Sunday, November 13, 2016

White Rim Take Two

Strava - coming as soon as Garmin improves their crappy software!

You’d think riding the White Rim Trail in a day once a year or maybe, if you were really into it, once a season (Spring and Fall) would be enough, but when circumstances aligned for a couple of back to back rides I jumped. The first was when I rode it with my buddies Mark and Dan. We had it planned for a couple of months. Then my brother invited me on a trip with his work group and I didn’t want to pass up a chance to ride it with him. I was vastly undertrained for the first ride, but at least the second ride I knew I could do it, as I had just done it two weeks before. This second ride was with a large group and involved a sag vehicle, which made things much less committing and more decadent, supply-wise. The presence of a vehicle also allowed me to invite my son Derek.
Chris, Liz, and Derek atop Murphy's
Derek is 18 years old and a fit, strong athlete, but he had never really done a mountain bike ride. He didn’t own a mountain bike and the total extent of his riding since he got his driver’s license has been biking around the CU campus. Hence, the prospect of him riding 100 miles of steep, bumpy road in one go was out of the question. Still, he loves the desert and wanted to come along and see what this was all about and if he might be interested in doing more of it in the future.
Riding the one paved section to the top of the Shafer Trail
Derek had an electronics lab course from 3 - 5 p.m. and we weren’t able to leave town until 5:30 p.m. With a stop for dinner, we didn’t get out to the Mineral Road camping location until just before midnight. We bedded down  quickly and met the crew the next morning. I was proposing a 6 a.m. start time because I knew from last time that it was going to take 12 hours or more, depending upon the fitness of this group. I figured a work group from an oil-field-services company would consist of at least a couple of burly dudes who were tough, but not super fit. I was wrong  about that. Even the burly dudes were super fit. And everyone was very mentally tough. Plus, these are all pretty smart guys. They knew what this involved. And there isn’t a lot of quit in this group, as you’ll see.

The group decided to push the start time back to 6:30 a.m. which had the benefit of starting in the daylight. Of course that just meant that the night-time riding would be at the tail end when we were the most tired. We rode clockwise, the direction I’ve gone every time but once, I think. We did it in the more conventional style, of starting on top of the mesa. This meant that we’d finish with the biggest climb on the ride, but it probably doesn’t make a huge different. Either way you have to ride 100 miles.
Heading down the Shafer Trail
Ron was the breakfast chef and he took this job seriously. I’d never seen anything like it. I’m used to getting up, downing a Frappuccino and a couple of Poptarts and hopping on the bike. Ron got up much earlier than the rest of us and made at least a dozen Egg McMuffins. Yes, these were nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, only much better tasting. He had a special pan where he could cook eight eggs at a time in perfectly round forms. He then had the cheese and Canadian bacon. It was so delicious. Fueling excuses would not be tolerated. 

We rolled out in a loose peloton and soon split into smaller groups. Derek rode my 26-inch 15-year-old Trek (which, by the way, I bought from Greg LeMond the day after I rode the White Rim with him, my brother, and a few others). I rode Chris’ old 29-inch mountain bike. Derek used my old pair of biking shoes. It is so convenient that we basically have the same-sized foot. Derek tipped over pretty early on, climbing a sandy section and he’d do this a few more times before the ride ended. He rides pretty much like I do, though I have more experience. We tend to stay on the bike too long going up tricky climbs, and then frequently tipping over before we can unclip. And we tend to be more conservative descending, knowing that a crash at high speed might end more than our day of riding.

We regrouped at the top of the Shafer Trail, just 8 or 9 miles into the ride. I didn’t shed any clothing here because of the 4-mile drop we had down to the start of the White Rim Trail. The Shafer Road immediately drops a hundred feet or so and then traverses for more than a mile with sheer cliff both below and above. It’s a spectacular section with incredible views. You know immediately that you are on a very special ride in a fabulous, unique landscape.

