The ironman I am doing is at about 6,000-7,000 feet of altitude with a bike of 5,200 feet of elevation gain according to the race website. This amount of elevation gain had grown, according to rumor, to a much higher amount of anywhere to 6,000 to 10,000 feet. Who knows what it really is? Probably something that I can’t do.
I never used to worry about elevation gain until I got a Garmin watch with GPS.. Now it is a crazy obsession. Rides I used to do weren’t good enough to survive a hilly ironman. I had to torment myself by riding more and more hills, and it was never enough.
This event was a charity ride. No timing, which suited me because I am slow as hell. People were there just to ride, not race, so it was low key. No tiresome “I am such hot stuff” athletes that I see at triathlons. At packet pick- up, I ran into someone that I knew from the Arizona Bicycle Club that I hadn’t seen in years. He is in his eighties, so I had not been sure if he was still alive. Another person recognized me from a bicycle group that I hadn’t ridden with in years. It was fun to see old friends again.
The road wound past Indian ruins-Nalakihu, Wutpaki and Citadel pueblos. The green rolling grassland hills were edged with the pink of the distant Grand Canyon. It would make a nice painting. I felt a sense of the age of the place and of the people that lived here a thousand years ago. One Indian ruin was right on the road with stone walls. I couldn’t resist stopping to take more pictures.
After the visitor’s center, the road was straighter and more monotonous and began to ascend. At fifty-six miles, I had a time of 3:35. That went to hell. I was lucky to have a cloudy day. The clouds kept the temperature down. It’s hotter down at 4,800 feet, which is why they had a cut off point at the first aid station.
The sun came out at noon and beat down on me. I felt good most of the time despite the difficulty of the climb, but I was hot. I was careful to drink enough water and take salt tablets because it was easy to get dehydrated. Dehydration on a bike would be ugly, with fatigue and dizzy spells The sun feels worse at high altitude.
At mile sixty, the twenty-two mile ascent began. It was deceptively easy at first. The road was straight and I was bored. I had left the ruins behind and there wasn’t much to look at and climbing was a grind-- endless and annoying.
At the top it was steeper and the Ponderosa pines were back. An aid station was located at the Painted Desert Vista Overlook and they had brownies, which picked me up. I was fairly tired by now. I took pictures of distant pink Painted Desert, ate and went on my way. It was now part of the sixty-five mile route, which would have been challenging with the ups and downs of the terrain.
I caught up to some road bike riders from Phoenix. They were too fast to keep up with, but they kept stopping so I caught up to them in the last twenty-five miles.
The last aid station was a stop to re-supply my water. I chatted with the road bike group a little. The turn off to highway went back into town. The sag van bike shop guy pulled beside me and asked me if I was alright and I told him that I was okay. Quitting wasn’t an option at this point but it was nice to know that someone was watching out for us. The road was tedious---more traffic and less to look at. The finish couldn’t come soon enough and my legs ached with the constant effort of forcing the pedals against the whims of gravity.
The lowest point was at mile eighty-three when I thought I was done climbing and found out yet another long hill had to be ascended. A sense of despair forced me to stop and eat something in order to re-gain some energy. The road bike group passed by and finally I rode the rest of the way with them because getting out the map to see where to go was too much effort. They had slowed down at this point and were welcome distraction. Light rain came down close to the finish, but it was warm and felt good.
At the end, they still had food left---score one for the race organizers. I hate not having food when I am one the last stragglers in. It adds insult to injury. I should have made an effort to be more social with the road bike group, but I was too tired. It was too much effort to walk back to my car, take off my bike shoes and put my bike in the car, so I ate first. I needed a nap.
I felt lucky to be able to ride a bike in a unique area with Indian ruins and volcanos. My anxiety had been pushed back or maybe I was just to tired to worry. After seven hours, I had arrived back where I started from on the ride, but the relentless plodding on the bike had brought me to a different place.