There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to pet wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
- Yamamoto Tsunetomo - Hagakure: Book of the Samurai
- Yamamoto Tsunetomo - Hagakure: Book of the Samurai
For starters, I am not a student of Samurai history, lore, philosophy or tradition. To say so would be trite and moreover, false. However, I ran across a partial quote of Mr. Tsunetomo's in the latest issue of Dirt Rag which I received just before leaving for the Crazy 88 and felt compelled to look it up further, given it's similarity to the much quoted; "You don't have to be having fun, to have fun". With this, I swapped just about any obstacle with "pain"....and I had the perfect mantra for the Crazy 88.
One disclaimer....this will not be a picture post....this will be a blow by blow account of my ride as I remeber it...If you want pictures, refer to my two previous posts. My previous posts were of my last two training sessions leading up to the Crazy. This is a brutal and truthful account of my experiences in the Crazy 88 which constitute my first ever race...much less an endurance race. For pics and details on the Crazy 88, please check out Nate's site, here.
I started with Tsunetomo's wisdom in my head.....regardless of the weather, or how I felt....or any other condition for that matter; I was going to accomplish the goal I'd been working towards ever since I started physical therapy on my knee back in May. In the end, the ability for me to accomplish what I wished would not be dictated by external forces; rather, my ability would be limited by my own doubts....everything else was outside of my control...to include the 41 degree temps the night before which made for a chilly start.
I don't have much to say about the first 44 miles. Perhaps there is not much to be said of contentment...which sums up the first half of the race. Folks popped off the front with a lot of energy...and I was happy to slowly move to the back of the pack...
...resigned to run my own race no matter the cost save completion. I figured I was in for 12.5 hours or riding....so the first 10 minutes were nothing to me. Folks whom I had previously talked to about riding together left me in their dust.....I was fine with this. However, within 2 miles...I was passing folks again who just shortly before had exhibited much gusto.....yet my tempo never changed. I was sticking with my tempo and would not be drawn into a chase. This was a long day and I knew my tempo would carry me home....I just needed to keep it going.
At the turn off to some sweet singletrack called "Pick-up Sticks" at about mile 9.4 and 58 minutes into the ride....I ran into yet more riders who were stopping for a break after the 1552 ft climb to the highest elevation on the day - 9300 ft. Before descending, I chatted with BrianC who was riding his rigid SS. I let him go first knowing he was a strong descender and that I was not, especially in this section littered with downed trees (get the name now?). However, I surprised myself as I bombed the track much faster than I did in my pre-rides of the trail. I even managed to clean some log hops which had stymied me in previous attempts. Maching out of Lockets Meadow, I found myself using my outside leg in turns as an outrigger on the teeth-rattling, steep forest road descent down to the pumice mine. This was where I was really glad I was not on a rigid. On one occasion as I was rounding a right hand turn, a red chevy pickup was almost run off the road by me as I came around a turn at 30 mph. Sorry pickup guy, I had no choice to pick a sloppy line.....I was on washboard and barely hanging on as it was.....so I continued on. It was somewhat disheartening to know that I had just descended roughly 2000 ft in mere minutes...yet knowing that I would have to regain that elevation which would take more than just minutes.
The climb on forest road 418 was, to me, the mental test piece of the 1st lap. Most folks thought of it as an easier portion of the route, focusing instead for the AZ trail portion which was later on....but I knew better. 418 sucked the life out of me last time I rode it with it's sun exposure, deceivingly open expanse and gradual, but steady climb to mile 24.5 at 8500 ft. I guess folks falsely reasoned, "Just how bad can a forest road really be?" How about momentum sucking washboard? I, for one, would rather have techy singletrack ascending 1000 feet, than washboard on a forest road.....I'll later regret this statement. In any event, I settled into the grind and kept my tempo. I yo-yo'd with some riders this entire section to the 1st aid station where we found bacon being fried and beers being consumed. 2 out of the 3 major climbs on the 1st half of the day had just been ticked off and 3000 ft out of the 10000 ft of elevation I needed to climb on the day was behind me. Now for where I knew I could shine....the AZ trail.