Our group consisted of two clans, loosely connected by Chris. One was the Liberty Oil Field Services employees - guys dedicated to extracting oil and gas out of the earth at the cheapest possible price in order to enrich themselves and despoil the earth. Sure, sure the low prices enable just about everything we have in the modern world, including the ability to ride the White Rim Trail in a day from our homes in Colorado, New Mexico, and Idaho, but their driving force is the root of all evil: profit! The other group was led by Whit, a friend of Chris’ that has ridden the Leadville 100 more times that it’s actually been run. Okay, that estimate might be a touch high, but suffice to say all his pants are held up by enormous buckles. Whit isn’t as tough these day, though, so he kneecapped his right-hand-man Jim, another 10+ time finisher of Leadville, so that he couldn’t ride and hence would drive the sag wagon. Great thinking, Whit!
Liz at the bottom of Shafer Road
When we got around to Musselman Arch, I headed straight for it, as I love the thrill of riding across it with 200-foot drops just a few feet to my right and left. As I approached Whit called out, “Don’t ride the arch, Bill. It’s illegal.” First off, I’ve never heard that it was illegal before. Secondly, Whit said this? Let’s just say that Whit isn’t the type of person that worries much about offending people. But maybe I’ve misjudged him. Maybe this arch is sacred to the Sioux Indians, of which Whit is 1/15th (do the math!) and should only be used for his semi-annual naked fire dances. Alas, I pretended not to hear him, not an uncommon strategy for many when around him, and just rode it. While the others moved on, I encouraged Derek to ride it as well. It’s a rite of passage for the tribe of White Rim mountain bikers. Of course, when Derek looked a bit shaky at the start, my heart skipped a beat. I mean, I do have another son, but this is the only one that talks to us! My wife would be pissed! Thankfully he righted his line and cruised across without any more near heart attacks for his dad.

Derek and I were now the lantern rouge and the broom wagon wasn’t far behind us. Ack! We couldn’t get swept up already. We pressed on and caught the others when they stopped to take a breather. One of Whit’s friends left the group early on, intent on doing the loop in the light and we didn’t him again until dinner. I think a few others also struck out on their own, all from Whit’s group. Clearly Whit’s circle of friends lacks cohesion. To Whit’s credit, though, he recognized their shortcoming, and dropped back to be with our group, at least until lunchtime at Muphy’s Hogback. Perhaps he knew the smorgasbord that Liz had prepared. 
Luke and Jeff, father and son
Liz herself, was riding entirely on fat and protein.She’s recently converted to a low-carb diet and now looks like an Ironman competitor. Oops. IronWomen competitor. I don’t mean to be sexist toward our long chick. I mean, skirt. I mean she-can-do-anything, all-powerful woman. But back to the diet. Liz runs completely on fat stores and only munched minimally on macadamian nuts. But with her lean build the only fat left on her was in her butt and boobs. I took at look at the 30-mile mark and wondered if there was 70 more miles left there...

We rolled along, but Chris was struggling a bit. He’s diabetic and despite having done many long, hard adventures, it’s still quite a challenge to get insulin/calorie intake just right. In this case his blood sugar was 40-50% for the first three hours. When I or Derek have a serious bonk and can hardly move, our blood sugar is likely at the 70% range. In attempt to fix his blood sugar and not hold up the crew, Chris hopped in the support truck for about ten miles to correct things. This got him to the top of Murphy’s for lunch and he was just fine afterwards.
Derek riding Musselman Arch
Derek and I rode a bit with Whit before Murphy’s but when we stopped to wait for the others, Whit continued. He didn’t want anyone else watching him push his bike up Murphy’s, I guess. After a pretty long wait, Chris and Liz didn’t show up, so Derek and I moved on. We were closing in on 50 miles and Derek had only drank 20 ounces of Gatorade, a Honey Stinger waffle (160 calories) and a flask of GU (400 calories). I had about the same amount of calories and just my 24-ounce bottle. Needless to say, Derek was ready for some more fuel. We pedaled over to the start of Murphy’s and Derek stopped, saying that he was going to wait for the sag wagon. He’d already done a very impressive ride, but I encouraged him to continue moving, slowly and easily, to the top. I told him to ride when it was easy and push when it wasn’t. He was non-committal on this when I left, but I know Derek. In this situation, maybe even better than he knows himself, but he did exactly that.
Me riding back across Musselman Arch - love that shadow
I continued on up Murphy’s, telling Derek I”d walk back down and help him out with his bike. When I caught up to Leen, he was tooling along just fine, saying, “I tried keeping up with Chris and Liz, but they are too fast. I just need to go my own pace.” I told him that Chris and Liz were behind him, but he was sure they were not. Leen’s known as “The Doctor” because he has a Ph.D. and is a brilliant guy, but he must have been working hard to lose track of these two. I inched on by Leen and huffed and puffed my way to the top of Murphy’s. A number of strong riders were already there including two young guys, Tyler and Howard. I staggered over to a boulder and laid down my bike and then, as promised went back down the hill to check on Derek. I found him just above the lower crux and offered to take his bike for him. He thought that was a great idea and so I hopped on and rode his bike to the top. When I got there a couple of the guys noticed and, not wanting to give the old guy too much credit, said, “Two times, huh? No big deal. Now three times and I’d be impressed.” Ever looking for validation in such a strong group, I headed back down again to see if anyone needed help. I found Liberty’s Short-order Breakfast Cook, Ron. Sure he some other title at Liberty, President or Imperial Grand Poobah or something like that, but I knew him as my Breakfast Chef. Wanting to return his kindness, I asked if could help his bike. He graciously let me take it and when I noticed he had Crank Brothers pedals, I hopped on and rode it up to the top as well. The others on top pretended not to notice when I arrived and this was probably a good thing. I didn’t want my head to swell any as my helmet was already pretty snug.

