewhere along the way in the clear, bright morning air I decided the Sugarloaf climb was much like the first long climb on the Alpine Odyssey.  The memory filled me with joy.  That had been an amazing day on the bike, an amazing day all around.  Soon enough the similarities ceased to present themselves and I was looking down from the top of the dreadedPowerline.
My second race descent of Powerline was uneventful but long.  The field had spread out on the upper part, and by the time I got to the rutted lower crux I didn't have anyone bearing down on me.  I got through and breathed a sigh of relief as I rocketed away from Powerline.
It was good to be back on pavement.  I rode along solo until I fell in accidentally with a paceline on Halfmoon Road.  I got a needed respite across the open flats, and reveled in the fact that I've grown comfortable riding so close to another wheel and could take advantage of a true Clyde's windbreak.
The pack split up when we turned off the pavement for the dirt run to Pipeline aid station.  I was ready to see my crew, and I needed a resupply.
As I turned onto the long straightaway I saw Boone and Lily.
"C'mon, Dad!  Follow us!" Lily called, and they both started running along behind the crew tents.  Boone was running with a four foot pine branch.
"Put that stick down, Boone!" I called, shaking my head.  The rider beside me chuckled. 
I reached Mandy at our predetermined spot at 9:12am and ran into the woods to pee while she replaced my empty bottles. 
When I got back to the bike a young man named Sam had added some air to my front suspension.  He said he saw I needed some when I came in.  I thanked him, and my crew, and was back on the bike.
The Race Is (Really) On
Last year on the section between Pipeline and Twin Lakes--both inbound and outbound--I felt strong and fast.  Leaving Pipeline on Saturday I felt fast.  I was ahead of my pace by quite a bit over last year and felt good.
It had paid off for me to focus on my technical riding skills after last year.  When I reached the singletrack ridge I was far more comfortable descending it like I had the Mozhican taunting me to go faster from some spectral plane.  We'd tried to convince the Mozhican clan to make the Leadville pilgrimage with us, and I think they really wanted to, but all I got were cryptic texts:
We're on our way.
I told Mandy after getting that text on Tuesday.
"Are they really coming?" She asked incredulously.
So I texted back:
Are you to Kansas yet?

And are you bringing Mark?
Four hours later we had no closure so I sent one more probing text:
What time do you think you guys will get into town?
An hour after that I finally got this:
Well, Mark has to stop and pee like, every 20 minutes.
To which I parried:
Don't you have like a bottle or cup or something. Drive Jeaph, Drive!

