Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'07 La Ruta - table of contents

Am I Ready?

The Calm before the Storm

We're Back

Day Zero Recap

Day One Recap

Day Two Recap

Day Three Recap

Day Four Recap

La Ruta was quite an experience. I'm thankful for the opportunity to give it a shot and am ecstatic with my performance and being able to share with you my experiences. I hope you enjoy reading what I have compiled here despite how much content it is.

This has marked the end of my 2007 cycling season.
What an amazing year! This was the most enjoyable one yet. I have met some wonderful people, made some new friends, set goals and met or exceeded them as well as learned quite a bit along the way. All in all, a very successful and fun-oriented year!

I want to thank Carl and the gang at Vicious Cycles for their continued support. The bikes have been flawless all season. Thank you Ghostship clothing and TwinSix for their mighty fine threads. Glad to have helped contribute to the right-coast contingent of the BKB. Thanks for keeping it real. Thank you Maxxis for some great tires. Everyone at High Gear Cyclery, thanks once again for everything. Keep doing what you do best! Thanks Jeff and Ergon for helping add comfort to long days on the bike. Thanks to all my friends and family that think. Whether I'm 'loco' or not, I'm enjoying every minute of it and want to keep pushing those boundaries!

I have not given much thought into the 2008 season but I do know it will, at a minimum, consist of more 100milers and the SSWC08. I really would like to go back and do La Ruta again but I'll be scraping for vacation days at work on that one (as if I didn't do that this year).

Check back often. As the winter progresses I'm sure there will be some bike related stuff to share with you.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

la ruta - day four

Saturday: Day Four

120km (75miles)
1,720m (5,650ft) of climbing

Seeing as the race promoters decided to put some of us singlespeeders up in a posh resort almost two hours from the day's start, we had to get up not too long after falling asleep. 2:45am wake up! Yeah. As if riding a singlespeed in the 'worlds most difficult mountain bike race' wasn't enough. Do it on very little sleep.

As soon as I woke up I noticed something was amiss. Ugh oh. Stomach ain't right. I meandered up this dark road to the restaurant for breakfast. Oh, and if the aforementioned wasn't enough, the restaurant was at the top of this little hill. My calves and thighs were burning. Alas, I make my way up to the restaurant and find Dicky's roommate banging on the door.

First the resort gives us a 2:45am wake-up call. Then we immediately show up for breakfast and the restaurant isn't open yet. A few long minutes later the cattle are allowed inside for grazing. I fill my plate up with the usual eggs, rice & beans, pineapple, orange juice etc.. Take a seat next to Dicky with Andy and Roger at the adjacent table. Dicky is wolfing is food down like someone's holding a handgun to his head. I'm just staring at my food with the intent of vomiting. My stomach was a mess and it hurt. Was it something I ate/drank the day prior or was it trying to eat breakfast at 3am?

A few minutes later Dicky is done and so are Andy and Roger. I haven't even touched my food. As much as I knew I should eat I made a commanding decision to leave the full plate and walk back to my room and get ready for the day. A nice walk down this hill in the pitch dark and I'm back at our room.

TimmyD said the shuttle was leaving at 3:30. That gave me very little time to get my stuff together. Not long thereafter our bags are sitting outside the resort's registration room and we're all standing around aimlessly. No shuttle in sight. I found a nice comfy chair to sit on and manage my stomach aches. 4am rolls around and the shuttles have finally arrived (about 30 people capacity). Hmm. "Costa Rican Time"? I could have slept for 30 more minutes if I knew they were showing up at 4am.

The shuttles take us down the dirt/muddy road the resort resides on. About a 1/4 mile down the road, at the intersection with the main road, we stop. Huh? Some Spanish translations later we find out this is the waiting location for the 'big' bus. The 'big' bus will get us to the race start faster. Well, yeah. We're now 30mins behind schedule and need to get their faster!

Turns out the 'big' bus is late leaving San Jose. Hmm. here we have "Costa Rican Time" again. Our shuttle occupants are getting restless. Don't want to upset a bunch of tired, sore and sleep-deprived endurance cyclists. One our Spanish speaking shuttle occupants convinces the shuttle driver to start moving forward and we'll meet up with the 'big' bus.

About one or two kilometers down the road the shuttle stops on the left hand shoulder. What? Oh, keep in mind I'm still on the verge of vomiting. 'Big' bus has arrived! First we're to just move ourselves over to the bus and the shuttle will take our 'official', bright yellow, gear bags to the start/finish. Hmm. Not good. TimmyD and I have our food and bottles in our bags. We start looking for our bags when the shuttle drivers decided to have all the racers unload their bags and place them in the bottom storage compartment of the 'big' bus. Argh!