I feel like I smoked the AZ trail climb. I don't remember how many folks I encountered resting, me passing them, or me riding with and then passing on this stretch. I think some folks underestimated the effects that the rutty singletrack combined with the climb from 8000ft to 9000ft found within this section would have on them. Upon arrival at the crossing to Snowbowl road, I entered into the only section which I had not ridden; however my feelings were high as I knew my lunch awaited me and the start of the second half...which in my mind, was easier than the first. It was on this stretch that I came upon a buddy of mine, Chollaball; who was standing around with 3 or 4 other riders trying to make sense of their GPS tracks relative to the orange flag marker that was tied around a branch. Someone was off in the woods looking for a trail to match the GPS track, but could not find it. Perhaps it was because I was fresh on the scene and not part of the group-think that made me say..."I see single track heading east and it's going in the right direction....so I'm gonna take it". Chollaball agreed.....I think everyone else continued to hem and haw back at the junction for a little bit....I don't know.....we never saw them again. For the rest of the 1st loop, Cholla and I bombed down some wonderful trail and rolled into the basecamp at 5 hrs and 5 minutes after starting....41.5 miles later and 5400ft of elevation gained.
After eating a hurried lunch
...which consisted of half of an everything bagel, honey and peanut butter which I finished while putting on my gloves;
....a refill of my water bladder, a change of my socks and as much electrolyte drink as I could stomach....I pushed off after 15 minutes of rest (doing all of the above) to find Chollaball standing there saying, "I'm heading out". I told him I was too...and off we went.
I fully expected him to again smoke me and be gone as Cholla is a far stronger descender than I. Yet I was able to hang on his back wheel for the blindingly dust-filled, hour-long descent down 1500 ft to the pinon lands below. It felt great to give the legs a rest, but every descent reminded me that I was taking a loan out on something which would be repaid in full later in the day.
Somewhere at mile 55...Cholla and I ran into one of his friends, dgangi, who was was not only lost, but heading the wrong way under some train tracks....with a blown fork. After a minute of hurried conversation, we talked his friend into continuing on the ride despite his stanchions spewing oil with every compression all over his front brakes, shoes and tires. I reasoned that the worst of the descending was behind him and that he only needed to go another 10 miles before he got to a point of no return....at which he would have to stick to the route to return home anyways. To be a smart ass, I reminded him that he might want to refrain from using his front brakes for the rest of the ride. I'm not sure if he thought this was funny or rude...but it made me chuckle!
Riding on in the heat of the day, the cursing in the soft sand and ash from the cinder cones found on the SE portion of the route became more prevalent. I took Tsunetomo's saying to mind and kept on moving, paying no mind to how much of a pain it was to sink, stall and then walk out of these traps. The only thing I could control was my will to keep going, everything else was merely a distraction. I did, however, take to talking & cajoling my knee into fighting the good fight...outloud.
For most of my time that day, I had reasoned that I had two benchmarks to hit mentally on the second half of the day. First off, I knew that mile 62 for me would be big in a symbolic way. I have never ridden any more than 62 miles, so off the bat I savored this as a quiet victory. My only celebration was to mention it to Cholla once my odometer read 63 miles...however Cholla was in his pain cave and not accepting calls at that time. So we rode on in silence.
The second benchmark which was more tangible was Fischer Point at the end of Walnut Canyon. Fischer Point was found at mile 66 and represented to me, the beginning of the ride home. All other points on the course were taking us farther away from the finish...as the crow flies and route wise. However Fischer Point was where the course turned north and started the final climb back to basecamp. This became a point of no return to me.....to get home, I had to take the route more or less after Fisher Point. Upon reaching this benchmark, I felt elated and great. All I had to do now was go home...
Riding into Flagstaff at mile 72 was surreal. Seeing the hustle and bustle of folks moving around, not on bikes, not covered in dirt, drinking beers, shopping for....stuff....it all formed a weird illusion in my mind. My existence had been defined by only one thing that day and this snapped me back into a place I did not want to be....a reminder of things softer, easier and relaxed. Running low on water, Cholla needed to find a hose...so he filled up a water bottle off of the side of someones house, took a drink only to curse and spit it out. I laughed....the water must have been in that hose for the past decade....it was no good. dgangi and I assured him that we would pass a bar or two where he could fill up. Which leads me to my next temptation. Coming so close.....nay.....riding right by some of the downtown watering holes...I was tempted to get sidetracked and drink a beer before finishing, yet we stayed on track after refilling our water at Rendevous.
It was at mile 76 that the realization sunk in....I still had 1500 ft of climbing to do before finishing...and my IT band in the right knee was getting grumpier and grumpier. It had started becoming sore on the 1st half of the loop, but I've learned to manage it on long climbs by selectively using my left knee for the heavy duty pumps needed sometimes to get the tempo up. On a forest road...this is easy. However the last 10 miles or so and 1500 ft of climbing would not be on forest roads...they would be on singletrack with a few rocks thrown in for which I would have to haul myself and the rear wheel over. I would need both knees and both legs to help me up...sometimes as conditions dictate, I would have no choice but to use only my right leg. I started doing math in my head to distract myself and to calculate when we would roll in at the finish....it actually looked like not only would I would beat my own estimate, we would come in under 11 hours...if only I could keep a reasonable pace up Schultz. What normally would be a reasonable pace up Schultz, would become a trial after such a long day.
