Tuesday, 15 September
The Ring of Fire time trial is one of my favorite races, a superb finish to a season of racing, and a nice signal for the end of summer. This year I logged more long rides as training, and I thought I was as well prepared as I ever could be. I had been working on my “ultra” nutrition all summer, I took the time trial bike in the hope of getting in some faster miles on the flatter part of the course, I was rested for the event and ready to go. I was reasonably confident of beating the 193-mile women’s course record for the 12-hour race.
However. The nagging thought in the back of my mind through all of this was that weather had severely limited my racing all year. I skipped a bunch of early season races when it was 38 degrees and precipitating (rain, snow, whatever). The first stage at Cherry Blossom was abysmal because of Gorge winds, and the first day at a training camp in May was about the worst prolonged period I’ve ever had on a bike because of incredible winds. The last stage at the Elkhorn Classic was shortened by 80% because of cold precip. But July and August had been good (too good?), and I had done at least six rides in the mountains of 120 miles or more.
My start was at 7:23 a.m. Roughly the first 60 miles are mostly uphill as you climb through forest on the SE flank of Mt. Hood. The temperature and winds were perfect. I was surprised to be offered ice for my water bottles at the first two sag stops (whatever for?). Then a 20-mile descent down to the plateau of central Oregon brought a quick climb in temperature. A one-mile climb to the third sag stop (at about mile 90) convinced me that ice was a good thing, and I stuffed one jersey pocket with it (as well as my bottles). Gradual climbing continues relentlessly on Dufur Gap Road, where I still felt good. On the long descent from that summit, my speed went from 37 to 27 when I hit the headwind, which stayed with me for the next 5 miles of rollers. The heat and headwind combo sapped my energy, and the sun baked my brain, so that when I hit the flat stretch of 8 miles along the Deschutes River, I could muster no better than 18-20 mph with a substantial tailwind. I rolled into the start/finish to start my short (27-mile) laps, hoping to get the first two on the TT bike before tired legs would probably rebel at the unfriendly gearing.
The legs were not the problem. It was my head in the heat. Two miles up the first climb I knew I was going nowhere fast. I was only mildly dehydrated, which is a state I bear pretty well; this was just inability to bear the heat, which was registered by at least one rider at 97 degrees. I seriously contemplated getting off the bike for a rest (a nap was what I REALLY wanted), but (a) there was no shade and (b) I was afraid of rattlesnakes. So I kept pedaling. I have no technology on my TT bike, but I know my pace was very slow. Amazingly, however, nobody passed me in those 27 miles, which simply meant everyone else was suffering too. On the flat stretch of river road, I had so little strength, I could not go fast enough to ride in the aero bars. My power was probably at about 12 watts.
When I rolled into the start/finish after 139 miles, I told them I was done and got off the bike. There is air conditioning in the lodge, and I spent some time lying down inside, cooling off. Then came food and liquids. And then I could enjoy the general party atmosphere that dominates the parking lot around the finish line at this race. After about 2 hours, it occurred to me that I didn’t feel lousy any more and I could probably ride my bike. I still had 3/4 of an hour left in my 12, so I got back on the bike and put in 13 more miles. It was a beautiful time of day to ride: the sun was setting behind the Cascades, the temperature was in the 70s or low 80s, and Mt. Hood reigned supreme over the plateau. My legs still had lots of miles in them, even if my clock did not.
Your race here finishes wherever you are on the course 12 hours after your start. I happened to be at mile 13 on the 27-mile loop; backtracking involves a climb of at least 2 miles, so I chose to keep going “forward.” Within a mile, a car came in the opposite direction and the driver stopped and told me she had been sent out to pick me up. (The car had passed me dozens of times during the day, so I knew she was with the race.) My husband, who was attempting the 24-hour version of this race, was asking for me because his heat exhaustion and dehydration were so severe they were sending him to the hospital. 14 miles in the car under those circumstances seemed to take longer than they would have on the bike.
Hubby had been sick several times, been rescued by another rider’s crew, collapsed, and agreed that the hospital was the place for him. He had a support crew who would take him to The Dalles, which meant I didn’t have to sit in the ER with him in my sweaty exhausted dehydrated state. MCMC gave him 3 liters of fluid and sent him back to the race; there were 6 hours left in his 24 when he got back to Maupin, but he did not get back on the bike. I am so grateful to Mandy for retrieving me, Adrian (Adrienne?) for taking care of him, Ken for taking him to the hospital, and countless others for their genuine concern. I was clearly the bad wife, however, because other riders asked me for updates on his condition at least every 15 minutes. I have no cell coverage in Maupin and thus had no news, and his condition didn’t seem too complicated, but I guess I was supposed to be trying every means available to get updates from the ER (which is nigh impossible even when communications are good). Ironically, his recovery was faster than almost anyone else’s simply because those 3 liters went straight into his bloodstream while the rest of us had to wait for absorption into our systems.
The disappointment for both of us was huge. This had been one of our big goals for the season, a training focus for a long time, and a lot of thought had gone into our preparation. I am thankful of course that our hopes were dashed only by weather and that no one suffered long-term effects (a majority of racers were ill). But it doesn’t escape me that I planned, trained, and set goals specifically for this race—for naught. Sure, I am somewhat gratified that I felt really good on all the climbs, that my training worked, and that I really like my LandShark. Nothing hurt, I just had no energy.
Since the race failed to be a happy end-of-season benchmark, my recovery ride the next day included one big climb up from Maupin toward Grass Valley. There was virtually no traffic and nothing to limit the panoramic view at the top. Whenever I stopped to take pictures, I could hear nothing but birds and bugs and dead wildflowers rustling in the breeze. I could see some of the peaks I had “friended” this season: Hood, Jefferson, Washington. It was sweltering again, but I didn’t care. This was the end of my summer and reminded me how truly grateful I was for all the miles I put in this year. The camera could not capture the expanse and the simultaneous senses of freedom and desolation.
So for the end of my season I am left with disappointment but also the increased desire that comes from a sad result. But even more I am left with the peace and sanctuary that were so much a part of all my long rides in 2009.