Tranquilo

I hate waiting.  Today has been a more than typical pre race day and I hate waiting to race.

We got up to this view which is incredible. It’s also very quiet mentally having to walk down to a central area for a wifi signal or any form of outside communication.  This is all good but it’s also very hard to absorb all this tranquility knowing that tomorrow you are going to be full gas physically and mentally for the next six days.

But I guess that’s the balance-Tranquility now and race face tomorrow.

I’ve been doing my best with all sorts of preparation activities. I  readied my bike, put my feet up in the air to read a book, prepared my camelbak and nutrition, took a some small kayak rides around the lake and even watched a little playoff football.  This may all seem nice but it’s really a distraction.

Tomorrow as I wake it will be much the same, waiting till a 10am race start trying to balance my anxiety to toe the line with some relaxation.

It’s a big day tomorrow at 82km, 2300m climbing, and a river crossing.  It’s supposed to be in the mid 50s for temperature and raining all day.  We will be racing tomorrow to here.

I can’t wait.

 

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Coming this Friday…

Follow me as I blog my way through The Trans Andes Challenge

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Stage 1

The word Epic brings uncertainty.  Today uncertainty brought falling snow, plummeting temperatures, and more importantly ice on the roads.

With that, stage one was cancelled and the Tour of California was postponed by a day.  We still will ride roughly 700 miles over the next seven days.  We still will test our physical and mental limits on and off the bike.  We ride on tomorrow.

In many ways today was a harder day than the planned 118 miles around Lake Tahoe but as Kenny Rogers says, “you got know when to hold em’ and know when to fold em’.

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Get ready

Round two of adventure blogging starts this friday. Stay tuned…

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Adventure

The last stage became “old hat” as I woke up at 4am, packed my bag and my day pack, put my cycling kit on,  delivered the bags to the bus, ate breakfast, and then got on the bus to the start.  The transfer was not long as everyone was pumped to get on their bikes and start the last stage.  As we descended from our lodge, the rain began to fall. With each kilometer, the rain became harder and harder.

It is what it is so as we are arrived I got off the bus in the pouring raing and went to do my prerace bike check. Everything looked good so I lined up at the start. No start line drama today and as I suspected yesterday no leader jersey for me.

As we rolled out, the rain really began to pour and I was shivering on the bike. I couldn’t wait for that first climb to warm up.  The climb came fast and I warmed up as the morning attacks began.  The legs burned but I knew I just needed to make it that first 15 minutes and all would be better. I did hang on. The first climb ended quickly and we had some great descending.  Again it was a group of 12 riders making the cut for the first group.  A couple of riders sprang off the front but everyone was good to let them dangle as the day had over 60 kilometers of flats and wind to the beach finish.

After descending we hit the second and final climb of the day and this one was tough and a typical 20% Costa Rican grade.  I and a few others fell of the pace hoping to catch back on the long descent.  I managed to partner up with the leader of my age group and we began to rotate.  Then 100 meters from the long pavement descent, I flatted.  I quickly fixed it ate a Fruition bar and waited for the next group. Today was not a day to ride by yourself. I didn’t have to wait long for a group of 2.  We began to rotate and hold a good speed. At the bottom, we hit our first set of riding railroad ties. Yes, in this race, you ride down the middle of railroad tracks. For the most part, rocks fill the gaps between the ties but not every tie so it’s a bumpy ride.

As we exited the tracks, a Pizza Hut rider had an unexpected “get off.”  In an attempt not to ride over him, I slid my rear wheel into a wooden railroad tie.  I should have ran over him.  My tire popped off the rim spraying Stans everywhere I was left on the side of the trail with an almost bent in half rear wheel.

I first fixed the flat. Then accessed the damage.  I couldn’t ride it as is. So I took the wheel off and creatively banged it on the railroad tracks and the ground.  Then I placed the wheel back on the bike and began tightening spokes.  After a couple of rounds of this and 40 minutes, I was back on the trail.  I only had 10k to go to the next check point where I could have our mechanic take a look.

Jim, Adam and a group of about 10 riders had passed me about 10 minutes ago so I thought maybe I could catch up and ride with them for the day.  I put my head down and pedaled once again. The rain was falling.

Up and down left and right the course went.  At one point I could not see any more tire tracks but I looked behind me and saw a small group. Finally I popped out onto hiway. This did not look right. I waited for the other riders. They said we were still on course and we grouped together.  No signs and semi trucks passing up within inches, I turned back.  I back tracked and yes, I missed a left turn.  10km later and I was back on course.

