Gila Stage 2 and 3

Despite my best efforts to get mauled by a mountain lion, none appeared last night as I walked around our house in the woods last night, dropping bits of chicken giblets as I went. I have this theory that if you get attacked by a mountain lion and survive, you’ll win whatever race you do the next day. There’s a good chance you’ll be killed and eaten though, so it’s a gamble. Kind of like going in a breakaway.

Stage 2: Today was an 80-mile road race starting off with almost all the climbing in the first 30 miles. I had been pretty worried about this stage since I’d heard that it usually breaks up but finishes with a group between 30 and 60. If it were to be a group of 60 there’d be no reason for me to miss out. It would be hard, though. Very hard. Touch and go even. I imagined myself dangling at the back just clinging on for dear life, arguing with myself to keep pushing for just 10 more seconds.

I’d been living at the top of the first part of this climb (right past the first KOM sprint point) in a little house for a week before the race. When Chris and Dan got here a few days ago we moved one house over because it had more room and my mom, who came to be our race director/sougnier, moved to the little house. Anyways, my point was that I have been living at the top of this climb for a while now and I’ve ridden and driven it 20 dozen times, each time imagining how hard certain parts were going to be. Imagining where to move up, where to conserve, where people would attack, which direction the wind would be coming from and where to position myself. I was worried about it. On paper, today’s stage may have appeared to be the easiest stage, but I knew better. I knew that it was going to blow up immediately and I better make the front group. It was actually my main goal of the race to make this front group.

Looks like I’ll have to have a new goal for the race, because it turned out to be way easier than I thought. It was still hard, but I was never near getting blown up and the pack was still at 100 guys at the finish line. A breakaway got away from the gun and stayed away all day. I was in a lot of pain on that first KOM climb, but the pain was short lived and only during the last 400 meters. I had done intervals on this section of the hill a few days before that hurt more.

After a lackluster day riding in the pack, I planned on attacking with 1K to go. When I saw how motivated some of the teams were for the sprint I changed my plan to positioning myself well in the final two miles and going for the sprint. In NRC races in the past I’ve spent too much energy trying to stay at the front for the final five miles, only to get swarmed with 2K to go. This time I planned on making one push to get to the front with just 2 or 3K to go and be one of those guys that swarms. It could have worked, but because of a strong tail wind during the time I needed to move up, the field got strung out and moving up more than a few guys at a time wasn’t possible. I entered the final mile way too far back to contest anything, and just followed the wheel in front of me until I saw that people were blowing up with 500 meters still to go. Lang and I passed a bunch of these guys at the end, just to minimize any time gaps in front of us. We both finished mid-pack. I wasn’t even close blown up enough to feel like I at least made a good attempt.

Overall it was a pretty boring race and a poorly thought-out finish (by me). There was a lot of anticipation: the first climb, the second climb, the “crazy” Mesa descent, the crosswind section, the final climb…but nothing ever really materialized into making it a super selective race. And with the breakaway gone in the first kilometer I wasn’t able to attack so I felt pretty lazy today. Yesterday, despite a poor placing and losing a lot of time on the final climb, was the opposite. I did everything I could to blow myself to bits and ride an aggressive race. Today I was just pack fodder finishing at 65th.

Chris and Dan mixed it up in the finish but also didn’t have the positioning need to crack the top 20. Lang finished right with me and Alan (our fifth teammate) hung on almost long enough to make the time cut but missed out by 40 seconds. As a newly upgraded cat 1, it was a big undertaking to even attempt this race. Hats off to him for giving it a go. Next year…

Tomorrow’s the time trial. And by tomorrow, I guess I mean today since I’m going to post this on Friday, not today, which is Thursday.

Stage 3: OK, now today is really today. Friday. I’ve been recovering from my smoker’s cough, I mean altitude stage race cough, with a nap and a large bowl of fruit. The bad thing about stage racing is that your diet goes to shit eating at greasy mexican restaurants, so every once in a while eating normal food (fruit and vegetables) is a good idea. The stage–16.5 mile time trial with a lot of climbing, but not a LOT of climbing. Just a lot. And some wind too. I don’t know the results yet. I rode hard, but got passed by two guys. Wasn’t my kind of time trial. I’m planning something big for the final two stages though.

Not the actual bowl of fruit I ate, but similar.

My mom practicing her musette bag handing technique.

Hand made musette bags. She sewed 23 of these for us. They’re Halloween-themed.

What’s on the inside. Despite the food that’s in there, we mainly just crave the water. I mean Gatorade. It’s what plants crave.

Gila stage 1

Stage 1: 94 miles road race. Course description: rolling hills and wind the first 87 miles with a category 1 climb the final seven miles. I was pleased with the how the first 87 miles went.

Things got started out early today at 9 am. After three rear flats during the 30 minutes before the race started, I had unfortunately used up a full week’s worth of curse words. The next week is going to be tough, as I do enjoy swearing quite frequently, especially at inanimate objects like tires and tubes. I guess I’ll just have to practice my Church manners for a while.

Anywho, I got a neutral wheel, I talked to some other racers before the race started, the race started, there was a neutral section, and then all of a sudden it was ON! And by ON! I mean it started to go a bit faster, but not that much. Then I attacked on a small riser and got my nose in the wind off the front for a few minutes by myself and I realized it WAS faster, but only if you were at the front though. Sitting on, especially in those first 20 miles, was pretty easy since it was mainly down hill. I stayed close to the front, or made an effort to, for a long time though following moves and occasionally initiating them. But everyone wanted a piece of glory today before the inevitable mass-slaughter on the final climb, where only one man knew that he could and would win, and everyone knew this too. So the break was the way to go for a spot in the limelight.

My bike computer wasn’t working due to the loose magnet on the wheel spoke being flipped around backwards, so I had no idea when any of the sprint points were coming up. It was my goal to win a few sprint points today and spend some time off the front. Sadly, I missed the first sprint point at 20 miles into the race because my computer was reading 10.6 miles. It had seemed like a pretty long 10.6 miles to me, but I’m not that great at judging time.

I found myself off the front alone in the headwind shortly before the feed zone loops were about to begin. I sat up when I saw the pack quickly closing the gap to me. Things splintered a bit heading into that first time up the short feed zone hill and continued to break up and reform during the short, hilly lap until we came back onto the highway again. From there I went straight to the front and got away with about eight guys. It looked good for a short while, but of course not everyone was pulling in it and the pack caught on to the back of us. A few of us continued to rotate through, then attacked again a couple times, but it was all in vain.

One more time through the feed zone and short lap and a breakaway finally did get away, but only for 20 minutes or so. It was reeled back in as we entered the long head/crosswind section. I was at home here, drilling it at the front over and over again in short-lived moves. I unknowingly took the final pull coming into the second sprint points line with Roman Van Uden of Pure Black on my wheel. It had just been the two of us off the front with a bit of a gap to the chasers and if I had a working computer and known the sprint was coming up I would have gone for it with 400 meters to go when Roman was still pulling since he’s a much better sprinter than me. But I didn’t even know what was going on until it was too late. I failed to even sprint for 2nd or 3rd since I didn’t know what the hell was going on, so the field just barely nipped me for those last two spots. I regretted this even more after the race when I realized I could have been in the sprint points jersey that night if I had managed to beat Roman. Oh well, next time I won’t have the excuse of not knowing how far into the race we are since I duct-taped my computer magnet onto my spoke. No more sliding around.

Breaks kept going and coming back for a long time. The race eventually splintered into three groups as the crosswinds shredded things leading into the large rollers before the final climb began. I was sitting pretty comfortably in the first group since I had moved up and positioned myself well coming into this section. Things came back together eventually, but I was off the front by myself before they did. I had gotten away on a short decent, or climb, I can’t remember now. Anyways, I’d been following moves and just got off pretty easily for once. I sat up when, after five minutes no one even attempted to bridge. I didn’t sit up completely though, just kept the gap the same. Finally a Garmin rider, Kirk, came up to me and we hit it hard. At least it felt hard. He did more pulling than me since I was pretty beat at that point. We kept hammering up the rollers and into the headwind though and built a gap of 1:40. I’m not sure how long we were off, maybe 30 minutes, which was easily one of the longest lasting breaks of the day. It was a pure suicide move though, as we knew it would screw us for the final climb.

And it did. We were caught with 7 miles to go, right at the base of the climb and I was very quickly off the back. I spent the next 30 minutes grinding away in my 25-tooth cassette, wishing for a 28 or 30 and came in 108th at 10:36 down from Mancebo’s winning time.

Chris Parish crushed it with a 14th place, followed by Lang at 31st and Dan at 70th after chasing back on after a flat for 10K.

This was the most aggressive I’ve ever been in an NRC race and I was pretty happy with how many times I laid the hammer down.

Journey to Gila



(picture taken after a ride where I ate something with a lot of jam)

It’s 11:44 PM on Wednesday as I begin writing this.  At last I’ve reached my final destination after being on the road since Sunday afternoon in Walla Walla, Washington.  I’m precisely around about 7,000 miles away up in the mountains in Pinos Altos, New Mexico above Silver City, the host town of the Tour of the Gila.  It’s been a long voyage.  The same voyage the pilgrims made long, long ago to reach the sacred hematecrit-boosting mountain air needed to acclimate for a workweek-long stage race at altitude.  And like the pilgrims, I had plenty of help along the way from natives—to whom I probably passed on a cold virus, from which they’ll likely die.