Not bad scenery...
The amount of food supplied and consumed on top of Murphy’s could have probably altered the power structure in Somalia. I know it greatly enhanced my attitude, though it pushed the limits on my bib stretchability. Riding down the far side each pedal stroke now drove my thigh up into my distended belly. Liz sliced up fresh watermelon which was the best I’ve ever tasted. There were hard-boiled eggs, meats, cheeses, yogurt, chocolate milk, chips of every kind. The only thing missing was a milkshake and that’s probably a good thing, as I’ve have been sleeping there that night if we had them. Jim, our driver, on the other hand, flaunted his beer to the rest of the riders.
Liberty Strong!
We descended off Murphy’s with 45 miles to go. We all got a boost from the rest and the fuel, but was short lived. This route wears you down. There are no easy miles on this ride, besides the Shafer descent. We did groupings of easy tenths, but broken up by punchy, energy-sapping steep hills. Derek tipped over again and I switched bikes with him. I found the 26-inch bike much tougher to ride and was once again impressed with Derek perseverance and toughness. Unfortunately, Derek wasn’t in condition to appreciate the lower rolling resistance of the 29er. When he tipped over a second time he said, “Let’s just switch back. I don’t want to damage this bike.” We switched and continued on, but I could tell that Derek had passed the fun point in this adventure. He'd tipped over three or four times now, always to the left, but that's understandable given that he's a freshman at a liberal university. Each time he'd unclip his right foot because he's more coordinated with it, but failed to realize that he needed to lean right as well. With forty miles to go, it was too far to urge him to suffer it out. I never expected him to get this far. When the sag vehicle caught us I made the call for Derek to get in. If it was left up to Derek he might have ridden too far into the unpleasant region. 
Lunch atop Murphy's
While Derek hopped in, I continued on, trying to catch the others and to stay ahead of Jim’s Broom Wagon. I caught up to a couple of chicks, oops, young ladies, first. They heard me behind them but didn’t move out of the way. I followed patiently, not in a big hurry, but looking for an opportunity. I said, “Hi Ladies,” and one responded, “Eat my dust, tortuga!” I immediately thought of Nana, of course, as that is her nickname. I replied, “As delightful as that sounds, I was hoping to maybe squeeze by.” She then realized I wasn’t who she thought I was, and I moved on by.
Monster Tower (left) and Washer Woman Tower/Arch
First I caught Leen and assured him that this time Chris and Liz were definitely ahead. I then caught up to Chris and Liz and rode with them for a bit. We also had Howard I think with us, but he went off the front. I rode a stretch of this section with Jeff and his 13-year-old son Luke. By the time I finished this ride, I was thinking that Luke is going to be the next Greg LeMond. I’d have sold him Greg’s old bike, but he would have disdained that ancient 26er. This was one tough, strong kid. I”m sure that’s because of his genetics. Jeff looked like a favorite at Paris-Roubaix. I saw him top out Murphy’s and he wasn’t sweating and hardly breathing. He’d never done a mountain bike ride this long, yet he looked like he could do the RAAM.
Howard still having fun while dropping down off Murphy's

As we approached Hardscrabble Hill, Luke was feeling the effects of 75 miles. He really wanted to finish on his bike, however, so he planned to get in the sag for a 10-mile rest before the final, biggest climb up Mineral Bottom Road. I was in the lead group (of our remaining pack), as we headed up Hardscrabble. In the group was Howard, then Chris, Howard, Liz, and Leen. The road’s dramatic tilt sorted us out in dramatic fashion and put Howard in the lead with Chris riding strong on his tail and me lagging a bit, trying to conserve my energy. At the crux section, the steepest, loosest part of the ride, Howard got within two feet of getting it. He unclipped and put his foot down. Chris faltered just a tiny bit lower, unclipped and put his foot down. I didn't make it either, but I also didn't unclip. I think I was still pedaling as I crashed into the ground. Damn Hardscrabble...

