Race Across Oregon 2009
PROLOGUE: I’d say “words fail me” in describing this race, but then you’d have to be pretty dumb to keep reading. So – you’ll have to accept that this is the best that I can do, and that it’s going to be a whole lot drier and hollower than the real thing.
I had a pretty unusual training plan – a few long rides – 200k’s, a lot of threshold work at the gym, two(!) 24-hour races in the month of May, and then…essentially nothing! I spent a week or so recovering from the Lewis & Clark Ultra, then trained a bit before heading off to crew RAAM. This was the “taper” phase of my training. I actually think it worked!
By the time I got home from RAAM, my legs felt really fresh and ready to go. Perhaps TOO fresh – when a coworker invited me to do a tandem crit, I jumped on it, rationalizing that I “needed the speedwork”. What I did NOT need, sports fans, was a crash-landing one week before my “A” race for the year. But everyone told me that Peter was a great captain, and having ridden with him I was inclined to agree. And tandem crits are notoriously restrained affairs! So the only way we were going down was a catastrophic equipment failure – and what were the chances of that? Um… non-zero, it turns out….we blew a tire and down we went, shredding lycra, skin, and dignity.
Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. And somewhere along the skid path, it hit me that I had an important choice to make, before I got up: either I was going to let it affect my RAO, or I wasn’t. Eventually it became clear that even that was a non-choice – by making the positive decision that having a Giant Purple People Eater of a bruise on my thigh didn’t matter one whit for a 500 mile timetrial, I’d already let it affect me – but positively. Something pretty scary had already happened, and I was dealing with it by showing off my war wounds at the pre-race festivities. Someone commented that I almost seemed proud of it…I was, but I was also proud of ME for handling it. So thanks for the mojo, Peter – even though this is one mojo that I won’t seek out next time.
ARRIVAL! The big day finally arrived. RAO is the closest this Midwest girl will ever get to a full-on family reunion. (One year when my daughter was crewing for me, she actually copped an excuse at work of needing to go to “a family reunion in Eastern Oregon”. Her boss thought to ask which side of the family it was, and she neatly replied, “the Spandex side”…Nancy seriously kicks ass.) I pulled into the parking lot; I know the majority of the people there. Lots of hugs. Lots of showing off the Giant Purple Bruise (“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT????” “Um, I fell off my bike…”). Adrienne and I got going on the van preparation for inspection. Somehow, Zoey Lynn, Robert’s pup, chewed through the better part of a package of tortillas while we were preoccupied with CAUTION BIKES AHEAD signage. At least, she’s the one who got blamed.
The inspection process went smoothly. It should’ve – Adrienne spent all afternoon inspecting other vehicles, so she pretty much had the routine down.
Off to Carly’s house! Carly laid out an amazing feast for us, which we ate under the shade of a tree. The crew repacked the van – Adrienne’s official job was to scowl at the contents, the organization, etc – and make it good. She’s on it. Grippy mat? Carly grabbed some of her husband George’s stash – awesome! Now the electronics won’t slide around on the dashboard.
We got to bed later than I’d hoped, but earlier than I’d feared. We needed to be back at the start line by 4:30, and I wanted to get up early enough to grab a shower and actually digest my breakfast…a 3:30 wakeup call seemed cruel, but – necessary.
START LINE: We arrived around 4:15 – plenty of time for me to hit the bathroom while the crew made up a couple of bottles and double-checked the bikes. I chanced a quick look in the mirror and saw – a happy person, relaxed, ready, sure. Made me smile, then grin, then – sorry – holler out loud: YESSS!!! Fired up – just a little, not too much to handle – perfect.
The start line was the usual crush of crew, fans, and supporters madly taking pictures of racers lined up for battle. My crew knows me, and my particular superstition: pre-race pictures are for folks who may or may not be taking pictures at the finish line. They don’t take pictures – good! While we’re lined up, I got to hear the one piece of race strategy that actually helps me: Ken Philbrick explained to someone how much FASTER it is to race while smiling – so he makes a point to smile at EVERYBODY.
The last thought that I remember taking in before we went off – something I had just written in the last Team RANS Crewsletter: “We’re the luckiest people in the world”. Something to hang on to….and – hang on, we’re racing!
The first few miles were a neutral start up a fairly wicked climb. I’m not blown off the back. I remember absolutely DYING on this climb last year when we did the September pre-ride…I’d been absolutely blown from mile 2 on. This year was a different story. Funny how training helped.