The bags are now in the bottom of the 'big' bus and we're all aboard. Hmm. This thing is nice. A giant Mercedes charter bus. I'm near the front sitting next to Kevin. Now we've got two mountain passes and some winding roads to cover before we reach the day's stage start. A few winding turns later I'm getting those feelings that nothing is going to stay down. A couple minutes later I make the decision to walk to the back and see if I can clear my stomach problems in the bus' restroom. Trying not to trip over anyone or wake them up I make my way to the back of the bus. Now I'm getting tossed around the restroom like a rag doll as the bus is flying around these winding turns and over these mountain passes. False alarm. Back to my seat. This continued for the duration of the bus ride. I wanted off Mr. Toad's Wild Ride as soon as I could.

Arrival at the race start! Whoa hoo. We're here! Off the bus and guess what? Its raining again. It wasn't raining at our posh resort. Time to dig through my gear bag for my raincoat. Then off to find my bike and hope no one's pedals have destroyed my spokes (they pile the bikes in bike storage like cattle. Every day TimmyD, Dicky and I have come to find our bikes laying next to another one with pedals through our wheels.). We make our way to a nice location within the starting gates. Dicky decided a raincoat is a no go so he's standing next to us in a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers. We're standing around.

Still standing in the rain. Apparently the race was delayed because a few of the top riders were stuck in traffic coming from their hotels. Andy's still not fully recovered from the previous day's rock bottom. Travis wanders by to wish us best and explain that he almost fell to the floor when he woke up that morning. Guess the food and water also got him. Unfortunately he wasn't fit to start that day's stage. I wouldn't have either if I almost passed out when I woke up. I shared my stories and feelings of vomiting on someone's feet right then and there as we're waiting for the day's start. My thoughts were "If I'm well enough to stand up I'll at least try to start today's stage. If I only make it one kilometer and quit due to stomach pains then at least I tried."

Dicky's gone. Huh? A few minutes later he's back with a trash bag around his chest with a nice knot keeping things aerodynamic. Haha. I needed that humor to help shift my mind off my stomach issues. Oh, look at that. We are actually going to start today's stage. My raincoat comes off and so does Dicky's 'coat'.


We have to climb back out the 5km through the coffee plantation we descended the previous day. Just like every other day, it starts with a nice climb. TimmyD is gone, as usual. I'm slowly watching Andy enjoy his 32x20 and pull away from me. That animal was climbing in the saddle. Amazing! Dicky and I were somewhere near each other. Each fighting our harder gear choice wishing we were on the railroad tracks already (or Dicky wishing he was back in San Jose drinking a beer). Some walking/some riding and I slowly pulled away from him. Stomach pain is gone. Or am I focused on riding my bike instead?

I'm walking some section and turn around to see Dicky riding up. "How are you able to ride this? You're insane!" Mmm. incentive to start riding again. I immediately get back on my bike as he replies "I'm getting off right here.". He's off. I'm on and do my best to keep pedaling. This was the last I saw of him 'till the finish.

As the pedals keep turning I keep passing people. Up the first climb to the road. Whoa hoo! 400m of elevation gain done. Point it down the wet road and pass a few more people. I'm feeling good but a little concerned about not eating breakfast. Roger and that guy from Boulder I was riding with on day two found me so we're sticking together for a bit.

Left hand turn onto a very wet gravel road. Come around a bend and everyone's stopped. Huge traffic jam. Some guy is on the ground on the right side. Doesn't look good. Wait a second. He's not even a cyclist! Looks like a moto rider. Lots of people were helping so I took off. Guess a moto rider collided with a cyclist? Either way his breathing sounded very irregular and his face was all bloody. Poor fellow.

A few short rollers as I'm trying to eat some jelly beans. Then a nice long gravel road descent. Sweet! Fingers way off the brakes. I was flying. Roger was doing his best to keep up but those big wheels of mine kept on turning and no one could catch me. Beautiful descent into the valley. The vegetation changed dramatically and the rain seemed to cease for a brief while. I even think I saw the sun for a few minutes.

See, this guy doesn't know how to descend.

You need to get into a nice roadie aero tuck to take advantage of less wind resistance. Couple that with 29inch wheels and your fingers as far away from the brakes as possible: and you're flying! Oh, did I just give away some of my singlespeed riding secrets? uh oh.

We roll into check point one with Roger only a few seconds back. "I was pedaling as hard as I could and still couldn't catch up to you." haha. I just smiled and pointed to my wheels. Feeling really good I shouted for Roger to come on so we could ride together. Guess he wasn't paying attention for I left check point one without him. Pushing it hard while I felt great. Some more undulating 'hill's. These little inclines were short and steep. Short enough to just muscle through it and get to the top without having to dismount and walk. Those expenditures helped me pass more people. They weren't pushing a gear as big as I was so they were spinning up the inclines and by the time they got to the top I was long gone on the descent.

