I Am A Little Concussed

This is something of a test. I haven’t written more than text messages and short emails since the concussion eight days ago. Since then, I’ve had some curious social encounters, been overwhelmed at times, but mostly have just been compelled to take long naps of completely empty time. Paraphrasing the words spoken by Johnny Knoxville when he was brutally knocked out by Eric “Butterbean” Esch, “I was a little concussed.”

Early on June 4th, 2016, I rushed down to Denver City Park to the start of the 50+ Cat 4 40 minute criterium around the park. Two parts of the course were tricky involving sharp left hand hairpin turns. Everything else was reasonably wide open. I showed up late and rolled up to the starting line minutes before race time. In fact, I missed the instructions and announcements. The instructions are always the same. I wasn’t worried.

The USA Cycling Race Predictor had me picked for 4th among the pre-registered riders. Of course, the winners always seem to register on race day. Still, I felt like I had a chance at the podium if not first place even though I was coming off a big week of workouts. I wasn’t rested but I was riding well going into the race and this was my first criterium with my new Mavic Carbone 40 wheels which had done wonders for my most recent time trial performance.

The race started out a little funky. The 60+ group started a couple minutes after us and caught the 50+ group. This was problematic because we weren’t allowed to work together so for a while, we were a big messy group being yelled at by the officials. After a couple laps of that nonsense, the 50+ group put the hammer down and dropped the older guys. I almost felt bad for them but I’ve been in the 50+ group when we were with the 40+ guys. They would do the same thing to us so perhaps this was the universe attempting to restore some sort of karmic balance.

I was warming up still and hanging back, chatting with people I knew and waiting for someone to do something crazy. About fifteen minutes in, there was a little break off the front that caused the pace to ramp up. We picked up the flyer (dude that went off the front). Riding faster felt good to me and I was feeling punchy so I moved up and tried to animate the race a little and keep the pace up. At about 30 minutes into the race (10 minutes to go), I decided to take a couple laps of recovery. Along the northeast side of the loop in a big sweeping curve to the left around the pond, I pulled to the right and let almost the entire field pass me on the inside. I slipped back into the peloton in front of maybe five people.

After this, I have only pieces of my memory to work with. Being in the back so close to the end of a race like this is dangerous for a couple reasons. For one, crashes anywhere in the peloton affect everyone behind them so being the in back means that I could be collateral damage should someone in front of me go down. In addition, if there was an attack, I would be caught behind most of the field and unable to respond aggressively. I would have to keep tight on the wheels in front of me and essentially race 10 riders ahead of my position. Especially around turns, to mitigate the accordion effect where the front riders get a lift coming out of the corner, I knew that I would have to take the corners hot and accelerate efficiently or I could have a problem.

The first corner we came to was the first hairpin left. I was pretty sure I knew what happened before watching the video Lloyd Jones took of the race but the video confirmed that I was mostly correct. As I rode through the corner, I started pedaling a split second too soon. My left shoe clipped the ground lifting my rear wheel off the tarmac. When the wheel came back down, it was six inches or so to the right. It caught rather than slid (I might have had a chance with a little skidding) forcing my weight to shift suddenly to the right.

The last thing I remember of the race was my front wheel violently being pulled to the right and then left. In the video, my weight shifts to the right, the front wheel jerks, and then I am in the air above my bike. I came crashing down on my right side with my hip leading followed by my shoulder and then head. I never let go of the handlebars which is good, of course, but my head does do a double tap on the ground:


In this entire experience, I’ve tried to be grateful and there are so many things and people to be grateful for. My wife Jane and Jeremy, my son, came down to get me. A race volunteer wouldn’t leave my side until I was delivered to the EMTs. The EMTs who were very nice to me. So many of the guys I race with came over to see how I was doing. When I got home, my neighbor Chris came over with DHA for my head. My boss and other office folks were super understanding. And, of course, back to Jane who has been my brain for the past week.

I am so grateful to all those people who were nice to me but two experiences also have been very interesting. First, after I came to or woke up or whatever, I was standing on the grass in Denver City Park on a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun was making the leaves of the trees glow. The grass was an over-saturated green. The day was warm but not hot with a perfect gentle breeze. It was the perfect version of City Park. If City Park exists in heaven, this was how it would look and feel.

To my right, a pleasant voice was speaking over the radio saying that I was OK and indeed, I felt OK. Nothing really hurt at all. The voice remained “The Voice” because I remember nothing of what the person looked like. The Voice asked if I was OK and I said I was fine but then tried to figure out what I was doing there, where there was, what had I been doing, and if I was wearing pants. See, it felt like waking up in a dream and after decades of having the “I forgot to wear pants to school/work/church/mall/etc.” I have apparently conditioned myself to quickly figure out what sort of dream I am having. Is this an inappropriately naked dream, a no-gravity dream, a drowning dream, a Ronald Reagan as my over-domineering great aunt dream, … Don’t judge me; your subconscious is a mess as well.