At the end of the neutral start, a couple of the guys called for a pee break before we took off. OK, I’m in – we’re RACING, no sense in giving up any free time, so I found a convenient sign to sidle up to. Ladylike? Hey - I figure I saved a minute or two right there.
And then the climbing began in earnest. The fast racers got away right away. I felt like I was doing a pretty reasonable job, not blowing up, enjoying myself, staying in the flow. One of the other women passed me, then almost immediately pulled over – for a pee break. Hah! I’d pre-peed! So she had to catch me again, further up the road.
At Bennett Pass, I switched to the recumbent for the first time. Now, this wasn’t just any old recumbent – this was a high-zoot, carbon-infused, stiff, light, efficient highracer – a Carbent that was on loan to me from Dana Lieberman (thanks Dana!!!) I’d had…one… training ride on it. Of course I’d planned more, but the tandem accident had put a damper on things. Fortunately, I’m directionally challenged, and I got lost on the one training ride that I did get in, so it was a little longer than I’d planned. OK, here goes.
I absolutely flew down the hill to the turnoff to FR48. I’m sure I had the biggest happy kid in a candy store grin on my face. On the other side of the turnoff, I had a few good minutes, then…CRAMP ALERT! Turns out that my body was just spoiling for a fight at this point, and I’d given it something to crab about – a change of position to the ‘bent. So – back to the upright, and in the process of the ensuing bike switch I gave back every advantage that I’d earned.
That’s how it continued most of the first day – I’d get some time in on the ‘bent, enjoy the fun of being on it, the speed, and the change of position – but pay for it with cramps for the first 5-10 minutes of the ride. Then I’d have the same experience going back to the upright – a few minutes of cramps while I adjusted to the new position.
All through this time, I’m sure my crew was alarmed, but it honestly didn’t bother me very much. I’ve been through this cycle before, and I knew that all I had to do was to keep moving, and make it to the night. I ALWAYS rock the night.
Somewhere on the way to Grass Valley I learned one of the corollaries to Philbrick’s “smiling is faster” theory: It’s hard to smile when you’re cramping, but it’s even harder to cramp when you’re smiling. I was amazed to learn that I could literally smile my way out of a cramp. More water helped, too – but smiling literally put me back in control of the process. We’re the luckiest people in the world….
On the monster climb out of Sherars’ Bridge, I got caught by Jeff Bonk. Much has been made of his name – how cool/uncool is that, to be a cyclist named “Bonk”? Personally, I figured it was a stage name – I can think of other lines of work where a guy named “Bonk” could make his mark. Fun guy – we rode together for a minute or two, just long enough to make introductions. He asked me how many of the folks ahead of us I thought would DNF – a third, maybe? It struck me that, like me, he wasn’t at all concerned about finishing – DNF was to do with “them”, not him – and apparently not me, either. Not arrogant, just – sure. Good. He “bonked” his way up the road, zig-zagging his way up the road on the climb, trading extra distance for a shallower grade, and making it look easy. We’re the luckiest people in the world….
Grass Valley, Moro…a blur. Crew stopped for gas and groceries in Moro. I caught Bryan Martin somewhere in there, for like the bazillionth time – we traded spots a lot, to the point where he joked that he was going to have some explaining to do to his wife. Looked like he might have had some cramping going on, too.
On toward Condon. I started calculating when the first teams would be coming through…seemed plausible that they’d be at least 50% faster than I was, and with the 4-hour headstart, I figured, 4PM? Koenig’s Kronies came through quite a bit before that, then the Grundel Bruisers, who gave me a great shout out as they hauled through (thanks, Brian!!)
Not far from Condon, the recupright team came through. Ah – I’d been waiting for this! Turnabout is definitely fair play, and in a great display of sportsmanship, all of the available racers and crew gave me an Adrienne-style flash! Woo-hoo! Yes, I would ride faster if you…true motivation only comes from within, but sometimes knowing that someone is out there to make you smile really helps, at least in the moment. So far by way of “motivation” I’d collected an impressive display of shirtless men, some fairly energetic kilt-hiking from Chris, some kilt-inching from a more conservative Ian…and the Bent Johnsons were still out there. Clearly they’d have to come up with something pretty impressive to keep pace. But with a name like Johnson, you know it’s got to be good. I could stand to wait. We’re the luckiest people in the world….
