Of course, the more I’ve competed, the more I’ve realized that they make cat 5 for people like me. My big week involves five hours of total riding these days. I spend a lot of time just being a dad, an employee and a youth leader. I’ve won a couple of beginner mountain bike races, and let’s not forget the winning triathlon relay team I was on back in college, but I’m far from a world-class athlete, and that’s okay. Lately, my obsession has been mostly with mt bike hill climbs. They’re a hoot. But my strongest finish in one of them has been a second place in an age group.
Still, I was a little confident going into the the Powder Mountain Hill Climb. I knew I was riding well, and that I was on the verge of getting ITBS (which, for me, means my quads were pretty darn strong). So I did something unprecedented, for me anyway. I got a hotel room so I could compete in the hill climb. My wife and kids came with me and we went to Chuck E. Cheese the night before (crappy pizza, I’m afraid), and the next morning, I showed up at the race … late. Well, I was on time for the start, but I was past the half-hour pick-up-your-packet-and-go-warm-up threshold. So that bought me a chewing out by one of the race officials. Sorry bud, but I was experiencing a little gastrointestinal distress at the hotel room.
Anyway, the race kicked off, and I felt good. I went into the start riding conservatively, knowing that if the killer gradients were late in the race, that would be the time to blow my legs apart.
Over the initial climb, I was behind the jackrabbits a touch, but still with a solid group. Rob, a guy who’d been a national champion expert-class mountain biker before having children and taking a hiatus from cycling, was riding right there with me, and Jessica, someone I’d raced last fall at Widow Maker, was leading the charge. I, of course, talked her poor ear off while she paced me through the first half of the climb.
After a few surges, Jessica dropped me, but not completely. I kept her in my sights through most of the race, and on the final big slope, I spotted her wheeling up the last killer gradient ahead.
Things were, nonetheless, going according to plan. My wife was getting some great photos, the rain was only dribbling on us, and I was catching riders left and right. At one point, I went by a kid who was weaving back and forth along the road. I said, "That’s where it pays to have a triple," and he responded, sarcastically, but awkwardly, "Whatever, I hate you."
All I could do was laugh. Uncomfortably. And ride away even faster.
As I was catching some of the masters riders, one of them leapt off his bike right in front of me. "My legs are blown," he said. "I can’t do this."
And, in all fairness, it was shaping up to be the steepest road hillclimb I’d ever done.
As I caught another master rider, he warned me that the steepest part of the climb was just up ahead around the next corner. "It’s 18.5%," he said. "I ride it once a week." And with that, he faded behind me.
By the time I hit that 18.5% gradient, Rob, who’d been just behind me for most of the climb, had disappeared out of sight. I was sure he was lurking back there, but I couldn’t tell how far. In that moment, though, I’d had a thought come to me: "I really don’t feel that bad." On both Rendezvous Mountain and Widow Maker, I’d remembered feeling absolutely terrible. I had to get off and hike for a bit. This time, on the road, there was none of that. I was feeling good. I could hold my pace for a while yet. So I kicked it into gear and powered over the finish line.
At the time, I was told I wasn’t the first cat 5. "Oh well, then," I thought, "maybe I got second or third." So I wandered around until the awards. There was just one problem: I couldn’t seem to find my wife or my kids anywhere. After ten minutes, 15, 20, they were nowhere to be found. I started debating descending in the rain and the cold. And I mentioned my family’s absence to a sheriff’s deputy who just happened to be leaving from the parking lot.
Then, in the middle of the awards ceremony, sometime later, the sheriff’s deputy came back and told me, "Your wife and kids are part way down the mountain. Their car couldn’t make it, I guess." And he volunteered to drop me off there.
Well, I didn’t know it, but I was getting a ride with a really fast master’s rider and the pro women’s winner. They were chatting away, and I tried to involve myself in the conversation, but instead I just came off awkward. As a side note: I feel a bit like a sojourner sometimes since the folks in my neighborhood don’t seem to get the whole endurance sports thing, and the endurance athletes at races see me as being a bit of an outsider. It’s a pretty weird dichotomy.
But anyway, the end of the story is that I showed up at my car with a blue ribbon and a big grin on my face. But when I got in the car, my wife was pretty upset. She’d been stuck on the side of a mountain for probably an hour and was pretty eager to get going. So we left and headed straight to a Midas mechanic shop, where we spent the next hour or two having our car repaired. Tons of fun. We finally picked up food four or five hours after the race ended, and we headed home to Idaho. Of course, with all of this new research for my forthcoming book, "How NOT to recover from a cycling race," I went home, slept terribly and spent the next week with an upper respiratory tract infection.
But despite all of that, and in spite of the fact that almost every relative I told about the race accused me of sandbagging and said I should be in a different category (even though I can’t get to another category since I don’t own a racing license), in my heart of hearts, I still know I scored a victory that day. And no one can take that away.