Friday, December 5, 2008

LOTOJA 2005 - BRUTAL

LOTOJA report. 10 September 2005

BRUTAL.

Mostly sunny, temps in the low 70’s with possibility of afternoon thunder showers was the forecast for most of the week leading up to the 23rd annual LOTOJA race. We arrived in Utah on Wednesday and were greeted by temps in the 80’s. We enjoyed watching my son Michael and the boys from UVSC destroy the USU men’s soccer team 9-1 in Logan that evening.

By Friday, the weather was starting to turn, as was the forecast for Saturday. Friday would have been a great day for the race as the wind was out of the south; no rain in sight and the temps had cooled to the low 70’s. Friday night’s annual carbo loading at Calloway’s was a great time. We discussed strategies and were eagerly anticipating the ride. Steve Turner would start first at 7:15 with the 35-44 year olds. Mark Facer, Corte Haggard and I would start 3 minutes later with the first pack of 45-54’s. Then bringing up the rear would be my son John with the first pack of 27-34’s. Steve would ride at a comfortable pace and expect to be caught by Mark, Corte and I some where on the long climb up Strawberry between mile 40 and 60. John, riding with the strongest age group would catch us early on the same climb. If all went as planned we would be riding together up the last part of Strawberry and then John could make a decision as to whether he was going to hold back and ride with us or decide to race with his age group. Mark and maybe me could then decide to help John get to Montpelier at mile 80.

So much for planning….. The weather on Friday night looked bad. The temp in Wendover was 77, a little to the west in Elko it was 64 and further west in Winnemucca it was 51. Cold weather was moving our way. At 6:30 AM on Saturday the rain band on the Weather Channel stretched from Snowville to Idaho Falls. As the five riders finished our breakfast and mixed our energy drinks I stated that I was not going to ride in the rain - a statement that I repeated often through the first 80 miles of the ride.

At 7:00 we pulled out from ma and pa’s and headed for the start line. Brother Bill was out to cheer us on – decked out in his team Quiksilver/Norda’s team jacket. After the start Bill was on his way to Preston to be our support team with fresh water and energy drinks. Steve was first off, followed shortly by Corte, Mark and I. The temp in Logan was falling to below 50. I was comfortable with my toe, knee and arm warmers, lightweight full-fingered gloves and vest. Steve and Mark were also wearing vests, Corte and John had on the team jackets. None of us had rain gear.

Friday’s wind out of the south was long gone and we were faced with a stiff wind from the northwest – right in our face or into our left shoulder all the way to Preston. Our group of about 45 riders was not in a hurry and we were content to let others do the work at speeds under 20mph. As we looked to the north toward Idaho, the sky was black and the rain was falling. It didn’t look pretty. 50% chance of rain looked more like 100%.

At the state line, Corte and I stopped for our first bio-break, in part to avoid the lines at the porta-potties in Preston. We were chasing back on to our group when I could see Mark had turned around to come back to help us chase on. This would not be the only time Mark would turn around on the road to go back and help. We quickly rejoined our group just in time for the first raindrop at Franklin. The guys at the front had finally worn down and Mark and I worked our way to the front with Mark taking a short pull just as we entered Preston – Mile 35.

Bill was there as planned and we grabbed our drinks and headed off to do the climb up Strawberry. Mark raced ahead to take a pee-break. The temp was continuing to fall and the rain was now coming down hard. Oh boy, 45 miles to Montpelier and the first 25 were up and over a 7500-foot pass. I thought I should have grabbed Bill’s jacket but decided that I was not going to ride in the rain and that if it was still raining in Montpelier I would quit. I can ride 45 miles in the rain – no problem.

Corte was not happy with the rain, cold or the wind. He was struggling to hold on to my wheel into a stiff wind at 14 mph. He’s too tall and I'm too short to knock down much wind. I was frustrated as a couple of large groups of riders passed us and we did not get on their wheels. Mark and I ended up riding ahead in search of Steve.