I got my last real set of cramps coming out of Condon, then things eased a bit as the temperature dropped. By the time we got to Heppner, it was dark. We knew that there were several quick turns in town, but got briefly confused. Fortunately, a local citizen was there pointing the way. Woo-hoo! Gravel! Everyone asks me when I’m going to start racing cyclocross, guess I’d best get at it. Then we were climbing out of town. I traded places a couple times with Mike Maughan. We ran into Alex, having stomach problems, not a great race for him – I’m bummed out – he was the other recupright entry, and I really wanted to see him rock this course.
Off into the night – climb, descend, climb, descend. Since it’s night rules, the crew can’t go ahead to set up a bike switch, so we’re only switching bikes when there are long enough stretches that it speeds us up overall – this means I’m on the upright to the top of Battle Mountain. Somewhere in here, I started having saddle issues, so I really wished I could be on the ‘bent. I was riding the Selle Anatomica saddle, and the leather kind of stretched out. I suspect that a very long, wet Davis 24 did it in…Adrienne snugged it up as soon as it was clear that it was a problem, but the rot had set in. Grrr. Doesn’t matter, keep climbing.
Battle Mountain is a fairly long, but not that steep, climb. I got up it without any serious issues, other than vexing my crew by not eating quite enough. (Note Recurring Theme: Sandy Doesn’t Eat Much Whilst Climbing.) Nearing the top, we passed John Pearch’s crew, off to the side of the road, taking a quick nap. At the top, I was going to have a nice, long stretch on the Carbent heading down to Dale. Woo-hoo! It was the wee hours. Within 100 yards of getting on the bent, I grabbed a handful of brake – and barely missed a spotty little fawn straddling the centerline. I really hoped she’d head off to the right, to be with her sibling(?) on the shoulder – and she did. NOW we could begin descending in earnest – I shouldn’t run into more deer, right? Actually, I didn’t.
We pulled into Dale with daybreak. John Henry Maurice, who was officiating there with his wife Joanne, clocked me with 8 minutes off-bike time – long by my standards, but there were flush toilets, so I invested. We left just behind Joan Grant, who’d gotten in front of me when I had my cramping issues Saturday. Now she was having back issues….ouch.
The sun was coming up, the temperature seemed to be staying down, and I felt pretty danged good. We’re the luckiest people in the world….
And hey – here come the Bent Johnsons! Adrienne got a hug from their crew chief (husband Robert) And – as I had figured, they had indeed saved the best for last – a full Monty moment. These guys are (ahem) nuts! Then they’re off up the road, and I’m back to climbing.
On to Long Creek. According to the route book, there’s nothing in Long Creek. We lucked out, because my slow eating was slowly catching up to me. My crew spotted a café – it had opened the day before. They scored Pepsi and – miracle of miracles – scrambled eggs. Woo-hoo!
John Pearch came past as I was climbing toward Monument. I guess the nap energized him! Fuzzy was crewing for him, and he refilled my water bottle while Carly, Chris, and Adrienne were making the café run. That’s what makes ultracycling the coolest sport in the world – help is offered, no questions asked. Safety and sportsmanship first. We’re the luckiest people in the world….
About the time my crew showed up with the scrambled egg delivery (nectar of the gods!), we passed Joan Grant. Her back was killing her, and she was pretty discouraged. Somehow I conned her into keeping going until Maupin – I promised her that she’d know, for sure, what to do when she got there. She’d never DNF’d an event before, and she was clearly looking at the prospect and not liking it much. Carly knew a great stretch for her back. Joan’s crew came up on her to find her lying on the pavement, with Carly and Adrienne contorting her…they were a little concerned, to say the least!
Back to the ‘bent – time to kick it down from the top of the Monument climb through Kimberly and Spray, to Service Creek, where I got back on the upright to work the hill coming into Fossil. By this time it’s become downright apparent that headwinds are going to be the order of the day. The ‘bent helped. The ‘bent MORE than helped. Powering over rollers was on it was downright therapeudic – reminded me that I COULD put out a fair bit of power for climbing when I needed to. I needed that reminder later, as it turned out.
In Spray we were able to get some intel on racer position. It was clear that I’d qualify so long as I finished. It was also becoming clear that I would have to stay focused to make sure that I hit the 48:00 time cutoff, given the winds. Good information, I thought; good information. I still knew that I’d be finishing. No question – just have to keep on top of it, keep figuring out new ways to make it happen. We passed several racers who were taking their time in Spray. I rolled through; the crew got gas and groceries – including a much-appreciated popsicle.
