The story of my 103 mile mountain bike race in Leadville, Colorado started well before the date of the race, Saturday, August 14, 2010. It actually started at least by January 2007 and maybe a bit earlier.
If you will indulge me in the longest blog entry I have ever written, I will relate the tale. I will break it into parts, but here is the introduction.
During college, as I have mentioned, I was a rower for the University of Washington. Being a rower on a team like the one at UW is a rather significant commitment. At one point, I realized that I was involved in rowing, whether actually on the water or in a weight room or running stairs or whatever, for more than 40 hours per week. I was obviously attending to my studies in the time I could carve out from my rowing, but it was really my primary focus and not just on the six days a week I was plying my "trade." During this time, I developed a few close friendships and in particular, I spent a lot of time with two people who have proved to be lifelong friends, PW and BP. During the part of the year in which we were to be in the weight room in the morning, instead of on the water, I would lift weights with these two gentlemen. We would also run together (or as I called them then, going for a "trudge" instead of a run) and otherwise support each other as we were seemingly intent on beating our brains out in the process of earning our seats in the boats.
As our first year was ending, our coaches exhorted us to keep in shape over the summer so that we were ready to start again in the fall. PW, for reasons that can be detailed another time, had spent time in Germany and had become exposed to professional cycling. As such, during the year he had shared cycling magazines and been trying to convince me that really my life would be much improved by purchasing a "ten speed" bike, as we called them then, and riding my summer away. PW also encouraged me in another pursuit which would come to equally dominate my life, beer, but that story shall also be saved for another day.
In any case, I bought my first road bike in 1984 and have been riding ever since. In some of those years I rode more and in some years I rode less, but I have been cycling now for 26 summers. During those summers, I rode my bike with BP and with PW (Riding with BP reminds me of one summer cruise up Bogus Basin road, in which I traded bikes with BP because he was doing more running than cycling and had a straight block on his Bianchi which was proving to be more gear than was reasonable on the trip up). Anyway, a lot of summer riding was done with PW, as well as some other adventures.
Well, along the way, PW and I both developed a serious case of adulthood, including all the usual symptoms including wives, children, mortgages and jobs with actual and developing responsibilities. As such, our summer riding and various other shenanigans fell to the wayside. Oh sure, we still got together and drank beer, but it just wasn't the same. So, come the winter of 2006, I got the idea that we needed to pick an adventure and get out to do something. To this end, I decided to issue a challenge to PW; a challenge to pick an adventure with me and commit to it for 2007.
At this point in the story, maybe I should leave it to the contemporaneous documents. Forthwith is the "Manhood Challenge" I sent to PW. It should be noted that I sent with this note a sickly looking rubber chicken that when squeezed would emit a gelatinous egg from its posterior.
FROM: Rider 3
SUBJECT:CHRISTMAS GIFT / CHALLENGE
DATE: 12 / 7 / 2006
PW – Our traditional Christmas card, complete with adorable picture of the boys and glowing assessment of the family triumphs, will be arriving soon. Before that, however, I wanted to pass along a little christmas gift to you as both a reminder of our friendship and the value upon which I place on it, and a statement about your willingness to embrace an athletic challenge for 2007.
I don’t directly want to call you a chicken, or a coward, or yellow-bellied, or weak, or fearful, or spineless, or craven, or draw comparisons to your character with a worthless wastrel who cowers in the dark when faced with a challenge, so instead, please accept my gift in all of its meanings and take from it what you will.
I would, however, like to draw your attention, though, to the fact that I have “manned” up to most of the invitations that you have given to me over the years, whether it was STP, mountain bike racing or the day that I kicked your rear-end up and down Mt. Rainier (didn’t we hook a bungie cord to your bike at one point when you started crying?). Yes, I have been there whether I had the training time and a garage full of shiny new equipment or not. Can you say the same?
I’m not sure whether it will be the Leadville 100 or some other event, but I assure you that there is a challenge that is right for me, willing and able, and for you, so far unwilling and unable. I hope you will consider this as you gaze upon your new friend. Go ahead, give him a squeeze, and take an assessment of your manhood.
You know where to find me.
Gentle readers, you will be happy to know that this challenge did work its magic on PW and he agreed to enter the lottery for the 2007 Leadville 100. There was a suggestion that the lottery might not be an exclusively mechanical process; in other words a plea to the race organizers might help us grease the skids through lottery and it might be a bit more likely that we would get a chance to race. Keep in mind, that at this point the Leadville 100 was still a semi-known race and its registration was about 400 people in 2006, which ultimately expanded to about 650 riders in 2007 (there were almost 1,800 riders accepted into the race in 2010). In other words, this was prior to the "Lance" explosion. The following is the letter I sent to the organizers along with our printed registration forms,
PLEADING AND/OR BEGGING MEMORANDUM
TO: LEADVILLE 100 IMPARTIAL LOTTERY SELECTORS
FROM: Rider 3
SUBJECT:LEADVILLE 100 ENTRY
DATE: JANUARY 15, 2007
Dear Sir or Madam Selector:
I would like to introduce myself and my friend PW. I am a 40-year old, happily married, recovering attorney and brewery owner. My friend is a 41-year old, with an exceedingly understanding wife, who has the luckiest career trajectory known-to-man and is currently a corporate executive. We desperately want to ride the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. I am hopeful that upon contemplation of my story, you will give our application special consideration.
My friend PW has introduced me to the most important things in my life (after my wife and children, of course): Beer and Bicycling. PW and I met at the University of Washington where we both were rowers on the crew team. Rowers tend to hang out together to moderate the late nights and various excesses of college which would otherwise impede our ability to meet our training obligations. This meant that we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together and we were forced into a rather monastic lifestyle that enabled us to greet the dawn each morning in an athletic frenzy.