Soon John pulled up along side us. He was off the front of the first group of 1200’s (27-34) and had been riding with two guys from the 1200’s that started 3 minutes behind him. John’s group had caught the second group of 1500’s (45-54) just out side of Preston and then they, in turn, were caught by the second group of 1200’s so all three groups rolled into Preston together. John wanted to keep an eye on the two guys in his age category so we upped the pace in the rain. We rolled by the Diamond R ranch in Mink Creek without lifting my head to look for Garland Rasmussen. He had offered us a Fat Boy ice cream sandwich when we rode up Strawberry a few weeks earlier and stopped in at the Diamond R to get some water. I did not need a Fat Boy at this moment. It was still raining hard; the temp was now in the low 40’s and falling. Our toes and hands were soaked and frozen.

The big part of the climb was still ahead. Mark, John and I were now moving at a pretty good pace considering the conditions and keeping an eye out for Steve up the road. We would not find Steve. We passed a number of neutral support vehicles as riders were starting to use the CB or ham radios in the support vehicles to arrange for someone to come pick them up.

John complained that he was having trouble with his cleats. Soon he was free from his pedal. His SPD cleat was stuck in his pedal. He tried to continue pedaling but it was not going to work. After a mile or two we saw a support vehicle off the side helping a rider fix a flat. A second support vehicle stopped and we pulled over to see if someone had some vice-grips that we could use to pull the cleat out of the pedal. The guy was tied up getting his air compressor out to fix the other rider’s flat. After a few minutes we got the guy’s toolbox out and found the vice grips. I struggled to get a good grip on the cleat with my frozen hands but finally succeed in pulling out the cleat only to loose the washer and the two Allen bolts onto the side of the road. We finally found the bolts and started the process of getting the cleat installed.

Meanwhile, quite a crowd had gathered at the two support vehicles that were pulled off on the side of the road. One rider pulled up and took off both wheels from his bike, put the bike and the wheels into the van and climbed in. There was no seat for him but he was not going to take no for an answer and sat down on the cooler. Another rider pulled up shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. Mark said to John and me, “that guy doesn’t look right.” Sometimes body fat can be a good thing. Other riders were asking and begging to find someone with a cell phone with reception. No luck. The support guys had to get on their radio’s and call the ham radio guys who would then make a call to arrange for the riders to get picked up.

While this was going on John was standing in his wet sock while Mark and I worked on his cleat, each dropping the bolts with our frozen fingers. Finally after 20-30 minutes standing in the freezing rain John’s shoes were repaired and we were ready to finish the climb.

Summit of Strawberry

Still no Corte, I was a little concerned that he had not caught us during this long break to fix John’s cleat. Montpelier was my goal. I had made the decision not to ride in the rain and I wasn’t going to change my mind. It was difficult to get going again. We passed many of the same riders we had passed on the way out of Preston. At the top of the climb John saw the two leaders he had been chasing standing under the lifted tailgate of the same support van that had helped us. They were huddled together covered with blankets. We don’t know if they finished the race. Near the summit a photographer was standing on the side of the road snapping photo’s while an unknown rider sat in the passenger seat of his car warming up with the bike leaning against the front bumper.

At the neutral feed zone at the summit we saw our first Ambulance. There was quite a crowd on the side of the road. Mark, John and I crested the summit and started the descent into Bear Lake Valley. It was a little dicing coming down the canyon mostly because the riders were all over the wet road and it was tough to get past them. Plenty of them were using their brakes more than we were. A rider I talked to the next day in Jackson said he had to ride with no hands because he was shaking so hard he couldn’t stop from shaking his bike with his hands on the handle bars.

The rain eased up a little as we rolled into Ovid. We passed another ambulance treating some riders for hypothermia on the side of the road. We had about 10-12 miles of rollers to get to Montpelier and since this was going to be the end of my ride I decided to put the hammer down as much as I could. The three of us picked up one rider, Jon Eric Thalman who now lives in San Francisco. Eric was with Steve’s group of Cit 35-44. Turns out Mark knew Eric as a teenager years ago in Claremont and had seen him earlier in the ride so when we went by Mark yelled to get on. We blew past several large groups of riders. I tried to take as long of pull as I could each time. No one was able to catch on to the back of our group as we blew by at 30+ mph. For the first time ever, John complained that I was going too fast. I was cold and I wanted to get into some dry clothes and get some food.

