Hobbling the Night Away

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Apparently, I had been too anxious when I registered for this first time trial of my cycling life.  The online registration process provided by SWSportsReg.com, is user-friendly and quick, a real boon to the old, paper methods of registering, mailing, and waiting in endless lines at registration tables, manned and womanned by harried volunteers.  In my haste to sign up for my first USAC sanctioned race, I missed the “Choose your Start Time” button. 

I arose too early, ate my oatmeal, and finished packing and worrying over my cycling gear, bikes, spares, tools, food.  The forecast read windy and cold, with a slight chance of rain.  Due to my lack of attention on the registration website, my start time was set by the time of my registration.  I would roll off at 8:03:30 am.  Several days of rain and clouds left the Sonoran Desert bitter cold.  Okay.  Not the bitter cold of Juno in January, but nonetheless cold, to the inhabitants of Arizona – this hell on earth, this training ground for hades, this purgatory for the parched.  We desert dwellers scramble for jackets when the mercury drops below 70.  One only needs to realize that Arizona’s racing season starts in January to get a sense of just how “warm” (i.e., miserable) it will be four months hence. 

I was one of the first to arrive.  And thanks to my USAC app and smart phone,  (after leaving my wallet on my bedroom dresser) I was  allowed me to check-without a hitch. 

Note to self – find a better place to keep your photo ID. 

I popped the top up on Estelle, the Eurovan camper, turned on the propane, fired up the heater and tried to fuel my internal furnace with blistering coffee.  All I could think of was that if it rained, I would be the only guy to have installed aero bars and was riding with a ballooning ski parka, rain cape, ear muffs and mukluks over my Sidis.  A Michelin Man, instead of a “missile-ing man.”  So much for clip on bars’ aero-advantage, eh?

I was never happier to attach my bike to a stationary trainer in my life.  PLEASE, yes, warm up!  Warming up –  on a trainer, instead of riding around in the forty degree bluster may be the only thing that kept me from faking a mechanical and high tailing it for home. 

Vowing to maintain something of an aero shape, I ditched my cycling jacket and rode to the start line in a base layer, jersey, two pairs of arm warmers, tights and full-fingered gloves.   Of course, there were many riders on full-fledged time trial bikes and most had eschewed base layer or tights.  I took comfort, self-assured in the imagined idea that these hearty fellows all hailed from Hackensack and trained outdoors on Fat bikes in the snow, in sleeveless jersey and flip-flops.

There was no start house, not even a stranger holding up my bike, hand too close to my bum, while I sat shivering and clipped in.  We all started, foot down.  I started, hoping that this would not be the day that I miss-clipped and clattered about, trying to engage my frosty feet with my frozen pedal. 

The first few kilometers of the course was a bumpy, desert-heat-desecrated mess. Fortunately, after a few kilos, it became glass smooth with new pavement all the way to the turn around.  I rode into a cross headwind with all the muster I could, settling in to a heart rate that hovered near 108% of my max.  My thirty second man loomed on the horizon. And like a thousand times before when I would go for a ride and would  see some unsuspecting victim on the road in front of me, I knew I could catch this poor guy. 

Before I could really settle into strike force mode, I was distracted by the sound of a car approaching from behind.  What the hell?  Isn’t this a closed course?  Before I could turn and flash said driver my most scornful look, I heard a voice say, “good work.”  Said car was none other than the guy who started 30 seconds after me, whooshing by as if he were propelled by a personal tailwind or the god Aeolus.  And we hadn’t yet passed the 5k sign.

That same sign was paired with another that announced 15k and my addled brain could not understand what those numbers signified. It felt as though the turnaround point should be in sight soon, but my miserly math skills had me fumbling with those figures as I tried to make sense.  Surely, I had long ago passed 5k.  Was this a 30k time trial? If so, did I miss the turn?  Well, no, stupid.  Did I really have 15k more to suffer through? Yes.  (Ouch)  At least I was no longer cold; I was riding in a tunnel of searing heat pouring off my thighs. 

Well, there’s that, I mused.

Two more riders passed me on the return leg of this out and back course and both went by without a word.  One of the most eye-opening feelings was the sensation of speed and sound created by passing an approaching rider still on his or her outbound lap.  Though I felt as if I was churning through molasses, this discovery gave me seat of the pants proof that we were all, indeed, rolling rather quickly.  As much as my Garmin kept telling me that I shouldn’t be enjoying myself, shouldn’t have time for such trivial thoughts, I was.  I was having fun.  Loads of it. Even at 108% of my maximum heart rate.

As Picacho Peak grew on the horizon, I put eyes down and used the white stripe of the pavement to guide me, only looking up slightly to see if there were pothole or puddle in my path.  I avoided looking up to that enormous rocky beacon that signaled the finish so that when finally I did look up, that rock would have grown “surprisingly” closer and I could begin to feel secure that this 20k would be over soon. 

There was just a very small handful of adoring fans at the finish line – a single stripe of duct tape barely visible in the still gloomy light. Surely they all wanted to be there to see me flash across the duct tape, right?  Well, no.  In the interest of health and safety – and keeping their digits from the onslaught  of frostbite – these fine and smart fans were safely inside car and van and restaurant,  cursing the weather that kept them all from seeing me victorious.  

I warmed down, packed up and off I went to Tucson to join friends for a dance party later that night.  I needed help taking off my kit and shoes, my left hamstring on fire and in spasm and cramp, proving to me that I had done all I could.  I could hardly hobble about as I dropped the top on the camper and put away my cycling wares.  I had no idea where I had finished, but the smile on my face made me look and feel victorious.  Results would be posted later that day.

Just before the dance party was to start, I received a text, “Results are posted.”

 After finding my Category and age group results,and  despite my aching left leg, I struggled to my feet, grasped Kellie by the hand, and said through a burgeoning smile, “C’mon, let’s dance.”

I had won my first time trial. 

 

 

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