Part One:

Sunday: The first step of my journey was the easiest.  Walla Walla to Boise.  Luckily my teammate, Dan, had room for me and my gear in his former team’s truck and trailer (the Bob’s Bicycle team).  After the final stage of Walla Walla (which our team completely demolished), it was a relaxing short five hours to Dan’s home in Boise, where we ate some quesadillas and watched Planet Earth way too late into the night.

Monday:  Damn it I got off to a late start as usual.  After my always long and leisurely breakfast I immediately realized I was going to be cutting things very close if I was to make my 10:35 am Greyhound bus on time.  I still had to pack my exploded bags, put them and my bike in the car, get to the bike shop (which wasn’t open yet but the owner, Bob, was going to meet us there early to help pack my bike in a cardboard box), Dan had to drop his wife off at another bike shop so that bike shop owner could drive her to work, then Dan had to come pick me back up at the first bike shop and drive me to the bus station.  It was a lot of logistics for a sleepless night.  It all worked out just in the nick of time.  And luckily my bus was late, because it was supposed to leave at 10:25. 10 minutes earlier than I thought.  But reliable old Greyhound was true to their reputation and the bus didn’t show up until a quarter to noon.  Perfect.

Rules for riding Greyhound:

#1 make sure to apply plenty of lube
#2 bite down on something so you don’t damage your teeth
#3 bend over and touch your toes
#4 go to a happy place

If you obey these simple rules, you can minimize the feeling of being raped, though in the end you’ll still feel deeply violated and angry at Greyhound and with yourself for not being stronger.

Because the bus was late we got into Salt Lake City late.  A mere eight minutes late, but too late nonetheless, for my connecting bus to Las Vegas was just pulling out of the parking lot as we pulled in.  Goodbye easy part of the journey.  Hello “Holly shit you’ve got to be kidding me!!” part of the journey.

Normal Calm Kennett took a violent transformation within point two one seconds of realizing what had just happened and Rampage Kennett tore out of his puny human-sized clothes, beat his chest and let out a blood curdling scream that shook the nearby snowy mountains, causing an avalanche that crushed the Las Vegas-bound bus in 10,000,000 tons of snow and rock.

I was furious as we unloaded from the bus.  I wanted to let our bus driver know, and told myself to use my words and not fists.  I mainly used four-letter words.  I continued to use them as I stormed off to the ticket counter.  Three other passengers were in the same boat as me, and they too rowed the sinking craft with F’s and S’s and B’s and CF’s (that last one is for you Spencer).  We docked at the ticket counter and let loose our dirty tongues upon anyone and everyone who was in our path.  But our onslaught came to an immediate halt after receiving slips of paper worth their weight in gold.  A free voucher for a night at the Quality Inn Airport Motel down the street!!!  Our anger turned to contentedness (short-lived) and we boarded a shuttle bus for a night in a crappy, I mean Quality, motel room.  Continental breakfast was on the menu as well, so I was pretty happy despite smelling like an ashtray the next morning from sleeping all night in…an ash tray I think.

Part Two:

Tuesday: After a large portion of eggs, sausage, and 100% sugar cereal (the three American Breakfast staples) I joined the other three delinquents in the lobby to wait for our motel shuttle bus to take us to our Greyhound bus.  One of the three was an overweight woman, about 45, who was missing considerable amounts of teeth, and who was probably one of the dumbest people I’ve had a conversation with.  Imagine conversing with a toddler.  Now imagine conversing with a toddler who is severely mentally disabled.  Now imagine conversing with a mentally disabled toddler with a greatly diminished concentration due to being an alcoholic.  Now imagine conversing with said toddler—who’s now on meth.

The next person I’ll describe was a middle-aged man, also overweight of course—this is Greyhound we’re talking about.  He had a mullet, covered by a dirty baseball cap, which he rarely took off.  He was on his way to fly a helicopter for a geologist down in Las Vegas to discover potential metal mines with “an X-ray machine” for $500 a week.  The night before it had taken me five minutes to explain to him that our bus left at 8:30 AM and our shuttle bus to the Greyhound station left at 7:30 AM.  It took five minutes to explain this to him again this morning.  I feared for all human kind when I heard this man was qualified to fly a helicopter and that $500 a week was a sufficient pay for someone to operate that level of expensive and dangerous equipment.

The third person left behind was an 18-year old named Thomas who happened to be a cage fighter on his way to Tucson.  He’d only fought twice, so I think he was pretty new to the sport.  Plus he still had all his teeth and his ears weren’t giant bulbs of cauliflower.  Thomas’ back-story goes like so: he had a child when he was 14 years old, dropped out of high school and traveled around the country (as a thief it sounds like), got his GED at 15 or so and started taking college classes, got married to the girl he got pregnant, spent most of the next couple years locked up in juvenile hall and got divorced, got out of jail and started going to a college in southern Idaho, then went to Tucson to live at his deceased father’s condo, then went back up to Idaho to get back together with his former wife and child, decided he didn’t like that after a few weeks when she got mad at him for hooking up with a girl at a party, left her a note on the fridge saying goodbye, got on a bus heading back to Tucson to start chef school at the UofA.  Most people riding Greyhound have a worthy story to tell and Thomas was no exception.  Thomas was probably also the most normal and sane person, aside from me of course, on any of my buses.  We were to become good friends over the next 48 hours.

Just to keep us on our toes, the shuttle van from the motel to the Greyhound station was late.  It finally arrived 30 minutes before our bus left SLC.  We got to the station with 20 minutes to spare though, so no worries.  None of us tipped the driver though.  Not that we would have anyways.  The night before, Thomas and the other two spent all their cash on beer, cigarettes, Lunchables and beef jerky from the convenient store down the street (no wait, they stole the Lunchables and beef jerky by simply running away with it).  And I spent my money on Chinese food, unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) missing out on all the action that night.

We all made our way to the ticket office, me still lagging behind them not wanting to be grouped in as an acquaintance (yet).  I still had a shred of questionably deserved pride.  I wasn’t one of them.  After all, I don’t think anyone with more stains on their shirt than I do is someone anyone would want to be seen with, let alone hang out with.

They all checked in, presenting their old tickets instead of their ID’s, and, surprisingly to me, they weren’t given new tickets.  Crap.  Immediately I knew I was in for trouble.  I left my ticket back in the motel room.  The woman working the ticket desk asked for mine and I told her I didn’t have it.  “Well we can’t let you on the bus without it,” she said.  The next few paragraphs aren’t appropriate for this blog.  I’ll just say that I was mad enough to not be making any sense.  Another Greyhound employee came over when he heard the commotion and attempted to aid her in her argument about why issuing new tickets wasn’t possible because someone else could find the old ticket and use it since they’re good for a whole year.  I told him to shut up and I went on cursing at them both about the shitty company that they worked for.

Eventually she called the motel to see if one of the employees there could find the ticket and drive over with it.  I knew this plan was pure bullshit designed to get me to shut up and leave them alone because there were less than 15 minutes before our bus was to leave.  I kept rampaging at them, looking for something to kick over, smash on the ground, or strangle to death.  Finally someone with a brain and some authority came over and just printed out a new ticket for me.  Jesus H Christ.  I got on the bus not one minute before it left.  Cortisol levels jacked.  After sitting down at the first open seat, the driver boarded and told me to move because I had “violated his bag.”  I had moved a bag out of the seat since, after asking who’s it was, no one had said anything.  “Oh are these seats not for passengers?” I asked.  I was in no mood to be screwed with at this point.  Not that I ever am.  He muttered something about it being for handicapped patrons…“because there is a fire extinguisher under the seat”.  This made no sense to me, but instead of arguing further, I just got up and said, “No, I guess this seat’s not for people.  Just bags,” and went to the back of the bus by the bathroom to fume and pout.  The bathroom seat immediately presented itself as a good choice though, since I was able to stretch my legs out in the aisle in front of me.  This small luxury outweighed the smell of urine and the constant flow of people tripping over my feet as I slept.

With my Mount Everest-high blood pressure popping vessels in my eyes, I settled down for the long drive ahead to Las Vegas and the two-dozen rest stops in between.  I was able to doze for a lot of the 6 or 8 hours or however long it was.  My left knee (the one I most recently crashed on at Walla Walla) was beginning to ache at this point in the trip after a full day on the bus, so I had to move around a lot to stretch it out.

I woke up as we pulled into Las Vegas at around 3:00 pm.  It was warm out.  Walla Walla was cold, Boise was cold, Salt Lake City was cold, Las Vegas was warm.  Remind me why people live in the Northwest?  Oh yeah, because it isn’t full of bums, crack attics, and prostitutes.  I got off the bus and drug my bike box, duffle bag, food bag, and backpack over to the benches to sit out the 5-hour lay over when two security guards came to make the rounds.  They wanted to see everyone’s ticket, or you had to leave.  They stopped at a man who was slumped over on the benches and asked him for his ticket.  He was unconscious though, so he didn’t say anything.  They began banging the metal bench he was on and he still didn’t wake up.  Someone suggested that he might be dead and everyone in the room chuckled at first.  30 seconds later when he still wasn’t moving after being shaken, I saw the eyes of one of the security guards bulge as he realized this could be true.  He shook the guy more and he still didn’t wake up.  It took them about three minutes of banging on the chair and yelling “SIR!” at him to revive him.  That’s how drunk or stoned he was.  And yes, he did have a ticket so they left him alone afterwards.