Another long rocky descent with some pavement sections. I've found a few days earlier that the Costa Rican's are slow descenders. You've gotta watch out for them otherwise you'll collide. Some sketchy lines to get around more Costa Ricans and I'm back bombing the next descent with a wide-open road to my advantage. This was so much fun I quickly forgot about all the climbing we've done the past three days. I had a huge smile with excitement and the knowledge of everyone I passed was in shear shock seeing someone on a rigid bike passing them like they were standing still.

The fun was over. Enter the last big climb of La Ruta.. Km40 on day four. Very loose gravel with stones the size of my hands that lasted a good 5km and climbed 300m. The rain also came back. Yuck. I was fairly dry only to get wet again. Opted to walk the bottom which turned into walking most of the climb. Having not fueled up at breakfast let alone had much to eat thus far into the day's stage, I figured I shouldn't push myself too hard. After all, we've got another 60k of flat to spin it all out. Watched many people I just passed pass me. It as humiliating but I didn't care one bit.

Some of the leaders on the last climb:

Partway up the climb Dicky's roommate caught up to me. Really humiliating! Over the last climb and into check point two. Then its a straight line down into the valley. Everyone stopped at check point two so I spent as little time as possible there so I could get back in front of everyone. Little flat section (did I say that?) and then the long descent. Well, some caught back up to me. Including a group of about 8 Costa Ricans and then Dicky's roommate. Gravel descent turning into a straight paved descent for as long as the eye could see. I bombed it and made a few sketchy passes right before the road turned paved. Then tucked and disappeared. Dicky's roommate was up there so I was playing "When can I catch up to him with just an aero tuck like the La Ruta leader?" Seeing as I must have been doing 40+ mph I couldn't pedal. He's sitting upright and coasting. We're both 29inch wheels. Slowly I gained.

Then the fun part came. I drifted up on Dicky's roommate so fast I passed him and kept on going. Quick over-the-shoulder glance and he was a-ways back there! Nice! Near the end of this 10km straight descent it started leveling out. Oh no. The fun is drifting away and now I have to spin my butt off for 65km. Dicky's roommate passed me but I couldn't hang onto his draft. Then the bunch of Costa Rican's crept up at a slightly slower pace. One I could hang with. A few smiles and thumbs up and I'm sitting in the back of their bunch drafting off of them. Now we're moving again.

Not too long later we make a hard right turn onto the first railroad section. I take the caboose not knowing what I'm getting into with these railroad tracks and a rigid bike.

I quickly found out the caboose was not the place for me. These guys were riding so slow! Couple stops and hike-a-bike sections later I was around most of them. We were riding in the middle of the tracks. The trestles used to lay the tracks weren't wood like here in the US, but concrete! Most of the time the gravel used for fill covered the trestles so you're just riding on stones the size of my fists. Occasionally the trestles were uncovered. Either sticking up 1/2 to 1 inch or a few inches. The 29inch wheels were cool up to about an inch. Beyond that it was safer, and quicker, to dismount and run through down the tracks. Especially because I was running something insane like 20psi in my tires (and tubeless).

Not long thereafter we got to the big bridge you see in just about every picture of La Ruta. The river underneath was flowing wildly and an easy 50ft drop from the tracks. Everyone was off and walking.

I was quickly becoming annoyed with how slow our pace was. Guess all the Costa Ricans infront of me had a much shorter stride. The trestles were anywhere from a foot apart to two feet apart. They weren't always perpendicular to the tracks either. They were off on funny angles. Some were rotted so when you stepped on it you sunk a bit. Most of the bridge had 2x9s nailed down to aid in walking but it was still pretty sketchy.

To add to the excitement there was a freight train on the other end (where we were walking to) that wanted to get on the bridge. Lucky for me I was in a long line of bicyclists so that train wasn't moving anywhere too fast.

(photo: Jason Sager)

Once the big bridge was over we had some more railroad tracks and then in and out of towns on gravel roads and some paved roads. Roger caught up to me and demanded I sit on his wheel. Couldn't make it last and Roger and his group pulled away from me. Out of this one town and a sharp right onto a major road that is flat as far I could see (interesting. there are flat regions in Costa Rica? Yeah. On the Caribbean side.). Rain is coming down fairly hard. I'm quickly dropped from the latest group I tried to hang onto and draft. Left out to whither and spin my butt off all solo down the road. I'm worried Dicky is catching up so I kept looking over my shoulder. He's got a harder gear than me so he would naturally be catching up on the flats.