After saying I was fine and then contemplating the what, where, why questions and coming up with nothing, I said, “I seem to be having some memory issues.” The Voice directed me to walk across the grass to the EMTs and then went back to giving my status over the radio to the authorities, whoever they were. I remember interrupting one more time to say that I was still having some memory issues but this probably means that I repeated myself dozens of times.

The walk took just a minute it seemed but upon review of the course map, it was probably more like 10 minutes or more. The time with the EMTs was a blur as well. The male EMT took my Road-Id and called Jane. The female EMT kept me sitting down which in retrospect I apparently was not interested in doing. They bandaged up my right middle and ring fingers which were a little scraped up. The guy tried to convince me that I was winning until the crash and had me pretty convinced for a little while but then memory of the race started coming back and we had a laugh. A few of my fellow racers came over include Randy from Old School Industries, Philippe “Pippo” Capraro who I think is a doctor, and a couple others who are just blurring together now. Everyone wanted me to go to the hospital but Pippo was very insistent that I go directly. He and his wife gave me water. I like water.

Jane and Jeremy showed up and the EMTs let me go with them. Jeremy drove my car and I drove with Jane. I navigated which is why Jeremy got to the hospital long before we did. Jane called ahead so they were expecting me (we went to the hospital where she works).

The ED experience was less exciting than most of mine. I got out of my Swift Cycling racing skin suit that was nicely ripped up on the hip and shoulder. I am going to have the big rip on the hip repaired because showing up at races with a shredded kit speaks ominous volumes.

They gave me an elephant’s dose of morphine I think to shut me up more than anything. It was very nice; like falling gently into a pile of puppies. Then they CAT scanned my head and shot an x-ray of my hip. I had no apparent bleeding and the pelvis wasn’t busted but they did say that pelvic hairline fractures don’t always show up clearly right after they occur.

Everything gets pretty blurry after that partly because of the morphine and partly because of the concussion. I think Jeremy took me to Chipotle and I think it was awesome. I believe I took a shower which is when I discovered three small road-rash patches on the side of my right knee, elbow, and shoulder. In terms of things to be grateful for, there was blessedly little road-rash.

I was told to stay away from ‘screens’ like TVs, computers, and phones, not to read or write, and generally just to let my brain rest. I was banned from driving, riding, running, being around people, brightness, screens, reading, writing, and other intense stimuli. Pretty much that wraps up most things that I do. So, I was a little bored and decided I needed to cheat and turned on cartoons on the TV. I decided that I could watch TV as long as the plot didn’t make me think.

At some point, Chris from down the street showed up and gave me a big bottle of DHA because I had a brain injury. I remember just enough of the conversation to know that I have no idea what I said to him or how weird it may have been. I felt fine except for what felt like a heaviness in my head. It was sort of like a headache was trying to break through but never did.

That afternoon was my first experience with another thing I am super grateful for which I call the “hallucination nap”. For what felt like minutes but was actually hours, I laid on my back thinking I was about to fall asleep but instead just hovered at that twilight point between consciousness and sleep where reality is entirely in my head. Entire alternative realities and life stories would emerge in my head and for a while, I would be a completely different person. I would tug on the storyline and it would unravel just enough so that I would cross the conscious/unconscious line back to consciousness and the alternate reality would disappear. Over and over it happened and was strangely enjoyable.

For a couple days, at least part of my afternoon was spent having a hallucination nap but then they stopped and were replaced by black-out-missing-time nap experiences. These were actually a little scary because I wouldn’t take the nap; the nap would take me. I stayed home from work Monday and followed up with my primary care doctor who wanted me to essentially remain very still for a very long time. We agreed no driving for a couple more days after I essentially failed every balance test he gave me.

As my head was improving, my hip was getting worse with impressive swelling, bruising, and pain. Since the treatment of a broken pelvis is to rest and since I was going to rest until things felt better, we decided not to repeat the x-ray. I also know that the x-ray machine at the doctor’s office is crap and wouldn’t show a hairline fracture anyway.

I drove to the office on Wednesday and did some errands like dropping off my bike at the shop to get checked out. I was most concerned about the new wheels getting knocked out of true. At the office, I spent too much time talking to people and it was exhausting. I rushed home that evening and took another black-out nap. The next morning I emailed the office types and said I was out until Monday.

Bored to tears with cartoons and still having trouble reading even graphic novels, I decided to try gardening. I leaned into the gardening which seemed to be enough movement to keep my hip limber without over-stressing it. I would putter in the garden in the morning and black-out nap in the afternoon. Excitingly boring.

