too many words by laura lemay

vaca report #3: the ride

Saturday was the day of the ride. We got up at our usual three-dark-thirty AM, awakened as usual by loud people and not by the actual alarm. A half hour drive to the start line, and then some time fussing around with breakfast (bagels and cream cheese), with bike setup, and with generally being nervous. The ride officially begins at 5:30AM when the sun rises. You can leave early if you have lights, but Eric doesn’t like riding in the dark so we would wait until the sun came up.

One of the reasons we arrive so early is to get a good parking spot: close to the park and the portapotties. If I am going to be there all day and drinking a whole ton of water because I have altitude problems I am not going to pee behind a bush at the side of the road. No. Nuh uh. No way. Although as we got to the park and approached the big long row of portapotties I began to reconsider that idea. The Death Ride has 3000 riders. They all start from the park and they all make sure to visit the portapotties before they go. I am here to tell you that there are few things more horrible than the air around a big long row of portapotties after being visited by 3000 nervous bicyclists who have probably been carboloading for days. And note: the sun was not quite up yet. Later on in the morning it would be a lot warmer. I had the fear.

After ablutions with much holding of breath, we returned to the car and Eric departed for the ride. I was left alone with my paperwork. Over the last few weeks Eric had constructed an incredibly complex spreadsheet that included every major point on the ride and calculated his arrival time given variables including climbing time in feet per second, descending and flat speeds, time taken at each rest stop and for lunch, wind speed, rolling resistance, muscle glycogen, the time it takes Cassini to orbit Saturn and the the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow. As part of my ride support I had a sheaf of printouts from this incredibly complex spreadsheet none of which I understood at all, but fortunately Eric had been kind enough to highlight the most important number: the time Eric was expected back at the car between passes four and five.

This time was a good seven hours away so my first goal of the morning was to go back to sleep. This I did with much gusto and great success, stretching out in the back of the car and sleeping for four hours, after which time I consulted the spreadsheet and discovered that Eric was either just finishing up pass #2 or halfway to Algeria, I wasn’t sure.

Next up: technology. I had never actually tried to use my laptop computer in the car, because normally in the car my job is to either drive or keep Eric entertained. But I had acquired a car adapter for the laptop, and discovered a car-adapter-plug in the back of the car that seemed specially made for tailgating, and indeed it was: I didn’t even have to turn on the car. Score! And thus I played every game on my computer for another two hours.

At that point there were riders starting to go by between passes 4 and 5. Riders had been coming back earlier, riders who had been unable to do more than 3 or 2 or even one pass. Its a really hard ride and I think people sign up for it believing that they are in good shape it can’t possibly be that difficult. The mountains break them quickly. It hurts a lot of people and you could see it on their faces. They would come back to their cars or trucks, lean their bikes carefully against the side of the car and then just sit on the tailgate or on the seat or on the ground in the dust for a while. Just sit alone quietly and stare at the ground between their knees for a long, long while.

On the other hand, there were plenty of people who tore by who didn’t even stop, who looked like they had just started riding. I recognized a couple people from a local racing team and when they went by you knew they were fast on the way to all five passes with no trouble. They are the hardcore guys. Of course I say “guys” generically; there were plenty of women amongst them who were riding just as hard and keeping up with no trouble. This is an equal opportunity hell ride and both men and women suffer and succeed equally well.

Last year Eric had trained the entire year specifically for the Death Ride; it had been his major goal and he had been really intense about it. Last year he had completed the ride in twelve hours with breaks and lunch, and it hadn’t been all that pleasant. This year there had been other stuff going on that had kept Eric from training quite so hard, so he was already at a disadvantage, but he had hoped he was in good enough shape that it wouldn’t matter. When Eric came back to the truck at 1:30PM he was making really good time (according to the spreadsheet he would have finished at about 4:30PM, an hour less than last year) but his knees were hurting and he was feeling really bad, so he abandoned the ride after 4 passes.

Four passes of the Death Ride is in itself a big accomplishment of course, but it isn’t sitting well with Eric and now he’s starting another incredibly complex spreadsheet to plan his training for next year.

And what about me? I’d like to do the Death Ride at some point. But the climbing is really brutal and I’m still a beginning rider. I’m going to need to do a lot more training to be able to do even one pass of the ride.

And besides, if I actually did the ride I would miss the experience of hanging out by all the portapotties.