I got back on course just in time for one of the more exciting parts of the course—the railroad bridge crossing.  Now, we were hiking with our bikes stepping from railroad tie to railroad tie over 40 feet above a raging river.  I was nervous as one misstep in my cycling shoes on wet oily railroad ties could mean some serious changes in my life.  I focused only on the railroad ties and hoped for no oncoming trains.  The locals were more skilled and confident in this activity as I was passed a few times.

I made it but more were to come.

Finally, checkpoint 3 arrived and a mechanic did a little better with my wheel. It seems as though my tire was till rubbing the chainstays.  I packed plenty of food and water and took off.

I came upon group of riders after group of riders and pedaled my pace. Eventually, I came upon Carmichael.  He and another rider jumped on my wheel and we rotated for a while. Eventually, I was by myself again.  Adventure.

Driving to the finish, I found myself and the trail leading into a driveway. Oops, another wrong turn. I only road a kilometer out of my way this time. Back to the trail and back to railroad tracks, I came upon Carmichael again. I followed for awhile till my rear tire blew from the railroad ties.  This is just one of those days.

My remaining spare was a gift from Checkpoint 3 and a 26inch tube but they work fine for 29ers.  I fixed it quickly and back to the railroad tracks.  Finally, I exited the tracks to the sounds of waves rolling in—awesome. The beach had black sand, palm trees and a tranquility to it from all the excitement of the race.  I wanted to be there.

Only 10 miles to go—Yes!  The course now was a double track on the black sand about 100 meters from the crashing waves.  Then came some water holes on the trail so my bike was getting cleaned off. Then the holes became deeper and deeper. I realized now that I was in the “swamp” part of the course.  The water at times was waist high.  I realized that my bike had just had every creavice and bearing filled with water and salt not to mention all the sand.  10 miles now seemed like a long time away and I hoped only an hour a way.

At times, I would jump back the railroad tracks to avoid some deeper parts of the swamp and then switch back to the double track when it cleared up.  Finally, I exited the swamp to ride a dirt road for the next few miles.   Then I found myself back to pavement for a last mile.

I made the last left turn, jumped down some steps to the finish line and onto the pacific coast.  I had made it!

I’m not sure what my time was on this day but somewhere around 5.5 hours for 85 miles.

I quickly made my way to the ocean for a little relaxation and a few body surfs on the waves.  My adventure was coming to an end but the end can only mean another beginning.

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Epic

Well the entire race as been Epic but today had a little bit of everything and has become my favorite stage so far with one more stage tomorrow.

When I said everything, I meant everything beginning with the start.  We line up as usual and the officials announce some disqualifications from the previous day. It seems the officials are enforcing the “no outside help except at checkpoints” rule this year.  One of the disqualifications was a Colombian rider in the top 10.

This sparked a protest with several South American riders refusing to race and setting up a quasi-blockade at the start line.  One bold soul wearing a Tour de France yellow jersey barged through the blockade and started the race as the officials said “Go!”  The rest of us just stood there amazed. I’ve never been a race with a rider protest as I assume most of the other racers.  Finally, the race leader, Ben Sonntag, took the microphone urging the riders to race and follow the rules.  After a few seconds, Ben took off and everyone followed.

I almost forgot even before this drama, they called up the category leaders for the leader jerseys. I was called up.  I knew I was not the leader of my category as I am over an hour behind Eddy Perez but the race organizer was adamant about me being the leader. I put the jersey on while Eddy made his case and I have no idea what’s going on but the we were less than a minute from our assumed start time so I wore the jersey for the race.  I think they even gave me the 50+ age group jersey.

Now to the race. We had a 1km neutral start and as soon as the flag dropped the attacks came. They came one after another after another and each was painful.  I know this is racing but we were starting on a 40km climb so the hill is going to sort everything out.

I hung on as there were only 10 of us left and at the 10km mark the hill went back to the Costa Rican 20+% grade and I was dropped.  I kept pressure on the pedals as I could see some guys just ahead of me.

Then the race went from broken pavement to concrete double track. I have never seen this before but it was cool as it was enveloped in a forested canopy. Out of the double track onto some of the most beautiful single track.  The single track was about 12inches wide and then only green grass.  I got to find more of this. It didn’t last long till the first hike a bike.  I passed a couple of guys and then a third as I made my way to check point 1.

More water and more GU Brew and I was off.  Climbing and climbing and climbing. A mix of dirt roads and pavement through the green farms on the mountainside.  After checkpoint 2, I pedaled into the clouds. The mist and blowing rain started.  I kept my drive and kept going up.  I then got cold to see my temp gauge read 10 degrees Celsius.  I was cold and looking  forward to my jacket at Checkpoint 4.

Check point 4 was to be at the top(3000+meters) at 32km but as everything here it’s “mas o menos.”  I climbed above the storm and found the checkpoint at 36km—almost the top of Guayabo Volcano.

