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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Arrogance at the Mother Lode

Our mission was called a "successful failure" in that we returned safely but never made it to the moon.  Commander Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 (1993).

Last weekend I started the 210 mile Mother Lode, bailed at the top of O'Neil Pass, and endured the route back to Spearfish. So, essentially I rode the 110 mile Gold Rush in difficult conditions, but it doesn't feel like a successful anything. This race will fester until I learn something meaningful to apply long term.

Grossly under clothed for the conditions, here just a few miles from the start of a 210 mile race.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)
One could argue that my first mistake was registering for the 210 mile Mother Lode in the first place. However, I enjoy this course running through the Black Hills back country that I regularly ride. I also love to hang out with the people drawn to this event and to support our local folks putting it on. And I completed this race in 2015 with much tougher time limits, as well as the 110 mile Gold Rush on a single speed in 2013 and 2018. This event is right in my wheel house.

Maybe registering single speed for the Mother Lode was a reach, but I think not. I've ridden a lot of single speed over the past 20+ years and, more significantly, all my miles for the last eight months have been single speed, whether pave, gravel, dirt or commute. I think switching to gears shortly before the Mother Lode actually would have been harder.

I wish I could use the excuse of inexperience of riding in bad weather. No sale. Along with a long history of rides, events and races in questionable conditions, I have commuted by bike to work almost every day, year around, for the past 11 years in Rapid City, South Dakota. I have the gear, experience and temperament for riding through much worse than what hit the Mother Lode.

So, what happened?


Before the Mother Lode, I grabbed my bottomless bottle of optimism, filled up a mighty mug of arrogance and chugged it. The weather didn't seem that bad at the start in town and the forecast looked to improve. I didn't want to carry a bunch of seemingly unnecessary, heavy, bulky cold weather gear all day and into the night. I've ridden harder events in worse conditions. Confidence slid into hubris. I started very light on clothing, basically a summer kit and light jacket, and brought embarrassingly little else along. Horrible decision. It cost me the race.

In my Jeep, I left behind practically a warehouse of cold, wet weather clothing: waterproof shoe covers, waterproof socks, waterproof insulated gloves, waterproof over mitts, tights, thermal tights, rain pants, long sleeve wool jersey, long sleeve thermal jersey, thermal jacket, balaclava, and even a helmet cover. If I had my 45NRTH Wolvhammer boots along, I could have ridden through a blizzard with all that gear.

I can't believe this list as I write it. Why did I leave any of that behind? What was I thinking? Inexplicable. Simply inexplicable.

I'm left with arrogance. Simply believing I know everything and can do anything. It made for a miserable, borderline dangerous day on the bike and a bitter disappointment.

Added a light weight rain jacket shortly after the first picture, but that was all I had to add.

So, here's a little play-by-play. By the time we hit gravel at the 5 mile mark, I'm already wet and chilled. Some prairie rollers exposed to drizzle and Wyoming winds then turn chilled to stone cold. The gradual, more protected climb up Sand Creek Road stabilizes body temperatures for awhile, but the occasional exposure to those Wyoming winds steals hard earned heat. With numb hands and feet, I pull into the 36 mile aid station at just over 3 hours, about the same as last year.

Ahead stands a short, steeper pitch on Moskee Road and some exposed rollers, but I know the long, gradual, protected climb up Grand Canyon Road follows. So, I hunker down with the objective of somehow making Grand Canyon Road and then warming up during the 20+ mile steady climb to O'Neil Pass. It looks to be about 6 1/2 hours to the top, comfortably within the 7 3/4 hour limit.

Nice plan. Made it to Grand Canyon Road. Made it up O'Neil Pass. About 7 hours. Never warmed up. Not even a little. Despite climbing steadily for 2 hours, primarily downwind or out of the wind, I only get more wet and more cold. A deep, penetrating wetness from a soaking drizzle, compounded by low temperatures, occasional wind, and grossly inadequate clothing. Spinning the final rollers near the top, I can barely hold the bike steady and barely operate the brakes.

At the 70 mile checkpoint at TrailsHead Lodge, the sun finally pokes through the heavy blanket of clouds. At first, I am elated, hoping that perhaps I could dry a little, or at least warm up. But that brief burst of sunshine brings the opposite result. I realize that, right here, right now, is likely the best weather I'll see for the rest of the race. And right now, I am still shivering and shaky.

From O'Neil Pass, the Mother Lode turns south for a 100 mile loop into the Central Black Hills that winds back to TrailsHead Lodge for the final checkpoint and then drops about 40 miles down to the Spearfish finish. That 100 mile loop showcases some gorgeous back country on fast, forest gravel roads that are not particularly difficult. However, there is virtually no development and often no cell phone coverage. That's not a hundred miles to ride solo when shivering hinders you from operating a bicycle.

After a raucous internal debate with wild emotional swings, I eventually decide to cut short the Mother Lode. At such a time, I am grateful for the unexpected company of a friend, Matt Bergen, an Odin's Revenge race director there to support his son Lane. Thanks, Matt. That helped a lot.

With my race over, I enjoy a sloppy joe sandwich prepared by the good folks at the TrailsHead Lodge and start to ride the route back to Spearfish. That long, cold descent confirms my decision. On the final 14 mile, steady descent on paved Spearfish Canyon Road, I actually stop three times to walk to warm my feet enough to feel cold. The last walk takes over a half mile for that to happen.

Eventually, I plop into my Jeep still stuffed with all that gear staring at me. Just sitting there, staring at me. I hear them mock, "How was your race? Did you have fun? Can I go along next time?"

I start the engine, crank the heat and strip off wet clothes. Shivering eventually gives way to shaking my head.

Questions, no answers. Disappointment, no solace. Anger, no outlet.

Eventually, on the drive back to Rapid City, I process the experience enough to realize that my own arrogance doomed this race before the start. That's something I can work on.

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