(Authors Note: Today’s post is really two posts in one. So I am multitasking! The first is a post for my own little corner of the world. The second is for a guest post on the Fat Cyclist’s blog. Welcome to all my Fat Cyclist friends. Today you can sit at my campfire while I share my story of the Leadville 100, from a different perspective than Fatty….)
Hi, my name is Doug. (Hi Doug.) And I have a problem. About a year ago this little roadie decided he needed to do something new and hard on a bike. That led to a mountain bike, which led to a declaration to ride in Leadville. That decision has me now officially registered (they have my money) for the 2013 Leadville 100. (Aside: I received a spot in the race through the Willmington qualifier, which could be used in either 2012 or 2013. I riding in 2013. I have made many many questionable sports related decisions in the past year, that is definitely NOT one of them…..But I digress)
This year we had a family vacation planned in Colorado for the same time as the race. I decided that a little recon would be valuable, so my son (Noah) and I volunteered to crew an aid station for the race. We were ultimately assigned to crew at the Columbine aid station. I met up with Fatty, the Hammer, IT Guy, et al. I may even have caught a glimpse of some guy named “Kenny”, though I think that “Kenny” may still just be a piece of fiction Fatty made up. Fatty thought it would be cool to get a perspective on the race from the top of Columbine. And so here we go.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Leadville 100, the Columbine climb is at the end of the out portion of the race. It is at the end of the longest climb. And it is at the highest point on the course. Because it is so remote, only neutral aid is given at that stage. What this meant is that Noah and I were 2 of about 40 people who crewed this aid station and got this unique view of the race. The first thing I want to say about Columbine, it’s a really really long climb. If you have watched either of the Race Across the Sky videos, they do not do the climb justice in anyway. It took us about 30 minutes to drive up in a truck. It has everything you could ask for in a climb. It is long, has steep sections, has rough sections, has steep AND rough sections. Oh yeah and it goes above the tree line. Here is the view from the top (looking away from the course).
Each member of the team was assigned a job. Noah and I were assigned to cook hot soup (i.e. Ramen noodles). Two camp stoves, four pots for 1600 bikers no problem. The cosmic joke is that I love to cook. But Ramen? Really? Hey how bout some seafood bisque instead? No? sigh
We got all set up, got the water boiling, and waited for the riders to arrive.
The first riders to come in were the pro’s. They didn’t even slow down. No soup for you! Truthfully, they looked good, determined,
comfortable at one with their suffering. I wish I looked that good when I ride a flat, much less at the end of a long climb.
If you look very very carefully, there is a white speck in that picture. Its one of the first riders in…Here let me help……..
Then they were gone.
After the pro’s came the really really good sport riders. The people shooting for times under 9 hours. You know those people. The riders who always complain they are slow, or hurt (or a little to fat) but always seem to be, well faster than us mere mortals. One Elden “Fatty” Nelson came in that group. They stopped at the aid station, just briefly, and headed back down. Fatty looked remarkably good given where he was. He even spoke coherent words and recognized people. The Hammer came in about 20 minutes after Fatty, looking good as well.
The number of riders began to increase as the middle of the pack came to Columbine.
And things became chaotic. Coke, PBJ, bananas, oranges, pretzels, Gu, water, sports drink, and soup all went out like mad. I didn’t really have a lot of time to observe the riders, Noah and I made and delivered several hundred servings of soup, but a couple of things stood out. First, the riders were really polite and friendly. I constantly heard thanks from them as they pulled out. Second, they looked remarkably good and were remarkably chipper. Ok, maybe I only heard and saw some select riders, or maybe it was total relief that they were finished with the climb. But they seemed good.
Gradually the number riders began to taper again and we began to get to the riders who were close to not finishing in under 12 hours or were in danger of not making cut off times. Some of them blew through the aid station, trying to save valuable minutes, so they could maybe make their cut-off times. Many of them stopped to take in the view, oh yeah, and some good nutritious soup.
The ones who stopped may have been physically drained, but they were also in remarkably good spirits. I think they knew where they were with respect to the race, and were ok with it. They made it up Columbine. That climb did not defeat them. If they were pulled because of cut-off times, so be it, but they made their best effort.
Three riders stood out to me in this group. The first was a woman who came up to me and hugged me from behind while I was making Ramen. “Thanks so much. That was the best soup I have ever had. I ‘m so sick of sweet gooyey things.” You are very welcome!
The second and third riders who stood out were the last two at the aid station. Fatty talked about the suffering at the back of the pack. It was painfully to watch these two come up the final portion of the climb to the aid station. (Probably not as painful to watch as it was to do though!) The second to last guy came in, took some food and drink and sat down. About 5-10 agonizing minutes later the last guy rolled in. The two riders walked up to each other and gave each other a big hug. They had to have heard our cheer back in Leadville. It was inspirational to watch, and a good reminder to all of us about what is important.
Then the day was over and it was time to clean up. We made a huge mess…
Big props to my son Noah. He is 10 and worked about 10 hours that day at the race. He helped me make soup, he took cups up to the riders and made sure they had it if they wanted it, and he made the other volunteers laugh. He never complained and never stopped working. I know he made a difference and I know the experience made an impact on him. (Note: Noah is racing his own first mountain bike race this September. Good luck Noah!)
My lasting thoughts? The day was awesome and well spent. If you have never volunteered to work a race, think about doing it. It was a fantastic experience. BTW. If you race, and have never volunteered to work a race, you should. You owe it to the community, and it will help keep you own racing in perspective. Did I mention I love to cook? If you judge cooking quality by how it makes people feel, then those Ramen noodles were some of the best food I have ever cooked.
I’m looking forward to riding in the race next year. Nervous and concerned but totally excited. I’ll put my flag in the ground now. I am shooting for totally average in this race, 10 hours, 19 minutes (10:19 is about the historic average finish time). Leadville is one of the things in this world that I would be darn pleased to be average at. One last thing, I have Noah under contract to be my crew next year, I’m not sharing him! So thanks for sitting at my campfire and listening (and thanks Fatty for inviting me to speak).