Well, he's up in the rocketbox  so that would be tricky.
He must have been starting an allnighter in the wood shop because just before 11pm EST I got this:
If you get the nine hour buckle, I'll tattoo "chainring" across my knuckles.
Followed by:
If you beat Rebecca Rusch, I'll tattoo "thedeweydecimalsedge" in old English across my *flab-domen.
As I replied to the first:
Oh, you're getting "chainring" tattooed, but it won't be on your knuckles.  Where are you guys staying in town? 
Nothing in response.  The next morning I fired off:
If you don't get the Proofer here by 5am MST Saturday there's going to be problems.
Friday morning I prodded again:
In 24 hours I should be passing the first aid station.  Where should I be looking for the Mozhican cheerleading squad?  I'm in the purple corral so you guys should all paint your faces purple.
Finally, a response:
We'll never make it. We're only halfway and Mark has peed 512 times. You know when he has to go cause you'll catch a whiff of apple cider.
To which I replied:
I'm disappointed, but only slightly.  I tackled Fatty.
Which was true.  I'd seen Elden "Fat Cyclist" Nelson at the expo Friday morning from three feet away.  I screamed "Fatty!" in surprise and accidentally tackled him hard enough to hurt one of us.  And just before dialing 9-1-1 he remembered that I was acting only as he had instructed me to.
Fatty looks pretty good considering I was trying to break him
On the Sunday prior I randomly tweeted:
@fatcyclist if I c u in L-ville can I pretend we're rivals and avoid making eye contact? You don't know me, so it will be even more awkward.
To which he promptly responded:
@PavementsEdge Actually, by law you’re required to yell my name as soon as you see me and then sprint to me and give me a big hug.
So I did.  I'm a good blogger/stalker that way.
Why did I take you down this rabbit hole Dear Readers?  I needed a break from the seriousness of composing this blow-by-blow of my race.  As you know, I took off down this hole just before describing the approach to the Twin Lakes aid station.  That's where the first snafu of the day occurred.  I've been dreading composing that portion.  And of course the Columbine Mine climb is just getting closer and closer.  It didn't help that I felt the faintest ghost of a headache waxing in my brain. Altitude?  Migraine onset?  Stress?  My imagination?  Too tight helmet?  I never knew.  But we'll get to that...and to the fire ants.
Run Rabbit, Run
I didn't need a lot at Twin Lakes, but I couldn't head up Columbine without more water and food.  This was a major problem when I discovered an ambulance and EMT crew blocking our pre-determined meeting place on the south side of the dam.  Volunteers had urged me around and beyond the crash-wagon, but I walked my bike back looking for Mandy and the kids.  They weren't there.
The clock was racing away from me.  Oh, and last year I met the leaders partway up Columbine.  This year I met them as I started across the dam outbound at Twin Lakes.  Either they were way faster or I was seriously lagging.  Urgency became a nagging tickle in my mind.
"Are you okay?" A guy asked.
"I beat my crew here," I replied, trying to maintain a calm I didn't feel.  I knew they had to just be caught up in the traffic and chaos of the race.
"Do you need anything?"  The guy offered.
"I've got one full bottle...a refill..." I nodded.  He reached for a bottle in his pack as he explained.
"My guy didn't need anything.  Do you need gels?"  He handed me a handful of strawberry Clif Shots, not my favorite, but I took them and thanked him as I stuffed it all in my pockets.
I texted Mandy that I was going on, thanked my benevolent new friend again, and tore off for my race across the sky.
Real Evil Genius
The low ridge crossing from Twin Lakes over to the flats below the Columbine climb was almost fun.  I met more leaders and people kept yelling for us scuzz riders to get out of the way.  At one point, as I was the only one riding past many walkers up one hill and feeling particularly strong, the guy in like 27th place came over the hill and some spectator yelled nearly in my face "RIDER! Get over!"
I mumbled back defiantly:  "Uphill traffic has the right of way." I only got over as far as was feasible so I could continue riding.  I know that wasn't as exciting for the fans, but I was racing too.
While I dreaded the Columbine climb I had my secret weapon and I was pretty excited to try it out on the entire tri-state area.  I now have 34 teeth.  No, I didn't grow extra canines, I have a bigger big rear cog than last year.
Anyway, I kept a good pace up the lower parts of Columbine and was feeling pretty good, except for the nagging dull headache sensation.  I had another secret weapon this year which was developed in my secret underground Bike Cave: migraine medicine.
The first time I stopped on the Columbine climb was not to rest.  I stopped briefly to take the two migraine pills I brought along.  I did so reluctantly.  I didn’t really want to take a chance on being adversely affected by a drug at altitude.  But I also didn’t want a repeat of the Mohican 100.  As well as I know the course at Leadville I didn’t think I could afford to do it blind.
I pulled over, propped my right pedal on a rock, and stood off the road with the bike between me and the other riders.  I took off my helmet and hat to give my head a short airing out and set them on a rock by my feet.  As I was washing the pills down with a pull from my water bottle my right foot became a nexus for stinging pain.  I looked down with a yelp and saw my foot covered in red ants.  I was standing on an ant hill!