Eventually off the road and back onto gravel roads through little villages. Came across this river we had to cross.

(photo: Jason Sager)

Ooh. did this water feel so good. I stopped and dunked my head in it and washed the grit off my legs, arms and face. Stood up and saw both Andy and Roger on the opposite bank fixing Andy's bike (see right of above photo).

Took this opportunity to stop and take a breather. They seemed to have it under control and the three of us agreed to ride the rest of the day together. Our friend from Boulder also arrived so the four of us took off down yet another flat, dirty road with deep potholes filled with water. This wasn't so bad.. at first. A few km into it I was losing steam. Trying to pedal at some ridiculous cadence while swerving all over the road to avoid the potholes. Not fun.

Our buddy from Colorado was setting a blistering pace. He did turn it down for a while but he wanted to go faster and I kept telling everyone to slow down. He eventually pulled and Roger, Andy and I hung together. Kind of made an informal pact to stick together. I was clearly fading fast. The three of us rolled into check point three together at km80. Mmm. food and water. The rain was gone but everything was wet and the sun was beating on us.

Not long thereafter the three amigos rolled out. We caught up to a Costa Rican Roger met the previous day and he hung with us for a while. More flat paved roads... And enter a very long stretch of gravel roads with huge pot holes... My newfound nemesis. Mainly because I'm in the saddle trying to pedal at some insane cadence and you're getting thrown all over the road. Knocks you off your rhythm. More geared riders caught up to us and hung. Slowly I felt myself drifting backwards and watching the group disappear into the horizon. Bye Bye!

Now I'm back riding solo for a few kilometers. At last! No more gravel roads with potholes... We're back onto railroad track. Somehow I recovered and turned up the pace on the railroad tracks. Well, I think that really happened was I continued my pace and everyone else slowed down. Yay 29inch wheels! Slowly picked people from Roger and Andy's newfound group off. Got to one little bridge we had to walk across and saw Roger. "Hey. You guys left me!" He was apologetic and I followed it up with "Stay on my wheel. Lets go!".

Little did I realize he wasn't on my wheel. I kept on riding, slowly picking off more carrots. This section of railroad was lonng and super hot. The sun as beating down on us. The humidity was through the roof and all you saw was this:

(photo: Jason Sager)

At one point I noticed quite a few riders on the side of the tracks changing flat tires. Huh? Then all of a sudden "ugh. ugh. ugh." as my whole body is jarring with every trestle impact. Then "ping. pinch!". Ugh Oh! The trestles got fairly deep and if you hit them at a high rate of speed you're going to pinch a tire/tube. I collapsed my tires but not enough to put a hole in the tire. Running tubeless I mitigated pinching a tube and was able to continue on riding. The 'ping' was a spoke going wacko in my wheel. Upon a quick rolling inspection things looked reasonably straight so I continued.

By now the train tracks have wrapped down to the beach (whoa hoo!) and are following the coast heading south. A quick glance through the 30ft of trees on our left and we saw the Caribbean. A little bit later, around a small stretch of workers rebuilding the banks of the railroad, we're off the tracks riding on a jeep trail between the beach and the railroad tracks.

This is another section of photos you commonly see in regards to La Ruta. DEEP puddles people are riding through. So deep some bikes lose their top tubes. It was all stagnant, salt water so it was relatively easy to ride through. Well, I thought so. Never occurred to me I'm riding a steel frame through deep puddles of salt water (hence why my bike is in pieces right now getting a complete overhaul).

I found great humor and excitement in this stretch. Riding through deep puddles singing tunes to myself with my brass duet. It was great. At one puddle we had to cross a tributary from the ocean. I stopped halfway through. Left my bike on the high ground out of the water and took another 'bath' to cool down. Removed the gloves since they were full of grit and then marched on with my gloves in my pocket.

Not long thereafter we're back on the railroad tracks. Damn. I just took my gloves off. Oh well, this can't be too long. I'll deal with riding the railroad tracks without gloves. Well, it did seem quite long but I eventually got to the last check point (105km in and 15km to go). Lots of people were sitting around munching on some food taking their grand ol' time. What's going on here people? You've ridden across Costa Rica and have 15km to go. Why are you sitting around? You're almost there!