On Sunday, I tried going to church, listened to a sermon, read a little Greek, did lunch with some people, spun on a stationary bike, swam a kilometer, and then started writing this blog entry. It went well but truth be told what I wrote that Sunday ended about 1,000 words ago. My writing was interrupted by another black-out nap albeit a shorter one. The day before, Jane and I had done some shopping errands. When we got home, I felt scary tired and when I finally let my head hit the pillow, the lights went out immediately and I stayed down and out for almost three missing hours.

On Monday, I went back to work and started the day by writing an email warning people about the black-out naps and asking them not to freak if I was out cold. I made a point of mentioning that I am not the sort of person that appreciates practical jokes. I am more of the kind of person that responds to a Sharpie doodle on the face with a Keyser Söze style response of vengeance, revenge, and destruction.

I saw the doctor to report that I was able to crank my heart rate up on the stationary bike without any affect in my head. He was unimpressed. We agreed I would do more stationary cycling before getting back on the open road or track but that swimming was fine.

Over lunch, I swam 1.5km in the pool and my hip got angry. The hematoma that was causing bruising all over that area expanded to be about six inches round and ballooned out a couple inches. Five days later, it is still there. I have to wear my old ‘fat’ pants and I am thinking about perhaps cross dressing for a while because dresses and skirts sound really comfortable right now.

It has been exactly two weeks. My hip isn’t looking good but me head seems fine. My Smith Overtake helmet with MIPS did a nice job of keeping a bad situation from being worse. I am planning on riding in New Mexico next weekend. My concern is less that my head will be able to handle the ride than if my hip will play nice and that I haven’t lost too much not doing any significant training in what will be three weeks.

Again, I am trying to focus on gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a healthy practice but redirects from a selfish perspective outward to others and even to the Divine. Indeed, the miracle of my own brain even when it is damaged is glorious. That in spite of banging my noggin on the ground, I can have two of what the hippies would call a consciousness expanding experiences is amazing to me. Is it designed for this? A happy accident? I don’t care really. I can point to my Creator and say that I am simply grateful for the experiences, for the equipment (head, brain, etc.), and for the opportunity to push my body, well, too far.

Too far? Maybe but I am grateful for the grace to go a little over the edge and bounce instead of break.

Three Thirds of a Triathlon

The summer of 2013 is coming to a close and so is my cycling season. I didn’t overtrain like in 2012 but I also didn’t have the base I had in last year. I think I am faster though without as much endurance.

No one can be competition ready all the time and at the beginning on August, I realized that I was probably at the best I was going to be this year. I was going to need a break or risk injury.

The last race of the summer is the Steamboat Springs Stage Race. I’ve done it twice before and it is a well run race. It doesn’t suit me perfectly because the climbs are more aggressive than I can handle. I was awful the first year but it was so nice in Steamboat over Labor Day weekend that I tried it again last year. 2012 turned out much better (middle of the pack time trial, in the pack for 60% of the road race, and in the pack for the criterium). I was looking forward to doing it again this year.

Unfortunately, there was a conflict so I cancelled my reservation. It was not a big deal because another race two weeks earlier in Edwards was on the USA Cycling schedule. I registered for that race but when it was cancelled for a silly reason, I realized that the season might end with no competition. That didn’t seem right. Real competition is good for me. Fake competition like parlor games, cards, board games, et cetera are not pretty.

I thought about racing cyclocross. The competition animal would like cyclocross. That season starts in September and runs through December. As much fun as that would be, I don’t think I have a season of cyclocross left in my legs. That is when the Inverness Triathlon caught my eye.

I don’t do triathlons. Running is a bad idea these days because my right foot has some issues. Also, most of the triathlons have an open water swim. I am not good in open water. By that I don’t mean that I don’t swim well in open water. What I mean is that I fall to pieces like china on concrete whenever I get in any water not contained in a swimming pool. The first time I snorkeled sober was this past spring in the Red Sea and that was only because they wouldn’t open the bar at 10 AM.

The Inverness Triathlon offered a pool swim and an aqua-bike option. The aqua-bike option meant that I could swim 525 meters in a pool, do the 12 mile bike ride, and the be done. Those who chose this option would be done after two thirds of the race.

Frankly, this didn’t sound like a huge challenge. I swim a couple miles a week and a twelve mile time trial is pretty much my commute. Still, it was an opportunity to compete which seemed like something I should do. I like to compete. Get the picture?

The race started at the Colorado Athletic Club way south of Denver. I went down on Saturday to go to the racers’ meeting and drive the bike part. Being that I haven’t done a triathlon since high school, it seemed like a good plan to get a little education. I did get to talk to some folks about what they were wearing. It was exactly as uncomfortable as it sounded.

