Two Rides, Two Lanterns Rouge: A Memoir

I lived near the train tracks when I was kid, I distinctly remember the red light at the end of the trains that rolled through my town. The air brakes of trains were deafening, and we used to ride our bikes under the tressel and up and down the same road all day. I had a curfew to be home when the streetlights came on and then I’d pedal like mad to get home. If I heard “Alyson Michelle” I was in trouble for being late. I had no idea back then that bike racing existed, but I knew that red light. It was the end of the line. The last car. The caboose.

The Lantern Rouge as defined in Wikipedia is still a competition, and I totally get it. You still finish, and you might as well get in the history books. Better to finish then DNF. Here’s a report of my last place finishes so I can remember distinctly why I should start training in February or at least keep my shit together better over the winter months.

(attribution)

Ride 1: The Stotty 60 & Flipping My Wig

Sixty miles is a long way no matter what the mode of transport, but let me tell you, it’s really fucking far on a mountain bike.

Unless you’re among the fittest and fastest, it’s really hard to sustain a fast pace on a mountain bike for that long. Climbing is hard. Riding switchbacks requires concentration. Gunning it down gravel roads can be sketchy. Over a month ago, I started training in earnest, and by that I mean I stopped drinking so much beer and I put on the rain gear when the weather was bad. I started riding consistently. I’ve always wanted to do in the Stottlemeyer race in the NW Epic Series, and for some unknown reason, I decided to jump right into the 60 miler. They offer a 17 and 30 mile version of the race, but I really wanted to see if I could do it.

Had I not done the Whatcom Grind the weekend before, I don’t think I would have finished. Pretty sure everyone I told I was doing it didn’t think I’d finish. In fact, I didn’t think I’d finish. I went into the race with the thinking that I’d at least try to finish 3 laps or 45 miles. In addition, I’d try really hard to not get lapped by Ben Shaklee twice and I’d try to finish in 7:30. The Shak Attack only got me once (yay!) and I finished second to last in 8:25. That’s a long-goddamn-time on the bike. I stopped pedaling 7 times the entire day–four times for a nature break (as Paul Sherwen likes to say) and three times for food and water at the aid station. It was a very hard day on the bike. Towards the end I did walk some of the steeper pitches thanks to some advice of a woman who passed me on the 30 miler. At that point, walking was just as fast–or just as slow–as riding.

So what follows is race report-ish writing. If you really want a detailed account of the Stotty race, you should read this post from Bellingham’s Logan Wetzel and this one from Angela Sucich of Sturdy Bitch Racing. If you’re super-duper-silly nervous, I recommend you watch this video in 10 minute segments to see what the terrain is like if you can’t make it there to pre-ride. I didn’t watch all of this video, but I clicked through it to see what the terrain was like–I’m always curious about people who can watch those GoPro videos. I get carsick and nauseous, but more power to you.

Just let it be known, if I can do the Stotty 60, so can you.

After taking the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend (my favorite ferry commute in the The Sound), I got to the campground when it was dark. My two teammates were already there with our Liv Tent and I was instructed to look for the rainbow lights. Yay!  They had tables and chairs set up, so we were all set at the Start line. Perfect! I put my tent up by headlamp, and we chatted for awhile just hanging out in the dewy grass. There was another crew with a fire, and I thought about making friends with them but I decided it best to crawl in my tent and call it a night. The dew was up–it was a damp night but I slept right through to the sounds of a frog party. The frogs were so loud! Right at dawn a flock of geese flew really low over my tent and woke me up with their honking. Oly Peninsula magic!

I made some coffee walked to the registration table with my teammate and it was nice to beat the masses who were coming in from Seattle. My other teammates started to arrive, and everyone started getting ready. I ate a simple breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese with a side of yogurt. My teammate was cooking a ton of eggs and bacon, but I knew that would mean heartburn for at least two hours for me (TMI, I know).  I love bacon, but it doesn’t like me. I also brought a boiled egg from home that I added some salt and pepper to right before I finished my coffee. In short, whatever you might eat for breakfast at home before a long ride, I recommend doing the same before the Stotty. My teammate who banged out the bacon and eggs got third in her division, so you know, you do you.

I wore a Camelbak for easy access to water, and I noticed a lot of Killers just used their water bottles and jersey pockets. Many folks had taped their spare tub and patch kit to their downtube. I decided to pack all of my gear into my Camelbak and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two packs of shot blocs, one granola bar, and my emergency airplane biscotti cookies.

The Stottlemeyer 60 consists of 4 laps of 15 miles that’s mostly single-track. It’s a blend of fire roads, double-track, and relentless climbing in exposed clearcuts. It’s got a bit of everything single-track-wise and it’s never boring. If you look south, you see Mt. Rainier. If you look west, you see the Olympics. It’s an amazing spot to ride your bike, and the main benefit of this race, is I know those trails really well. The weather was perfect, and the trails were lush and green. The switchbacks were flowy, and I did hear complaints about some of the trails not having enough “flow.” I dunno, mountain biking is supposed to be hard yo. Quit yer bitchin, I thought. Roots, rocks, trees, and all other natural bits of terrain are part of the fun. But then again, I’m an old cross-country loving middle-aged rider who thinks what the kiddies are into these days is a snooze-fest. Downhill pump tracks are fun, but I have strong bias that fanny packs should stay in the fucking 90s. Don’t even ask me how I feel about shuttling…But I digress.