I jumped into the road, and apologetically offered a bit of advice to the guy I caused to move into the middle of the road: “If you stop to rest don’t stand in an anthill!”
He chuckled.
Then I saw my cycling cap and helmet were also covered with ants.  Fantastic!  Not only am I trying to climb 7 miles and 30,000’, but I’ll be wasting exorbitant amounts of energy on swatting at the swarm of ants I’ll be carrying with me as I go.  As if there weren’t already enough opportunities for suffering along the course…
I beat the hat and helmet clear of the angry little buggers.  I worried that all the crevices of the helmet would harbor patient saboteurs.  Thankfully that didn’t happen.
I got back on the bike and continued upward. 
Much like St. Kevin’s and Powerline to come, Columbine was mostly uneventful for me (except for the fire ants), and went just like it did last year.  I rode much more of Columbine than I did last year—or at least it seemed like I did—and the fastest riders still flew by incredibly close and terribly fast.  Us scuzzy riders going up warned each other with an arrhythmic chant of “Rider(s) up!”  It really didn’t matter.  I stayed far right, and if a pro had cut into my path we’d have crashed.  There was nowhere to go.
So when one fit, attractive, and super-speedy “team” rider screamed: “GET OUT OF THE WAY!”  I hollered: “STOP BEING A JERK!”
I got a few amens to that from my fellow riff-raff.
Then I caught a glimpse of a svelte singlespeeder in a trademark Fatty kit rocketing toward me.  Elden Nelson has been putting on a ruse.  When I tackled him at the expo I almost knocked him over. I’m just shy of being a clyde myself, so when he and I stumbled like thirty yards as we tried to regain our balance I realized I’d miscalculated the force necessary to lightly hug him.  I’d never thought someone calling themselves “Fat Cyclist” could be so slight.  And what does that make me…
“Fatty up!” I called.  Again, I caught Elden off guard.  He was slack-jawed trying to work his waterbottle free at subsonic speeds on his own descent.  He called over his shoulder an incoherent reply and was gone. 
I was looking for the Hammer then.  At dinner on Tuesday Doug mentioned that Fatty and Lisa had a secret: the Hammer was after the women’s singlespeed record, but they didn’t want to put it out there all public-like.  I could understand that, so I refrained from shouting at Fatty on Friday: “Tell the Hammer good luck! Wink! Wink!” before slapping him encouragingly on the back hard enough to break a scapula.  I didn’t do that.
I kept my eyes peeled for the Hammer, and I think I saw her going down fast with a look much like Elden’s.  Must be there’s something about riding Leadville on a singlespeed that gives you that slack-jawed when-will-this-be-over kind of look.
Just below treeline I felt the altitude kicking in.  I’ve been living at 700’ since December.  I didn’t have the advantage of working at 6,000’ like I did last year, but the effects of altitude had been mostly favorable up to that point.  And I must say, considering my new status as “oxygen-o-phile,” things had gone well.  At 11,000’ I felt only hollow.  I kept pushing the bike upward, but I had no idea where the strength to do it was coming from.  It couldn’t be my legs.  There was no energy flowing to them.  My arms felt all rubbery too.
I looked up when I was near the tailing pile where Ken yelled at me from last year.  This year he was in the same vicinity, but running alongside the riders/walkers offering words of encouragement.  As I passed he gave me a pat on the back and a “don’t quit son” and I think maybe the effects of the altitude eased because I continued on and never slowed after that. 
I knew one thing about Columbine that was going to be different this year.  I wasn’t going to stop and linger there.  I knew I wasted a ton of time at the top last year and I couldn’t afford the sluggishness to set in, and I knew getting back into the heavier air would be the best thing for me and my thinner blood.
Columbine! Columbine! Columbine!
A red shirt took my bike, I scooped up and armload of water melon which I devoured in a ravishing display of athleticism, and then I pounded two cups of Coke before thanking the red shirt, taking my bike and pushing away from the crowd.  I stopped long enough to text Mandy at 12:54 (ironically exactly six hours before I would finish) to answer Yes! to her query At the top yet?
Then I was chasing the finish.  I had 50 miles and five and a half hours to get back to Leadville.  The phrase “Leadville or Bust” never held so much meaning to me as it did at that moment.  Once I was over the summit hump gravity was dragging me down so fast it felt like the skin was peeling off my arms and skull.  I yelled at the riders still plodding up the final loose climb to Columbine: “Dig Deep!” and “Don’t quit!” and “Keep going!” over and over and over.  Some had smiles on their faces but looked tired.  Others looked beaten but were still climbing.
Down I went, until I was rattle-bombing into the trees.  I remember seeing the last climber.  He looked dejected and was pushing his bike along with one hand as he approached the final towering, brutal section.  I yelled: “DIG DEEP!”
Then I saw no more riders coming up.  He must have been the last rider at the Twin Lakes cutoff.  I let go of the brakes and slammed on the pedals. 