Between Service Creek and Fossil, here he comes – the Bonk! He’d taken some downtime in Spray, looked good. Was climbing a little faster than I was, descending a little slower. His crew was a little zoned out at this point, taking naps – Adrienne gave him some watermelon and some encouragement. He was riding well, within himself, sticking to the plan.
I rocked the Carbent down into Fossil, stayed on and made time until we got to the climb out. This is one climb that looks a lot worse than it is – really. But only because it looks absolutely horrific.
Coming down the other side to the John Day was nice. Then – back to climbing – the Clarno grade…one of the more relentless hills on this course. Fortunately the temperatures were moderating. Unfortunately, they were moderating because of the incoming thunderstorm. I was starting to have trouble controlling the bike going uphill, with the swirling winds.
With the winds, I started losing motivation to eat – it seemed more pressing to keep my hands on the bars and not fall over. This is the point where Chris took over as feeder – a stroke of crewing genius! He put food out the van window, and presented it as 100% non-negotiable: “Tater. Take it.” OK, OK. Meanwhile, Carly was doing a full-court press on bananas. She asked me several times if I’d like a banana, and I kept saying no…but she was determined. Bananas kept showing up, thinly disguised. My drinks started taking on a “smoothie” consistency. The smashed-banana-and-Nutella “pudding” almost did me in, it was so good! Then the crew discovered that the tortillas made excellent Frisbees! I’d given up on them early on – the dry air made them unpalatable almost from the second they came out of the package. Seeing them tossed to the winds makes me smile.
At one point, as I neared the top of the Clarno grade, I was climbing right into the wind. Thunder and lightning crackled in the background. And it was beginning to rain. And it hits me like a ton of bricks – everything was there – Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water - all the forces of nature working against me. Why? Why would the whole earth conspire to keep me from finishing this race?
I don’t know what happened then, but it wasn’t far short of magic. I went from puzzled and upset to calm and reassured – weather is just weather, hills are just hills, and I was going to finish this race, and to do it, I was going to have to climb better and harder than I’d ever done so late into a long race. OK. I informed the crew that I’d be having a chocolate mint GU – and AC/DC for music until I got to the top. Time to get serious! We’re the luckiest people in the world.
Getting to the top of the Clarno grade felt like a victory – back to the Carbent for the trip down. We switched just on the far side of Antelope, and I climbed on the upright into Shaniko. By now it was getting close to evening, and the crew was hauling out the chicken soup. I could see someone not far ahead of me. I had an inkling that it was Larry Kluck, and it was, but we wouldn’t be sure of that until Maupin.
Again, the Shaniko climb was one that looked much worse than it rode. I had such fond memories of going the other direction in RAO’s past, and somehow I’d allowed it to grow in my head to be one of the pivotal climbs in the race. But – overall, a non-event. Just a climb with a bunch of switchbacks. Go figure.
I waited a bit too long to get back onto the Carbent after the Shaniko climb. For some reason I thought I should wait until the Bakeoven “summit” to switch. By this time the winds were screaming, and I really could’ve used the ‘bent. I was crawling along the highway on the upright, struggling to stay on the bike and eat a bit of chicken soup at the same time. Mercifully, Adrienne pulled the plug on that and got me onto the bent.
The trip “down” Bakeoven took a solid 2 hours for the 24-mile descent. AUGH! Back in April, I’d been able to do the round-trip – ascent AND descent – in under 3 hours. There would be no making up time here, either. Suck it up, Sandy – the next climb will have to go a little faster. We’re the luckiest people in the world.
When we got to Maupin, Larry was still there, just getting ready to pull out. I left just a little before him, made him catch me. Good to have other folks out there.
We looked at the climbing and descending between Maupin and the finish. It’s not clear that I’ll make enough time to make switching to the ‘bent useful – the crew has to direct follow again, so we have to be stopped for at least a minute every time we change bikes. So I’ll be doing the rest on the Fuji, raw crotch and all. OK.
Got to the top of the first climb and had a nice descent down into Tygh Valley before starting the longish climb up to Tygh Ridge Summit. Not eating or drinking enough, crew is frustrated. More GU. More York Peppermint Patties.
The descent off of Tygh Ridge Summit was scary. This was the first time I felt like I wasn’t all there. I was able to concentrate on the road, and keep my eyes open, and feel safe riding – but I didn’t know where I was. Totally disoriented. I was terrified that I’d missed a turn, and eventually pulled off to the side of the road. The LEFT side, just so we’re clear on this. Not a great maneuver, but it does get your crew’s attention. More caffeine. MORE AC/DC. I’m not a metalhead in real life – maybe that’s why it was working so well for me. Hell’s Bells…we’re the luckiest people in the world.
