Saturday, November 26, 2011

Horsing Around About Lost

I'm going to rant a bit. There's a number of things that I really don't like and I probably have many more pet peeves than the average person. Flatting at checkpoint number two just kind of got the ball rolling for me. I have been looking forward to this Tri-States Gran Fondo for over a year, ever since I decided not to do this ride last year, and from checkpoint number two at Veyo Pies to checkpoint number three at some obscure park in Ivins, Utah, I keep getting smacked around by things I don't like. Physically it is mostly the wind and cold. Mentally it is other things. The kind of things that sap the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

On the way up the hill, out of Veyo and up and around the Veyo Volcano, I notice that my body has spent too much time off the bike in the cold wind while fixing my flat. My legs have cooled down and I have lost my mojo for the ride. Unfortunately, chugging uphill is never a good way to get the mojo back, at least for me anyway. It feels like I'm starting this big ride over, except now I'm a little tired and small hints of fatigue and stiffness are making themselves known at the contact points around the saddle, bar and pedals.

I hate wind. And hate is not too strong a word. Nothing can siphon the joy and enthusiasm out of a good ride on the bike like wind can. And from checkpoint number two to checkpoint number three, the wind is going to be blowing strong and blowing cold. All the way up and around the Veyo Volcano and all the way down to the stoplight in Ivins, the wind will be right in my face, unyielding in it's resistance against my efforts to make progress and make up time. It's blowing a little bit of the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

Fighting this cold headwind up and around the Veyo Volcano, I get passed by a guy on a bike with a squeaky chain. Squeaky chains drive me nuts. Can cyclists not hear that? So squeaky chain rider passes me going up the hill making some annoying small talk on the way by. OK. I grunt something back, not much for conversation under effort with a cold headwind up a hill. Squeaky chain rider gets up the road a ways and stops and leans on a highway marker. Is he waiting for me? I go past. Squeaky chain rider keeps leaning on the highway marker. Maybe he's waiting for his riding buddies and was just having a little fun catching me on this hill. No problem, but still annoying.

I'm still working my way up and around the Veyo Volcano in the windy cold and I hear squeaky chain rider behind me again. Again, he passes me, this time asking me: "you OK?" What? Do I not look OK? I grunt something again when I really want to say "can you not hear your chain squeaking? Have you not heard of the Principle of Silence and Rule #65. Have you not heard of lube? Why are you bugging me? Get lost." Squeaky chain rider gets up the road a ways and stops and leans on a highway marker. I go past. Squeaky chain rider keeps leaning on the highway marker catching his breath. Squeaky chain rider is sucking a little bit more joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

Squeak. Pass. Lean. Squeak. Pass. Lean. Squeak. Pass. Lean. All the way up and around the Veyo Volcano in this cold wind while I'm trying to find my mojo again. Squeak. Pass. Lean. And, of course, the inane chit chat to go along with it. Finally, I can't stand it anymore and it's either stop and rip him off his bike and throw him into traffic or shift down the cogs, stand and drop his annoying squeaky chain rider squeak pass lean. So I burn another match against the cold headwind and explode up the last mile of the hill the next time I hear squeaky chain rider coming up behind me. Even though I stop at the top to don my rain jacket and windstopper beanie for a little protection from the wind and cold on the way down, I never see him again.

Once up and over the hill around the Veyo Volcano, I'm suppose to be able to bomb down this descent all the way past Snow Canyon State Park down to the stoplight in Ivins where I need to make a right turn. As I'm fighting with this cold headwind trying to "bomb" down this hill, it dawns on me that after that right turn I'm really not too clear on where to go after that to get to checkpoint number three. I realize this downhill "bomb" is another fizzling dud that is going to require much more pedaling effort than it really should require and that is sapping a little bit more joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

As the cold wind seems to be doing everything it can to resist my efforts to descend 1622 feet over 12 miles of State Highway 18 down to the stoplight in Ivins, I pass by the entrance to Snow Canyon State Park. I can briefly see the beauty that I'm going to be missing by having this Gran Fondo not be routed through the State Park, and I wonder why the local and state folks with the permits didn't want us to roll through there. That annoys me too, plus not going through Snow Canyon adds about 10 or so extra windy cold and not too scenic because their running through town with traffic miles to the ride.