As I was eating and refilling my bottle Roger showed up. He was hurting. That last railroad stretch got to him. We gotta get him on 29inch wheels for next year. I told him to grab a bunch of food and I promised to stick with him to the finish. Its only 15km to go. Well, I'm ready to go and on my bike riding around in circles within this one puddle waiting for Roger. I promised I'd stick with him so I waited. Eventually he was ready and we're off. Caught up to Scott from PA and the three of us rode to the finish together. More gravel roads with potholes. Argh! Then onto paved road. Scott was interested in what gear ratio I had so I did my best to have him shift into what I thought was his equivalent ratio with his 26" wheels. He's spinning like mad. Yup. That's what I was doing.

One last little, very little, incline and a sweeping right turn on the road. Then a left turn and I saw what looked like a barrier for the finish. This is where I turned to both Roger and Scott and said "And this is where I leave you." while taking off in a mad sprint for the finish. Roger reacted but Scott had none of it. I knew I was screwed if either of them reacted since I'm already pedaling at max and they had more gears to go through. Oh well, it was fun anyway.

I'm pedaling like a maniac, out of the saddle, with the bike swaying all over the place. I caught glimpses of everyone taking notice and turning around to shoot some photos. Roger caught up to me by the sharp left turn into the finish gate. Then we sprinted together down the stairs onto the sand to the finish.

Kind of like the leaders did hours earlier:

We're done! We just rode across Costa Rica in four days through some of the most difficult terrain I've ever ridden. What a relief to finish. What a sad note to know its all over.

The day's results:

Overall 2007 La Ruta Results are in:

all cleaned up after a quick dip in the ocean while Kevin is still recovering....

(photo: Kevin)

la ruta - day three

Friday: Day Three

66.7km (41.4miles)
2,654m (8,707ft) of climbing

Another 3:50am wake-up. After I somehow got out of bed I followed the routine I did the day prior. Figured that worked on day two it'll work on day three. Got to the start with ample time. Found a little tent and hung out with TimmyD, Dicky, Travis, Becky, Sean, Kevin and Carey. Decided to run two water bottles today rather than my Hydrapak and a bottle. Some of were trying to negotiate the many people who have made a 3ft square section of pavement their own private pre-race local. Others stopped to chat with fellow singlespeeders.

Found a good place to stage somewhere in the middle. Heard Roger and TimmyD were up front somewhere. I was content with my spot. Figured Dicky and Andy are here so its all good.

6:30am rolls around and we're off!

TimmyD's got the gameface... and looking strong!

With Roger right behind him..

We had a massive roll-out through the streets of San Jose. Helicopters overhead and the streets lined with spectators. Super cool. Not quite 2km into the race I hear some car laying on their horn. Then all of a sudden said car blows a stop sign and stops short 3ft into the intersection narrowly missing many racers, including Dicky's rear wheel. The Costa Rican racers started shouting all kinds of stuff in Spanish. I can only hope they were cursing the driver of the car.

The road very quickly turned from urban to somewhat rural and kicked up pretty good. I did my best to ride it, completely out of the saddle turning over the pedals at what seemed like a non-existent cadence. What ever I was doing seemed to be working since I kept on pulling away from people. Racers I knew were cheering me on. Spectators were cheering me on. It was such a rush. I knew that there were very little, if none at all, flat sections in today's stage so I kept mentally prepping myself to do my best in pedaling at such low cadences.

Up that paved climb with everyone cheering me on and a sweeping right turn brought us into this:

(photo: Sean)

We also occasionally encountered traffic as Thomas so graciously points out:

(photo: Kevin)

Around this area I caught up to Roger (both Dicky and Andy were long ahead of me). Pineapple Bob also caught up to me and the three of us did our best to get up this last little incline to check point number one. Probably the only singletrack in this whole trip:

(photo: Jason Sager)

Leaving check point one Pineapple Bob and I bombed the short descent into the next valley. It was a dirt/pave road with a nice layer of water on it. Needless to say, my Ignitor up front kicked up a lot of dirty water. I also happened to lose my big water bottle. Should have tightened that cage at the start. Damn! The next incline (up towards check point two, now 20km into the day) Pineapple Bob dropped me. Oh well. Got a long climb today and this is only the beginning.

I made it to check point two which was the start of the long road climb to the summit (3,000m). Refilled my one, and only, bottle and downed some tuna sandwiches. Dropped a ton of bananas down my wet, gritty jersey. Popped two watermelon slices in my mouth and began climbing up the road. The road kept on going up, and up. Through clouds. Around a turn into a headwind. Around another turn out of the wind and into sunlight. Constantly went back and forth between wearing my windbreaker and going with the BKB-approved short sleeve jersey. Despite how grueling of a climb we had infront of us, it still was quite enjoyable to take in the scenery.

(photo: Sean)

Saw some Potato farmers/pickers:

And kept on climbing:

It was getting painful and I was starting to feel hot-spots where my cleats reside due to being out of the saddle pedaling for so long.