Gritting my teeth through some of the ups, Cholla and I made our way up the last climb on Schultz Creek to the finish. At less than a mile from the finish, my chain got sucked between my spokes and cassette. Stopping carefully, I started pulling on the chain. Incredulous at the notion that my only mechanical on the day would occur less than a mile from the finish, I soon accepted it and started working to free the thing! Cholla rolled up 15 seconds later and thankfully held onto my bike as I used both hands to free my chain. After what seemed like an eternity, I was off and riding again....this time with Cholla leading. Cholla and I had ridden the last 10 miles of the 1st loop and all of the 2nd loop....it was clear we would finish at the same time.....or would we?
Rounding the last turn and heading towards the finish line...I saw Cholla pick it up...so I matched him...figuring we were going to enter camp in style and looking strong. Once I pulled beside him....I poured a little more gas on the fire. What once had been tired muscles with nothing left to give, became driving pistons of fury. On seeing that I was clearly trying to race him...he glanced over at me and said, "Oh you asshole!"; and then dropped another few gears into play and pulled ahead in the last 20 feet or so. I decided to dump my bike early in front of the drinking crowd of racers and party-goers which had congregated around the fire, BBQ and the beer. I figured that I could make a run for the sign-in sheet faster than he could navigate his bike through the party. Cat calls and cheers erupted as I stumbled forward on legs that for nearly 11 hours, had been moving in a defined circular design....they clearly were not responding well to a differing function such as running. My brain was dismayed at this lack of coordination, yet amused at how clumsy it felt. To quote Hunter M. Thomposn, I felt "like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel". Much to my chagrin however, Cholla stayed on his bike and pierced the crowd all the way through to the table like a 500lb woman bearing down on a buffet line...beating me to the finish fair and square.
In the end, our times were the same....seconds were not counted on such a long day. I remarked to him that I was happy to come in behind him...he remarked that he was going to give it to me, until helping me with the chain, which he then figured he deserved it. After a slap on the back and a high five....I looked for Mrs. Maadjurguer and hugged and kissed her despite my filth.
I'm not sure of the order of anything after that...but I ate a double cheese burger, a hot dog, a handful of Doritos, a handful of Cheetos, a muffin, 2 giant chocolate chip cookies, one of Nate's beers, shared a growler of 4-Peaks Raj IPA, 2 cups of potato salad, scavenged the pulled pork BBQ bin clean....and then passed out in my tent.
Reflecting back on it now; it feels great to get this monkey off my back. This race for me came down to one thing: Proving my knee could do it. I never doubted I personally could do it...but always have been intimidated by the randomness by which my knee would dictate to me what I can and cannot do. The lead up to this test was testy to say the least.....Mrs. Maadjurger took the brunt of it with my pissy attitude, rigorous training cycle, unrelenting drive to stay on plan, man-child fits when I got off plan and overall inflexibility to do anything else other than do what I deemed necessary to pull my knee to the finish line...all the while, she exhibiting a patience in this relationship which was as critical to my success as my physical therapy. I'll admit...my reasons for being jacked up over this race were nothing more than hubris at the time. Pride in knowing that of course I can do it...I just don't know about this bum knee! By separating myself, the person; from it, my knee...and then to claim this is about my knee finishing, not me....what I was really saying is that I would not fail...my knee would do the failing.
I recognize this as BS, but I also stand by my attitude in that I refuse to be defined by my knee's limitations...rather than my commitment and actions. If I had failed at reaching the end of the 88...I was going to fail by dragging myself on the singletrack, swollen knee before throwing in the towel. I would have been happy at this....rather than not having the chance to fail...or worse, choosing not to allow myself to fail.
Of course....I'm more happy that I did finish!
Total time: 10:54
Moving time: 10:11
Stopped time: 43 minutes
9756 ft elevation gained according to my GPS which tends to low-ball the gain... Nate says the course is 10k of gain...and the SRTM data claims 13,674 ft.....although I suspect this is not true ground, rather tree top influenced data which is throwing the numbers higher.
Full race results and split times here.
Also check up on Chollaball's blog soon for pics which he took....he actually brought a camera on the race...weight I could not justify myself, but am now glad he did.