It's hard to get going too fast because the wind is just blowing way too hard and pushing me all over the road. The shoulder is OK, wide in some spots and narrow in others, but it's none too clean and I can't afford another flat, so I'm trying to use as much of the road as I can. My rain jacket is flapping so hard in the cold wind that I can't hear the numerous vehicles approaching fast from behind. I look down at my computer off and on and I see signs of hope. 28 mph - 32 mph - 42 mph - 37 mph - 25 mph - 34 mph - 47 mph - 27 mph, but the effort required to churn that out feels like a ride uphill not down.

Still, I'm getting passed by the highway traffic like I'm standing still. And close. I can see a bike path off to my right a ways off the road, and I wonder if these speed crazed motorists are mad, thinking I don't belong on the road, that I have no business being there, and should instead be over on the MUT, spinning a cadence of 35 and chugging along at 8 mph while dodging the fat people from The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge and the friendly senior citizens with their 20 foot long dog leashes that are walking there putting the multi in multi-use. Why are they passing so close? Are they trying to teach me a lesson? It's sucking me faster down the hill and all over the road and it's sucking more of the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

I finally get to the stoplight in Ivins and make the right hand turn. Lots of traffic, minimal shoulder, still cold, tons of wind, more uphill and once again a bike path to my right. It seems like that last 12 miles of descent felt like three times as many pushing the headwind and it has ground me down a little bit. I also have no idea where I'm going now, or how to get to checkpoint number three, but I can see some riders up the road a piece and I decide to shadow their lead and stop when it looks convenient to quickly take off my rain jacket and windstopper beanie.

I'm looking for a place to stop that isn't a driveway or has a good shoulder or seems convenient so I can take off my gear that's done its job on the descent and is now creating a lot of sweat under the uphill effort into a headwind. The road has tipped up again and I have no idea how far it is to checkpoint number three, or how to get there, so when I stop I want to look at the queue sheet. I feel like a weather vane though, because no matter which direction I pedal it always seems like I'm pointing into the wind. What I thought would now be a tailwind, isn't, and it's blowing hard making pedaling uphill even more of a grind than it otherwise would be as I try to follow the other cyclists up the road. I know if I stop to take off my beanie and rain jacket now, I'm going to lose them here in the city and that is sapping a little more joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

After grinding uphill against the wind for a while more, I see a couple of cyclists up ahead pulled over by a honey bucket on the side of the road. I stop and remove my rain jacket and windstopper beanie putting them back into my jersey pockets. I have worked up a lot of sweat from wearing them and now the cold wind is working quickly to evaporate that moisture and that's making the rest of my body as cold as my face as I try to dig out my queue sheet and find out how to get to checkpoint number three. It seems I'm looking for a round-a-bout and I'm suppose to exit left when I get to it and find some confusing North and East or West and South grid number of a street and find a park there somewhere in Ivins, but I'm almost more confused than I was before stopping after trying to sort out the queue sheet.

The silly Utah grid system for streets is fine, but only if you have a point of reference. And what the heck is E 400 N? I can handle E or N, but not both on the same street. Maps are a good thing and I wish I had one now. I can read a map. I used to teach others how to read maps in the Marine Corps. I can put an artillery shell the size of a Volkswagen on a target the size of a quarter from 20 miles away just by looking at a map. I love maps. But apparently I can't read directions very well or understand what I do read on my queue sheet, because the confusion of not really being clear on where I am going is really messing with my enthusiasm and sapping the joy out of my pedal stroke.

The two fellows at the honey bucket have been quickly caught and passed. They are obviously struggling, churning in the small ring, going up the hill in the wind and the cold, one more than the other, and the other guy I was shadowing up ahead is now long gone. Basically, I'm lost. The course was marked yesterday, unfortunately before the massive rain storm last night and now because of that, the course is no longer marked. I stop again in the wind to review the queue sheet. The more I try to understand it, the less I understand it and the two struggling stragglers catch up and stop in the wind too. They are wondering if I know where I'm going and I tell them not really but I'm looking for a round-a-bout and I'm going to exit left and probably have to stop again to decipher the queue sheet some more.

