Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rim Ride Moab '07

As I hauled the POD into the canyon country of eastern Utah on Friday evening, rain fell and the overcast sky muted the sunset. I approached Moab on the Colorado River road, highway 128, and it was beautiful. The forecast was for Saturday to be partly cloudy with afternoon storms, so I assumed that this rainy weather might repeat late in the race day. But for my drive, it was "Welcome to Utah" weather--the usual unusually gorgeous landscapes that are part of life in canyon country.

I hooked up with Ed Ellinger and his friend Scott Sportsman for dinner. Pasta was good, but all of us were feeling nervous about getting organized for the 6 am start. We all went back to our places, me to The Riverside Oasis RV Park where the POD was parked. I was up loading my pack and picking out clothing until nearly midnight. I set my cell phone alarm to 4:25am and then turned in.

Weird dreamy sleep was interrupted at 4:23 when the phone rang--not the alarm, a call from someone back in Colorado who claimed I had just called her and who wondered why. I told her I'd been sleeping and had not called anyone. She seemed to accept that. (I need to call Verizon today to see if they can look into what might have happened. This has happened to me before.) Weird waking. I could hear rain sprinkling on the roof of the POD.

I got up and opened a Red Bull and dumped a whole package of bacon into my frying pan. I was really goofy. Big surprise. I tinkered with the frying bacon, got online to check weather, then went outside and put my bike together.

The guy who made my breakfast burned the bacon

When I came back in the bacon was burning. I turned down the flame and moved it around trying to salvage as much as possible. There was a haze of bacon grease smoke in the air, and then the fire alarm went off. Yee ha! That's the way to start a long, hard day of racing.

I dumped 5 eggs into the grease and scrambled them up. As soon as I could I chomped down the eggs, the edible portion of the bacon, a slice or two of bread, all washed down with a cup of whole milk. I stuffed an extra Red Bull into my pack and then hurried off on my bike through the drizzly darkness to the pre-race meeting at 5:30am at the Lion's Park Trail Hub, less than a quarter mile away.

It was the usual endurance racer scene there, lots of the human equivalents of whippet and greyhound, followed around by their thin, fit wives and girlfriends as they chat about the coming day and greet old friends. I see a few people I know, then Ed wanders out of the moist darkness. The race organizer, Fred starts telling us about what to expect. It's an unsupported ride through some very difficult terrain. Ride within your limits, don't expect anyone to be around to save you if you get hurt, run out of supplies, or destroy your bike. Fred is one of those guys who is normal-looking above the waist, but his thighs are tree trunks. Canadian by his speech ("If you drop oat, come by here and let someone know").

We head up to the start staging place and I see Dave Harris who I've met once or twice before. He's one of the best racers in the endurance and ultra-endurance category today. He's likely to be the first finisher, or one of the first. I look down at my bike and see that I've forgotten my water bottles. Damnit! A key bit of the fluid I'd planned to have, and a keystone of my food strategy. Luckily my trailer is parked only about two tenths of a mile from where the course will go. I'll just have to pull out after the start, run down to the trailer to get them, then chase the peloton. The time it will take is meaningless, but I was looking forward to being in the pack for the company and because the lights I'm bringing today are pretty weak. It would be nice to be close to racers who know the early part of the course so that I don't have to spend time referring to maps and directions in the darkness. Ah well, it can't be helped. I need to have those bottles.

The race starts a few minutes after 6am. I ride for perhaps two minutes with the group, then peel off to the left and down into the RV Park, go to my trailer, get the bottles, back on the bike, and up onto the highway again. I note on my GPS that I rode about .4 miles round trip off course to get the bottles. This will be important for route-finding, since it will be a variance on the mileage in the route directions. I can see riders' taillights off up ahead and chase along as best as I can. But I'm alone. I switch on my MP3 player and have Björk to keep my company in the misty darkness.

Initially I'm riding along highway 191 north out of Moab, then onto the old highway which has been converted to a rec path. It's pretty climby, and I'm not moving awfully fast. But I feel good. There is a light misting drizzle falling, but not enough to make me feel wet, and it isn't too cold. I watch the GPS for when I get past 6 miles. The first turn, to the right onto the Bar M Loop trail, is supposed to be at 5.9 miles. But I'll need to go to about 6.3 miles since I rode off course. I hope that the turn will be fairly obvious, but it will need to be. My lights are weak and the dawn is coming very slowly with the thickness of cloud cover. When I get to the turn, it is pretty easy to see just from the tire tracks all going that way.

