Close But No Cigar, Part VI: Dug's Tragedy

A Note from Fatty: OK, you’ve heard from me (a lot) about this year’s Leadville. You’ve heard from Susan. You’ve heard from Bob. Now it’s Dug’s turn. After this post, we’ll stop retrospecting and will come back to the present. Unless Brad, Rick Sunderlage, or Kenny has something they’d like to contribute, that is.

I wish I had a funny, clever recap to share, but I don’t. I mean, I hate solemn, whiny reports. Hate em. But this is all I’ve got for Leadville ’07.

I’ve been riding the WaltWorks for a few weeks, and it felt dialed. No issues whatsoever. I started the race hoping for 10 hours, thinking 11 was realistic, and I would settle for 12.

I started toward the back, knowing that I’d be going slow on the 5 miles of paved neutral downhill before the actual start and the dirt, but really, I should have started farther up, since at the beginning of the race, the people at the back and the people at the front are going essentially the same speed (faster than me), but once we hit the dirt, what with me being on the single, well, I was going faster up the opening St. Kevins climb. Or rather, I wanted to go faster, but as soon as we hit the dirt, the road was so crowded that the train literally stopped. As in, no movement.

We got moving again in fits and starts, like stop and go on a freeway, but once we hit the actual climb, of course, all it takes is one unlucky person to slip on a rock to stop the train again. Frustrating. But really, I guess in retrospect, it only lasted 15 minutes or so before it cleared out. It probably felt worse than it was.

Anyway.

I rode the first 40 miles feeling very strong, on pace for about 10.5, I even felt good on the flats, which is weird on a single. Both St. Kevins and Sugarloaf felt great, like I had the perfect gearing. (Maybe I did have the perfect gearing, the golden mean. Is 32/20 the golden mean? I think it is.)

I ran into friends here and there. The weather was great. Everything was great, in fact. So great. So wonderfully, terribly great. Which makes the rest of the race so much more sucky.

At about mile 40, maybe just shy of that, I was heading down a very sketchy rutted hill (that the race people call “Clavicle Hill” — not a good omen), and I tried to pass a woman who had both brakes locked up and was fishtailing. I called out “on your right” which, apparently, where she’s from, means, “Veer suddenly to your right immediately!” Which she did, sending me into a ditch, over my bar, and into the sagebrush.

I landed hard on my right elbow and shoulder, aggravating a slight shoulder injury I’d gotten a few weeks before when my front brake (different bike) failed midride. I jumped up, thinking I was fine.

I spun the wheels, straightened the bars, and everything seemed in order. But after a couple miles, my pedal stroke suddenly felt like I’d broken either my leg, or a pedal spindle. I looked down, and the left crank arm came off, cleat still in pedal. Which is just weird.

Luckily I had recently added a Park multi tool to my bag that had an allen key big enough for my crank bolt. So I put the crank back on, tightened it as best I could, and went on my way. I went through Twin Lakes aid station feeling really good, ringing my bell, feeling like I had dodged disaster.

But of course, I hadn’t. As I started up Columbine, chatting with Lisa, who was riding very well, the crank arm came loose again, so I pulled over and tightened it again. And then, when the hill got steep (the first mile or so of Columbine is one of the steepest) I realized I couldn’t pull up with any force with my right arm, and in singlespeed riding, pulling up on the bars is everything on steep climbs.

I didn’t want to bail, so I slowed down, watched Lisa disappear up the trail, and tried to soft pedal my way up the first five miles of Columbine in the trees, hoping my shoulder would loosen up. But it got worse instead; the pain got sharper, and I got slower and slower, with people on geared bikes in granny gear going by me.

I also had to stop every mile or two to tighten the crank bolt, I guess because my little Park tool didn’t give me the leverage I needed. Oh, plus the threads were stripped and the bolt crooked. That didn’t help.

The last three miles of Columbine are harsh under good circumstances, and 90% of the racers walk the whole section, and for me this was excruciating. As I dragged my butt to the top, I saw racer after racer, friend after friend bombing downhill, and my spirits got lower and lower as I got higher and higher.

I reached the top at last, and dropped my bike and went over into the weeds by myself to cry. I knew I was done. Some nice people tried to cheer me up, but I was probably like a cornered badger, and I apologize to whomever I snapped at up there. I knew I had injured my shoulder, but I didn’t know the extent. Soft tissue, rotor cuff, separation, hey, I’m no doctor. I’m fine with pain, it’s injury I avoid.

I waited for Bob, and when he showed up, totally blown, we hung out for a minute, commiserating, and then we headed down together. I guess the advantage we had was there were very few riders coming up for us to dodge. I had to stop to replace the crank arm twice on the descent. Once we got to the Twin Lakes aid station, Bob decided to keep plowing on (he would later finish in about 12.5 hours, remarkable tenacity for how he was feeling — inspirational, really), but I called Rick’s wife, Rachelle, to come pick me up and give me a ride to town.

In retrospect, I hate myself for not at least riding to the Fish Hatchery. I’ve gone over it in my mind a thousand times. I think about it, literally, a dozen times a day. But I couldn’t stomach the thought of stopping to tighten my crank every mile or two, and the idea of pushing my bike over the two mountain passes of Sugarloaf and St Kevins to get to the finish was not something I thought I could handle. But I should have tried. At the time I guess I was sure I couldn’t, but I still feel like a pansy for bailing.

Anyway. There you go. As you can tell, I’m still bitter and depressed. I wish it were a better story. I’ll get over it. I wish I could go back and try again this Saturday. Waiting a year, maintaining fitness for a year, that’s too much to take. I need redemption now.

On the other hand, I have an appointment with the Orthopedic doctor this week, and if I get the green light, me n Elden n Rick S. are going to do the E100 in Park City on August 25th. 100 miles, all singletrack, something like 18,000 feet of vertical. And that will give me, as Rachel (or was it Ross?) said, “Closure.”

PS from Fatty: According to the terms of our bet, if Dug failed to complete the race, he is required to give me both his Surly and his Gemini. Since, however, the Surly has been parted out and I would not want the Gemini under any circumstances, I hereby claim an equivalent prize: Dug’s Waltworks single speed. Unfortunately, this bike is too large for me, so I will allow Dug to continue to ride it, indefinitely, with the understanding that it is actually my bike and I am just letting him use it because I’m a really great guy.

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