We move out uphill against the wind and I quickly leave them behind again. I do notice that Ivins is a beautiful little town and think that perhaps I would enjoy it more if I wasn't so frustrated by the wind and not knowing where I was going. I stop again. Still no round-a-bout. Maybe I was wrong. Crap. The doubt is seeping into my muscles, wearing me down as much as the cold and the wind as I'm trying to decode the queue sheet one more time. The two struggling stragglers don't catch back on this time and I push off into the windy cold again, up the hill, right before they arrive. After a bit I see what looks like it could be a round-a-bout up ahead and it creates a little hope and a little trust in my sense of progress as I approach.

What a beautiful round-a-bout. Wow. I'm approaching up the hill in the wind and cold while admiring the red rocks and the landscaping and the sculptures of horses and Indians and I guess this is about the best looking biggest roundest tallest round-a-bout I think I've ever seen. Cool. I'm impressed and mesmerized as I swoop around the round-a-bout's roundness instinctively heading for the left exit as I continue to admire Edward Hlavka's larger than life-size sculptures of the old West and right when I'm about to exit left from the round-a-bout I quit my rubber-necking and look back ahead to the corner and notice that the road suddenly ends right in front of my wheel and turns to dirt and gravel.

Whoops. Can't be right. I mean left. Right? I brake in the dirt and rocks and potholes and turn around in the sand and rocks to head back into the round-a-bout. Somehow I don't think this is what the queue sheet meant when it said to exit left at the roundabout. I see the struggling stragglers approaching the round-a-bout from down the road and I wonder if they wonder what the heck I'm doing as I work my way around the round-a-bout again, dodging traffic and exit straight, not left, at the round-a-bout, counter to the queue sheet instructions.

I pull off the road to consult the queue sheet yet again, this time, being passed by the struggling stragglers and confirm that it said to exit left at the round-a-bout. Left right? Right. I decide to continue on straight, not left, and pass these two fellows again as I continue up the hill after the round-a-bout. I wonder if I'm annoying them? On my left there is either desert or residential streets and on my right there is either residential streets or desert and I continue on in the wind and cold wondering where the heck I am, where the heck is checkpoint number three and all the while my frustration and the wind and the cold is siphoning the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke.

I hate being lost. I hate not having a map. I hate riding slow in the wind and the cold and stopping all the time while I'm trying to figure out where I am going. I studied the course map before this Tri-States Gran Fondo enough to have it practically memorized and burned on my retinas, and the instructions on the queue sheet seem to be running counter to what was on the course map in my head. My frustration is mounting as I know the sun is sinking lower and I'm riding slower than I should be trying to second guess where I'm going and how to get to checkpoint number three at some obscure park in Ivins.

I finally come upon another, much smaller, much less scenic, much less round round-a-bout, go around and find a paved road to exit left on hoping that this is the right way to go. Eventually I make another wrong turn and a few more brief stops to consult the confusion that is on the queue sheet as I try to decipher the multi directional grid system in Ivins and finally get passed by another rider who looks like he might know where he's headed so I decide to shadow him, hopefully on into checkpoint number three. Being lost has exhausted me more than the wind or the cold or the hills. I feel drained and mentally exhausted and I'm hungry and looking forward to a little break and something to eat.

Up ahead I finally see a tiny park tucked up back and behind some ball fields off to the right of the road and it is packed. The cold wind is carrying the delicious smell of grilling burgers down the road to me as I approach. I pull into checkpoint number three and it is crowded and filled with cyclists. The burgers charring on the grill smell fantastic and my hungry moves instantly to famished as I anticipate eating one. Or two. My stomach is growling and my mouth is watering. Bikes are leaning and laying everywhere around the only pavilion at checkpoint number three and for that briefest of moments I think the char-grilled burgers are for me. For us. The cyclists. Right? Upon closer inspection that pavilion is occupied by a huge wedding reception barbecue.