Triathletes wear spiffy one piece numbers that are quick drying swimsuits with small chamois to make the bike comfortable. For a race of this length, this was overkill and expensive. I have a pair of block style swim trunks that look a little like bike shorts. I was going to swim in them and then throw on a bright yellow sleeveless cycling jersey when I got out of the pool. I probably could have  ridden in just the swim suit but I figured that was an excellent way to get my picture in the paper with a title like “Brave Fat Man Races The Inverness Triathlon”. All press is good press? I think not!

I talked to a few people and was assured that my plan made sense. I also met a 14 year old kid that put down 6:40 as his estimated time for the 525m swim. I put down 13 minutes. He was, as one would expect, fairly confident but admitted that he was going to be awful on the bike.

During the racer meeting, a woman asked what the maximum allowed time in the pool would be. We aren’t sure but a few of us think that she was going to stand in the pool until they kicked her out and just take the maximum time allowed as her time. By the way, that was not allowed: you have to finish each leg of the race.

I got there Sunday morning a little before 7:00. My start time was 8:10 so I had plenty of time. The slow swimmers started at 7:30. These were people that estimated 25 minute swim times. That is really slow and I figured that these were people that weren’t good at math or estimating. As it turns out, there were people that did the swim in 25 minutes and some much longer. Training in Boulder makes one believe that everyone is training hard 24/7/365 with a coach, trainer, team, nutritionist, massage therapist, physical therapist, acupuncturist, and yoga instructor. Turns out there are normal people out there. Who knew?

I cleaned up the bike Saturday and it seemed to be riding well. My front tire isn’t holding pressure from day to day but I was pretty sure it would make it through the race. I’ve had so many flats lately that I was nervous about replacing the tube for fear of screwing something up. I left the saddle bag on the bike in case I did have a flat. I realize that the true time trial kids would never do that.

I warmed up in the indoor pool at Colorado Athletic Club. It was a salt water pool. I love salt water swimming pools. I had a couple good laps and didn’t push it. The suit I was wearing was bought three years ago and fit then. Now it is too big. I realized that during the warm up. What a drag.

On the outdoor pool deck, we worked with volunteers to find a group of five for our lane. I ended up in a lane with a young guy (Adam), two women, and an older gentleman. I only knew Adam’s name because we hung out together at the finish. I was nervous, so I kept conversation going the whole time. Blah.

We figured that Adam should go first, I offered to go second, then the two women followed by the old guy. We were to swim ten and a half laps. As we came to the end of our tenth lap, the counters were going to hold a bright orange kick-board in the water so we would know we had only a length left. We all had to wear different colored swim caps. We all chose blue. I was reassigned a cream cap. It didn’t match my trunks and I felt shame.

The swim is mostly a blur. I was catching Adam early but then realized that I was probably swimming on nerves and I would melt down if I kept up that pace. In other words, if I passed him, it would only be temporary. Adam and I turned out to be significantly faster swimmers than the rest of our lane. I lapped everyone except for Adam once and I think I lapped one of the women twice. This slowed me down a little. I didn’t want to pass in the middle so when I caught someone, I would go from freestyle to breast stroke. When we got close to the edge of the pool, I would grab the foot of the person in front of me which we had all agreed would be the pass signal. Just a little grab; I wouldn’t pull them to the bottom of the pool and then swim over them. I am not monster. I mean, yeah, I thought about it…

All was well and I put the hammer down for the last couple laps. I was surprised I had the energy to do so. It was cool to feel like I had more to give at the end.

My first mechanical problem happened when I got out of the pool. The borrowed swim cap was glued to my head and I stood there for many seconds trying to get it off without doing significant damage to my hairline. My swim time was 11:48 but included my swim cap removal. We each had a timing chip on a band around our ankles and the mat that sensed I was done with the swim was actually at the entrance of the bike corral fifty yards from the pool.

My second equipment problem was a wardrobe malfunction. At the bike, I couldn’t get my jersey on because I was wet and the tight fitting garment was not cooperative. I tried, gave up, and then tried again and got it. All that wasted a bunch of time. From my entry into the bike corral to when I left was an awful 2:10. The guys that beat me were out in 1:24 and 1:05.

The bike ride was awesome. I averaged over 21 mph for the 12 miles. There was wind out of the west that caused problems in the latter half. Most if it was flat but there many little climbs that required extra effort but no downhills that one could coast and rest on. There were also many turns. Though all of them were right turns, I found the markings and cone placement confusing and precarious. I had more than one close encounter with cones after the turns.

I was a no-passing zone and stayed down on the TT bars for 95% of the time. I was surprised when my computer told me I was 9 miles in and I was still feeling good. I was passing lots of people and one woman cheered me on as I went by. It was strangely encouraging so I started cheering on everyone I passed after that. Turned out her name was Ruth and she was first woman in the aqua-bike and fourth right behind me. Well, not right behind me.