By this time I sensed a dehydration headache coming on. That also reminded me I only had one water bottle and it was pretty much empty. Downed some Endurolytes in hopes to ward off the headache. That's fun trying to swallow little capsules with no fluids and a dry mouth. I sensed myself slowing down but not quite moving backwards just yet. A fine rider from Boulder Cycle Sport lent me a bottle even though there was about a third of water left in it. Thank you!

Had a nice chat with someone else on a Cannondale Rush that had a broken Lefty. He was complaining about his back bothering him since the fork was fully compressed (looked like the internals were blown). Then he started complaining about having to descend the mountain without front suspension. I recall making some comments about how I'm in the 'same boat' and just laughed. To make his day brighter I suggested when he returns home to get his hands on a 29inch Lefty front wheel and ride that Rush with a 29er up front. I told him he won't want to go back.

Not much further a mighty fine local was giving out a plateful of boiled potatoes and salt. He sensed I was suffering and offered me some. Without any hesitation I gobbled them up. "You want Coke?" Assuming he meant Coca-Cola I replied, "Yes. Please!" He returned from his car with a fresh can of Coca-Cola. Sweet! With two bottle cages full of empty bottles I held onto the soda in my hand and did my best to climb, out of the saddle, with a soda in my hand. Those Ergon bar-ends made a nice place to hold onto the soda (I recall Jorge's brother making some comment about that when he first saw my grips just a few days earlier. haha). Just around another bend we're at the summit (35km into the day)! Whoa hoo!

At check point three I immediately had both my bottles filled with Gatorade and began gobbling up tuna sandwiches, more potatoes, watermelons etc. I noticed Mike(?) over on the corner tuning up one of his Whistler teammate's bikes. He's friends with TimmyD and was the team mechanic for a group of guys that came down from Whistler. I wandered over and asked him for some chain lube for my chain and pedals. As we were doing that someone from over at the check point food booth was shouting things at me. I was too focused on getting my bike ready, eating and a quick nature break to pay attention to what this guy was saying. I believe his words were positive and in regards to my well-oiled singlespeed machine.

We've climbed so far, its time to go down the Volcano! I recall Dicky saying something about the descent being so rocky I'll have to stop a few times due to my lack of front suspension. The guys at check point three warned me the descent is fairly muddy and sketchy. Tinker didn't seem to mind:

I was a little cautious at first but then opened it up. The rain was coming down at a steady clip and I lost yet another bottle (doh!). This was the replacement I had for my vertical cage. I even tightened up the cage. Oh well, we're going down now anyway. Don't need two bottles.... I was back picking off those carrots and before I knew it we're going back up again? Huh? Wasn't today's stage just a big climb up the Irazu Volcano and then an awesome 30km descent? Turns out I forgot two short little climbs on the backside of the volcano. One around km42.5 and the other just after check point four (km50). Damn. As soon as I started recovering from the climb I get knocked back down again.

La Ruta lesson #2: Do not listen to what anyone has to say in regards to how far you are in and how far you have to go. It will play tricks on your mind and then you're dealing with La Ruta Lesson #1.

I kept my composure and seemed to navigate the very wet downhill with ease.

Came around a bend and saw this rider standing in the middle of the road (we were on a gravel road that apparently turns into a mudslide when its raining). As always, I immediately asked if they were okay. Upon getting closer I realized it was Andy. I stopped. "Andy! What are you doing back here? Are you alright?" He looked delirious but waved me on telling me he's okay. I hate to leave but he said he's cool. Not knowing how bad he really was (later found out he hit rock bottom, biggest bonk he's ever encountered) I started pushing it with the thought that I want to stay in front of him (for once).

Through a few more puddles, like this one,

and I arrived at check point number four. The final check point of the day. Feeling a bit better now I didn't spend much time here. Refilled my only bottle and grabbed a bunch of food (the usual: bananas, watermelon and tuna sandwiches). Kept looking over my shoulder for Andy but didn't see him. "Okay, ride smart. Don't sweat Andy.". The volunteers at check point four said the rest of the descent is very treacherous so be careful.

I thought I just went through treacherous? Anyways, continue mustering on. The trail did get bad. Mud almost a foot deep in places with large rocks (6inches in diameter) hidden beneath. I was playing it smart picking my lines yet on the brakes the whole time. Slowly picked a few people off while trying not to falter like some riders. The rain is heavy and my clothes are soaked through. Shivers would periodically set in which reminded me to keep my mouth open so my teeth don't chatter but not open enough so I'm swallowing God knows what is coming up off the trail.