With me blocking the best line, still sprawled across most of the road and struggling to unclip, along comes Roubaix Jeff calmly pedaling by us all as if the climb was paved. From my vantage point on the ground, covered in dirt, it was particularly impressive.

We regrouped a bit at the top and then a bit further long when Jeff and I took off earliest and rode together to the base of Mineral Bottom. Here we took a short break to pee, grab some extra clothes, and Jeff wisely grabbed the lights. I wasn't as wise. Here Luke got out of the truck, threw his leg over his bike and absolutely crushed Mineral Bottom. He was out of sight so fast that Jeff wasn't sure where he went. Jeff and I rode together up the climb and it was a bear, for me at least. It felt way harder than when I rode it at the start of the ride two weeks before. Turns out that having 85 miles in your legs makes this climb a lot harder.
Derek showing off his intimacy with the White Rim dirt...

Jeff and I crested the climb to find Luke waiting for us, but when Jeff decided to pee again (Jeff is big on hydration), Luke took off once again. Perhaps he feared he'd have trouble keeping up. He did not. Jeff and I gave chase. Well, Jeff gave chase. I sucked his wheel for all I was worth and then fell off the back. He'd ease up and let me back on. It wasn't like he was trying to drop me. We weren't going all that fast, I just didn't have much left. It then got dark, but we had a full moon and a smooth dirt road. Even with my poor night vision, we continued without lights. Luke eventually got tired of riding alone and stopped again, as that was the only way we were going to catch him. I then got the opportunity of getting dropping by dad and son. It was also getting cold. I only had my armies for extra warmth and my bare fingers were chilled. Luke put on his jacket and we continued, with me barely keeping contact. Luke wanted to stop and stretch his back but I was so depleted that stopping would have made me very cold. I continued on alone in the dark, with no lights, checking my computer every tenth of a mile so that I didn't ride by the camp spot. I was dreaming of taking off my shoes, putting on my down jacket, and lying down.
Chris at the top of Hardscrabble Hill
A little bit after I got to camp someone in a vehicle returned and said that everyone else was going to ride it out. Cool. I was planning to head back in my truck, but was glad I didn't need to. Tough crew, as it was dark and cold. Jeff and Luke rolled in about ten minutes after I finished. I heard from the sag crew that when Liz and the others arrived at the start of the Mineral Bottom climb and they asked what the riders needed, Liz answered, "A new butt!" Apparently she had used that up in the last 85 miles and it was going to be up to her boobs to get her home.... Boob power. You go, girl! And she did...

The crew inched up the climb and onto the long, dark road above. Chris bonked again, just a couple miles before the finish. Leen dropped off the back and finished alone, but came by me looking quite pleased and not defeated in any way. I suspect if the end was 30 miles further he'd have just kept on chugging. I think that is a key aspect of doing long hard days: a positive mental attitude. It's tough to have that when you are tired, but I've found that the people who are best at this sort of thing just love it and, no matter their current speed or state of fatigue, still seem to be happy doing it.
Luke leading dad Jeff
We had a campfire that night and burgers and brats and beer and soft drinks and... I was really thirsty, but not nearly as hungry as I'd thought I'd be. Derek had no trouble sucking down a burger, a brat, and a third of my burger. Teenagers...

The next morning Leen was the breakfast maestro and the Dutchman was determined to outdo the Canadian of the day before. He started off with some Dutch pancakes - thin, limp, definitely tasty and with some style, but then moved on to the sturdier, substantive American pancakes, which probably contribute to our world-leading obesity rates. Or does Samoa still have the title? Look out you Pacific Islanders! We're coming for you.
What a place...
We were all too tired from the day before to do any climbing and so packed up and headed for home. I consoled Derek somewhat about not doing any climbing, saying, "We'll be back out here plenty more times." He responded, "Yeah, we will. I have to come back and finish this ride!" I was glad to hear that. A lesser kid would have thought, "Dang, that hurt. That was unpleasant. I had to quit. I won't be doing this again." Alas, that isn't Derek. He might not be challenging Luke in the Tour de France, but I wouldn't bet against him versus the White Rim Trail...
SpaceX heading for Mars?