No jacket needed and it’s all downhill, right?  Not right.  After a few minutes of descending some extremely fast dirt roads the road started to climb again and roll along the mountain. It seems the course traverses over to volcano number 2.  More climbing and it was rocky which seems to seep every bit of momentum from your forward movement.

Finally some more downhill in baby head size rocks. Then the rocks became bowling ball size.  There’s no lines. Just point your bike down, hold on and hope you make the turns.  My hands began to ache and my shoulders became stiff. I wanted to let loose of the brakes but I needed them to keep the rubberside down.  I bounced down this mountain trying not to flat. Then it happened.

I hit something (a rock) big. No flat but I definitely lost my tire bead and some air from the rear.  I tried to baby it a little hoping for the pavement finish but I smarted up and stopped. A quick CO2 blast and I was on my way.

More rocks and then loose gravel but I was going faster now trying to drink and eat when possible. I think I carried an open GU in my teeth for 2km before finding a safe place to eat it.

Then the pavement came. It’s 10k to the finish and all downhill. This was the best pavement downhill I have ever done. The pavement was new and the turns dream like at 65kph on a MTB.  As I entered town, a police motor escort came up beside me and escorted me through town.  As the downhill ended I searched for the finish scanning every side road. Finally, in my broken Spanish, I asked the policeman how far and he said 1km. YES!

I finished in 3:53 and 8th place. A good day for me

Now it’s only one more stage and as this race has showed—everyday has a different challenge. We start with some steep climbs (of course) and then descend to the Caribbean coast.

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A New Definition of Steep

Going into this stage I had heard rumors of the opening 5km climb with it’s concrete pitches of 30% but what I didn’t know was that these pitches were strewn throughout the course.  I learned today that any climb I encounter will be easier than the climbs I experienced today.

We started neutral from the host hotel parking lot promptly at 6am.  The pace was good and I was feeling better today.   The pace was short lived as we made the left turn onto the opening climb.  The pace didn’t increase but it didn’t decrease either as the grade quickly went to 10%.  I managed to stay with the lead group of 8 until the we started the 30%.  I have never sit so far forward on my saddle to keep my bike from tipping over backwards. It was everyting I had just to keep the bike moving forward, moving up. Everyone’s pace was the same because everyone was in their smallest chain ring.  Three of us fell off slightly but the leaders were easily within reach.  We kept our pace.  The 30% grades would last about 2 minutes long and then you would get a small break and encounter another.

I was still feeling good but my day took a similar turn to yesterday with my chain breaking.  My derailleur seems to be having a binding problem in the mud—imagine that.  I did a quick fix at a about 5 minutes again with the second and third groups passing me.  My race quickly became an adventure again but I was ok with that—only 500 meter to go to top out the first climb.

The following descent was just as steep as the up but rutted with wet rocks and mud.  This was one of the scariest but most fun descents I have ever done. Even just a couple of seconds off the brakes and you speed quickly rose above 30mph.  I held on well and passed a moto that did not do so well.  A mud sink hole swallowed an entire moto up to the bars—-suprisingly we later saw him at the finish.

After the descent, was a short climb and another descent down to the river.  I was at the bottom and that only meant one thing—I had to go up.

The next climb was 17km and an 1hr 16minutes.  This was the most beautiful climb yet as it overlooked a valley. You could only see high mountains lush with vegetation and a few coffee plantations. Birds circled ahead and the sky was blue.  You could also see where the landslides had occurred numerous times which was unnerving at times when you saw the cracks in the pavement.

At the top, I descended again down down down.  At the bottom, I experienced more 30% concrete climbs over and over and over.  It was quickly becoming an unrelentless granny gear hell. They even mixed in a muddy 30% grade so we could get a little more hiking in.  At this point, I finally saw another rider that had about a 1 minute gap on me.  He kept that gap as we all rode the same speed till 10km to go.

Once I topped this “final” climb, I headed down another steep decent that was more muddy and rutted than the previous ones. It seemed harder but only because I was tired and ready to finish.  Once down, I hit the pavement for some rollers and I caught my 1 minute guy.  We spoke a little about our day and climbed up another “final” 2km climb.  Then descended.  He took the lead and I sat on.  Then I did my turn at the front down a final dirt descent and entered the city for the 5km gradual climb to the finish.  I could just make out another rider ahead of us and put in a good effort to reel him in.  My new partner sat on my wheel and I was OK with that.  We made the turn for the finish and all the sudden,  I see my new partner sprinting around me for 11th place?!  What?!  He has over an hour on me in GC and not even in my category.  There’s no money and not much pride in 11th versus 12th.

But hey that’s racing and he was racing and I am having an adventure.

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