May the 4th be with you....not sure I had the Jedi force with me on Saturday. 5am wakeup without an alarm. This 3rd day in a row of waking up at 5am is getting easy. You'll never hear me say that again. Coming to Arizona, I learned something new. Arizona has opted to not follow daily savings time, so even though we're 2 time zones away from Ottawa, there are still 3 hours difference. The only exception is the Navajo nation, which does follow DST.
So, we head over to the race start. Siavash (#TekneCC) and I (#Nine2FivePro) signed up for the 115 mile (184 km) event. We parked the car and wondered what thickness clothes to wear. It was 6C at 6:30am, but the air was going to warm up quickly. I chose to wear my standard summer gear. Good decision...it went up to 38C in the valleys around lunch time.
The starting line had some fast riders including last year's winner and pro Ultra Endurance racer Taylor Lideen. There were also some really fast women, who all finished ahead of me.
7:15 am, and the national anthem echos over the loud speaker. 7:20 am, the previous year's winners and state gravel champions get call-ups. Standing next to me is a guy with a big mustache. Experience has taught me that guys with big mustaches are always fast. Dax Massey (mustache guy) did indeed win the 45-49 age category.
7:30 am, the starters gun goes off. The race is neutralized for the first mile, until the gravel starts. As soon as we hit the gravel, things went bonkers. The pace quickly escalated and everybody was looking for a wheel. One kilometer in, the massive washboard section shows up. Riders are searching for smoothest line. I remembered following Gerald Chen during a Clarence-Rockland Classic race a few years back, and he was way off the road...on the smooth surface. I looked to the right and found that same smooth surface. Even though I was out of the draft, it was still easier to pedal. By now, I've hit my peak heart rate for the day, 180 bpm. This was far from what I was planning for the day but when you have wheels to follow, it's hard to not oblige. I have to re-think my plan 'cause it's going to be a loooong day. After 10 kilometers of gravel pounding, my left brake hood comes loose....rookie mistake. Coach Hans taught me better. I have to stop. This will be my reason to reset my plan, and conserve energy for what will be a long day.
At this point, I've decided to take very few pictures as the course is not tame enough to whip out the cell phone. Siavash also slows down and we decide to ride together. The first 20 kilometers bring us to the top of our first climb which goes by the Garchen Buddhist Institute. The climb lead to the coolest ridge I've ridden on, nice coarse gravel flanked by a 100m drop on each side of the road. To the far east, we could see the red rock of the Sedona valley, a MTBer's paradise.
Also, we could see the valley down below, where we'd end up riding until we started climbing the longest climb of the day, the Perkinsville Road climb, a 23 km climb @ 3%. But before we hit the climb, we still have to make our way down to the bottom of the valley. The road down is super scenic, steep and gnarly. The road also featured 4 hairpins that had been chewed up by motorcycles and dune buggies...I've never seen so many in my life.
Once in the valley, we continued up a 13 km section of windy and soft gravel. Yet again, we ran into some more hairpins. By now, I'm starting to be cooked. Siavash on the other hand, looks fresh as he snaps pictures of my struggling.
We stop at the 20 mile aid station. Originally, that wasn't the plan but based on how hard this has been so far, I'm all for some food. This station rocks. It has everything a tired cyclist would want, including pickles, peanut butter stuffed pretzel pillows, bars, gels, coke, whiskey...yes, whiskey for those riders doing the shorter distances, oranges, bananas, water...the list continues.
So, we hit the Perkinsville climb. It's not steep but relentless. This is one of the only paved sections of the course. I don't even understand why there's a long paved section here, it goes to pretty much nowhere. Regardless, I have a bite of my homemade bar. It goes down easy but doesn't make my legs feel any better. I'm starting to cramp. Give me a break, we're only 60 km in. This is going to be brutal.
At this point, I start coming up with excuses....yesterday's ride was too long, my brakes are rubbing, I didn't eat enough for breakfast, I didn't train enough, the altitude is making me weak, I'm too heavy (and blaming Siavash for being lighter than me), the list goes on. I'm telling Siavash that my day is done. I'm taking the broom wagon home. Siavash yells at me and tells me to stop whining.
Screw it, I'm eating a gel. This is really early for a gel but I'm desperate. Last year, @TimothyRugg introduced me to SIS isotonic gels...what life savers these were going to be today. 1h38m later, I finally hit the top, where there's another station.