This went on for quite a while. I'm just doing my thing trying to stay upright. Farm pasture after farm pasture came and went. Down the Volcano I went. Eventually down into the fog

which told me I'm getting closer to the bottom. The downside was the fog seemed to last forever. By now the shivers were getting worse and my forearms were fatiguing very quickly (ie: they hurt). I was beginning to lose hope. Something that I could not lose for fear I'd never get off this volcano. "Its just around the bend. Another bend." I kept telling myself. Figured these little goals will help me get down the mountain as they've helped me get up the many mountains we have summited over the past two and a half days.

Eventually the mud slowly dissipated and it seemed like we were coming into more civilization. Now a wet gravel road I was able to lay off the brakes some and shift focus to just directing the bike through much less difficult terrain.

The gravel road turned onto a paved road with a short little roller. I hustled up this roller knowing the finish is just 'around the bend'. Police directing traffic. Excellent! We're getting closer. Sharp left turn into a double-track gravel path. Pointed the bike, fingers as far from the brake levers as possible, and zooom! 5km more descending to go.

Came around a sweeping right turn and almost slammed into the back of a team car. Come on! Get off the road. We're almost to the finish. Why do you need to be in the way of the riders now? I was ringing my bell profusely but I doubt they heard it. Not wanting to slow down much I took some sketchy inside turn and passed them. Desperately wanted to tell them who's number one but I refrained and just pointed the bike back down the mountain. Nice swooping turns through a coffee plantation. I seemed to be passing everyone like they were standing still.

Why do most riders slow down when they are nearing the finish of a race/stage/day? Was it fatigue? Was it ignorance? I've always found to be even stronger when I know I'm near a finish. Probably due to the knowledge of in a short while I'm done! Anyways, I continued to pass people and I'm sure all they saw was a bright orange and black blur. My face was all smiles knowing the people I'm passing are in shock seeing some guy on a rigid singlespeed passing them like they are moving backwards. What a rush!

Tight left turn. Hard on the brakes to control speed and who do I see out of the corner of my eye? Pineapple Bob. Looked as if he was pulling himself up off the ground. I was going too fast to slow or stop so I kept on going (sorry Bob). Another turn later we're at the finish, 66.7km completed!

Hooray! As much as this was one of the shorter stages the heavy rains on the backside of the Volcano made for an equally as difficult stage. We went through so many micro climates this day it was both amazing and shocking.

The Day's results:

I beat both Andy and Pineapple Bob! Couldn't quite catch Dicky (he finished 20minutes ahead of me)

Immediately dropped my bike off for a wash and found my bag of clothes so I could go clean up. I was frigid.

(can't miss that bright orange work of art)

A while later I'm all cleaned up. Dry wool socks on and my jacket and those feelings of cold are gone. I found Jorge and made my way over to Alonso's truck so I can prep my bike for the last day: cleaned the brakes and realized I'm still 50% brake pad life. Sweet! Changed gearing over from my 32x22 (42.2 gear inches) to my favorite... 34x20 (49.3 gear inches). Once that was all done I dropped my bike off at bike storage. Said 'Adios' to Dicky and Tim as they were on the next shuttle to our hotel and I grabbed something to eat (quite possibly my downfall for day four). After some food and a chat with Becky and Travis I hopped a shuttle with Roger and Andy to our hotel.

The race organizers put all the racers into quite a few different hotels for the night of day three. The six of us (Andy, Roger, TimmyD, Dicky, Kevin and myself) were at the same hotel (amongst others), which we later found out was the furthest away. The shuttle ride took an hour and a half and we went over two more mountain ranges! Complete with the shuttle stopping a few times so the driver could get directions.

I have to admit, it was worth the drive. We were in a nice, posh, resort nestled in the middle of nowhere. Too bad we arrived in the dark and would leave the next morning in the dark. By the time I arrived both TimmyD and Dicky already ate so Roger, Andy and I found our way to the resort restaurant and had some pasta with black bean soup.

Turns out we had to be up by 3am to catch the shuttle to day four's start (day three's finish)! Probably got, maybe, five hours of sleep that night.....

Nice Kill!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

la ruta - day two

Thursday: Day Two

75.2km (46miles)
3,624m (11,887ft) of climbing

Agh. we get to sleep in! If that is what you call a 3:50am wake-up for a 6:30am race start. Its still later than the previous day. You quickly try to grab as much sleep as possible in a situation like this. Sleep/rest is your friend. It helps repair the damage from the previous day.