After the bike leg, the aqua-bike people did have to run to the finish line which was maybe 100 yards. I was now taking the race seriously because the bike leg had gone so well. I racked the bike, ditched the shoes and helmet and ran barefoot to the finish line.

I meandered around for a bit after finishing and thought a lap in the pool would be a good way to cool down. I did a lap of back stroke because I didn’t have my googles anymore. People were just starting to finish the full triathlon so I was pretty sure results were not going to happening for a while. I got my stuff to the car, changed under a towel, and came back to wait. There were burritos, bananas, and cookies.

Preliminary results were posted and I was the clear winner. This seemed like the sort of thing that deserved a reward so I got myself an extra cookie but then realized that people were still finishing and that the faster people started later. An hour later, the results were updated and I had dropped to third (the third third; see what I did there?). But there I stayed. I was top ranked in my age division and I suspect I won the “Clydesdale” category if there was one for the aqua-bike event but I don’t think there was.

I hung out with Adam for a while and we compared notes. The 14 year old kid from the day before had the second fastest swim time (7:22) and an absolutely atrocious bike ride. There were some big girls (Athenas) who were part of a triathlon club called Sisters Tri-ing. Four of them were doing their first race ever. They ended up well represented on the podium with age category placings and they cleaned up on the Athena category. It was cool and they were awesome and fun.

I happily stayed to the bitter end of the award ceremony. I got my bronze medal and $10 gift certificate to Runner Roost. On the way home, I was falling asleep at the wheel and ended up napping in the parking lot of Taco John’s. In an amazing moment of self-control, I did not pick up Potato Oles for the remainder of the drive.

Of course, I learned a couple things. First, if I do another, I need tri-suit and I have to have a better plan for the transitions. I also need to have more confidence in the water. I was so focused on the going the distance that I conserved too much energy. The bike was my strength but I also could have throttled up earlier. I was wide open the last two miles but had money to burn when I pulled into the parking lot.

I was done in 48:04.6 with a swim of 11:49.7 and a bike of 33:18.9. Of the aqua-bikers, I was 10th in the swim, 8th in the first transition (2:10.8), 1st on the bike (33:18.9), and 5th on the second transition and run to the finish line (0:45.0). Second place was 46:30. His first transition was half mine and his second was fifteen seconds better. I assume that my swim time was probably penalized by 30 seconds because of the swim cap. Point being, if I had my transitions better, I was dangerously close to taking second place.


The Double Triple Bypass Experience

I am not a list person. I don’t make lists of things to accomplish and my life is not defined by the things that I do or accomplish. The idea of completing a list of things before I die implies that there is a time when I can stop trying. I never want to stop trying. I want to die in motion, in the midst of the doing the next thing. Or not all. Whatever…

All that said, I’ve done a couple things and some of them should be on a list of some sort. Some items should be on the list merely because the activity was stupid painful. This past weekend was probably one of those.

The Double Triple Bypass is simply the Triple Bypass organized bicycle ride from Bergen Park (Evergreen) to Avon on Saturday and then back again from Avon to Bergen Park on Sunday. Each day involves riding over three mountain passes: Squaw/Juniper, Loveland, and Vail. The first two are over 11,000 ft. and Vail is about 10,500 ft. The listed elevation gain is 10,000 ft. per day and the official distance is 120 miles for a total 240 for the weekend. Thousands of people do the east to west and about 1/3 sign-up and start the second day. The ride is organized and supported by Team Evergreen out of Evergreen, Colorado.

Of course, one may wonder why this would seem like a good thing to do. It certainly hurts just thinking about it. This ride has been happening for 25 years and sells out at least for the east -> west day every year. Some people probably do it for the fun of it. I didn’t. I did it to be done with it. For me, it was something to be conquered so that I can confidently move on to the next level. Next level of what is probably the question that should be discussed but will not.

This was my third attempt and as of  today–the day after–it will be the last time I do this ride.

Three years ago was the first year I was serious about cycling. Not sure what that means exactly. I bought the good bike (a Trek Madone 4.7 I call Triana) the August before but it was in 2011 that I bought a racing license and signed up for everything. I didn’t know what I could do and what I couldn’t so I tried it all: tours (Triple Bypass, Copper Triangle), road races, criteriums, time trials, stage races, and hill climbs. It was pretty clear that first year that I sucked but I sucked really bad at climbing. I am big and heavy for cyclist and that does not work for a style of cycling where the power to weight ratio rules the day.

In 2011 TPB I screwed up huge. Though I was up early and felt well prepared it turned out I had everything except my shoes. I was at Bergen Park getting ready when I realized I left my cycling shoes at home. It was a novice tactical mistake. I weighed my options but clearly the only option was to drive home and back. When it was said and done, I left only minutes before eight o’clock when I had intended to hit the road at 5:30 AM. I was nearly alone and very much at risk of hitting aid stations after they closed. I pushed it up Squaw Pass, raced down to Idaho Springs and then started passing lots and lots riders on the way up to Loveland. I stupidly told a friend that I was going to be there for lunch at a specific time and felt like I had to keep pushing to get to lunch within hours of when I said I was going to be there.

