Everybody had a different experience at the Grand Junction Off-Road Epic Rides race two weeks ago. This is how it all went down for me on the 40-miler.
First, always sign up for a category and classification that is way beyond your limits. You will find fewer competitors in your age bracket that are willing to do this; thereby, increasing your chances of standing on the podium. It’s kind of an inverted “sand-bagging” approach and gives you high marks for achievement.
I started the day with an old strategy of mental deprecation. Since so much of the competition is based on confidence, if I could tweak “the psyche” I knew I would be able to undermine most of my competition. At the starting line, I wedged myself as close to the front as possible. Minutes before the starting gun went off I began singing catching tunes that other racers would find irresistibly familiar. Repetitive endurance events, like cycling, are mental mind games. Mountain bikers often sing while they ride to take their minds off the long, tedious miles. By singing a few verses of “I Like Big Butts,” “We Rule The Streets Tonight,” and “Rainbow Connection” at the starting line, I was able to inject a certain amount of cognitive dissonance into the pack. Show tunes are also a popular WMD.
Another trick I learned is to pre-ride the course and kick all the big rocks to the right side of the trail. At the starting line, I talk it up real big about how if you are ever in doubt while riding, the “fast line” is always on the right. It’s like a bullet put in the chamber backwards. Locked and loaded.
The first few moments after the starting gun are filled with testosterone. Everybody is jockeying for position at the front with a starting heart rate of like 16 bpm. I always try to blend in the middle with a keen eye on the lead rider while my cardio system catches up. After about 10 minutes, the riders that started too fast are easy to pick off one by one due to the recent cardiac arrest that they had just cooked up. While I was keeping tabs on the lead rider, I got stuck behind a line of 100 riders trying to climb the singletrack up the Lunch Loop then a dude fell over and knocked me into a bush. I never saw the lead group again ... maybe they got behind me somehow ... took a wrong turn or something.
Butter Knife was filled with spills and chills. Remember the feeling when you lean back in a chair and you almost fall backwards but then you catch yourself and tip forward but then you fall back again. Butter Knife was an endless barrage of “near misses.” I passed a couple people with broken frames.
The 95-degree heat and 7-mile climb up Windmill Road was torture, which I thought was now illegal in this country. The race director, Dave Grossman, taught me a trick that I passed on to the other out-of-towners. He said if you see the Windmill, you are half-way up. Nowhere near true. So I proceeded to inform those that passed me the same bad information. “Just around the corner. Almost there….”
My legs cramped up 3 miles into the climb. So tight they became, the only thing I could do was lay on the ground and hydrate, snack and wait. A bright red helicopter circled above me as I lay on the ground. As I watched it I thought, if I don’t move, they may attempt a rescue mission and I really want to finish this ride. If I jump up and down and wave my arms in the air, they may attempt a rescue mission. I’m not sure how to signal to a helicopter that everything is OK and leave me alone, so I crawled under a bush and hid.
Once again back on the bike I began thinking how I might continue to demoralize my competition.
I also came up with a foolproof method of how to lie to your spouse and always get away with it, but I will save that one for another day. I started thinking about Muhammad Ali, the boxer and rope-a-dope. If I could force my competition to ride beyond their limits and expend themselves, I could knock them out of the running. My masterful brain gave me a one-word solution. It was so simple and universal; it would work on anybody. As I hastily whizzed past riders on the uphill climb, I only had to utter one word to force them into an overbearing workout frenzy. “Bear!!”
I found a parked car on the trail just before the climb up to Little Park Road. I hadn’t seen a rest stop in 12 miles and was out of water. The tailgate was open and had a big jug of ice water sitting inside.
Listening for humans and finding none, I drank half that water and filled my bottles. It was so good.
You should always lock your car doors and never leave personal items unattended. You just never know who is out there that might steal from you. One-hundred yards from my water break, I found the next rest stop.
The race officials closed down the course just before Andy’s Loop and were sending riders down the pavement about 1 p.m. They were getting concerned that the 100-degree heat might cause some big problems and wanted to nip it in the bud. As all good search and rescue mission stories begin, our cavalier attitudes got the best of us and we popped down into the canyon to ride Andy’s unsanctioned. We may not finish alive, but at least we will die on course – like there is some kind of honor in that.
Andy’s Loop has a 2-foot ledge carved into the side of a cliff for about 150 feet. In our heat-altered state, we chose to walk it and as with most monsters, it was harder to look at it then to embrace.
The Popsicle at the stoplight on First Street made the entire day worthwhile. The Epic staff’s brainchild of serving “one-handed, ice-cold Popsicles” to bikers while they waited for the light to change was brilliant. If you can’t win the argument, distract them.
A quick sprint to the finish line to pick up my souvenir wine glass and I was looking for a place to lie down. I would say that all my strategy and trickery paid off. I came in 116 of 118 finishers. Next year, I might just focus on riding and see how that works.