The station was small, muggy, and crowded and the TV was blaring a daytime court show.  I had to get the hell out of there.  I risked it all (this was Vegas after all) and arranged all my belongings in the baggage line for gate #3 heading to Flagstaff.  People were standing in line already for the bus.  Not standing but sitting with their stuff.  Most people just left their stuff there unattended though.  In normal circumstances I would never leave my bike alone in a place like that.  But no one knew what was in there–the cardboard box—or how much it was worth—more than my life.  And I had transformed into a Greyhound person by then anyways and any sense of logic I had before was long gone.  Greyhound had drained me of substance and integrity, soul, and morality, brains, focus, and foresight, strength, love and self-respect, compassion for my fellow human being, hope, imagination, courage, pity, sorrow and shame.  It stole from me what made me human.  Gone were my dreams and aspirations of being a pro bike racer.  The void was filled with animalistic desires for a cheap thrill, a laugh at another’s expense, a greasy meal in my belly, and a peek at a trashy showgirl.

So, content with my new Greyhound persona, I abandoned my life at door #3 and set out to appease the simplest human cravings of fast food, entertainment, cigarettes and booze (well maybe not the last two).  Good thing we were in Vegas.  Thomas lined his stuff up as well and we both headed out the door into the sky scraper-shaded streets of Vegas, hoping our stuff would be there when we got back.

We walked South, or maybe North.  I wasn’t sure.  I didn’t care; we were out of the bus station and the smell of throw up was becoming a thing of the distant past.  It didn’t take us long to find our way to a huge casino plaza.  I’m not sure if that’s the right word.  Plaza.  It was basically four city blocks-long of casinos, clothing stores, souvenir shops, and restaurants with a giant metal arched canopy five stories high spanning across the large walkway (or plaza) in between the buildings, which was filled with tourists and pretzel stands.  As we weaved our way through the throngs of the thousands of people my eyes darted around at the flashing lights and shiny pieces of metal.  Ooooo, shiny…  Unlike most people though, my attention wasn’t diverted to the slot machines, expensive showcase cars, or people dressed up like famous actors.  The only thing I saw was: “$2 hot dog and coke.  $1.50 pizza by the slice.  $3 hamburger and fries!”  Holding strong though, mainly because Thomas didn’t stop walking or talking long enough for me to buy anything, we made it through there without spending a dime.  Out on the other side and back out into the sunlight, we entered a slummish section of town with vacant lots and buildings with broken windows.  Typical.  The illusion of wealth and happiness is what America is built on when in reality 90% of it’s a dump, full of poor people and stray cats begging for a mere scratch on the back and a pat on the head.  For some reason the people I passed didn’t seem to appreciate the pat on the head as much as the cats did.

An hour later we upped our pace as we circled back to the bus station.  I suddenly came to and remembered that I had left all my worldly belongings there sitting out in the open for a thief to steal.  Damn it how could I have been so dumb and careless??? “If it’s still there when I get back I promise I won’t leave it alone again,” I pleaded with the god I don’t believe in.

It was all there.  Phew.  “OK, lets go find that Chipotles, Thomas.”  I had been calling dozens of people at home to look up a Chipotles in Vegas online, since Chipotles never seems like junk food but tastes just as good.  Thomas had called about five people too (using my phone since he dropped his in the toilet the day before).  We now had directions to the nearest location, which was across the street from the Belagio or some famous casino like that.  According to a guy we asked outside the Greyhound station it was “a long ass ways away.  Well, not too long I guess.  Actually, man, it aint that far now that I think about it.  People jog from here down there every morning if you don’t got a car.”  In fact, he decided to walk a block with us and point us in the right direction.  After walking the block, he asked us for $15 so he could purchase a new bus ticket and “get home.”  “Do you believe in second chances?” he asked us.  “Uh, not really, I said.”  “Well,” he continued, “I just got out of prison for getting caught with 500 pounds of marijuana.  I was in the room when the police came in.  Wasn’t mine, just in the room.  Anyways, I’m trying to get home to blah blah blah.”  I can’t remember what else he said, but after his little performance I showed him my empty wallet and answered, “Sorry no cash.  You take debit?”

The walk seemed to be taking longer than the guy had said it would.  45 minutes later we asked someone at a bus stop and he informed us that it was another three miles.  Well, there goes that.  Neither of us felt like doing a 10-mile round trip hike for a burrito.  We went into a casino and thought about sneaking into a buffet.  My brother, who had been on the phone shortly before had suggested doing this, much to Thomas’ liking.  I chickened out when we got there though so we wandered around upstairs in the casino, which turned into a mall, which then turned into a movie theater.  We escaped once again without spending anything.

On the walk back I broke down and stopped at a Thai place that looked cheap and got some stir-fry.  It was good but didn’t fill me up.  Thomas didn’t get anything and looked longingly at my plate of food.  “I feel bad for eating all this in front of you,” I lied.  I wolfed it down like a ravenous sheep.  I mean wolf.  It was lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten since the continental breakfast!  (Other than about five apples, some sardines, oat bread and jam, oranges, and whey protein).  We discussed how we’d kill the next couple hours and planned on attempting the buffet option again.  Now that I had some food in my stomach I had a lot more courage.  Plus we were still about three miles away from the Golden Nugget—our planned buffet-sneaking location.

We got back to the bus station to check our stuff, saw that it was still there somehow, then walked down the street again to the huge casino plaza area.  It was dark out now and the plaza was packed with people.  Loud music from every direction and dancing girls on stages distracted us for a good 20 minutes until our groaning stomachs reminded us of our objective.  We wandered in and out of casinos and buildings searching for a buffet before we tried the Golden Nugget.  It was our best hope, and therefore was left till last.  It didn’t let us down.  We made our way past the senior citizens, cigarette smoke, and slot machines.  Past the restaurants, where Thomas literally poked a large cheese cake with his finger to see if it was real, past gambling tables and to the elevator.  I pressed the button on the elevator that said, “The Buffet.”  We were in luck.

I didn’t consider this stealing.  Or if it was, I didn’t feel bad about it.  How can you feel bad about taking food from an industry that bases its business plan off of deception, greed, and lies?  No I’m not talking about a car company or congress.  The fact that people are OK with casinos existing in this country is pretty disturbing…that is until you go into one and see all the fancy contraptions, bright lights, and girls in thongs.

The elevator door opened and revealed an entire floor devoted to the buffet.  Immediately I felt joy and depression set in at the same time.  It was a huge place, yes–joy, that looked like it had tons of good food, but at first glance there seemed to be no way in except right past the greeter and cashier—where a long line of people were waiting to be seated.  All is lost, all is lost!  Abandon all hope, all is lost!

We approached cautiously, casually, but mainly awkwardly and sneakily.  A few short sentences were passed between us before we made a quick decision to just walk right past the line of people and into the food coral.  I held my breath and tried to look as un-guilty as I could.  It worked!  One second we were an infinite distance from the expensive spread of delicacies, the next we were quickly scrambling to find plates to pile it on by the pound.  The first thing I came across was shrimp and a mix of steamed seafood.  Yes sir.  To my right there was a line for the fried catfish and other seafood, which I passed since I couldn’t be bothered to wait.  I also passed the line for the ham and meat cuts, and went straight for the build your own fajitas section, which had no line but a delicious-looking assortment of fajita mixes, beans, rice, and toppings.  There was pizza, which I grabbed a piece of, a Chinese food section, pastas, bread, thanksgiving type food, other fried stuff, and an entire other half of the buffet that I never saw, which according to Thomas, included desserts such as cheesecake, chocolate cake, pie, ice cream, cookies…basically everything I ever craved and in endless amounts.

My plate was already full though, so I stopped with the small piece of pizza, fajita, and seafood.  I started eating it standing up, cortisol and adrenaline levels still jacked up from sneaking in a minute before.  I had overheard the greeter say, “Your table is almost ready,” to one of the people waiting in line as we passed by.  This meant they kept track of tables.  Carp.  There were plenty of open ones available, but Thomas and I nervously discussed our options while standing up eating our food.  Sitting down at a table meant someone might come over and discover we weren’t supposed to be there.  We could sit at a dirty table or a clean one.  Which would be the safer bet?  Should we just stand and eat?  That would look suspicious. We ended up sitting down at a clean table right in the middle of everything, which was a bad choice.  But we couldn’t concentrate with all that food right there on our plates begging to be eaten.  We took our seats and I got the pizza and the fajita burrito down in a little under 40 seconds before we were caught.

“May I see your ticket please?” a voice asked from behind.  I had told Thomas that if anyone asked about us sitting there we should say we just moved from another table.  Thomas replied to the guy, “Yeah, we had one over there.  We moved though, I can go see if it’s still there.”  He got up and walked over to the table he had pointed to, looking confused.  I got up, walked past him and whispered, “Let’s just go!” and took off.  I bolted for the elevator, looked behind to see Thomas still talking to the guy, and repeatedly pushed the button for the doors to close.  If he was stupid enough to stay behind and get caught, so be it.  This wasn’t the Marines.  No man left behind had no weight in a Greyhound person’s conscious, such as mine.

The elevator door opened when I reached the bottom floor and I briskly walked through the casino to the exit, taking my jacket off and removing my sunglasses from my head in case the cameras had spotted me earlier and were now searching for a guy wearing a black sweatshirt and a pair of yellow sunglasses.  I’d watched too many casino-type movies where they have 1,000 people upstairs monitoring sophisticated surveillance equipment, ready to push a button to release five men in dark suits and dark glasses to escort you to a dark backroom somewhere to be interrogated by a 260 pound street thug.  I think most of those people upstairs are watching the poker tables and slot machines though, not the buffet, because I made it out alive.