I also realized something interesting and not at all pleasant that first year: not all cyclists are just awesome good people. As I started riding through traffic on the way to Loveland, I was confronted with some unpleasantness including a large amount of trash from the riders ahead, a bunch of riders that would just stop without warning “Crazy Ivan” style because they were suddenly dead tired, and some very unfortunate choices of clothing. The last point obviously wasn’t a big deal but that experience did change my cycling fashion sense. We must face the fact that we look like a mardi gras parade on acid when we as a group of cyclists get together. As a community we don’t have to all match but individually we should not clash enough to hurt the eye. Anyway, it was an education in the importance of not looking and acting like an idiot especially since we are representing cycling as a sport and a lifestyle.

I climbed Loveland pass after lunch pretty much dead. I went to pieces on Swan Mountain and I needed to stop multiple times on Vail Pass (the easiest pass east to west). I rode into Avon in the monsoon rains utterly destroyed and didn’t even pretend I was going to start the next day.

Triple Bypass West Bound 2011 – Details at Garmin Connect.

Last year was better. I had a plan: keep the heart rate in zone 2 (endurance) and save as much energy as possible for day two. I got a ride to the start and got pedaling just before sunrise. I started riding with Scott but when he decided he was warmed up and about to get really riding, he was surprised when I let him go and just held steady. It was a good plan and though it felt agonizingly slow, I was in great shape at the top of Vail Pass. I charged into Vail and picked up some racer type riders for a pace line. We powered through town and it was good fast fun.

We (Jane and I) stayed at the Alpine Lodge in Vail that night. I was meeting some fellow Swift Cycling riders (Peter Zola, namely) at the most west round-about in Vail the next morning for the return trip. We connected and were making good time through Vail when in East Vail I broke a spoke on my rear wheel. The grade had just kicked up a wee bit and I stood up to put some power in, a spoke on my rear wheel let go, the wheel went way out of true and started rubbing the break, I down-shifted, but the chain derailed and wrapped itself around my bottom bracket.

This was the first time I had thrown my chain off my small chain ring and it caused a bit of a technical mystery. The problem is that the chain gets hooked on bolts on the chain rings and becomes wedged tight between the ring and the frame. At the time, I didn’t know how to fix this. Peter and I stopped and worked on the bike for way too long before deciding that even if we freed the chain, the wheel was far too out of true for us to solve the problem completely. I was done. A sag wagon showed up and drove me back to the hotel. A couple hours later, Jane and I drove out of mountains.

OK, in retrospect, I think I could have continued. I know now how to solve the chain problem; I figured it out at the Steamboat Springs Stage Race that September. I think one of the mechanics might have been able to fix the spoke or at least true the wheel enough so the brake would work. Anyway, rather than going back to the hotel, I should have sagged to the top of Vail Pass and offered all of my money to the mechanic stationed there.

Triple By-Pass (East to West) 2012 by DerekBrouwer at Garmin Connect – Details.

But I didn’t which meant that I signed up for the Double Triple Bypass again this year. I don’t think I wanted to do it again. I don’t think I needed to prove that I could do it. I think, actually, that someone very close to me said something that I think I might have misinterpreted. In other words, I think with just a word or two of clarification our little communication error, well, whatever. It doesn’t matter and it was, of course, my fault.

This year I don’t think I prepared well for the ride. In 2012, I was riding 100 mile long climbing rides for at least three weekends leading up to the TBP. This year, I went to Chicago one weekend and was sick for another. The weekend before was good at 160 miles but that was too little too late and just reinforced in my head how unprepared I was. At least the week before I did pretty much exactly the right things: short rides, ate well, prepared the bike correctly, et cetera.

Al Pessot was kind enough to give me a ride to the start (even though I was late; sorry Al). We started about 6:15 AM and didn’t ride together at all mostly because he can climb and I can’t so why even pretend. I was all about zone 2 through the first pass. No problem. On the way up, I met a dude named Chuck from Louisiana who I knew from the Tour de Louisiane and other rides. That was cool and weird.

I stopped short at the first aid station and then rocked down to Idaho Springs. I made the corner onto Hwy 6 and threw my chain wrapping it around my bottom bracket. I flipped the bike and solved the problem. On the way up to Loveland I kept in zone 2 which was at times feeling really slow. I threw my chain again. My right glove was getting pretty greasy. Loveland was the lunch break where I stuffed food down. I wasn’t feeling like food but I forced the issue.