My breath came in ragged gasps as I fought my way over St. Kevin's. I was passing rider after rider.  Somewhere near the top I must have gotten Mandy's Hurry baby!!! text.  I was too focused on moving forward to think about communicating with the world. "Laser focus" doesn't begin to describe my state of mind at that point.

When I had to walk at the last steep climb I shoved my bike past three other riders before swinging back over the saddle completely out of breath.  Then it was a do-or-die Mach speed descent down to the valley.  I let all care rip away in my jet wash and plummeted like a meteor.

As bad as I wanted to I didn't get my phone out of my jersey pocket to look at the time.  I was racing that time and I couldn't afford even a single second's delay.  How tragic to miss11:59.59 because I had to keep checking the time.

The riders I passed looked defeated.  One guy passed me at the lowest switchback on St. Kevin's and I eventually caught him and left him pedaling slowly along the valley road.

When I passed through the intersection where Team Pavement's Edge volunteered in 2011 the red shirt there said: "Get going!"  I slammed on the pedals even harder.

I crossed CR 4 like a crazy train and bombed on down toward the bottom of the Boulevard.  I never let off the gas.  Full throttle, wide open, full steam ahead, pedal to the metal, meteoric...

As I approached the start of the short crux climb I geared way down, but after only a few pedal strokes I was off the bike andcyclo-crossing it.  I took the opportunity to drag my phone out.  First I saw the text from Mandy:

Are u ok?!?!?!

Then I saw the time:

6:42 PM

No buckle for me.  

I steeled myself against the emotional flood I feared would come.  It never did.  I quickly rewrote my podium speech.  Instead of telling Merilee I was racing for her hug and not the buckle I came up with something better.**  Then I got back on the bike and pedaled on toward town as hard as I could.

I passed another rider where the road improved.

"Let's finish this!" I said.  He climbed on his bike and nodded.  

On up the endless Boulevard I rolled.  I was truly happy.  Nothing was going to stop me from crossing the finish line at that point.  I wondered if I would still get the finisher's medal.  The thought of going home with nothing made me a little sad, but I decided it didn't even matter.  Finishing would be reward enough.  Riding up the Boulevard after the 12 hour cutoff should have been depressing, but the closer I got to town the more energy flowed into my legs and propelled me on to my long sought goal.

At the top of the Boulevard the volunteers were quiet as I approached the intersection with the paved road.  One gentleman, wide-eyed in what appeared to be admiration, said: "You can do it!"

I smiled big, thanked him, and crushed my pedals.

The turn onto the climb up 6th Avenue should have been soul-crushing, but it was the last obstacle between me and my goal.  I was determined there would be nothing left to give when I crossed that red carpet.  I set a rhythm with my heaving gasps and steady pedal strokes up the last long grind.  I smiled around desperate breaths.  

When I reached the apex I saw the finish, and a crowd of people flanking a strip of red carpet.  I could hear people cheering as I raced up the last few blocks.  The crowd closed in the closer I got until there was only a narrow passage funneling me to the carpet.  People were holding out their hands and I started high-fiving them.  One guy smacked my hand so hard I thought I was going to fall off the bike.  At that point it wouldn't have taken much.

Then I saw Lily by the red carpet.  And Boone.

"C'mon!" I cried, and they ran along with me over the finish line into Mandy's arms.


When this all began it really wasn't about the buckle.  It was simply a measure of the opposite of "I could never do that."  Once the balance tipped to where there was more "could" than "could never" I was over the top and bombing down toward my goal.  So there were a few unexpected climbs along the way...I finally got there.
I missed the buckle by 24 minutes.  Some people would see it as tragic, maybe as having been so close, but I am happy about my finishing time.  I rode hard to get that time.  That extra 24 minutes means a lot to me.  I was 36 minutes ahead of the absolute cutoff. 
It would be easy for me to say that if only I hadn’t had that wicked headwind before Pipeline and all the way to the FashHitchery that I would have made it in under 12 hours.  It would be true.  But the demon headwind affected everyone else that rode that course too.  And there were plenty of people that rode through it that made much better times.  I will not dwell.
After leaving Pipeline inbound I struggled against that headwind those few miles over to 300.  As I approached the left turn that would take me past the Hish Fatchery and to the base ofPowerline I saw a petite young lady struggling in the wind.  Knowing it would cost me nothing I eased up beside her and asked if she’d like a draft.  She nodded and I pulled ahead and slid in front of her.  She did her part and sucked in on my wheel and kept pace as I plowed into the wall of air.
“We’re just going to be in a crosswind in a few minutes,” I apologized as we slowed slightly for the left turn onto 300.  I didn’t hear if she replied.
The wind must have been coming from the northeast because it was still a pretty stout headwind as we pedaled on toward the base of the ridge.  I was hoping against all hope that once we crossed the river flats we’d get a break from the wind.  I looked back and my little drafter was hanging diligently on.  I saw I’d also picked up a clyde-sucker.  Big guy.  No sharey-pulley duties.  Oh well.  
Finally I had to drop off.  I hoped Clyde-sucker would offer to pull but he said nothing as I sorried to the rear.  The two of them went on and he did jump in front of her.  When they disappeared into the trees past the Hash Fitchery it looked like she was hanging on drafting behind him.  I was glad for her, but tired for me.
I was rewarded for my benevolence by the Strava/Coke tent.  At first it was disappointing because it wasn’t in the same place as last year, so I assumed they weren’t there at all, but in reality they had moved on down the road for suspenseful effect.
“Coke?” the Strava angel asked.  I clumsily grabbed it, but once my hand wrapped around that cool can I felt energy light up through my body.  My forearm went taut and jammed that can to my lips.  I sucked sweet high-fructose corn syrup nectar in through my mouth, nose, eyeballs and ears before flinging the can carefree into the woodsen.  More Strava minions were collecting the empty and half-empty cans.
I’d like to say a can of Coke is invigorating enough to carry a weary cyclist over Powerline.  It’s not.  Nothing gets you overPowerline but sheer bloody, whiteknuckle, seeing-spots, animal determination.  It is the last real obstacle between a finisher and the finish line.

