The last day’s ride was from Mesquite, Nevada, to Boulder City to the Outdoor Demo. That is, for roughly 10 of the riders from our group, that was the plan. There were plenty of us who opted for something a bit shorter. By a bit shorter I mean an estimated 50 miles rather than an estimated 110 miles. In reality, we rode 58 miles while Chris D’Alusio’s entrourage rode more like 120 miles.
Western Spirit Cycling Adventures provided our food for the entire trip. I’ve traveled with a lot of tour companies and I’ve never traveled with one that provided all the food. Western Spirit not only made everything run on time, the food was stellar. Dinner was never less than exactly what a hungry cyclist needed. Their level of organization combined with their laid-back ease gave them the air of Zen masters running FedEx. It’s hard to be that chill and yet that on top of things.
Our transfer to the start of the final day’s ride kept us in the van for a bit and feeling some relief for not having to ride on I-15. That’s Rebecca Rusch at left and media guru Nic Sims in the center.
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.
They told me where we were. I could see it on a map. It still didn’t help. It was the most nowhere I’ve been in a while. We seemed to be the only tourists passing through. Hard to say why; it’s beautiful country.
Strava tells me my suffer score for today’s 74-mile ride was a measly 89. I’d buy that if we’d been riding at sea level. But we weren’t. Not by a shot. The whole day was above 5000 feet, which meant that any time I needed to make a surge, I had a quarter of the pedal strokes available before redlining, compared to what I can do back home.
Highlight of the day: talking bike tech with Chris D’Alusio for two hours. I’m shelled, because to talk to him meant taking pulls just as long as his, but it was beyond worth it. His insight into geometry, handling, bike design and how stiffness can both contribute to a bike’s performance or detract from it was nothing short of a revelation. I’ve heard from others he’s a genius, but what he shared with me today was worth taking notes on.
We saw clouds doing things that gave our riding an extra skitch of urgency.
You can follow the ride on Strava.
It’s been a long day and the Interwebs here at our Best Western are anemic, so I’m going to keep this short. Even though I didn’t finish today’s ride (more on that in a sec) it was an exceptionally hard day. One of the hardest I’ve had this year.
I’m not sure how many miles I spent in a paceline with the front group; it felt like hours. Initially organization was spotty, but we got the thing rolling nicely. Helping drive the pace were Ben Kapron of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (and former Specialized guy), road product manager for Specialized Chris D’Alusio and recent Leadville victor Rebecca Rusch. It was a very strong group.
We started the ride at roughly 4500 feet. By the time the sag van reached me high on Mt. Nebo, I was at 8200 and wondering what my name was; the altitude zapped me terribly. I did what I could to keep my heartrate down and what I didn’t know was when the van catches you in the afternoon, you get in. D’oh.