I walked to the other side of the plaza across from the Golden Nugget and waited for Thomas, half expecting him to burst out the doors in a full sprint cramming his mouth with French bread and fried catfish with 10 security guards in pursuit.  A few minutes later he appeared.  Just walking with a nervous smile on his face.

Apparently the guy had bought our story, which was partially backed up by another table-clearer who had said she had seen a ticket at that table for two but couldn’t remember who was sitting there.  Thomas had left though, since it looked strange that I had just left like I did and he didn’t want to take any chances.  So we both spent the next 24 hours banging our heads in frustration over all the food we missed out on.  It was almost worse getting a taste for it then not being able to go back for seconds than it would have been to not have had any at all.  It was like eating a single potato chip.  Except in Thomas’ and my case a single potato chip was a full plate of food.

We stopped to watch the dancing girls on stage one last time and I think Thomas stole a belt buckle from a vendor, then we made it back to the bus in time to wait in line for half an hour, because the bus was late.  Again.

Part Three:

The bright lights of Vegas dimmed into blackness behind as we drove off into the desert.  I couldn’t sleep at all.  Once again I was next to the bathroom at the back of the bus, but this time I was sharing a seat with someone and I didn’t have that back row seat with the three seats in a row—where I had been sitting before—so there was considerably less room.  I had chosen the aisle seat so I could stretch my legs out occasionally, where someone tripped over them every five minutes, helping to keep me awake.  Though, I don’t think it was that that was keeping me awake.  Maybe it was sleeping too much during the day or the high level of excitement just a short while before in Vegas.  Who knows?  But I sat there with my eyes closed for hours listening to Arcade Fire on my ipod trying to drift off.

Eventually we took a stop at a gas station and McDonalds sometime late at night in Arizona.  Thomas and I got out and walked over to the gas station, where Thomas said he got a cool hat once.  They had a bunch of souvenirs and stuff I guess that he wanted to check out.  I later realized by “checking out” he meant “sneaking into his pockets.”  As we walked across the parking lot, we heard a slight rustle in the bushes right next to us.  Thomas jumped, thinking it was a rattlesnake.  I looked over and saw an old man with his pants around his ankles taking a piss.  I think he was taking a piss.  I hope.

I wandered around the gas station looking for something to eat.  Chips sounded good.  A lot of bad calories though.  Whatever.  I grabbed a bag and went to the cashier and saw that there was real ice cream.  Ice cream is better than chips if you’re going to ruin a diet, so I got a waffle cone.  Double scoop.  It was only $2.71 and the scoops the gas station attendant gave were huge.  I was very happy.  As we exited the store, Thomas seemed very happy too.  He had stolen a pair of sunglasses and a little scorpion encased in an orb of plastic.  He gave the scorpion to me.  I told him I didn’t want it but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So now I had helped commit crimes in two states.

A couple hours after finishing my ice cream cone back on the bus I finally fell half asleep. It didn’t last long though.  All was quite.  The baby behind me wasn’t screaming.  The guy a few rows up was no longer snoring.  No one was talking.  It was dark inside and outside the bus.  No city lights shone, as we were way out in the desert.  Then, like a demented, rabid badger, the guy next to me jumped out of his seat from a dead slumber.  He stood up in his seat, did a quick 360-degree turn like a dog and crouched down, still squatting on his feet, clutching his knees to his chest staring straight forward.  I looked up at him in bewilderment, “Are you kidding me?” I asked out loud.  Was I really sitting next to this guy?  Of all the seats on the bus…

After a few minutes of him perched on his seat like a vulture, not moving or diverting his piercing gaze at nothing in front of him, asked if he needed to get out of the seat, maybe walk around or something.  He didn’t respond.  I asked him again, louder and let him know I was pissed off now for having to sit next to him.  Still no response.  I tapped him on the knee and he recoiled and pressed his forehead against the window and hissed, “I don’t like to touched!”  He literally hissed.  No, I’m not embellishing.  The words came out like those of a half snake, half Gollum creature.  I was dealing with a genuine crazy person.

Thomas had been watching the whole thing from his seat across from me and asked if I wanted to move over and sit next to him since he was one of the few people on the bus with an open seat next to him.  I said no.  “I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting my seat.”  I had been sitting there before this guy got on the bus and it should be him to move first if anyone was going to move.  Yes he was crazy and he never sat back down for the rest of the bus ride to Flagstaff, but still, I had my principles.  This is the one and only code a Greyhound person lives by: you must guard your seat and the one next to you with your life.  Win the armrest immediately.  Spread your knees out wide and win the legroom.  Make it seem like a huge chore if someone who gets on the bus after you asks “is that seat open?”  In fact, if they made it that far you’ve already failed.  You should have had your bag in the window seat, laying down on it pretending to be asleep with your headphones on.  I had failed to do this when the crazy guy got on the bus earlier, so I wasn’t going to give up my seat now after I had already failed once.  I couldn’t lose to this guy twice.

He got off in Flagstaff an hour later and I had two seats to myself and finally some good sleep to Phoenix.  Not good sleep, but somewhat half sleep.  There’s no such thing as good sleep on a cramped bus filled with people coughing up cigarette phlegm.

Wednesday: Phoenix was warm when we arrived early that morning.  It was still dark out at a quarter to 5:00 but it was shorts and T-shirt weather.  Thomas and I decided to go on another voyage to stretch our legs and use up some of the three hours we had until the next bus came.  We took a short cut through a parking lot and ended up scrambling over a barbed wire fence since the parking lot dead-ended.  There was nothing around, just the raised freeway on one side and the airport on the other.  It wasn’t nearly as exciting as our Vegas walk was.  But we had the same thing on our minds: food.  In search of a free hotel continental breakfast to sneak into, we plodded on.  By the time the sun came out we’d found our way into a Holiday Inn.  There was no continental breakfast, but there was an attached breakfast restaurant.  We ordered biscuits and gravy, which was the special.  It was good, but not very much food.  Thomas thought it was a lot.  I think my stomach is about 150% larger than the average person’s.  We walked back to the bus.

We parted ways when Thomas took the bus to Tucson.  I was also passing through Tucson, but my final destination was Lordsburg, NM, so I had to wait for another bus.  I sat in line for another 45 minutes before the final stretch of my trip came.

Aside from the first leg from Boise to Salt Lake City, this next one was probably the most pleasant bus ride of the week.  I had my own seat for almost all of it, the bus was finally warm, and the sun on my face through the window put me right to sleep.  Just another short five hours to Lordsburg.

After a brief stop in Tucson, our bus driver started driving away while a passenger frantically ran after the bus yelling for us to wait.  The other passengers on the bus began yelling at the bus driver to stop, but he kept on going until the guy running after the bus tripped, rolled down a wheel chair ramp, got back up and continued his sprint after the bus waving his arms.  The driver eventually stopped, but didn’t apologize to the battered guy as he got on the bus, panting and looking emotionally hurt.  In fact, the driver made several later announcements mocking the guy about making sure to be back on the bus in time.

Back on the road, I fell asleep again in comfort as the warm air drew my eyelids down.  The bus was warm because the air conditioner was broken.  The driver stopped four or five times on the side of the road to get out and fiddle with it.  Everyone on the bus was dying of heat.  It was 80 degrees inside, 81 degrees outside.  It felt good to me, but I looked over at the man and woman across from me and saw beads of sweat pouring down their faces.  The driver stopped again and opened the top hatches on the ceiling to let in air.  I was worried he’d stop us permanently and call for a bus to come pick us up, which would certainly take five or more hours.  We were just 40 minutes from Lordsburg at this point.

But we made it.  I got out at Lordsburg and argued with the driver about my luggage since he didn’t want to let me leave with it since I didn’t have my baggage receipt.  I said I was going to take my stuff anyways, grabbed it out of the bus and was finally done with Greyhound.  Hopefully for a long time.  From the time I spent at the station in Boise to the time now in Lordsburg I had spent 52 and a half hours traveling by Greyhound.

This would seem like the end of my journey, but it’s not.  I called Danny, a friend of mine whom I rode with a few times last year in Tucson, and he picked me up in his van and drove me back to his house, which was only a few blocks from the bus stop.  In fact, his house was only a few blocks from everything in town.  It was a ghost town.  There was a grocery store, some Mexican restaurants, a gas station, some houses, and a bunch of empty buildings.  It was hot out, flat, no vegetation, just dirt for miles and brown mountains off in the distance.  Probably the least inspiring place to ride, which is why I guess he drove three hours to Tucson every Saturday to do the Shootout.

I watched a couple hours of DVR’ed cage fighting in Danny’s cool, dark living room and got up enough motivation to go ride for an hour on the two wind-swept streets next to the freeway that Lordsburg had to offer.  I built my bike, kitted up and, headed out the door.  And you know what?  I felt surprisingly good!  Amazing.  Three days on the bus right after a stage race and I’d be happy if I could pedal at all, but I actually felt somewhat descent.  I stopped at the grocery store and bought my staples: apples, oranges, bananas, watermelon, papaya, strawberries, mangos, and a few vegetables.  I also bought some chicken liver, which I’ve been eating lately, and a big bag of frozen green chili peppers, which New Mexico is famous for.  I brought my real food back to the house and finally had a healthy meal.  A few hours later I packed up everything in Danny’s little 1989 Geo Metro for the drive up to the mountains above Silver City, called Pinos Altos, to the guest house I was going to be staying at—owned by two nice people who decided to let Dan and I stay there for the race the following week.