I rode some of it.  Maybe I rode as much or more than last year.  I didn’t ride as much as I would like to have.  I didn’t suffer the debilitating cramps like last year. My spirits were significantly merrier. 
Oh, I did suffer from cramps.  The insides of both thighs tightened up way back at the singletrack ridge.  I kept pedaling.  They went away.  They came back.  I kept pedaling.  They went away.  They came back.  I kept pedaling.  They went away. 
I don’t remember much pain or discomfort after Carter Summit.  It took me ten minutes longer on Saturday to climb up from the back of Turquoise Lake to the aid station than it had the Tuesday before when I finished the 2012 race.  I knew I had slowed considerably.  So when the red shirt at the dirt intersection said: “You have forty-five minutes” like he was giving myappointment time for the gas chamber I shoved every extraneous thing out of my mind and focused all of my attention on returning to Leadville.  All that mattered was that last ten miles and the treacherous clock I was racing against.
That’s why my breath was ragged, thin, and desperate.  That’s why I was running up the hills past the other dejected riders.  That's why I let go of the brakes and descended St. Kevin's like I had a death wish.  That’s why I refused to look at my phone and why I didn’t send the alert text I promised Mandy I would send when I got to the bottom of St. Kevin’s.  It was an all-out do-or-die effort from Carter Summit on.
I. Never. Quit.
When I looked up at the digi-board as the young lady was draping the finisher’s medal over my head (I got one!) I was as proud of that 12:24 as I would have been for an 8:24 (go Fatty!).  I earned that time.  That was my fastest Leadville finishing time ever.  It was a PR for me. 
Mandy keeps asking/suggesting if I’ll do it next year.  I keep saying no.  Saturday night as I struggled to muster the energy to eat a piece of pizza (that tells you I was tired) from Mountain High Pies I told her I needed a break.  I needed some time off from this silliness.  I knew that was a lie even then.  But I keep telling myself that.  I keep telling myself that I promised myself and my family that no matter the outcome this year was the end of this saga, it was the end of the era, it was the end of my shackling my family with this resource draining hobby/obsession.
I think Mandy’s hooked.  I know I’m hooked.  Somewhere from the back of the car in the Midwest Lily chimed that she wantsclipless pedals for her pink princess bike for her birthday.
Good lord!  What have I started?


** When I crossed the finish line into the arms of my amazing wife (this time with no tears) I saw the look on her face.  She was happy, but not sure where I was at emotionally.  I'd rehearsed my new podium speech just for her as I kept slamming those pedals down all the way from Carter Summit.
"I finished!  We won!"


  1. Great job Chris. Tales from the back of the pack are often so much more compelling than those from the front. Well done on your race.

  2. I'm so glad to know that you finished, and strong! Congratulations on completing your goal. As you said, the buckle is unimportant - you did what you set out to do. Be proud, and certainly you should feel accomplished.

    Had to laugh at your run-in with Fatty too! I'm sure it was awesome to meet in person.

    Again, congratulations!!! Now, on to the next seemingly unattainable goal, right? :O)

  3. awesome story! inspiring to the point that it makes me want to sign up for something equally stupid....
    Now I need to find a goal for next year!

    Great job!