I went into this ride thinking of it as just a fun trip with a few big days thrown in; I really wasn’t comparing it to doing a stage race. My, how things can change.
Yesterday, our ride was to be roughly 60 miles, essentially up one big climb and down the other side. We rolled from Panguitch, Utah, and after less than 10 miles began a climb we believed was roughly 20 miles long and climbing 5000 feet—hors categorie. It’s frustrating to admit, but a pinched nerve in my neck is preventing me from riding as I’d like, and yesterday (this is a double post because the Interwebs were anemic yesterday in Cedar City) I had to stop every few miles to re-set the nerve. By the time I reached the top of the climb, rain had moved in and I began to hear that classic sound of sunflower seeds on glass—sleet.
When the climb topped out just shy of 10,600 feet I thought I’d have an immediate ride down. That wasn’t to be. The great surprise of Utah has been that there are always a series of saddles to roll over before the descent starts. After one really quick drop that took me to just below 10,000 I reached a brake check lane and new the drop was to begin in earnest. I pulled over to take inventory.
Specialized’s Kim Hughes and Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson had ridden with me (and waited for me) though both chose to get in the van. Daniel even turned back from the top of the climb to check on me. Neither had any interest in that drop.
It was foggy, raining, had too much traffic on a narrow road, the temp was in the 40s, my fingers were going numb and it hurt to look up the road for long.
I can do fast descents. I can do rough pavement. I can do rain. I can do fog. I can do cold. I can do traffic with enormous trucks. I can do narrow roads. To do all of those at once seemed stupid.
With nothing other than pride riding on getting down the mountain, I turned around and went back to the van parked a mile back. As I climbed in I admitted to Daniel, “At a certain point doing that descent became a violation of my values.”
I can’t profess to love my wife and son and do something that sketchy. I’ve wondered about the guys who hit the Hillary Step on Everest at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon—late enough that they should turn around—and still press for the summit. Dying for anything—including a dream—when you’ve got a family depending on you strikes me as supremely selfish. I’ve found transcendence in descents and will swear to their power in my life, but I’ve got people who depend on me.
When I woke this morning I really wasn’t sure how today’s ride would go. The menu included 118-, 100- and 75-mile options. I figured I was a question mark at best and went for the 75 option. The ride was mostly downhill, but had enough variety of terrain to keep me moving around on the bike and essentially pain-free.
As these things go, a little accidental detour makes the adventure complete. Four of us made our way downhill and into the town of Santa Clara. We passed “The Ranch” from the show The Biggest Loser. That I’ve heard of this place amazes me; this isn’t my brand of entertainment.
What I can tell you, aside from the fact that the complex is gorgeous and more construction is underway, is that this place is seriously in the middle of nowhere. There are no late-night walks to the Circle K or watering hole. If you’re off the res here, you’ll be easy to find.
Our ride took us through Veyo and its dormant volcanos. We saw giant slabs of black volcanic rock littering hillsides; it was hard to imagine what kept them from rolling down the slopes. There were red rock formations that conjured quintessential images of Utah. But the strangest, most surprising sight of the day was the orange soil we saw along the road before entering Arizona. This stuff was Crayola orange.
The descent off Utah Hill was 12 miles of letting the bike run with no need to hit the brakes for a turn. Apparently, Strava says I hit 54 in there somewhere. Who knew?
Patty, above, works for a Philly-area shop her brother owns, has since ’86. She’s lively, strong and knows her way around a bike and a paceline. She’s been great company all week. And when two yappy dogs came charging for us from a yard somewhere in the Arizona desert, she dressed them down with a voice of such trumpeted authority they turned around and ran back, and I nearly got dropped I was laughing so hard.
This ride has been win, lose and draw, depending on the hour of the day. But overall, it’s definitely been a win.
I’ve long respected the work of Specialized. They’ve had good products and even some bad ones, but more years than not, they’ve had a good product line. The big takeaway I’ve had from this ride is the incredible quality of their staff. This was my first chance to share time with people who I didn’t know at all (like Nancy LaRocque) and people who I knew largely through reputation (like Chris D’Alusio).
My conversation with D’Alusio, who is Specialized’s Director of Advanced R&D, on Saturday was off-the-record. We each spoke candidly of our experiences but what most struck me was his incredible insight. I need to sit down and interview him. I’ve talked with a lot of bike engineers. I haven’t spoken to any who have as much insight into what makes a particular bike do what it does as he. I’ll leave it at that for now.
It’s plain that Specialized does a ride like this as a way to convey their passion for their work. The cynical might see it as a way to serve up their brand of Kool-Aid. The trick here is that this setting is too intimate to fake passion, or competence. It’s the industry equivalent of a blood test. To me, it’s the corollary for why I like their bikes so much. They do a number of very good products, but the Prevail helmet doesn’t have the power to change the quality of a ride. The Tarmac has that power and has done it.
They are an impressive bunch, that crew. I enjoy spending time with them, in the saddle and out.