You might expect things to go badly during the 50 miles I had to drive that night when Danny had to show me how to start the car with a flat head screwdriver.  Or the fact that the car had close to 300,000 miles on it, that he had only paid $500 bucks for it three years ago, that the rear door was opened with a wire hanger, or the fact that nothing in the car worked.  But I wasn’t worried.  I was actually very happy to be heading up to the little cabin for some peace and quiet and a bed.  The car was pretty cool in my opinion.  It was simple (except for turning it on), and I like old junky things like that that keep on working when they’re not expected to.

I ventured out to the empty highway towards Silver City, no streetlights or cars anywhere, just the Geo’s fading headlights and the groan of the engine puttering along at 45 mph up the slowly ascending mountainside.  I braked to miss a jackrabbit.  I slowed and swerved to miss a deer.  Then another deer.  I hoped I was on the right road.  The attention I had given to the directions that Danny had given me had been minimal.  I was running on about six real hours of sleep in the last 52 hours.  Plus I’m bad at listening to directions anyways.

Whatever.  I was moving forward.  I was off the bus.  It was still an adventure.  I’d most likely get there without any weird incidents, but I could always hope…

The headlights went out.

They came back on, went dim, went out completely.  The car was dying.  I kept driving and pushing the starter button.  The lights came back on again just in time for the only other car on the road that night to see me.  Fingers crossed, I continued on, now hoping that the gas wouldn’t run out and that the lights would stay on.

I pulled into a gas station on the outskirts of Siler City to fill the tiny tank up.  I didn’t know what side of the car the gas was on.  I couldn’t open the window to look out and check since there was no window knob.  I couldn’t open the door since there was no doorknob.  I parked the car, taking a guess that the gas was on the passenger side of the car.  It took me five minutes to figure out what wires to pull to open the door.  I stuck my head out the door and saw that I had guessed wrong, the gas was on the other side.  I stuck the screwdriver in the ignition and flipped the starter button.  Nothing happened.  I tried again.  Nothing happened.  I tried different variations.  Starter button first, then the screwdriver.  Nothing happened.  It was past 10 PM.  This was not good.  The gas station was closed; no one was around.  There were no stores or anything around, not that they’d be open anyways.  I called Danny for advice and he suggested something was wrong with the battery connection.  I popped the hood and looked around, puzzled of course because my knowledge of cars is about as low as my knowledge of the opposite sex.  “Where’s the cheese for the mice?” was my first question.  “Wait, where’s the mice and the running wheels?” was my next.  This was going to be as futile as resisting the Borg.

After a good amount of time, I located the battery.  I grabbed the red wire and it began sparking and hissing, lighting up the engine and sending a weak shock through my hand.  I jumped and let go of it.  It continued sparking.  I shook it and it stopped.  “It must have disconnected from its place,” I thought.  “Hmm, what should I do now?”

I grabbed it again.  No sparks this time.  I touched it to some other piece of metal under the hood and it sparked again.  I jumped a second time and let it go.  I repeated this process twice more just to make sure…yep, the red wire makes sparks when you touch it to certain pieces of metal.  “So…that means…the mice…get shocked if they stop running on their wheels?” I guessed.  I called Danny again.

Twenty minutes later, with all my bike tools spread out on the roof of the car, and after asking a guy in a truck to point out where I should re-attach the red wire, I had cut away some of the rubber coating on the cable, intertwined the wire strands around the starter wire (where it had been attached earlier before it fell out), and was trying to start the car again.  Oh yeah, and I had disconnected the other wire from the battery so I was no longer getting shocked.

The car sort of started.  But didn’t.  It sort of started again, but didn’t.  I spent another 20 minutes fiddling with things before it finally really started, but there was smoke spewing out everywhere.  I thought about letting it run for a while to burn off the plastic coating on the wires, which is what I thought was causing all the smoke.  Luckily two people, a guy and a girl, pulled up to the gas station and suggested that I shouldn’t do that.  They took a look at the engine and the girl said I couldn’t drive it like that.  After a quick discussion they offered to drive me up to Pinos Altos, which was only about seven miles away.  They were two very sketchy looking people.  The guy looked like a gang banger and she looked like a crack whore.   I’m not trying to be mean, this is just what I assumed they were.  And they seemed really eager to give me and all my stuff a ride.  This felt like a classic robbery scheme.  I had seen movies where variations of this happens to unsuspecting suburban simpletons, like myslef.  But I was bigger than both of them though, so I said sure and thanks!

We loaded all my bike gear and duffels in the car and we pushed the Geo off to the corner of the parking lot.  I took they key (the screwdriver) with me and put it in my pocket.  I also put a pair of scissors and my multi tool, which has a one and a half-inch knife blade, in my pockets.  I was armed and prepared for the imminent mugging.

The guy, named Jaun, couldn’t find his keys.  We spent the next 15 minutes searching for them.  We came to the conclusion that they were locked in the trunk with all my bags.  The girl, whose name was really hard to pronounce and I can’t remember, had to crawl in the trunk through the backseat among all my bags, where she found the keys.  I made sure, or tried, to keep an eye on where her hands were digging.  If she had opened my bag, all she would have found would have been a bunch of dirty chamois with scabs on the left leg.  But they were important to me of course.

I demanded the backseat even though the girl argued with me about it.  She wanted me to sit up front because there was more legroom.  I gave the excuse that I’d feel bad for her having to have all my wheels and bike in her lap. Now, keys in hand, we were off.

Loud rap blasted from the crappy backseat speakers and conversation came to a dead hault as we exited the gas station parking lot.  A mile later we took a left turn before the correct turn onto highway 15 to Pinos Altos.  “This isn’t the right street,” I said.  “Yeah, we need to make a quick detour,” the guy said.  “Ah, here it comes I thought.”  “We need to stop at home real quick for a minute to get a dollar for some gas,” he said.  “OK, bring it,” I thought, as I got my screwdriver ready.  Hopefully they didn’t have friends waiting for me wherever they were taking me.  I could manage the two of them with my screwdriver and pair of dull scissors no problem, but five other dudes?  That could be bad, especially if they had their own pair of scissors…or a knife or a gun.  I wasn’t going down without a fight, though, and I’d be damned if anyone was stealing my practically brand new Blue Axino road bike (the best bike I’ve ever owned).  We pulled onto a dark street and came to a stop in front of a crummy little house.  She jumped out, ran inside real fast and vanished into the darkness.  I clenched the screwdriver in my pocket, ready to thrust it through the guy’s neck and burst out the door dragging my bike and Powertap wheel with me the minute I saw something fishy.

The girl came prancing back out of the house with a dollar in her hand and a smile on her face.  She got in and we drove to a gas station around the block.  “Hmm, maybe I judged them wrong,” I thought.  I gave them a dollar I had found earlier that day for an extra couple ounces of gas.  They both went into the gas station after filling the tank with two dollars and sixteen cents of gasoline, and got a bunch of gas station food with her food stamps.  She told me to get anything I wanted, but I’d had my fill of gas station food for the week so I said no thanks.  Plus I didn’t want to take my eyes off any of my stuff for even a minute.  They had recently commented about how many “bad people” there were in Silver City and how lucky I was to run into them—“probably the only two nice people in town.”  Were they hinting at something?  Maybe they had originally thought about robbing me but the circumstances weren’t right.  Maybe she needed the backseat for it to work by pulling a knife on me from behind.  Maybe they saw that I didn’t have anything worth stealing (other than my bike, which they probably had no idea of the value).  Was I too intimidating?  Was my lumbering six-foot frame and 162 pounds of vicious quad muscle too much for them to handle?  Was that a screwdriver in my pocket or was I just happy to see them?

Whatever the reason, they didn’t rob me.  Maybe they were good people after all.  We drove up the highway to Pinos Altos and I explained bike racing to them.  They were both pretty interested and knew a lot about it already from watching the tour of the Gila each year.  We found my cabin on the side of the road among some tall pines and I said goodbye and unloaded my stuff, them not even wanting to touch any of it in case I might think they were trying to jack something.  I thanked them for all their help.  I thought of something I could give them to thank them, remembered they were living off of food stamps, and offered some fruit from my food bag.  Ha.  Yeah right.  Like people want to eat fruit when they could be eating frozen burritos from Circle K.  They politely declined, brows slightly raised in confusion in the darkness about why I would offer them fruit.

I walked in, found some cereal in the cupboard, poured a bowl, and began writing this.  And that brings us to the conclusion of my journey to Gila.  What did I learn along the way?  I’m not sure.  Maybe nothing.  Do I have to learn anything for it to be a good story?  What’s our infatuation with “learning” from an experience or for a movie or TV show to come to a conclusion with a few wisely-chosen sentences to state what the characters learned from their adventure or obstacle they had to overcome?  I didn’t learn anything and don’t plan on reflecting on the experience at all!  Oh wait, actually I did learn one thing: when stealing from a buffet, eat standing up.  That’s all for now.  Time to train up and rest up for the race.

Tour of Walla! Walla! Stage 3 and 4

Stage 3 was a janky little downtown crit that was too easy to sit in on, too hard to get away on, and too hard to move up on that was shortened from 55 minutes to 48 minutes with almost no warning (because it got too dark for the cameras to read our numbers?).  Not much to be said about it other than it was dumb and uneventful, for me at least.  I attacked a grand total of 2 times and got away for 3/4 of a lap to miss out on a $50 prime by a few bike lengths.  I went straight to the back after that and before I knew it there were only two laps to go (officials decided to shorten it suddenly from 2 laps to go from 8) and I couldn’t move up in time to help out with our planned lead out for Ian.  Dan and Spencer took the reigns though and did a hard pull for the last 2 or 3 laps, but Ian wasn’t positioned in time and we lost out.

Stage 4: 91 miles of treeless, hilly terrain out in the barren plains of Eastern Washington.  It was windy.  Very windy.  We had Dan sitting at 5th GC and Chris at 7th, so our plan was to attack the shit outa that shit and destroy the field and get one of those two guys up the road for the GC win.  Lang, Phil, and Ian were also pretty close behind on GC, so we had a lot of options going into the day.

I attacked hard from the gun, got brought back.  Then I attacked over the crest of the first climb a couple miles later and got away for five minutes by myself, then got brought back.  A mile later I attacked into the headwind and didn’t get away at all.  Shortly after that attack we rounded a corner and started the uphill brutality into a tail/crosswind.  The peleton shattered.  We were only a few miles into the race at this point, but guys were getting shot out the back faster than something something I can’t think right now because it’s 1 in the morning and I drank a beer.   Uhhh, where was I?  Ah yes, my favorite animal is the sea lion, followed by the wolf, followed by the dhynonocus.  Not sure if that last word was spelled right.  Now I’m really off track.  OK just read the sentence before I got distracted and I was talking about the race.  One guy rode off the road into the ditch on the uphill tailwind section.  Can you believe that?!?!?  I almost wanted to get off my bike and laugh.  But I didn’t.  I kept riding, realized there was a gap between my group and the two groups ahead, but didn’t panic or take any pulls.  I was still feeling pretty fine at this point and was calm enough to remember there would eventually be a descent, another tailwind climb, another descent, and then finally a long headwind section where I knew the race would come back together.  I sat in and waited for this to eventually happen.  10 minutes later, it did and I went straight from off the back to off the front.  I put my head down and stuck it hard at threshold into the headwind, knowing that no one would be stupid enough to chase.  No one did for a while.

Eventually I began looking over my shoulder, hoping to see some teammates bridging across.  At last I realized that there were two guys coming up to me so I sat up and waited.  The pack was another 30 seconds behind them by the time they caught me and the three of us drilled it up the next tailwind climb (damn tailwind climbs every direction I looked today!).  We worked well together until one of the guys decided that he had weak little girly girl legs and wouldn’t pull anymore because there were still 75 miles left to race and our gap was coming down (1 minute at this point).  He sat on for a long time until even sitting on was too much of a chore for him and he retreated back to the pack.  Good.  I was glad to see him go since I distinctly remembered him sitting on a 6 man break away all day long two years ago and attacking with 5K to go to steal the win.

Now it was just one guy (named Kyle) and me.  Kyle and I took even pulls for the next lap until he cracked.  At one point he was the GC leader on the road, but Alan, who was driving the team car for us today, handed me a Snickers bar and a big bottle of Hammer Perpetuim and I must have gained a few dozen watts because I dropped him up the next climb.  Shit was going down back in the field at this point, with Phil, Lang, Spencer, Chris, Ian, and Dan all going ape shit and attacking like spider monkeys with terribly itchy ticks.  They were going nuts.  I’m glad I was up the road riding easy threshold in the wind by myself, because the watts I would have had to do holing onto wheels and following the HB surges would have been much more painful.

As I climbed the longer tailwind climb and the wheel and lead cars came around me (signifying my gap was under a minute) I began looking back in fear at the approaching field.  They were gaining time on me at an alarming rate.  Especially two riders in black.  Shit, they were going to catch me before the top of the climb!  I grimaced and sped up.  I looked back again, did a double take and realized the two riders with the large gap to the field were Dan and Chris, the very two riders we were trying to have bridge to me all freaking day.  And they were alone.  And this was the last lap!  I sat up for a minute or less to rest my dying legs (at this point I had been off the front for about 65 miles or something) and caught onto Chris’ wheel as he came speeding by.  I had to yell at him every 30 seconds or so to slow down, since I was getting absolutely no draft and he climbs like an animal.  I hurt pretty bad for that climb and the next one too as I pleaded with Chris and Dan to keep the pace down just a quarter of a mile an hour slower.  “I swear, I won’t pimp you at the line!!”  This was a lie, because shortly after I attacked them hard on a descent.  Nah, just kidding.  Can you imagine though?  Anyways I held on for dear life until we got to the descent and then headwind section, where I pulled my brains out.  Our gap ballooned as the field sat up, not wanting to put in the effort at the front in the wind.  Stanglend’s team (GC leader) was cracked by this point and it was down to him and a few others to do the pulling.

I contemplated my options here, in between wincing in pain, and decided to go all in on this flat headwind section, drop myself for the final tailwind climb, let those guys go hard on it, and hope that they had enough time on the field to last during the final 10 miles of headwind climb and descent.  In hindsight, I should have held back and conserved energy for the tailwind climb and gone all in on the next headwind section, but whatever.  I decided to do myself in NOW just in case I didn’t get a chance to later.  I took one final big pull as we turned into the tailwind climb and waved goodbye to the front of the race.  Chris and Dan stayed in sight for a long time as I regained my strength and hammered up the climb alone.  By the top I was only 30 or 40 seconds down on them and realized I had made a mistake.  They could have used me on the next headwind section.

A short descent later and the final climb of the day found itself under my aching wheels.  Headwind, steep, and super slow.  I got caught by the field at here at last, having been off the front now for around 80 miles.  Man, it was super easy sitting in getting a draft.  I spent the next 10K looking up the road in anxiety, hoping for a crash or something to slow down the now very motivated (for some reason) chase that was very quickly closing in on Chris and Dan.  I’ve never wanted someone else to win the bike race more than I did now.  I sat at the back of the tiny 30-man peloton, just coasting, while 10 guys rotated at the front.  This was the worst part of the race for me.  Before, when the gap would come down while I was off the front, I could just ride harder.  But now, even though I was just coasting, this was by far the most painful part of the race for me because I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.  I cursed out loud as Dan and Chris came into close view with 3K to go.  “HOLD THEM OFF YOU SONS A BITCHES!!!!” I yelled from the back of the pack.  I thought about going to the front and crashing.  Instead, I cursed some more fro them to stay off and win.  And they did!  By 7 seconds (though it seemed like 2).  HB finally wins a road race.  Dan moved up to 2nd GC as well, and the team moved up to 1st GC with 4 guys in the top 10.  Not a bad way to end the week.  I got to ride hard all day long and the team won.  This was by far the best we’ve ever ridden together.  Flawless tactics by everyone on the team.  Now I’m in Boise for a night at Dan’s and tomorrow morning I’ll begin my long voyage to Silver City New Mexico via a 35 hour greyhound bus ride.  The perfect way to recover the legs after a stage race.

After the final road race today.  Left to right: Phil, Spencer, me, Ian, Dan.  Missing are Chris and Lang, who were off in the porta pottie together having a good time.  Just two dudes.  Having a good time, having a good time, having a good time…

Tour of Walla Walla, Stages 1 and dose.

Stage 1.  65 mile road race.  The day started with a big climb that we rolled up nice and slow and neutralized that took about 15 minutes.  I was feeling pretty fresh.  Ready to crush some Bs come later in the race.  I planned on NOT going with the first move.  And also NOT sitting in and being lazy.  I planned on attacking at a smart time and making my matches count for once.  The calm before the storm had a metophorical and physical meaning as we soft pedaled behind the lead car.  As we rolled across the top of the climb and the race whistle sounded, the temperature immediately began plummeting from the comfortable 60 degrees to something quite a bit nastier.  The wind picked up too (though that may have been because of the fast descent).  Storm clouds gathered overhead and began teasing us with small, cold bits of spittle.

The calm of the neutralized race vanished with the cresting of the hill too and attacks began hitting out on the front as cat 1’s and 2’s weaved and rocked their bikes like epileptic cat 5’s.  With all the sketchiness present I felt like I was in a beginner’s drawing class.  Downhill attacks are the best, especially when you sit up right after you attack as you see the whole field coasting on your wheel.  They usually work really well because one minute you’re not pedaling at all and your saving up all this energy, and the next you’re attacking and can punch out way more watts than you’d be able to if the pace had been consistently hard, like say on a climb.  Usually races are won on downhill attacks.

My race was not won on a downhill attack, but I did lose it because of one gone wrong.  I was coasting in the middle of the pack, not too far back, when up ahead I saw the slamming on of breaks and the smell of terror as bikes and bodies began hurtling through the air, piling up directly in my path.  There was no avoiding it from where I was.  I slowed down but went right into someone’s chest (they were lying down already) and I went up and over the bars.  I felt my foot pop out of my shoe as I was upside down, heading for the pavement.  I clearly remember hoping no one would run over my foot as I came to a halt and tucked my head in my arms as people crashed around me.   All this carnage just because some idiot touched the wheel in front of him as they looked back after coming across a tiny gap (he probably thought he had the race in the bag after bravely soloing that tiny gap and geniusly placing himself in a perfect top 10 spot with only 63 miles left to race).  Little did he know that his careless move would see multiple people being carted away to the hospital, and even worse: the destruction of MY race.

I looked around for my shoe as I picked up my bike, saw that it was still clipped into my pedal, took it off the pedal, took the shoe cover off, put the shoe back on, tried to straighten the bent cleat as I clipped in, and started the chase.  The chase went hard for about 15 minutes while I worked with one or two other guys to make it back into the peloton, but it was clear that we were doomed from the beginning.  With no caravan to draft in, and with a motivated pack still attacking itself, there was no way we were going to cover the +minute deficit with just two guys, both slightly bruised and road rashed–me with both right, and now left, sides of my body aching.

A group of 10 or so formed over the next lap and the rain started coming down heavier and colder.  The 60 degrees turned to 45 and the next couple hours were pure misery.  I took my fair share of pulls and attempted to stay warm, but there was no chance of that happening with just the thin jacket and knee warmers I had on.  There was nothing to look forward to except being finished.  Different than a normal race in the sense that usually you look forward TO the finish, not to BEING finished.

We came in 17 minutes down from the leaders.  I was drenched and hypothermic by the top of the climb, like most of the field was, though to show for it I had nothing.  Nothing except hardening up points.

The rest of the team came in at the same time, with Phil a handful of seconds up on them from being in the breakaway and taking 5th.  Chris was next at 7th, winning the pack sprint.  The rest of the guys all finished in a small lead group with Chris.

Stage 2.  20K (ish) TT I think.  Joe told me to take it easy in the TT to save energy for Sunday, since I was sitting so far back on GC my TT didn’t matter.  I rode it medium pace, enough to not get time cut, and I came in at 36th.  I was surprised when I saw my placing.  I think I could have been in the top 10, or close to it if I had nailed it, but then again even getting 10th wouldn’t have done anything for the team.  My goal for this race now is to get someone the GC win or stage hunt.  We have three guys in the top 11 GC (Dan at 5th, Chris at 7th, and Ian at 11th), with three others (Phil, Lang, and Spencer) close behind and within range of the podium.  Next up is the Crit tonight.  And then then 90 miler tomorrow, where the final GC could be anyone’s guess after KP goes to the front and blows that shit UP!

Rainy Afternoon Hill Billy Blues


I dun cut my han’ on a oyster can
the blood’s spewin’ on my feet and in the pan
but I don’t really care cause I’m chewin’ a hunk a ham
my brain ain’t smart cause I been sniffen lot’s a glue
and I may be dumbmer than an ol’ worn out shoe
I can’t think real hard cause my head ain’t big
but that’s OK cause I know the hill billy jig.

The dog’s barkin’ up an oak without a squirrel in sight
the rain’s pourin’ down an’ his eyes is squinted tight
them squirrels is a laughin’ from their holes a mile a way
but Tommy don’t care he’s got a brain made a clay
when he was a pup he was dropped on his lid
that’s when you do the hill billy jig.

My bike’s in the garage drippin’ wet from a ride
the chain’s rustin’ up n’ Joe’s gonna whip my hide
but my bike don’t care cause his headset’s loose
that bike’s dumer still than a dull-witted moose
he aint as fast as a car or as big as a rig
but if there’s one thing he knows it’s how to do the hill billy jig.

I reach for some scotch tape to stop my bleedin’ hand from a squirtin’
if I lose any more hemeglobin I’m gonna be in for a hurtin’
them hills out yonder was feelin’ mighty steep this mornin’
specially the way them rain clouds was a stormin’
it’s dumpin’ out now and it aint never gonna stop
so there’s only one thing to do, it’s called the hill billy hop
ya get a bottle marked with X’s n’ take a sip or two or fity,
if ya can’t count that high your in hilly billy city
keep on a drinkin’ till your face is on the groun’
now you can start the second roun’

staggerin’ around eatin’ a bowl a pea soup
bucklin’ knees, squatin’ like your gonna take a poop
ya put your left foot forward and your right foot back
your eyes is crossed and your vision’s goin’ black
sway just a bit n’ ya reach for the door
now yer drunk outside in the rain like a whore
the rain’s comin’ down really hard n’ thick
but you don’t care cause your a drunken ‘ol hick
ya do the hill billy jig for a wet Thursday afternoooon
ain’t nothin’ better for cure’n a bit a hill billy gloooooom.

The last three races: Redlands Stg. 4, King’s Valley, Olympic View

I overshot the blogging last week during the first three stages of Redlands by posting before results were up. So for the final stage I’ve decided to wait a week afterwards to even things out. Here’s Stage 4 (or 3 if the TT counts as a prologue, which I don’t think it should):

I started at the front, rode for less than an hour, saw that I was no longer at the front, assessed the probability that I’d ever reach the front again, and pulled out. I felt pretty terrible. My sore throat and congestion were back in full force, and after missing the front group I decided to quit and start resting up for later races. I could have suffered through it and finished 90th, but it didn’t seem worth it at the time. Of course, at the time I was in a lot of pain.

It seemed smart to stop before the cold came back and took me out for two or three weeks, which is usually what happens to me, but immediately after I quit, as I gave my bottles to Joe in the feed zone for the other guys to drink, I thought otherwise. I wanted to finish it damn it. I went home to our host house and read Podium Live Redlands twitter updates, refreshing the page ever minute waiting for race news. I could have just stepped outside since our house was located directly on the course, but being out there in person, watching all those guys race would have pissed me off even more. So I sat in my bed with the curtains drawn and ate cereal while I hit the refresh button over and over again, cursing my bad health and cursing my bad legs.

It was a long drive back to Oregon that night and the next day while my teammate Chris Parish and I took turns at the team van’s wheel. Highlights were the continental breakfast at our hotel, Chipotle (2X), and learning how to use Twitter on Chris’ ipad. The progression from summer to winter, though, was not a highlight. I quickly remembered how uncomfortable 45 and raining is.

I rested up for a few days and was feeling recovered and healthy enough to race last Saturday at the King’s Valley road race just north of Corvallis, west of Salem. In past King’s Valley years I’ve attacked too much in the beginning and missed out on the late break (2010), or attacked too much too early and was too fatigued and poorly positioned for the final uphill field sprint (2009). Usually the lazier guys end up winning races, so I decided to be one of those guys today. Plus I didn’t want to wreck myself for the race the next day up in Washington, Olympic View RR.

After throwing in one or two mediocre attacks on the first lap with no beneficial outcome I decided the only time I’d go to the front the rest of the day was on the 1K finish climb, which we did 4 times, in order to soften up the field for the finale. The finish climb is pretty short and not at all steep. It only takes a minute to get up the actual hill part of it, but the peleton can break up a bit if you hit it hard enough and I figured I had the strength to go all out at the base the last time up and stay away for the win at the top.

I went fairly hard the first time up it to test out my legs and looked back at the top to see two guys on my wheel with a small gap to the fully intact field. I was a bit confused since the effort I had done felt like it should have been enough to break things up a bit. I sat up and waited for the next lap.

The second time up the climb came soon enough and I got to the front and was about to drill it when someone else decided to do the work instead. I sat on pretty easily and took a pull at the top and looked back again to see the field strung out with a few gaps, but for the most part right there behind us. Everyone came together on the descent. I realized that it was a dead on headwind climb, not a cross wind like I had thought it was. It was too easy to sit and get a draft. I can never judge the wind direction unless I see a flag, so the realization that it was a headwind was a bit of a shocker and a let down. So much for destroying the field on that tiny little bump.

I can’t remember what happened on the third lap, other than eventually seeing that six guys got up the road. I was near the back at the time when it happened, like I was for a lot of the race. They ended up getting a large gap over the final lap and stuck it. Now we were contesting sixth place (one rider came off the break in the last couple miles so there were only five up the road). I held a good position near the front coming into the final climb and followed wheels, hoping someone would destroy themselves in the wind for me. But no one did, and I wasn’t going to do it and ruin my race so someone else could take the win–I mean sixth place–so we all just soft pedaled up the thing and sprinted at the top. The damn headwind up the climb was so strong by now that practically the entire field came together at the top for the final flat 200 meter pack sprint, in which I took a pretty weak 5th. 10th overall in the race. Not quite enough prize winnings to earn back my entry fee. So much for being smart and tactful today. The break deserved to win though.

The next day was a much harder race, at least at the front. Out in a dark green forest somewhere near Olympia, the course consisted of 90 miles of slightly rolling terrain, located in either a river, lake or ocean I believe. Somewhere very wet at least. The sky poured and pissed for a little under four hours while we drank wheel spin off through mud-covered teeth. The rain never let up. It was a pretty fun race actually.

The day before, up at KV, I was too lazy so today I decided to get things off on the right foot like I usually do and attack from the gun. Lang and I were sitting right on the lead car when the race turned the first corner out of the staging area, where it supposedly became un-neutralized. We weren’t sure if the race was on or not after the corner, since the car never sped off, but neither of us looked back as the car slowly (very slowly) accelerated. We sat on its bumper until it finally pulled away from us. I looked back and was surprised to see that there was already a large gap to the field, so Lang and I hit it. I thought this could be the race, as we had 8 teammates back in the field that would hopefully shut down any moves up to us. We stayed off by ourselves for a good 6 or 7 minutes before a few guys started bridging up to us. It was good that we were caught, since the way we escaped the pack felt a bit shady. We were riding with about five other guys when the front of the field started eating us up. I followed a few moves as guys launched themselves over small risers in attempts to get away. I attacked again as well and our team kept the pace high with Colin, Logan, and others firing off bullets a dozen times in the next couple miles. I went a few too many times, possibly, when I should have been sitting on and covering moves instead. I unknowingly took off right before a small riser and drilled it to the base, went half way up and was countered by the guys sitting on my wheel. I pulled to the right to let the rest of the peleton come past, but didn’t realize I had made a small gap when I had accelerated earlier. No one from the field fully covered the move and at the top of the small hill, the eight guys slowly grew the tiny gap they had and the field soon sat up. Luckily, Phil had been in the move and in other circumstances, our team would have been happy to have the break go with one of our teammates. But since our team comprised roughly a quarter of the field, 1 in 8 wasn’t good odds for us.

We were going to attempt some bridging moves, but a crash in the field that occurred a few minutes after the move got away took away some of the pack’s potency. Before we knew it, the gap had grown to 45 seconds. Joe got us organized and we began an organized chase, but it was too little too late. The eight (7 if you don’t count Phil who was wisely sitting on) must have been drilling it with a tight-nit rotation, because the guys we put in the chase slowly lost ground every time we heard a gap check.

I was designated as one of the chasers, probably mainly because I was already at the front pulling, and I had no problem with it. I wanted to ride hard and whether that was on the front of the peleton or the front of the breakaway, I didn’t really care. My legs were tweaking out from the previous day’s wimpy riding, chomping in rage at the bit to feel some self-inflicted pain. I should have let the team know I had good legs and opted to sit on, resting for the final lap when we made contact with the break. I was feeling pretty good, though it wouldn’t have mattered anyways since we never caught the break.

As the miles ticked away, our feet turned from damp to drenched to soaking to saturated. It was so wet out I just decided to take a piss without even pulling out of my bibs. Just right in all my clothes. The warmth felt good on my cold legs as it flowed down into my shoes. I was hoping the plastic bags I had encased my feet in would keep the rain out, but they had not. And now as I pissed my pants I feared the bags would hold in everything that I had just dispensed from my bladder. I’m not sure if this happened. I haven’t smelled my shoes yet.

My gloves were so drenched I knew taking them off to reach my impossible pockets full of food would pull them inside out and I’d never be able to get them on again. This was probably my biggest problem during the race, as it made eating very difficult.

Anyways, by the final lap it was mainly just down to me taking pulls, with the breakaway still 3 minutes up the road and way out of our reach. Chris Wingfield was still up there with me, slogging himself for a few more miles before his legs failed, when the field began attacking itself. I was got pretty mad at that point, that all these guys that had been sitting on for the past 3 hours now had the nerve to attack (that’s racing though, duh). My legs were shot, and I knew it. And when you’re about to crack the only thing sane left to do is sit on and conserve—I mean attack. I threw down a few attacks in anger and promptly dropped myself. I caught back on tried a few more times, though by then it was a head wind and I decided to be a bit smarter.

The breakaway ended up only having 4 guys survive to the line, with Phil taking 4th. Chris Wingfield, who had been taking big pulls with me all day, got away about maybe 10 K from the finish line as we all attacked each other, sat up, attacked, and sat up again. He dangled just off the front and was finally bridged up to shortly before the finish by Jacob Rathe (my carpool mate for the day). Jacob didn’t contest the sprint and Chris took a decent 5th place for all his hard work. The tiny bit of peleton left on the road came roaring up behind seconds after those two crossed, fighting for a measly 7th place (the money stopped at 5th by the way). I came across the finish line third in the field sprint (if you can call 15 people a field) and immediately plowed right into Jacob, who had been pushed from someone on the left. I went down at 35mph or so and landed hard on my side on the pavement and Jacob was launched into the ditch on the side of the road. I slid a few feet on my back, with my wind vest and five other layers of clothing soaking up all the road rash I would have gotten if I had only been wearing a regular short sleeve jersey. Neither of us were seriously hurt, but my helmet, wind vest, deraileur hanger, and left shift lever are destroyed.

So 10th place both days. First day I sat in too much. Second day I spent all day in the wind. Maybe if I take the middle route I’ll finish 5th. Or 20th. One of the two.

We limped to the car and shed our soaked, freezing (and now bloody) clothes directly in the mud and grass parking area beside the car as we continued to get rained on. It was a long time to spend out in the rain slogging and suffering around the course for another 10th place, but I enjoyed it like always. The four of us (my dad and Jacob’s girlfriend Kathryn included) ducked into the car at last as the rain started coming down even heavier, and began the long drive home. First stop: the gas station for a bottle of ibuprofen. My neck and hip were sorer than a hooker’s on New Year’s.

Redlands 2011 Stage 2

Some days you have it, some days you don’t. And some days you have negative “it.” Today was one of those days.

The crit was hard. I lasted one hour out of 90 minutes and was pulled. I get to race tomorrow, but my ego has been so badly beaten and bruised I feel like it might need to go see a therapist that specializes in dealing with rape victims. I wouldn’t mind if I got knocked on the head and forgot today ever happened.

My legs were worthless heaps of garbage today. I hope tomorrow will be better. End of story.

Redlands Stage #1 2011

It’s definitely not cool to write a blog race report right after the race is over. It’s actually really geeky. So think of this as a long Twitter tweet. Maybe like 6 tweets in a row. And I’m not on Twitter, so I have to do my tweeting here on #wordpress.

The stage: 120 miles. 90 degrees. Windy. Five laps of a fairly flat circuit with a few short climbs. My job was to get in a breakaway and/or do well in the finish. I achieved neither, but sure tried. I did manage to get plenty of water for the team (which everyone was doing today since we all went through 8 or so bottles each). And I did successfully pee off the bike three or four times. Success is a loose term here, and does not include “cleanliness” or “pee-flow” accuracy. The wind direction was not in my favor today.

I got things started with not the first attack of the day, though I did have the chance to follow it but wisely restrained myself from doing so, but did go with and then attack the third or fourth attempt of the day. My second or third go at it during the first lap saw me fighting a head wind by myself as I attempted to solo away from the field right at the base of a steep climb. This was dumb, but I wasn’t aware the climb was coming up so quickly (and I also thought I had heard that this climb was not in the course, though I later realized it was the KOM climb that was being talked about). Anyways, I was caught and scolded for my poorly-chosen time of attack as I fought off a huge barrage of hydrogen ions in my legs for the next half lap, which was either tail wind or climbing almost the entire time. It took me forever to finally recover, but once I did I got to the front again and gave it another shot. No dice though.

Eventually the break got away without me and I spent the next couple laps focusing on getting bottles and staying near the front on the KOM climb.

On the final lap, very close to the base of the KOM climb, a crash occurred right in front of where just about our entire team was positioned. Fortunately I didn’t go down or have to unclipp, but I did come to almost a complete stop and saw my decently good positioning job go out the window as I lost about 40 spots in the blink of an eye. I went hard as we came into the short cross-tail wind section and re-gained some places, but by the time we took another turn and it became a tail wind again, I was still too far back. Gaps immediately began opening up as riders decided to pull the pin, finally losing the mental battle and giving in to the pain their legs had been dealing with all day. I came into the KOM climb in the wind, briefly on the front of whatever group was left behind me, but wasn’t able to make it into what was left of the peleton of 30-40 guys. I worked with a few others up the climb and gave it one big push as I came to the top of the first riser. I kept on trying while others seemed to either give up, blow up, or cramp up. I kept trying for too long actually. After the climb I pulled a bit too hard on the decent in the small group of 6 that I was working with into town and kept messing the rotation up. They were calling groupetto (without really saying it), even though I suspect there were only about 30 guys up the road in front of us. I wanted to keep riding hard and try to minimize the damage and I eventually just road away from them into the head wind alone, and in doing so ruined a good deal of muscle fibers and glycogen stores in the final kilometers trying to close an unclose-able gap to the out of sight group ahead. It ended up being very stupid, because I got caught right before the finish line by a huge group of riders. I could have been sitting in that entire time taking it easy. I felt like an idiot for burning all that energy that could have been spent tomorrow or the next day (as my friend Ben Chaddock of Exergy pointed out to me). Though in my defense, I had been under the impression, and always have been, that it aint over till it’s over. Sometimes, though, especially in a stage race when there are multiple days left to deal with, it is over before it’s over. And the main point to take away from today’s wasteful effort at the end is that the group you’re riding with decides when it’s over, not the individual rider.

I’ve probably gone a bit over my 6 tweet twat by now, so I’ll wrap things up:

Pre race breakfast food: half a liter of oats/fruit mixture, chicken breast, cheese, two eggs, handful of pepperoni, mushrooms (the last few things were cooked together by the way), large chocolate chip pancake.

Race food: two bottles of whey/pineapple juice/perpetuem, three or so bottles of diluted coke, one bottle of heed, or two maybe, 1,000 calories of maple syrup, one apple pie, one Honeybun, one fake 5-hour energy.

Post race food: two scoops of recoverite, one chocolate/peanut butter nutty bar, one luna bar, one banana, one thing of chocolate pudding, one peanut butter nature valley bar, one can of coke, one chicken burrito at chipotle, one slim cow chocolate/vanilla ice cream sandwich, one handful of cheetoes, pineapple juice, that brings us up to date, though I’m about to go crush a bowl or four of cereal.

Results aren’t in yet (another sign that I’ve blogged before blogging should be allowed) but I believe I finished a few minutes down on the breakaway (which stayed away) and probably around 60-70th place in a group that contained half the field. I was pretty disappointed in the way my race turned out but I’m feeling good about my fitness. My cold, which I thought was completely gone though, is coming back a tiny bit, so a full 15 hours of sleep tonight will be needed to keep it in check. Good night.

I’ll do an update when we find out the results.

Edited. I finished 60th in a large group that contained 41 riders, with 50 guys up the road. I’m now sitting 64th GC. I’m 3 minutes down on the leader, so there’s nothing to lose. It’s all or nothing in the next two stages.