The climb up Loveland was weird. I kept creeping into zone 3. I finally gave in and just let fly. I got things under control on Swan Mountain (where I threw the chain again) and stayed chill up Vail Pass. Finally, riding into Avon, I opened up and was surprised that my legs were all there. Four of us–a guy/girl couple, a big guy from Kansas, and myself–lined up and paced in the last five miles or so. I was swapping wheels with the Kansas guy when the guy/girl jumped on. I took a big pull and then dropped to the back. Kansas and the guy swapped pulling once each but then the pace started slow because they were both blown. I made a move to go from the back to the front but overcompensated my acceleration because I thought my legs were shot but weren’t and blew right past everyone. No one could get on my wheel. It was a little embarrassing, actually.

Triple Bypass West Bound 2013 by DerekBrouwer at Garmin Connect – Details.

In other news: Jeremy rode the Silver Rush 50 on Saturday. Jane and a couple of Jeremy’s friends went to Leadville to support him. We all met at the brewery Eric beertends at (Crazy Mountain) in Edwards and then went out to dinner in Avon. It was very nice but Jane and I got back to the condo at about 10:30 and I had to be up at 5:30 in the morning.

Needless to say, morning was ugly. I was very sleepy, couldn’t seem to get my act together and even got locked out of the condo at one critical moment. At about 6:30, I was riding out of Arrowhead (2.5 miles from the start) while still trying to eat breakfast. Vail Pass from the west side just sucks all over. It is 30 miles of climbing from Avon with punchy high grades every now and then. It is very pretty, however. I saw a beaver. Yeah, that happened.

It was cold at the top. I descended with nice sane people (read: slow) but opened it up at Copper Mountain. I actually cooked all the way to the Keystone aid station. I stuffed myself with yummy Cliff raspberry chocolate gels (with caffeine!) and salty goodness. I felt good going up Loveland Pass. My heart rate stayed low but I think it was because I was tired and which can artificially keep it down. Loveland Pass east bound turned out to be my best performance of the weekend.

It started hailing about two miles from the top and by the summit it was raining hard. The temperature dropped to 50 on the descent to Loveland Ski Area aid station and lunch stop. I didn’t eat much but I did stuff some food down. There was a warming tent where i camped out drinking water that a woman named Paula was heating on a camp stove. Earlier there was something to put into the water but when I was there, it was gone and we were just drinking hot water and it was wonderful.

The sun came out and I made my move but on the bike path from Loveland to Bakerville, I was shaking enough to cause my bike to shimmy and my teeth were chattering continuously. I finally warmed up by Silver Plume. I hooked up with a guy on a TT bike and we cooked to Idaho Springs.

I hit the aid station before the final climb. I felt fueled but maybe needed more. Food sounded awful and my stomach was a mess. My back wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible. On Saturday, I threw my chain three times but not once on Sunday. Also, on Saturday my right knee was talking to me but Sunday it was golden. My legs didn’t have much left but at every stop I was stretching which seemed to keep my back moderately happy.

The last climb is about 18 miles (maybe a little less). Echo Lake and the road up Mount Evans is 14 miles from Idaho Springs. The National Forest starts at the 7 miles mark which is also the big curve at Chicago Forks Campground and where the grade kicks up. That was conveniently right where it started raining again. I had a couple miles more and then things started to really fall apart.

Which is why I am writing this. See, I feel like I have to defend what happens next. It wasn’t pretty but it was calculated. My goal wasn’t to compete but to complete. All I wanted to do was get to the top of the climb and I knew I could get there. Again, it wasn’t going to be pretty and I wasn’t sure at all about getting down the other side but I was pretty sure I would summit and at about 5:00 PM, I did cross the summit. My back was totally seized up and I had no power left in my legs. My back and legs are connected because as I get tired, muscles in the back of my legs fatigue and the back muscles compensate but quickly cramp and fail. In addition to the general muscle pain, it felt like I had a bee stinging between my shoulder blades and knife in my lower back.

In Idaho Springs, I had texted Jane and told here I was probably going to have hypothermia when I got to Bergen Park. I basically was at that the point between Loveland and Silver Plume. I figured any rain at all and it was going to happen again. There were reports of rain ahead so, there it is. I knew in Idaho Springs what was going to happen at the top of the last pass. I knew it and I rode right into it. I also knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to ride all the way down. It was a very calculated risk and like every risk, there was a reward. The reward was completion and for me, that was worth the risk.

I stopped and stretched a couple times which sort of helped. Sag wagons would pull up while I was stretching to see if I was OK. First they were just asking while I was stopped and stretching but then even the offers started coming even when I was riding. I was becoming a little annoyed by this. Also, I was having trouble getting my shoes back in the clips. This was initially probably due to mud and whatnot in the cleats but I think later it was because I just couldn’t put enough pressure on pedals to clip in.