After not too long on Bar M I pass a guy squatting next to the trail fixing a flat. I ask him if he's got everything he needs and he nods. I'm no longer DFL! Woohoo! After a while it gets light enough that I can turn off my lights, and eventually I can even put on my sunglasses which are much more appropriate for riding. Moments after I do this a splot of mud flys up and hits my glasses in a place where it would have gone into my eye had I been still wearing my regular glasses. A spot of luck!

Route finding is much easier now that there is daylight. Fred has marked the course turns with blue surveyors ribbon, and tire tracks in the wet dirt make it even more obvious. I've never ridden Bar M or the Sovereign Trail, which form the first part of the course, so I'm glad I'm not having to puzzle out every turn.

Near the beginning of the Sovereign I come up on Marko and Essam from Steamboat. I'll be riding near them for the next few hours. Cool dudes from a cool town.

Not long after this, the drizzle turns into something I would call "rain". The trail is mostly rocks and sand, so it's not much of a hardship, but it makes me wonder what kind of day is ahead. There are some tough hike-a-bike climbs and fun descents, then I come to a descent that is in clay with standing water on it. And it's steep. Slipping and sliding over and between rocks embedded in this bit makes me pucker, but I get through it and continue as the rain persists.

Up ahead I see a green hill. Not green from plant life, it's the pretty green clay that you see around Moab. So pretty. I think to myself, "boy, I'm glad I'm not on that stuff. I bet it's a mess right now with all this moisture".

Wellsir, it was a mess. The trail headed sharply up, and soon I saw the green clay right ahead. And I saw a pod of riders moving slowly or stopped up ahead. The trail got too steep and slippery to ride so I started pushing. And then the mud started sticking. After 100 feet or less the clay started clogging up in the fork and rear triangle of my bike. My feet had clay stuck all over them and became heavy and slippery.

Then the trail got even steeper. Soon I was barely able to even push the heavy bike. I tried to pick it up to just carry it. I could barely get it off the ground. It must have weighed 75 lbs. I used my glove to scrape off some of the clay and clear the fork. I carried it for perhaps 25 feet before I was exhausted. Still the light rain fell. I couldn't see the top of the climb. Marko came up behind me carrying his bike, a new Erickson. We both bitched about what a friggin' mess this was. As Marko approached my feet slipped out from under me and I fell down into the rocky mud. I staggered to my feet cursing and then stepped aside to let Marko pass.

This violent struggle went on for what seemed like an hour, but it was perhaps half of that. In the aftermath, my bike was really messed up--the standard skipping drivetrain, brakes hardly working, mud speckles flying all over. I followed Marko down off the Sovereign. I stopped to talk to a racer who's derailleur hanger had snapped off. He was trying to rig his Van Dessel into a singlespeed, but his race was over.

There was a little trickle of water crossing the end of Sovereign, and I caught up to Marko there with his bike in the water working it over with a cleaning brush. That was a smart thing to bring. I dunked the Fisher in next to him and started using my hands and a stick to perform a rudimentary cleaning. Then I dripped lube onto the filthy chain and followed Marko off. It was 10 am.

We started on the Cotter Mine Road, and Marko waved to me and then rode strongly off ahead of me. I never saw him again. My drivetrain was still skipping and clunking, so I stopped again to scrape clay off as Marko disappeared on the horizon. That was when I discovered that one of my bottles of energy drink (the full one) was gone. I finished the other one.

The Cotter road was graded gravel, so I tried to establish a rhythm and healthy pace and try to get myself back into a good mental state for finishing this race. I was only about 27 miles into the 90-mile race, and I was definitely feeling mortal. The effort of dragging the bike through that mud, and the fact that the bike was running like it had been lubed with molasses made me wonder about my chances for finishing, or even riding another 25 miles.

After a 15 or 20 minute stretch on Cotter I came to the turn uphill to the Seven Mile Rim Trail. Almost immediately I climbed into wet clay. My rear tire slipped, I got off to push, and immediately the clay started clogging up in my fork. I said some bad words and thought about how maybe I should just shine on the whole damned ride and just go back to town and clean up my bike. I pushed up through the greasy mud and tried to control my temper. In very short order I got above the clay and the road became sand and rock ledges. I was having trouble climbing because my drivetrain locked up when I was pedalling hard so eventually I stopped, laid down the bike, peed, and pulled out the Red Bull I had stashed in my pack. I was looking for inspiration where it could be found. I ate a cliff bar. I sprinkled sea salt crystals onto my tongue. I went to a rockin' album on my MP3 player (Adrian Belew, Op Zop Too Wah). Then I went to work once again on my drivetrain.