Oh. Wrong. The char-grilled burgers are not for me. Not for us. Not the cyclists. It's been a long time since my Deuces Wild Special Breakfast when I last ate any real food and the delicious smells from the barbecue are a tantalizing reminder of just how famished I have become. It's getting to be late afternoon and all I've eaten since my pre-dawn breakfast is two chocolate chip granola bars, my deep dish chocolate chip cookie, a teriyaki beef stick and two bottles of horrible watered down cough syrup tasting Hammer carbohydrate electrolyte concoction. As I lean my bike on a little spindly tree in the cold wind, being bathed by the smoke wafting from the char-grill, my stomach growls loudly again as I walk over to the little checkpoint table to fill my bidons and grab another chocolate chip granola bar.

I wipe the drool off my chin, trying to ignore the insistent rumblings in my stomach and pretend the chocolate chip granola bar is the big juicy char-grilled burger with all the fixings that I am smelling. Riders are filtering in and out as I get all my checkpoint number three business done while pretending the wind isn't cold and push my bike back out to the parking lot by the ball fields. It definitely feels like I've ridden 72 miles and climbed over 5500 feet of elevation gain so far on this big ride, and the preceding 22 miles or so that it took me to go from my flat tire at Veyo Pies which was checkpoint number two to this obscure park in Ivins which is checkpoint number three has really taken its toll on me.

I look at the setting sun, scooting down in its low November arc and wonder for the first time if I can make it to the finish in Mesquite on time before sunset. I know its going to be a huge push for me, starting with the cold and a huge headwind and the grind back to the top of Utah Hill 12 miles away and about 1700 feet of elevation gain up the road ahead. So when I'm all set, I push off to race the sunset in the cold headwind and start making my way back to my family waiting for me at the finish in Mesquite.

I'm thinking about all the little nagging pet peeves that I've ran into over the last 22 miles or so - flatting, climbing, squeaky chain rider, no map, annoying chit chat, slow wind beaten descents, heavy traffic passing close, MUTs, the sinking sun, The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge, a diabolical queue sheet, even more diabolical headwinds, the multi in multi-use, routing through the city instead of Snow Canyon State Park, dirty shoulders on State Highway 18, dirt roads exiting round-a-bouts on the left, watered down cough syrup tasting Hammer carbohydrate electrolyte drinks, the inaccurate course map, sweating under the rain jacket, getting lost, getting juked by some smoking hot char-grilled juicy burgers and multiple stops to waste time pondering the course - and how it's all been siphoning the joy and enthusiasm out of my pedal stroke.

After a bit, I turn right, back onto Old Highway 91 and head uphill through the Shivwits Indian Reservation pushing this cold gusting wind to the u-turn left that we had all been warned not to miss this morning. This time I need to veer left when I get there and continue up the hill against this cold headwind to the top of Utah Hill which is now going to be checkpoint number four. I think about all of the joy and enthusiasm that has been sapped from my pedal stroke over the last couple hours by getting smacked around by all the little things that I don't like - beaten up by my little pet peeves.

I glance at the sinking sun again, noticing that it is starting to cloud up more and get even colder and I feel the wind blowing even harder now and I think about what I am doing here and how I am feeling and I realize that I feel great. I am ready to go. I am strong. And I smile. I smile because I am happy to be on the bike. I smile because I am happy to be  pushing uphill against the windy cold through mile 75. I smile because I am looking forward to 2000 plus more feet of elevation gain. I smile because I am  looking forward to more climbing and suffering and sweating in the cold wind. I smile because I am looking forward to hammering it home for another 37 miles.

I smile bigger. I smile bigger because I am loving this. I smile bigger because I'm getting beat up by the wind and the cold. I smile bigger because I'm getting beat up by my pet peeves that have been nagging me along today. I smile bigger because I'm getting smacked around by the little things that were siphoning the joy and enthusiasm right out of my pedal stroke. I smile bigger because this is better than almost anything else I could be doing right now. I smile bigger and bend my arms perfectly and smooth my round circles of pedal strokes. I smile bigger as I look down at my cassette because I'm tired. I look back up the hill in the wind and cold and glance back up at the sinking sun. I smile bigger because a bad day cycling is better than a good day doing almost anything else.

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