I had to finish otherwise I wouldn’t be able to say I did this thing. Not finishing might mean that I would feel like I would have to do this thing again. That seemed bad. I was going to finish. I had enough in the tank to make it happen and even though it was going to be ugly at the end, it was going to happen.

And it did. My speed dropped from 10 mph during the first 7 miles of the climb to 4.5 at the worst point just before Echo Lake. The whole time it just rained and got colder and colder. I was on fumes at the summit, freezing, and soaked to the bone. Once I started descending, my heart rate dropped and I stopped generating heat. The shaking started in a couple miles and I knew I couldn’t safely make it to Bergen Park.

About three miles down, a car offered a ride and I took it. I was able to get out of the way of the other cyclists descending and cross to the other side of the road, get my feet out of the pedals (trickier than it should have been) and started walking the 100 ft. up the road to where they were parked. I was leaning on the bike because my back wasn’t supporting my weight very well. The shaking wasn’t attractive either. Someone (Steve, I think) asked if I was OK and I had to answer honestly that I didn’t know.

Steve, Diane, and Bob suddenly moved like they had a purpose which freaked me out at first. Bob grabbed my bike, Steve wrapped a space blanket around me and Diane threw some towels around me. They pushed me into the front seat, cranked up the heat, and started pulling my gear off me. Everything started moving with a whole lot more urgency when my gloves came off and we all got to see my blue hands. I couldn’t stop staring at my right hand. It was messed up and looked like I had been in a bath tub of ice water for a long time.

They got me to the medical tent at the finish where the nice people plopped me in front of a propane heater. Steve got me a Muscle Milk which Jane does not approve of. I called Jane to tell her where to find me and a super nice medical tent guy gave her directions to the place. Paula was there again which was cool.

Triple Bypass East Bound 2013 by DerekBrouwer at Garmin Connect – Details.

I sat there for maybe an hour and would only stop shaking for short periods. It was exhausting in its own way. Jane got me out of there and at the car, she held up the space blanket while I finally got out of my wet clothes and into some dry clothes. I finally stopped shaking once I changed. We got out of there and picked up pizza on the way home. The appetite was clearly returning when I ordered two pizzas and then impulsively ordered an Italian Beef as well.

Because this post is getting a little long and I am feeling better today (Tuesday), I am starting to think this might happen again. I’ve lost at least three pounds and though my legs are still fried, I am planning on riding a little tomorrow. I am going to get in the pool over lunch today. I had a massage yesterday that was a blur of pain but now is showing some positive results.

What to do differently?

First, I think the idea of going slow and conserving energy was good but the time on the bike started to work against me. I have to go a faster and be done with the thing sooner. I noticed this when running the Bolder Boulder back in the day. Running it in the 40-50 minute range hurts about the same as running it in the 70-80 minute range except that it is over quicker. Less time on the road means less abuse though perhaps more fatigue. I don’t think fatigue was a factor as much as being in the saddle for so long. Under 8 hours in the saddle would probably serve me well even if I have to push the climbs.

Second, being in zone 2 puts me safely in the fat burning zone. I didn’t need as much food as I was eating until the sixth pass of the weekend. And even then, I needed the fuel to stay warm and not for speed. I was trying to eat more real food and eat the food provided. That was good but I was forcing food when maybe I didn’t have to.

Third, I was pretty happy with my Gore jacket over my Swift kit with leg warmers but I need something to keep the wet out entirely. The Gore thing is awesome but eventually saturates. I needed to get my coat off, jersey off, leg warmers off, and bibs at the point of modesty and I would have warmed up much quicker. Once I was wrapped up, I wasn’t drying and then I was wasting energy trying to warm the water next to my skin.

Fourth, I need to start earlier both days. I suck at this but if it is going to rain in the afternoon, I should be done before that.

Fifth, do I really need to go both ways? I would say not. Maybe I should volunteer one day and ride the other. If this is a family event (we all drive up, hang with Eric, Jeremy does his thing, Jane does her thing) why am I not enjoying that part at all? Certainly I could ride a little, serve a little, and still be able to enjoy being around everyone with only one day of riding instead of two. Also, the second day is so much less crowded.

In summary, be done faster and earlier next time (oh God, did I really just say “next time”?) and a little change of gear and nutrition. Truth be told, I barely survived and that is disappointing to me. Surviving and conquering are two different things in my head. But I am not sure I can conquer this and maybe that isn’t a bad thing. I am not sure I can get to a weight and fitness level where I could conquer this ride. Perhaps, I am not sure I want to get to a weight and fitness level where I conquer this ride. There is a balance between fitness and obsession where ‘good enough’ is actually best.

Maybe I should just do something else crazy next year? Ride the Divide? RAW? RAAM? Grrrrr!