Just as I finished up, Essan and the guy I had passed long ago fixing a flat passed me. I didn't even hear them coming since I had Adrian Belew jammin' on the headphones. I got going again and soon passed another racer working on his bike. He was a local who had snapped a derailleur hanger, but who had a spare with him.

Seven Mile Rim was good. It was pretty and fun riding, and I started feeling better. Weather was still a threat, but it wasn't raining any more.

There was a checkpoint at the end of Seven Mile Rim then we climbed up Highway 313 for 5 miles. About half a dozen racers were at the checkpoint at about the same time. These were miles 40-45. Then it was time to descend the Gold Bar Rim road, which is a wide, graded road. The top of it had some greasy mud, but it wasn't sticking. After about 4 miles of easy descending we turned left onto the Little Canyon Rim/Metal Masher trail. I was feeling pretty good, and thinking maybe I would be able to finish. James Brown came onto the MP3 player

Get up, get on up
Get up, get on up
Stay on the scene, like a sex machine

Yeah baby! I started moving. I came to a ledgy climb/descent section. I cleaned a difficult climb, then started rocking down the descent. Yelling Get up, get on up, I grooved it down through a series of rock ledges then came to the top of the Widow Maker, a 10-15 foot drop heavily lacquered with black rubber streaks from jeeps climbing it. I got off the bike and looked for a place to lower it down. As I lowered it over the ledge I could hear the hiss off air coming out of one of my tires. Yep, I pinched the rear. Irrational exuberance.

I drew the last of the water from my 100 oz bladder and had only the 70 oz backup left. The GPS said 53.1 miles. Hmmm. Only about halfway through the course and down to less than half of my water. Nearly 3 pm. Hmmm.

I spent about 15 minutes fixing the flat and applying lube to my chain for the 4th time. I took a long shot of hammergel. Then got moving again. Almost immediately I faced a steep ledgy climb. I spun out about halfway up with my heart racing and my legs fried. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to finish right then. If I was feeling frisky, if I had water and food to burn, if it was 90 minutes earlier, if I had a real light system with me, maybe I could finish. But I do not need to become initimate with the Grand County, Utah Search and Rescue. I'm taking the next bail point. That bail point is 10 miles away.

Metal Masher is really a cool trail. Tough, and with an incredible stretch of rim overlooking the desert north of Arches. I met lots of Jeeps crawling through this section. I was worked. Not bonking, but really really tired.

When I got back to the Gemini Bridges Road I headed downhill. I tried to pedal the big ring to go faster, but I just didn't have much fire left. I noted the right turn that was the continuation of the course. The last section over there, Bull Canyon and Gold Bar and on to Poison Spider Mesa was reputed to be some of the most physically demanding of the whole course. I think it would have killed me. If the first part of the course had been dry? Maybe I would be up to it. But I was worked. And I was down to pretty slim supplies of food and water.

There was a pretty long climb involved in getting back to highway 191 from where I bailed on the course. I took my time, drank my water, ate lots of gel. No bonking, just keep turning those pedals.

I got back to the Lion's Park Trail Hub at about 5:30. GPS showed:

Moving Time: 9 hours, 54 minutes
Stopped Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
7.7 mph moving average

Here's my topo of the route, and below that is a profile.

Happy to be done riding, ready begin eating.


Grizzly Adam said...

Nice job Tom! It was brutal out there.

I was the guy trying to fix my Van Dessel. Not long after you passed me I gave up and hiked/coasted down to 191. Dreading the 13 mile hike back to town, I got lucky and hitched a ride with Fred's wife after all the racers had come through.

It was a monster. Hopefully next time the mud will not be a factor :)

It was great meeting you, hope to ride again with you soon.

FixieDave said...

Good stuff Tom!

Wish I coulda been there!

Chris said...

Nice Tom, you put in a good ride. The 2nd half of the course is a monster but the first half was just as hard to me with the rain. I was wondering who pulled off right at the start since Saturday morning!

Ed said...

Tom!! Great ride on Saturday and it was nice to see you and chat again. I'll be down Salida way soon and I'll give you a call when I go.

You're livin' a life now, enjoy it.

Enjoy St. George!!