As I was driving down through Salt Lake City on my way to my in-laws’ home in Utah before the Widow Maker Hill Climb, I looked over to the mountains and saw what would normally be a bad sign before a race: Dark, heavy clouds blanketing the ridges and hiding the peaks of the Wasatch Range. For me, however, this was a good thing to see. A little rain would reduce the amount of loose dirt and dust coating the trail the next day. Heck, a little mud might even increase the traction I’d be dealing with. So I was happy to see it.
I tried to point the rain out to my daughter, who was in her carseat in the back. She either couldn’t see or didn’t particularly care, or both, because she didn’t have much to say. I’d brought her along to keep me company on the ride down and to give her an opportunity to play with her cousins—some of her best buddies. Later that night, she’d make me feel all special by turning down the opportunity to sleep with her cousins and insisting on sleeping next to daddy on a slow-leak mattress in the spare room. The mattress, as it turns out, was quite comfy. But my daughter’s feet, which were shoved in my face most of the night, weren’t. Adventures in parenthood, I suppose.
The alarm sounded far too early the next morning, and we got the kids—all three of them—into the backseat of my little half-dead car. Unca ‘chard, my brother-in-law climbed in the front seat and off we went. An hour and fifteen minutes of engine-overheating, young-child-screaming commuting later, we were at Snowbird Resort and I was searching all over for a bathroom and the registration table. Luckily, I tracked that bathroom down in time and figured out where the race start was.
Hillclimb starting lines, I’ve decided, aren’t like other starting lines. There’s always a little self-deprecating humor involved—"Now, guys, remember, it isn’t about who wins and loses."—and I must admit that I usually try to contribute some of that myself. Hillclimbs, which are never series races and never really attract the humorless, competitive crowd, are funny affairs. You never really know how much fitness is hiding behind the self-deprecating jokes. In fact, I don’t think the rider himself ever really knows. After all, that’s what we’re there to find out.
Well, on Saturday, when they said "go," I found I was in okay shape, it seemed. I started moving my way through to the back of the lead group and was hanging there for a moment when someone in front of me shifted all the way down to his smallest gear and proceeded to plug up the only good line on the rocky, bouncy road. I hopped off my bike, and the first thought that popped into my head was, "I guess I can forget about riding the whole way up."
But it wasn’t long before I was back in the saddle working my way up again. I looked behind me and was surprised to find a pretty substantial gap forming. I’d somehow made the front group—the back end, anyway—and was hanging all right. Then the course took us up underneath the first lift where our course converged with the course for a concurrent running race. Yeah, a bunch of runner/hikers were spilling onto the course, taking up the best lines and cutting riders off left and right. If I have one complaint about the race, this is it: I didn’t like getting stuck in a group of iPod-eared trail hogs who were reduced to walking/hiking speed. Don’t get me wrong, most of them were pretty considerate, but one of them, just one, decided to walk/run shoulder to shoulder with another on the only good line up one of the steepest parts of the course just as I approached. So, once again, I was off my bike walking … for a really long time.
When the course finally presented an opportunity, I hopped on my bike and zipped past this person (who, once again, had spaced out from the group and was clogging the trail). In all fairness, I think this particular runner had a hearing aid and may, for all I know, have been legally deaf. But she also had an iPod in her ears and didn’t respond when I asked to pass.
What followed was an alternating flow of hiking and riding with me jumping on and off my bike as the pitch overwhelmed my legs. I was caught by only one rider for the rest of the race, and that one rider, who I rode beside until I could simply ride no more, was spinning an easier gear—easier than my easiest gear. I realized right then that I should’ve borrowed my wife’s cassette (which has a 32-tooth cog for its largest ring, as opposed to my largest—a 30-tooth) for this race, something I’d considered doing. I’d read blogs before the race where people claimed to have ridden the whole course without putting a foot down (at a slower total time than I rode on Saturday), and when I saw this rider pass me, I suddenly understood how that was possible.
I managed to ride the final few switchbacks, and when I hit the finishing mat (in front of my little girl), my time was a full 15 minutes faster than I’d expected—despite all of my walking. We enjoyed the wind, the cold and the food for about a half hour waiting for the award ceremony. To my shock and amazement, they gave me a second-place medal for my age group. Later, I realized that I’d actually come in third, but my age group winner, Nate Pack, had come in third overall, so our awards got shifted a little. One way or another, I couldn’t believe I was coming away with hardwear from this thing! I chatted at length and made buddies with Heather Holmes, who represented the US of A at the Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships just a few weeks ago, and I rode the tram down with the race winner, 13-year-old Justin Griffin. I met some really cool folks, as I almost always do at mountain bike races.
In the hours that followed, I did all the stuff you shouldn’t do when trying to recover from a hard race—waited hours to eat, ate only a couple of slices of pizza, drove a few more hours to Idaho, didn’t drink nearly enough water, etc. I was dragging my rear when I got home, but my wife gave me the cold stare and informed me that the two of us would be attending the church social that night. I love my neighborhood, and I sincerely enjoy spending time with the people I know in my church congregation, but sometimes I feel like I don’t totally fit in. Take this event, for instance. It was a potluck dinner (normal) followed by a clay pigeon-shooting party (not normal). I’m not a gun guy. They’re okay, I suppose, but, as I tried to explain to the folks who asked, "where I come from, good Mormons don’t have guns; drug dealers and criminals have guns." I got a few laughs out of that one. I kept thinking back to the award ceremony earlier in the day. I’d yapped at length with some pretty cool people at the race. And we had plenty to talk about—training, riding, racing, bike tech, etc. "Those was my people," I thought to myself.
That thought was interrupted by the sound of my wife blasting a clay pigeon with a shotgun. Yup, my wife’s awesome. So I attempted to join the gun party. One guy had brought a couple of handguns, including a competition magnum 357 pistol. Perfect. So I went over to that section and fired a few bullets through a target. Pretty cool, I guess, but still not my thing. When the shotguns were put away and we could safely leave the property, the two of us headed home and I conked out. I’d need some sleep, after all, because snowshoe season is only a few months away.