It was very difficult to get out of bed. In fact, I think this is the hardest part of the whole race: getting out of bed in the morning. My back was all sore and every muscle in my body was tight and sore. I managed to find my way downstairs to the buffet breakfast. TimmyD stuck to his own routine of eating his own personal breakfast from home (that's all I'll say, its his little secret). Wolfed some more rice & beans, eggs, pineapple and watermelon down and then back to the room to change and get everything in my bag. We opted to take the shuttle to the race start and made it onto one of the first shuttles. Traffic is almost non-existent at 5am in the morning. A far cry from 5pm the previous day.

(photo: Sean)

We arrive and get to walk through what happened to be a muddy field to the bike tent. Then a long wait in line to retrieve our bikes.

Once our bikes were retrieved we eventually went to the staging area and hung out a bit prior to the day's start. Most of the usual suspects: (left to right) Dicky, Kevin, myself, Andy and Sean.

(photo: Sean)

And we're off. Not even 30ft from the start there is a huge bottleneck because the promoters decided to funnel us through a narrow mud pit (the mud pit we rode in to finish the day prior). I saw Dicky on the outside so followed his line. Once through the mud we're on an undulating gravel road for a few km. Stuck with Dicky and Andy here.

Here's the leader group on the gravel road:

A sharp right turn and the road went up. Now this is the painful climb I remembered seeing on the profile. Off the bike and walking some while slowly watching both Andy and Dicky pull away from me. My heart rate is through the roof and its super hot out, yet again. Body hasn't caught up to the exertion. Turns out everyone was walking. Eventually got near the top and through the first check point. On the bike again! Rode a nice ridgeline that eventually descended out onto a paved road crossing. Quick cross of the road and into the first downhill of the day. This was awesome! The views were amazing too.

Look. Its Jorge rocking it!

By now I'm feeling pretty good and back to slowly picking people off. Alonso and Adrianna swung by and said I'm doing well. Some undulating terrain between km17 and km25. Then a steeep road climb up to check point three. This road was steep and I knew it was the beginning of what amounted to a very long climb.

Was I seeing things? Was that really Dicky not too far up? No way. It was him. He was riding this steep section while I was walking/riding quite a bit of it. I could not believe he was turning that 20t cog when I had trouble with my 22t. His cadence was almost a complete standstill yet he kept on trucking. Slowly I kept on creeping up on him and eventually caught him just moments before check point two. Ding Ding. rang my bell. "You must really be liking that gear now, huh?" was Dicky's response. "Yup". We rolled into the check point together. Dicky quickly refilled his bottles and was off. I hung around a bit to eat some food (mmm. fresh, hot boiled potatoes coated with salt!!). It was encouraging that I caught up to him but I had no intentions to 'race' him. After all, I'm still in the mindset of wanting to just finish another day and continue my big 'ride'. After all, if I really was strong I'd see him again.

Out of check point two and up more road. Up, Up. and Up was the theme of the day.
I tried to get a few photos:

Near the top (on the steepest stuff) Pineapple Bob caught me yet again! No way. I did my best to hang but he kept on pulling. The top was steep and I gave it all I could to keep turning the pedals. Some steep stuff I walked the rest I trudged on. Reached the summit and into check point four. I grabbed some more food and was off on a nice long double-track descent. A gentleman from Colorado (forgot his name) joined me on the descent. It was a bit jarring with the steel fork but still able to keep off the brakes and bomb it.

Got to the bottom and we had some flat through a town. I did my best to stay on the wheel of my buddy from Colorado and let him pull me through town. Just as we're exiting town things start to go back up (a nice paved road). We crested the first little roller and who do I see? Pineapple Bob. Awesome! Knowing 1)it was the last climb of the day 2)I'm feeling really good and 3)we had a little tailwind; I turned up the cadence. Passed everyone like they were standing still and kept on going. Eventually got to our next turn... A wide right turn into a very rocky climb. Spectators were suggesting we walk so I hopped off and did my best to walk up this climb as fast as I could (still thinking the top was right up there).

As soon as I got to the top of that rocky climb I saw this:

A muddy descent with a huge, near vertical, mud climb. You've got to be kidding me? La Ruta lesson #1: Don't get your hopes up because they will be shattered just around the bend.

My thoughts of finishing in front of Pineapple Bob were immediately shattered. Recall how fast he hikes with his bike on his shoulder? Yes. I'm done for. Turns out we actually got up that climb together but I got caught in some 'traffic' on the descent. The top consisted of more mud with a tight, doubletrack, muddy descent. I pretty much ran down the mountain the mud was so thick. It was safer to run than attempt to ride.

The day's results:

Felt good at the finish. A little clean-up action and one of the earliest shuttles back to the Best Western in San Jose for.... Happy Hour: Free Imperials.

Here are some more pictures from fotica.com:

This is how I never got lost:

Here's a nice vista Sean snapped: