Leadville...The Race Back [4 of 4]

Posted: 08/18/2000 by Scott Anthony


The weather was perfect for the climb up to Columbine. Not too hot, a slight breeze and no nasty storm clouds circling overhead. I probably could have made the climb without my leg warmers, but the arm warmers were very comfy. Had the weather been different, these items would have made the climb doable, even without my jacket.

I stopped at the top long enough to glance around and take in the weird "moonscape" of upper alpine. I saw the prayer flags flopping in the wind. Sylvia sent one up there and I thought of what it said. "Scott Anthony -- CCC -- My Hero"

I grabbed a piece of melon and another potato, got on my bike, and made my way out of the check point. There was a slight climb from the aid station to the ridge line and this burned the legs after being off the bike for just a minute. Finally, the descent. Yes, I went fast. Yes, a few times too fast. But, I was much more reserved now. I really felt like I had been given a gift early in the race and I didn't want to spoil it here.

Once through the upper rocky section, you could really let the bike roll. I approached almost 40 mph on the road coming down, but had to slow way down for the switchback corners. I started looking at my clock. I head set the ride timer to operate like a stop watch, and had activated it at the sound of the gun. So, I knew exactly were I was in the race. Looking at the time, I started thinking.....maybe I can get back to the Twin Lakes Dam aid station by the 6 hour mark. It seemed reasonable......I started pushing harder across the 2 mile section before the checkpoint. And there was the Dam. I made.....2 minutes shy of 6 hours.

Sylvia and Michael were there and boy did I need their help. I wasn't eating well, and the ride was taking its toll. I was really "spaced' out. Thank goodness for all of the checklists and me telling them ahead of time what to tell me to do. I was really getting weird. I wandered over to the food area and got some more potatoes. I grabbed a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and stuffed it in a baggy in my jersey.

I bee lined back to my bike and put the refueled camelback over my shoulders. Michael told me that they could not beat me back to the next aid station. He said I was running in the upper third to top 50% of the group. I just replied in a daze that I needed my jacket. I was worried about the rain that they had said might hit in the afternoon, and didn't want to chance being without it any longer. It was a little warm with my arm & leg warmers on, but again, I told Sylvia that I would keep them.

Heading out from Twin Lakes, the crowd was so inspirational. Everyone was cheering for each rider as they came through the exit chute. I couldn't help be motivated and stood on the pedals. Hammering past the cheering crowd, pushing the pedals again....it felt good to be moving. The cheers, the faces....all a blur. Then....I realized, I didn't have the strength or energy to do what I just did. I sat down, found an easier gear and became much more humble again.

I was trying to eat my last potato and we were climbing back out of the lowest part of the course. Struggling to find my rhythm, I finally got the right pace and tempo. And I picked up a couple of friends. I passed some people on a downhill and thought that they were gone. Next thing I know, I am pulling a mini pace line. The guy behind me asks if I mind and I respond "Hell no, let's go." I felt great that my pace was attractive to these other riders. I was suddenly powered up again and led the pull all the way back to that steep wall of a hill that they called the "North Face."

It sure seemed steeper going up......had to walk most of it. But, finally I was on top and nothing back to the next aid station but a few rollers and fast road. I really started getting on it now. I am tired, but enthralled with my time. Back to the pipeline aid station in close to 7 hours is my goal now, and it is looking good. As I roll in to the aid station at just over 7 hours, I hear Will shout my name. It is so cool to have somebody here that knows me......and a fellow CCCer to boot. Right on!

I get off the bike.....I am really getting wasted now. Food! More potatoes and....on yeah, I have the P.B.& J in my pocket. And still in edible form! I desperately try to get some food into a stomach that has been powered most of the day by powergels and endurox. My stomach is churning as Will and I share probably the most mellow moment of the race for me. This is my longest stop by far and my body is very appreciative. Finally, I am off......to the hardest part of the race.

I was told that the climb back up the power line was hard. That is like saying that Lance Armstrong is a pretty good cyclist. This is the hardest climb that I have ever attempted! It made the Columbine climb seem like a small hill in comparison.

The rain hit when I was 2 miles from the beginning of the power line climb. I stopped, put on my jacket, and found out that it isn't water proof anymore. Instantly, it became another soaked layer of clothing. The weather was the scariest that I have ever tried to ride in. As I and about 5 other riders started to do the climb, buzzing power lines overhead, it started to hail. My sunglasses went into my jacket pocket, but I still couldn't see through the driving rain and hail.

As I start to think.....well, ok, so another challenge....big deal, how tough can this hill be? I just climbed to 12,600'.....I can climb another hill in the rain. Then, the lightning starts. Close and loud! I mean scary close.....like a guy in front of me sees the lightening hit just over the ridge in front of us and he dives off his bike like hitting an air raid bunker. As I ride past him, he is peering around a small sapling looking like he is afraid to move.

I am scared too. This is so unnerving. The buzzing of the power lines, the close lightening strikes, the deafening thunder, the rain/hail that is blinding one minute and chilling to the bone the next. At one point the lightening strikes the power line and we can see it "zoom" down the wire over our heads. Some of us keep riding......faster now, ....and others stop.....and don't know what to do. I can't see any point in stopping, so I ride.

This climb is so much harder than Columbine! Why? First of all, it is littered with "false" summits. Each little detail on the elevation profile for the course.....really is there. All of the little dips, and rises. Every small nuance that is reflected in that elevation profile......and then some. The other thing that make this harder, is that it is just barely rideable. It is not so steep, except in a few small sections, that you have to walk. You just grind away in the smallest gear that you have.....for a very long time! The point in the race that this climb comes is also a big factor. You are wasted at this point of the race. Trying to climb this is so brutal. You want to quit at every other pedal stroke. And lastly, the weather. The rain made it an incredibly hard mental battle......just amazing.

I stopped about 3/4 of the way up to eat more powergel and to calm my nerves. The thunder and lightening show was dying down and I needed to "screw" my head back on. As I got back on the bike, I was feeling good again. Not fresh, but resolved that I would make it.

As I crested the last summit....not another false one, I realized that my brakes weren't working all that great. I still had good power with the front, but the rear was most of the way to the bar before it would hook up well. As I started to descend, the rain was much more of a hindrance to visibility. I used the visor on my helmet as a shield for my eyes, by lowering my head and peering upwards to pick out lines. Again, I am passing people. Everyone......no one is going this fast down the hill in the rain. Even the people that are going fast.....as I pass them, I can almost feel there stares, as if they are looking at a lunatic.

The brakes get worse. I am now resorting to picking a line and calling out as I pass people, "On your left.....bad brakes!" I finally get down to the single track. I was warned that lots of people walk this section going down. Well, no way....not this guy. I am going to ride this. As I enter the trailhead, my back brake is all the way to the bar.....gone, done.

Now, I am riding down a descent with running water denoting the fall line. Rocks, roots, tight turns. A thing of beauty at any other time....but I am stressing, wondering how I am going to get through it all. Literally hollering out "bad brakes" to those walking the trail.....I rush past, sometimes having to pick less than opportune lines, but making it nonetheless. Then panic begins.........my front brake is almost gone........and I can't slow down nearly enough for most of the trail, but just hold on and throttle the very last section. A rock garden , that runs right through a heavily wooded section and then spits you out a tiny thread of trail on to the paved road.

One of the volunteers watching the intersection for cars cheers me on as I blow past. Heart no longer in my chest, but in my throat......the adrenaline surging so hard, that my temples are throbbing enough so that I swear that my eyes are blurry from the effort. If that person had known how close I was to eating it back there, they wouldn't have been cheering......they would have been running to get out out of the way!

Pavement and uphill. I don't need brakes now. I remember this hill. Long, sustained, a good climb. Just what I need for these nerves. No, I am not thinking clearly. No, I didn't stop to even look at the brakes. They are the new Coda Hydraulics......and silently, I know, either they will come back, or I am in very big trouble. I am not a great mechanic, and I know that if I stop now, I might not be able to get going again. It is nearing in on the 9 hour mark, and my thoughts turn to a sub-10 hour finish. Wow! Wouldn't that be great.

These are not necessarily coherent thoughts.....I know that, but this is how my mind was working. The brakes really didn't seem to be a very big deal to me while I was going up hill. It was much easier to focus on climbing and a good finish time. So, that is what I did.

I thought of this one sustained climb that just keep going for 9 miles that I have trained on with my road bike. I found a cadence that I could push a little and sustain. Everytime I saw a rider ahead of me, I got out of the saddle and hammered until I couldn't stand anymore. Then I would hammer in the saddle. I caught every rider I saw on that hill. That climb up St. Kevin was the best that I had felt on a climb all day....and at the end of the race, too! I didn't realize it at the time, but my brain, dealing with the onset of hypothermia, must have started to shut down irrelevant functions, like pain.

I reached the top, still thinking that I could finish in under 10 hours. I started down the dirt road, a flat section, a small climb, then a little downhill. Oh @#$%! No brakes!

Now what? Ok, I decide that I can ride down, and slide the bike around some of the turns to scrub speed off. This even works on some small little rolling hills. Then I get in trouble. I have to ride off the road and onto an embankment, all just to scrub enough speed off to not crash. This won't work!

I try dragging my foot, but the momentum accumulates way too fast. Again off the road, onto the adjoining bank to kill speed. Ok....easy now. Settle down.....you can do this. I try this again, but this time things go bad. No bank to kill speed, I hit a right-hand turn going very fast. I am scared almost to tears now. I realize....I am going to get hurt.....and bad! I look down the trail and after the corner, it is straight, steeper, heavily wooded and no place to get off. I have a split second to chose........and I lay the bike down.

The rain slicked, muddy ground cooperated nicely and I slide and go down hard. I always mtb with elbow guards. A lot of folks rib me about it, but they proved their worth again. I hit hard on my hip, elbow, shoulder and slapped my head real good. Thank your Mr. Bell helmet!!! When everything finally came to a stop, I stood up. First, I checked to see if any other riders were coming. Next I cursed the bike. Then I cursed myself.....for being such an idiot.

Realizing that I had just risked so much, after coming so far, I was really mad at myself. But, I knew that I had to keep going. So I started running down the hills. Anything that I couldn't very, clearly ride, without danger, I ran or walked. Run, walk, run , walk. For somebody that usually throttles the downhills, this was killing me. Twisting an ankle on a loose stone.....cursing some more. Running, walking. All of the riders that I had passed......those that were still riding, passed me. some asked if I was ok, others were almost too delirious to think to ask.

After about 2 1/2 to 3 miles of this, I could ride again. Back towards Leadville Junction. My sub-10 hour time was gone. I had watched that time pass just a little while ago. It didn't matter. I was in one piece. And these stupid brakes were not going to keep me from finishing this race!

The mud was deep enough now so that I had to really hunt for solid ground to get a good pace going. And whenever I got going a little fast....I just veered back into the soft mud and slowed right down. Now, I new that I could make it back before 10:30. I started pushing as hard as I could. All I had to do was make it to this last paved road and then up the last grind.

Surprise.....the course didn't go up the paved road for the finish. It meandered along an insanely muddy, little access road, next to some railroad tracks and then went up a long, steady, grinding, muddy, dirt road. I was so wasted at this point. Nothing left. Just turning the cranks over and over by muscle memory at this point. This was the endless dirt road. The road that goes nowhere. I could see the tracks of other cyclists in front of me, but on this 2-3 mile stretch, I never saw another person.

Finally, a vehicle ahead. Parked at an intersection, with it lights on. As I pass, the man inside is cheering me on. I am numb. I pass another volunteer at the paved road intersection and he says "Only 1/2 mile.......you are doing great!" I smile weakly and press on. A short hill. I get out of the saddle and press what ever is left in these legs to get me over the crest. Accelerating down the other side, I can see it.

The finish line. All lit up, people lining the street as it approaches. I have done it. A rider ahead of me. I am being selfish......I want to cross the line by myself. I jump on the imaginary gas that I think I still have and fly pass the other rider. Well in front of the other rider, I coast, raise my hands in victory as I cross the line against the tape that they held up for each rider, as they finished. My personal celebration is brief.

I am hurtling towards the end of the finish line area and....still have no brakes. Not wanting to hurt anyone, I scream about the failure and drag my feet to stop. My friend Michael and someone else helped me stop. Next thing I know, a medal is around my neck and Will is taking a picture. Sylvia is there and really happy to see me.

The volunteers are trying to get me off my bike. I am leaning against the bars and don't really want to move. The lady (nurse) is really insistent about me getting off the bike. Ok, and won't you step inside this tent while you're at it. All I remember is saying yes, a bunch and following (being led) into the first aid tent. There, they proceeded to help me out of my wet clothes, and wrap me with blankets.

It was then that Sylvia told me how cold it was outside. 48 degrees and I had been out in the soaking rain for over 3 hours. All of a sudden, once the wet clothes had been removed, I started shaking. Hot soup and 45 minutes later, I finally stopped shaking for a while. I didn't fully warm up until later that night.

I did it. It wasn't pretty.....some of it was downright crazy and some of it was attributable to decreasing brain function. The crazy stuff.....well that it just me. Maybe I was pushing too hard in some areas, but I wanted this really bad!

The riding downhill with no brakes stuff.....geeez, I don't know what to say.....just not enough good quality brain waves at that point. I haven't checked it thoroughly, but it looks like the set screws for adjusting the brakes backed out from their position. A friend of mine with the same brakes said that I need to locktite them. Well, I guess now, I know.

Now, I want to thank you all. Thanks for putting up with this extremely long narrative of this race. I promise not to burden you all like this again. This race really was my release of the "damned disease". I wanted to go out and prove to myself, that I was better than I have ever been before in my life. I had to prove to myself that cancer hasn't taken anything away from me. I realize the word "I" is littered through out these phrases. I apologize for being awfully self-centered regarding this, but this one was for me!

To you, all of my friends, comrades in arms, thanks for the friendship, the faith, and your support.



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