Friday, October 15, 2010

Slaughterhouse Project 69 - Century Ride Edition

I skipped writing last week because Saturday morning featured the Viva Bike Vegas Century Ride, which, unfortunately, was the first event I ever withdrew from after it started. Kelli and I rode it, and there were three moments that made the whole thing worth the price of admission:
1. The chance for both of us to start an event together, which we'd never done before.
2. The course started with a very exciting downhill ride through a rather scary portion of east Las Vegas, and being part of a great huge ribbon of very fast bicyclists was pretty cool.
3. The pictures from the bridge and the view from the bridge, the absolute last time that such a ride or picture will be possible, was terrific.
That said, it was a very tough day. Weather wasn't much of a factor for the time that we were riding; I could see it getting hotter later on in the day but by the time we stopped it was in the low 80s and pretty dry. If it were a race day I wouldn't figure the heat to be a concern. Besides, we knocked out the first 40 in about 2.5 hours. We were significantly ahead of the pace we'd set for ourselves by that point.
In terms of the course, it had its difficulties, but of the 45 miles we covered, I'd probably ridden about 35 of it before, and the rest was the bridge and several miles of downhill. Nearly 10 miles of it was my regular Lake Mead training ground, where I know which gear I should be in by specific weeds and reflectors.
To elaborate on what actually occurred leading up to the decision to quit:
1. Kelli's crash happened first, on the climb out of the Lake Mead area going back to US93 (Beth and Ken, you rode out this way after Silverman). I didn't see it happen. I knew I had gotten ahead of her and once I was into the climb myself, I knew it didn't make any sense to stop until I got to the top of it; it's a quarter-mile at about a 6-8% grade.
What happened was, she wasn't generating enough forward momentum, and fell to the right, over the curb, while still clipped into the pedals. She scraped up her right knee on the gravel and wound up walking her bike up the rest of the hill. Her seat twisted and her water cage was all askew. At that point she was thinking she would not be able to finish. I wanted to push forward, at least to the bridge, which we couldn't see otherwise.
2. What also happened here is the fall affected the adjustment on her front derailleur, the thing that switches the chain from the big to the small ring, next to the pedals. She couldn't shift up to use the big ring. When this happens, particularly on a road bike, it's like losing a kidney: you can live with it, but it's damned inconvenient. She would have no means of generating power at higher speeds, so she'd be forced to coast or pedal far slower. We knew there was an aid station at the bridge, though, so we figured we could get it looked at there. We made it the next mile or so to that aid station.
We got water and oranges and bananas, Kelli got her knee cleaned up at the ambulance, and we were on our way up to the bridge. Twice, on the way, which was mostly downhill, Kelli's bike decided to shift gears all by itself. Kelli's bike is a straight tri setup, so the shifters are out at the ends of the aerobars - and she wasn't even ON the aerobars, but on the hoods of the brakes.
We got in line for the pictures and were cheered by a nice line of volunteers. We also got some very nice pictures ourselves.
On the way back towards Boulder City, the front derailleur's not working again. She can't move to the big ring and loses the chain at one point; the mechanic on the side of the road had overcompensated. No problem, we'll find him on the way back and re-adjust. The chain is grinding against the derailleur at one point. This is not good.
We pull off and there are a few riders around, but they're taking down the aid station and the mechanics are already gone. We know the next aid station is about 19 miles ahead, and we'll get lunch and get it looked at in a little more detail.
3. At this point we're stopped on an uphill while a traffic cop is stopping traffic. There's about 20 of us. He points at us to go, and my left foot catches just fine to pedal a little bit forward. My right foot doesn't catch the pedal and I'm now generating no forward momentum. "Shit!" I fall on my left knee, still clipped in, several riders behind me waiting to see if I'm OK. Kelli was directly in front of me and she stopped. A guy in a green bike jersey stopped my Silverman water bottle from rolling to Arizona. My handlebar water bottles have emptied all over the road; they'd just been refilled when we stopped at the aid station the first time.
I assess the damage. A decent scrape on my left knee; there's blood but not a whole lot of it. I can stand. Nothing's broken. The bike is fine (amusingly, because I fell to the left, there's no damage to the gearing, which stayed on top). We decide to pedal to the hotel, which is about a half-mile away, and assess our situation there.
We get to the hotel and as we're riding alongside each other, Kelli asks, "Do you want to stop?"
"No. I'm too angry to stop right now."