Of course, I stop...to get my brakes adjusted. Zac from #IronCladBicycles pulls out the allen key, tweaks the front brakes and bam, I'm good to go. I have no idea why my brakes started to rub but it's the truth. I eat some food, don't remember what. I'm back on the bike and it's down to the White Horse Lake. This is the turnaround point. The way down to the lake gave me time to recover and build up my sugar stores. I actually feel pretty good. Nonetheless, I stop at the food stop. At this point, it's been 4h08m into the ride. Any advice is great advice. "Have an electrolyte pill" says one guy, so I do, "Have some bacon" says another, so I do. It was so good but not a smart decision, one I would regret later. I still wanted to eat 10 pieces, but didn't. I had some more of the PB pretzel pillows, M&M's and filled my bottles with Gatorade. Also, I had sent myself a care package that had more Scratch powder and some stroopwaffels. Ate one of those too. Probably the drying most disgusting one I've ever eaten. At this point, I was full of sugar and ready to go. One thing to note, this stop was at a primo camp ground in the valley, definitely a place to go back...if I liked camping.
Back to the race. I'm feeling good, not great, the climb out of the valley was grueling, not because it was hard, because I was broken. Also, we are at 2200 m above sea-level so I'm sure it has something to do with it #ornot. Having eaten so much sugar, I was surprised to not have farted yet....until kilometer 96.7, m first toot. Five minutes later, while crossing a cattle guard (train tracks perpendicular to the road designed to prevent hoofed animals from crossing), one of my bottles falls off and through the grate....it's gone....FML. I keep motoring on.
Once back to the top of the mountain, it's a 23 km descent....that, I can handle. But at this point, my neck and shoulders are really sore. How to descend while stretching...sit on the top tube for 23 km and try some yoga poses. The descent took 40 minutes to complete. That's a long way to coast....ok, there were a few pedaling moments but still, a good time to rest. At the bottom of the descent, I stopped at the rest stop again. Not really hungry, I grab a new bottle to replace the lost one. Now my gear doesn't match...it'll make for horrible finish line pictures 🙄.
Now, onto the final stretch. First, the gravel descent down to the Verde river. The climb seemed so much tamer than this descent. My hands are starting to hurt. I have 2 massive pre-blisters forming in the palm of both hands. Every time I white knuckle the sketchy gravel descents, it feels like my hands are bleeding...but they're not. At this point too, my but is getting sore from the beating it's been taking all day. Down in the valley, I see another cyclist stopped in the middle of the road...there are dozens of mean looking cows crossing the road. These things have horns the size of Texas. I make my way in between them avoiding the hairy beasts. The final climb of the day is ahead.
The same hairpin section we descended 6 hours prior. I'm really busted at this point, and I'm eating gels like they're going to make a difference. I keep motoring on until my legs really don't want to move anymore. My new strategy, stop every 10 km's for a meditation break...essentially hunch myself over the bars and try not to pass out. I hear the sound of an engine coming behind me and it's one of the volunteers in a giant white pickup...could this be the ride back I was hoping for? I start rolling again. As the truck passes me, the driver offers me a cold compress and some fireball. At this point, the thought of anything going down my esophagus is making me gag. I can't stomach anything anymore. Midway up the climb, a volunteer had stopped, offering water and gatorade to remaining riders. I chose to stop of course, as any excuse to take a break is a good excuse. I leave the nice gentleman and keep trucking along. I haven't seen Siavash for 2 hours now...he's probably done already.
Now, at kilometer 166, the top of the final climb, a miraculous food stop...where did this guy come from. I stare at the bike race buffet and see some pickle jars. He hands me a shooter glass and I down an ounce of pickle juice. Not sure if it helped my body but it sure didn't help my gut. I then proceed to eat 2 pickles. The gentleman offers me some whiskey, which I graciously decline. Only 28 km's to go, I can finish this. As I'm ready to depart, another rider pulls up..@bejaykean. He's feeling pretty much like I, very tired. We ride together and chat. At this point, my power output has dwindled to 150W so talking is easy. I am not out of breath, just out of juice. We cruise down the final descent onto the washboard section from the beginning. Of course, it's the afternoon by now and the wind is howling across the Chino Valley...and to make things even better, it's a full frontal assault. Washboard + Headwind = Crap. There's only 8 km's left but these are the longest ever. I come up to a rider that's "Meditating". He was using my technique. He's completely cooked too. I keep rolling and hit the final short ascent of the day, the finish line is in sight. What's going on, two guys behind me making up ground...I can't have ridden for 8 hours and let 2 guys pass me, so of course, there's always more juice left in the lemon...I squeeze it real hard and create a gap....for 9th out of 12th in my age group. 8h40m later, the Chino Grinder is over.
What an awesome experience. I didn't come here to win it, but to experience it. Mission accomplished. If anybody is looking for a really challenging ride, one that is super well organized, extremely well supported, and full of awesome riders and sponsors, this one should be at the top of your list. I met tons of cool people along the way, most of them passing me throughout the day.
I'd like to thank Siavash for standing all my whining, keeping me focused on the game and all the pictures in this post.
This is a true "Living Gravel" type of ride