As we flew into Montpelier we caught a group of about 10 riders and Mark followed some of them through a red light. Having learned our lesson the year earlier, John and I stopped. The white haired lady at the light was traumatized and frozen. She didn’t dare come through the green light after watching a bunch of bike riders’ blow through. I waved her to come through just as the light turned red for her. She made it through and we continued up the road to the feed zone.

Mass chaos. There were firemen, EMT’s, fire trucks and ambulances everywhere. We saw my mom and dad along with our support team of Kristin and Beth. “I’m done” is how I greeted them. They said Steve had rolled in a few minutes earlier and was in Corte’s Tahoe warming up. Still no Corte. We rode over to the Tahoe and soon Mark and John were sitting in the front seats with the heater going full blast. Steve was in the back seat. I did a towel change in the parking lot and got in some dry clothes, socks and shoes and started to defrost. John pulled off his gloves and showed everyone his blue hands. “That doesn’t look right.” It freaked us out for a few seconds before I realized that the blue was the result of his blue gloves bleeding the blue color onto his hands for the past 3 hours.

After about 20 minutes Corte showed up. Frozen and wet like the rest of us. He had winter booties and gloves in the Tahoe that he should have been wearing. After hearing that I was quitting he decided to join me. For the next 30 minutes we found the warmest clothing we could to outfit Steve, Mark and John so that they could continue.

Meanwhile the public address announcer continued to announce every minute or two that there was snow falling at the top of Salt River pass and that no one would be allowed to continue if they did not have the proper cold and wet weather gear. As the riders who were going on rode past the timing sensor there was a line of firemen inspecting them and finally an EMT who stopped them and looked into their eyes to try to determine if they were suffering from hypothermia. Of the three, John was hassled a little bit because he had knee warmers and not the full leg warmers. He was wearing my lightweight gloves, which had dried out while the debate about continuing on had taken place over the past hour. John put on his Marmot windshirt and then a dry team jacket over the top and my new Castelli ear warmers. Mark was geared up the best. He scored Corte’s full winter booties and warm gloves and had changed into dry shorts and jersey and he had his clear plastic rain jacket, which had been packed, with his gear in the Tahoe. Steve was also in dry clothes and had his rain jacket on. Too bad none of us were geared up for the rain at the start.

Corte and I are warm and dry and Beth had a good book.

Now the rain was gone but the cold, wind and clouds remained as John, Mark and Steve headed up Geneva pass and onto the big Salt River climb. Now that Corte and I had abandoned, Kristin decided to go back to Logan with my mom and dad so Beth, Corte and I took off to drive south around Geneva and to hook up with the riders in the valley between Geneva and Salt River. An hour later the boys were spotted and began the long climb up Salt River. We pulled over at a pull out and John tossed us his Marmot windshirt. He later told me that my ear warmers were gone – Steve had offered to put them in his pocket on the Geneva Summit descent but they had blown out. Oh well. At the next pullout, John was off the front by a quarter mile or with some other riders while Mark and Steve had fallen off the pace. John tossed me his lightweight Quik jacket and said he wanted it back at the top. We pulled over on a couple of additional pullouts on the way up the mountain to cheer them on.

At the summit John looked pretty good. It was still cold and cloudy, but the snow we had been warned about was gone. We waited about 15 minutes for Mark and Steve but when they didn’t show up we pulled out to make sure we got to Afton, mile 125, before John so we could get him his lunch. As it turned out we made it to Afton well before John. When he pulled into Afton he looked pretty good but was cold. He took my spot in the driver’s seat of the Tahoe and warmed up. Corte was still in his wet clothes and finally changed into something warm and dry. It was 30 minutes before Mark and Steve would roll in. While we waited I talked with Ron Monson who was waiting to ride his second leg of the race for the Logan Rotary Club relay team.

When Mark and Steve rolled in they were beat. They had battled much of the past 15 miles in the wind by themselves. Steve would have liked to continue but said he was holding Mark back. He said Mark had u-turned on the steep section of Salt River to ride back and encourage Steve who was close to his max doing 5 mph on the climb.

John was ready to throw in the towel but Mark was not. If you know Mark, you know he’s not going to pay $100 to get in a bike race and not finish. He wouldn’t be getting his money’s worth. Mark was even begging me to get back in my bike gear and ride with them. It is something I would have considered except for the fact that the rain was once again on us and the temp was still in the low 40’s and falling.

John agreed to go on. He pulled Corte’s lightweight XL gloves on over my gloves and put a vest on over his jacket and pulled out with Mark into yet another driving rainstorm with no one to work with. I could have cried – and I think John could have also. They had 34 miles of rolling highway to get to Alpine Junction. It was about 3:30. The race bible says you need to leave Alpine Junction before 5:15 to get to Teton Village before dark at 8:15. That’s on a sunny day.

With the rain and the clouds it was pretty dark at 5:30 when Mark and John made it to Alpine Junction. While we waited we ordered dinner at Frenchy’s BBQ. I was sitting in the Tahoe eating my BBQ beef sandwich while Steve, Mark and Beth sat inside Frenchy’s across the street. Mark and John arrived at 5:30. Their faces were black from road grime. Mark ate ½ of one of my country style thick fries. John powered down 7 or 8 of the fries. I told them that they were 15 minutes past the recommended cut off. We had no dry clothes to offer them so of they went, frozen, wet and still 47 miles to go. Race rules prevent support vehicles from driving the Snake River Canyon. Instead they are supposed to drive west to Victor and Swan Valley and over Teton Pass to get to Teton Village.

John leads Mark and a few others through Snake River Canyon

We decided that we were not going to leave these two guys on their own in the dark and rain so we leap-frogged them all the way through the canyon. They were working with some other riders when they passed us half way through the canyon. After they passed us we pulled out and saw them stopped on the side of the road. Mark had his bike upside down and his rear wheel off. He had broken one of his bladed spokes and his wheel fell so far out of true it wouldn’t go through his chain stay. We quickly replaced his rear wheel with one of Steve’s extra wheels and sent them on their way. They continued to motor through the canyon with John taking the long hard pulls.

By the time they pulled into Jackson it was pretty dark. We pulled ahead of them and made the turn toward Teton Village, 10 miles to go. We pulled over and waited for them to make the left turn. I grew concerned because riders that had been behind John and Mark were making the turn and still no sign of John and Mark. I was starting to get even more worried when Steve spotted them rolling up to the light. Whew. John later told me that Mark pulled over just before the light and said he needed to stop for a minute. John thought he needed a pee break and decided to take one himself. Mark didn’t need to pee. He said he thought he had bonked. No kidding, 196 miles in the cold and rain. Mark sucked down a gu and drank some recovery drink and started peddling again.

As they went by us a group of about 10 riders caught them and 3 or 4 or the riders had lights. John and Mark gutted it out in the dark and finished at Teton Village at about 8:30. Very dark and still raining. Only Corte had planned ahead and had a room reserved in Teton Village (the rest of us had rooms in Jackson). That was great for John and Mark who were able to take a warm shower in Corte’s room and get in dry clothes before a late dinner at the Mangy Moose at 9:30.

Mark and John are tough!

Final time for John was 13 hours 6 minutes. Mark’s time was 13:12. John finished 17th in his age group (only 19 finished). His time was pretty respectable considering that he lost 30 minutes to a mechanical in Strawberry, 1 hour to getting warm in Montpelier and another 30 minutes waiting for Mark and Steve in Afton plus unknown minutes of not being able to work with a group of strong riders if he would have stayed with the 1200 leaders. Mark finished 34th of 43 finishers in our combined 45-54 group of 85 riders. 42 riders abandoned along with Corte and I. Steve’s Uncle, Pat English, took first in the Citizen 55+ with a time of under 11 hours.

All I can say is congratulations to John and Mark for finishing what everyone says was the toughest LOTOJA ever. Steve made a gallant effort but the rain and cold just took too much out of him. He did, however, win the team race to Montpelier. Mark did his best to stay with him and keep him going but it was not to be this year. Corte and I felt great. 80 miles in the cold and rain was plenty for us. Corte is calling the 2005 race LOTOMO (LOgan TO MOntpelier). See you next year.

Bob Emmett, Irvine, CA Cit 45-54

Mark Facer, Mission Viejo, CA Cit 45-54

Corte Haggard, Mission Viejo, CA Cit 45-54

Steve Turner, Irvine, CA Cit 35-44

John Emmett, Midway, UT Cit 27-34

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