Well, I finally did the Rendezvous Hillclimb. I wasn’t in very good shape for it, and I didn’t have a very good result (in terms of placing). But I have to say that I sincerely enjoyed it. The climb was overwhelming, the pitches were steeper than I was used to riding up, and the competition was classy.
Sincerely, I had a good time, which was my only expectation for this particular race. I wore sandals and baggy shorts, rode on platform pedals, and left the reflector on my seatpost for the race. To top it off, I actually crashed while warming up. I hit a downhill patch of loose, gritty dirt (which was ubiquitous at the Jackson Hole Resort in this hot weather) and went over the handlebars. I crashed hard enough that I’m still nursing some scabs and bruises from it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think I rode the whole way up with my handlebars twisted a little off-kilter. Not that it matters going uphill.
I sat there on the start line and looked around identifying the sweet bikes around me. Robin McGee was next to me riding a Specialized Epic (I didn’t know her beforehand, but she’s one of the better riders in Jackson). Amy Fulwyler (who I had heard of before) and her husband, Cary Smith, were at the front riding Gary Fisher Superflys (at least, I think Cary was on one too). Cary’s bike was outfitted with a road or cyclocross fork, which, I understand, is his trademark setup for the Rendezvous Hillclimb. Next to me, the Dammans were riding Ellsworth Truths—very cool full-sus bikes.
Things got under way, and for a moment I felt like I’d do okay. Then we got to the first steep uphill pitch and I found myself shifting into my granny gear, which wouldn’t have been a problem except that I wasn’t far enough over on my rear cogs, so my chain got sucked up in the chainring. Right away, I was off my bike and on foot. I got my chain back in line, but the road was already too steep for me to remount, so I started walking (this was in the first quarter mile of the race).
As it turned out, I’d do a lot of walking in this particular race. I realized when I got home that my seat was set too far forward and that I didn’t have enough traction on my rear wheel. This, added to my goofy pedal setup and my inadequate fitness meant I’d have a hard time on every steep pitch up the mountain. Still, I was able to ride within sight of Jill Damman for most of the course (and she was doing a little walking too, which made me feel better). In the final switchbacks, I found myself getting more comfortable and more capable of climbing the steep pitches. In fact, it seemed to me I was climbing stuff that was steeper than I was used to, so I felt pretty good about that too.
I started encountering hikers as I passed under the tram line. Then, coming off a hike-a-bike section, I bumped into a photographer from the local newspaper. He took some shots of me that would later be published. So that accomplished my secondary purpose for the race: getting some P.R. for my employer (whose jersey I was wearing). Finally, I came around the last bend and the last hike-a-bike section (just in time to see Robin coming back down). I got back on the bike and rode up the last switchback, and there, in the last quarter mile, was my wife and two girls. My 3-year-old was cheering for me, and even though my 1-year-old was just plain fussy, I pretended she was cheering for me too. I chatted with the wife as I rode by, and before you know it, I was coming through the finish gate.
To my complete surprise, almost all of the other competitors were still there and cheered for me as I came through! How COOL IS THAT?! I can’t remember another bike race where that’s happened, and, honestly, that made the suffering and slogging all worth it.
One of the first things someone said to me at the finish was, "Now all you need to do is put some clipless pedals on that thing and you’ll go a lot faster." It got me thinking: I could’ve done this race quicker. In fact, if I’d have just made some modifications on my bike (using parts I already have), I probably could’ve taken a pound OR TWO off my bike’s weight. If I’d have focused on the right training zones, instead of spending too much time in non-recovery heart rates, I’d have handled the duress of the race a lot better. If circumstances had worked out a little better, I’d have been quicker, no doubt.
I left the race with this feeling of "I wish I could do that one over again." So, yeah, unless they schedule the race on a Sunday next year (which is not entirely unlikely, but would completely ruin it for us sabbath-observing folk), I’m planning to go back and give it another shot. In fact, the more I thought about it, I really only have two races I wish I could have a second shot at—this one and the Snowshoe 5k in Ashton where I got off the racecourse and had a rotten finish time. So that’s my plan for next year: Barring scheduling difficulties, I’m planning to do those two races and finally feel like I’ve discovered how well I can do at them. Wish me luck!