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)


Anonymous jsager said...

many of the photos featured here were taken by me while racing, or by my teammate Chris Peters, and likely stolen from! spread the glory!

11/28/2007 11:12 PM  
Blogger doug said...

Photo credits updated accordingly.

Thanks for the heads-up.

Great Job by the way

11/29/2007 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey doug
i camped next to you at vt50 and just found this blog. very cool. congrats on the great season. fyi, the lady i helped out at vt50 who had crashed broke her pelvis and hip, wheelchair for many a month for her. so be careful!

11/30/2007 12:35 PM  

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