Finally – FR44. For some weird reason I was looking forward to this. Maybe it’s because we were finally back in the trees. The first part of the climb is pretty shallow, and I was rocking right along. Traded back and forth a couple more times with Larry. He’d pass me when I was peeing, and vice versa. Thing is, it’s a lot longer than it looks on paper, and it was really hard for my increasingly-sleepy crew to get a good fix on just how far it was going to be to the summit – so all I could do was climb, get to Cooper Spur.
At some point in here, Adrienne said over the PA, rather calmly, that I had to stop for a driver swap. I didn’t protest. The ONLY reason Adrienne would give up any time now is because we’ll die otherwise. Turns out she was seeing aliens in my bike helmet. She’d actually been seeing them for some time, but now they were animated, and it was disturbing. Best to switch drivers.
20 miles to go, and 2:25 left. OK. How far to climb? Can’t tell. Keep at it. Not eating enough any more, and not caring. If I ate enough to sustain the effort that I’m putting out, I’d divert too much blood flow for digestion, and I’d have to slow down. If I slowed down, I’d not make it. I’m going to end the race in a huge hole. So be it.
Somewhat over halfway up the climb, after Adrienne had lost her battle with the aliens, and I was subsisting on half a York Peppermint Pattie every few minutes - just when I thought my life couldn’t get any stranger, it did. I saw this weird pattern of light behind me – bobbing and weaving. Then it hit me – BONK IS BACK! Woo-hoo! He was doing his special switchback dance up FR44, slowly reeling me in. Eventually he caught and passed me. Now I had two guys up there to chase. I never let them get totally out of my sights the rest of the way up. We’re the luckiest people in the world.
Ian – from Alex’s crew – spotted us on his way down the mountain, heading home, and cheered us all on – thanks!!!
WHEN WILL THIS HILL END? It had been so long. It just didn’t seem reasonable. But all hills end, and I could tell that I was getting close to the descent – how? Because the headwinds were picking up, that’s how! Finally – twelve miles left, you’re at the top of FR44. Reluctantly I tossed on some tights (good plan!) and down we went. Once again – almost immediately I started to lose my bearings. I couldn’t tell where I was, how long I had left to descend, anything. Adrienne had to use the PA to talk me down the hill – just kept saying over and over – you’re on FR44, in 0.7 miles you’re going to turn onto HWY 35, it will be a right turn, you’ll keep descending….you’re on FR44, you’re descending, you’re in a bicycle race…in 0.4 miles…this was exactly what I needed.
I reached Cooper Spur Road with 47 minutes on the clock. The crew was a little confused about the finish line – they momentarily forgot that we were going to the ski area, not the resort. I just kept climbing. Adrienne put Gloria Estevan on an infinite loop – Tu Es Conga, from the time we hit Cooper Spur to the finish line. The last time we’d had that for finishing music was 2007, when I was on a 2-woman team with Patti Jo Struve. Then, I was having trouble keeping my emotions in check all the way up the road to Timberline. This time – much better. My legs were on fire, and I was focused but not too emotional. Until. I. Saw. The. Finish. Line. To say that I “lost it” is a pale description. “Found it” might be closer. Either way, George’s description at the banquet of a “three-hanky finish” was dead-on.
EPILOGUE: It’s been almost two weeks. My body is recovering. The bruise was almost invisible after the race – perhaps all it needed was a little circulation to clear things out! My legs are suddenly asking for more miles after work than just the 10-mile commute.
My mind? It may never recover. I hope not. To want something badly enough that you suspend every doubt, think your way around or over or through every obstacle, and give yourself permission to do more than you know you can do – to want something that badly, and then to earn it, take it, make it yours - life changing.
To my crew – you rock! You managed to make SO much happen for me. You cooked potatoes on the car manifold. You were passionate and careful and smart, and stayed (just) rested (enough), focused, and in the game the whole way. You never gave up on me when time was getting short and it looked dicey. You solved problems - well. You brought better music than I had. You gave me your time, your effort, your heart and soul and something maybe a bit more than that.
To Team RANS – thanks for granting me the opportunity to work with you. It made a difference. Sometimes sharing our words with others is an opportunity to challenge ourselves to actually, literally, be as good as our words. I had the privilege of living up to mine for 47 hours and 43 minutes.
We’re the luckiest people in the world. End of story.