We get past Lakeshore and start into a mile-long climb, and I'm starting to run through things in my head. For one, my knee is throbbing and starting to swell, but it's already scabbed up so it's not like I'm losing any blood. It's doing a nice job of reminding me it's there, though, every pedal stroke, every climb. I'm thinking of the following quote from "Kitchen Confidential":
"...And most memorably, Juan, the sixtyish day broiler man, a fierce, trash-talking Basque who, I swear, I saw one time sewing up a very bad knife wound on his hand - right on the line - with a sewing needle and thread, muttering all the while, as he pushed through the flaps of skin with the point, "I am a TOUGH (skronk!) mother fucker...(skronk!). I am a TOUGH son of BEETCH! (skronk!). I am tough...mother (skronk!) fucker!" Juan was also famous for allegedly following up a bad finger wound with a self-inflicted amputation. After catching a finger in an oven door, he had consulted the union benfit list for amount given to victims of "partial amputation" and decided to cash in by lopping off the dangling portion."
(I've gone to that chant a time or two on some difficult climbs.)
So I'm running through the scenarios in my head. The derailleur scraping noise could lead to the chain snapping. She's scraped up. I'm banged up. We're in the midst of a mild climb and this is the best we're going to feel all day.
And we have 70 miles to go.
Kelli has now ridden 20 miles farther on a bicycle than she ever has in her life. She's not going to be able to complete the race in the allotted time, and she's expending a lot of effort to get up this hill. Now I've never quit a race that I've started, and there have been points where things looked really, really bad, but I still had cards to play. Chest pains in the water in Chicago? Butterflies, just concentrate on the next buoy, breathe and listen to everyone on the shore. Kicked in the head in San Diego? Swim towards the sun and watch for the turn buoy on the left. Leg cramps at the Pumpkinman race? Break out of the shoe and walk some of the run if you have to. Heat exhaustion at Lake Las Vegas? Get back to transition, slam the Redline in your bag, and splash some water on your face.
But here, even though there's a number on my back and a timing chip on my leg, I remember this isn't a race. And I'm not by myself. And Kelli's not going to elect to drop out on her own, so I am not just responsible for my own safety, I'm responsible for both of ours. Well, not entirely - she's obviously going to take her own situation into account and can make her own decisions - but you know what I mean. My knee is swelling and my calf is bruised.
We have 70 miles to go. That's it. Stop the fight. Dammit. It's over.
I drift back on the climb and tell her about the gas station up ahead. We pull off there and I call Jenn and Ed to get their truck and come grab us. Kelli's dad had brought her truck as well, but not only are the Brusvens a few miles closer, I didn't want Kelli's dad to run out of the house to get us and have the kids hear we'd fallen off of our bikes and were coming home. That could sound scary. Better that we just get home early.
In the time that I'm stopped at the gas station, I tear off my race number in disgust, throw it out. I take the number off of my bike and do the same. (This morning, I tossed the race shirt in a Goodwill bin.) After I'd thought about it a little bit more, I realized that the part of the course we were about to go on was the River Mountain Trail, which would be inaccessible to cars for 17 miles. Getting to where we were over the last 10 miles had been dicey. There were a lot of variables that I wasn't sure were worth trusting over that distance.
So in terms of preparedness, I would like to think that I could have covered the distance if I'd have remained unhurt. Looking at the elevation, I wouldn't be surprised either way - we had almost finished the day's sharpest climb, if not the longest.
But I would go back, for precisely the same reason that I raced at Lake Las Vegas 6 days after Chicago; I had to know that I could beat it. The distance I'll get to conquer in 27 days at the Silverman as part of a relay team. I'm going to have a very aggressive month of getting miles in, so that I don't have the kind of doubts about my body that I have right now.
It really hurt to quit. If faced with the same matrix of options I would have done it again, but it really hurt. We talked yesterday about the nature of this event being more difficult - I rode differently than if I were by myself, and so did she. We're putting together next year's schedule and taking all of this into account. We each really like competing, and we'd be in different waves of a tri so we wouldn't have the pressure to see where the other one was. Same with a running event like a 10K or so; it's not like we'd be hours apart, so we could start together and catch each other as we finish. Even a distance swimming event, which Kelli would win because she's a far better swimmer than me, would be all right. But it's hard to ride together right this minute. Next year might be different.


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