We were rowing and living in Seattle at the beginning of the birth of the microbrew revolution. Rather than focus on purchasing beer primarily for “quantity” the way many of our friends did (giving birth to appreciation for “animal” beer), we tried to focus on “quality.” We would pool our meager funds and purchase single bottles of anything that we could find that we had not drunk before or we would buy as many of a single style or a single country’s beers as we could afford. It added some interest to our beer drinking and buying more expensive beer limited the amount we drank in an evening before getting up to row the next morning. Influenced by this and the re-birth of microbrews in the United States, I developed an unhealthy obsession with good beer. This eventually led to me giving up a reasonably lucrative career as a lawyer and turning my attention to a microbrewery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My wife insists that we bought the brewery to lower our monthly expenditure on beer. It didn’t work. If anything, it has gotten worse. I recently based my entire perception of a kitchen remodel around the creation of a space for a keg cooler so I could have my precious draft beer on tap every day of the year. Although we could debate the concept of man’s free will, whenever I look at what my life has become, I believe PW must accept part of the blame.
In a similar vein, as we ended our freshmen year of rowing, the crew-house discussions turned to summer fitness routines. There were various strategies and plans for being better rowers the following year, but PW was the emissary of cycling. He preached the benefits and joy of riding a bicycle and pushed us to recognize the beauty and misery of this largely European sport and niche hobby. I embraced this vision for summer-time training and it evolved over a number of years to virtually subsume all of my other hobbies except drinking. My children’s college fund has been spent on a basement full of bikes and gear, my golf clubs languish, my tennis rackets haven’t been used for anything but sword fighting in years and my ski day is usually limited by getting in some time on the trainer before or after.
Now, at this point in the story, you are undoubtedly wondering what this has to do with you or the Leadville 100. Well, I’m not sure, but it seems relevant to understanding how important this is to us.
Over the years, PW and I have not lived within 200 miles of each other since college, however, that has not stopped us from joining forces to take on numerous absurd and difficult challenges. These have primarily been on bikes, but have also involved ski trips and once, picking up a car in Southern California Saturday mid-morning, extensive (and I mean extensive) sampling at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California, where we spent Saturday night, and still getting back to our respective homes in Seattle and Spokane by Sunday evening. Maybe not wise, but memorable.
We have also completed the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride in one-day (206 miles) on three occasions, done some road bike and mountain bike racing together and have generally challenged ourselves in a myriad of ways on bikes. Over the last couple of years though, we have had more work duties and family duties and obstructions to our training, racing, riding and other get-togethers. We also each faced our 40th birthdays. One of these factors caused us to have the following e-mail exchange starting last fall:
Rider 3: I know you know about the Leadville 100, but have you read about the TransRockies Challenge? It’s a week-long, two-person mountain bike race in the Canadian Rockies with thousands of feet of elevation climbs. We should either sign up for that or for the Leadville 100. Check out the websites and let me know what you think.
No response from PW.
R3: PW, we have to pick a mammoth ride for next year so we force ourselves to train for it and we get something on the schedule so another year doesn’t go by without an epic event.
PW: What have you got in mind?
R3: How about the TransRockies Challenge or the Leadville 100?
PW: Okay, I’ll do one of those next year if you will ride the entire course of the Iron Horse Trail with me this fall.
R3: I’ll ride it, but only if we do it in one-day each way and camp in-between. [Ed. Note: It’s about 115 miles each way.]
PW: I’ll do it on one-day each way, but only if we do it on single-speed bikes.
R3: I’ll do it on single-speeds, but only if they are Felt MP’s cruisers with dyno-charger lights and racks to carry all of our gear.
PW: I’ll buy a Felt MP cruiser, but only if we start from my house and ride the 40-miles to the trail.
R3: I’ll ride from your house, but only if we take a bottle of tequila and we drink a shot every hour we are on the trail or until the bottle is dry.
PW: We got a deal.
Unfortunately, this conversation started late enough in the year that we were not able to find a free weekend before snow covered the trail.
Suppressing the disappointment of this aborted ride, I decided I needed to exhort PW to agree to a ride in 2007. By the time this was coming around, the 2007 TransRockies Challenge was filled, but the Mother of All Epic Mountain Bike Rides was still a possibility: Leadville 100. Knowing that his promotion, his MBA night classes, his two daughters and his neighborhood which apparently requires four social events per week, was already taking up much of his time, I decided serious action was required. In early December, I sent PW the enclosed note, entitled “Manhood Memorandum”, and enclosed a “rubber chicken” which, when squeezed, expelled a gelatinous egg that is sucked back into its interior when released. [Ed. Note: I have enclosed an example for your consideration.]
Yes, I “called him out.” And, succumbing to peer pressure and the questioning of his manhood, it worked. PW agreed to accept the challenge and we have now focused our efforts and training on being ready for the 100-mile, high-altitude challenge of the Leadville 100. We know it’s long, we know it’s vertical, we know the air is thin, but what we don’t know is; is it tough enough? We hope to be on the starting line sucking the limited amount of oxygen out of the 10,000+ ft. altitude air to find out how tough the ride is and, more importantly, how tough a couple of aging beer-drinking bike riders still are.
Thank you for considering our application.
Also, if we get in, I’ll bring cases of beer for the Leadville 100 staff to show our appreciation.
Yes, I was trying to entertain the organizers and ensure an entry into the race. PW and I got in and we showed up on the line in 2007. What happened? Tune in for Part 2.