The hardest aspect of this race for me was the third lap. I rode with this woman and we traded places on different terrain and it was fun to either catch her or pass her. She was fast on some of the downhill parts and the climbs, and I could climb the steeper parts of the single-track to catch her. I could descend the double-track and gravel roads faster. Super fun. When I got to one of the aid stations for the start of the fourth lap, she was nowhere in sight. Then just as I was ready to pedal away, she came up to me, high-fived me, and said, “You are super strong, lady. I’m out. I got a cooler full of beer and a burrito with my name on it in my car, and that’s all I can think about. I’m out.” And with that, she ripped away on the descent. As I pedaled through the clearcut one last time, I struggled with my sanity. I never even caught her name. It was going to be a long 15 miles alone. I looked down at my Garmin, and I calculated that I could probably make the cut off and I needed to just do it. My mind was wandering and I’m pretty sure I started to hallucinate. I had Husker Du’s “Makes No Sense at All” looping in my mind. “Fuck, Bob, you’re right. It makes no sense at all that I’m out here so long on my mind (makes no sense at all),” I thought.

I don’t have the tiger by the tail, Bob. Makes no sense at all. Walking around with my head in the clouds. Makes no sense at all. And so on. I somehow responded to the lyrics and I’m pretty sure I started singing out loud to see if I could exorcise that song out of my mind. Christ, I was losing it. Twelve miles to go.

Eight miles from the finish, I caught some guy who was a teammate of a person I had seen crash on one of the downhills. Seeing his buddy with the medics isolating his head as he moaned gibberish, really messed with my head on lap two. I slowed down for miles thinking about that dude. So thanks to this crash and that dude’s generous teammie, I was not going to be in last place, but that really didn’t matter. I was going to finish within 40 minutes of the cutoff.

When I finally saw the finish line through the trees a half mile to the end, I almost started crying. Then hoots and yells started and I laughed. My teammate Suki, her husband Josh, and a few other friends were at the finish along with the organizers. They were a bit in their keg cups and really funny–they handed me the best PBR of my life and celebrated my finish. High-fives and hugs all around. I got to the finish line 40 minutes within the cutoff. Holycrap, I did it.

On the ferry that night on the way home I sent the photo of me crossing the finish line to my husband, and responded with, “What? No wheelie?”

Next year. I’ll beat my time and do Peter Sagan style wheelie. I “raced” 60 miles and climbed 7,008 feet and I did it. Boom y’all!

Ride 2: The Leavenworth Gran Fondo & My Foul-Mouthed New Friend

After my last Gran Fondo, I got a little overzealous and signed my Mister and I up for the Vicious Cycles Leavenworth Gran Fondo. I booked an Air BnB that allowed dogs and we packed up the car for a weekend adventure on the east side of the North Cascades. The night we arrived, it rained in inches. Poured. I had specifically signed up for this ride because it went through some of the most gorgeous parts of the faux Bavaria woods near Leavenworth. I’ve only hiked in that area and the thought of being on a bike in that neck of the woods was really appealing when I was sitting at my desk at home.

Thanks to the rain, they had to change the course and we went from riding a beautiful circle through the valleys to an out and back. I totally understand that the rain made some of the roads a muddy mess, but I was pretty disappointed to miss all the beauty of the rugged mountains out there. I didn’t get the experience that I wanted, but I got to see a whole new tunnel in the Pain Cave.

Right at the start of the race, there were a ton of serious roadies. The pace at the rollout was way too fast for me, and I settled in the back of the pack. Once we hit the dirt roads, I looked down to see several piles of barf and a few switchbacks later I heard two dudes ralphing their guts out. As I passed their greenish looking faces, they said, “Too fast. That pace.” I asked if they needed anything, and one said, “Just my bed.”

Then I settled into climbing, climbing, climbing. It was like I suddenly dropped into Colorado and it was steamy hot. It reminded me a lot of the canyons outside of Boulder. Then the motorcycle support guy was stopped to help a woman with her bike who had that look of rage one gets with a mechanical. I thought she would quit and I was surprised to see her much later. Turns out, she was a new friend who helped me finish the whole day. Without her, I’m not sure I would’ve kept going.

There was a point on the climb back where I was so tired. I was running through my mind of what I would say to the Sag wagon guy. Or where I could have the Mister pick me up once I got back into cell service. She was two switchbacks ahead of me, and I was feeling pretty whipped seeing her climb so steadily.

Right as we were climbing, it felt like we were close to the top. Nope. Then the valley opened up and you could see the 2k climb that we were about to do, and she yelled “FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKK” so loud it echoed in the canyon. It was suddenly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard and I started cracking up. Her total exasperation mirrored mine, and I was determined to finish. Towards the top, I was still on my bike and she was walking. When I passed her, she said, “I’m never fucking doing this fucking Fondo again.” I could barely talk because I was so knackered. I said, “Lesss jusss finissss laydeee ca monnn.” She said, “Fuck this. Why didn’t I fucking mountain bike today. Fuck this climb. It’s bullshit.”

I have a healthy appreciation for rage filled F bombs and profanity. It’s an art. So I felt motivated to keep pedaling. I saw rattle snake sunning itself and I pedaled 4 miles an hour past it thinking that if it bit me, I’d feel better about my DNF. I didn’t care. By the time I got to the top, I was dreading the downhill. My arms hurt, my shoulders hurt. I was so deep in the pain cave I started building a house in it and all I could think about was sleep.

My new foul-mouthed friend passed me on the roads once it got back to pavement. She’s roadie and once she got down in the hooks, I couldn’t keep her wheel. I was coasting when I could and she ended up getting to the finish before me. She told me later that I was great motivation for her to finish and that she spent the whole day pissed off. I know, I said, and it really made me feel for you. A mechanical so early into the day sucks. We talked about mutual friends that we have and shook hands. “I’ll never do this again, but I’m glad I fucking finished that shit. Now for some fucking food and a goddamn beer,” she said. Me too. Me too.

Nothing against the Vicious Cycles organizers or anyone else who is totally into that sufferfest grind–it’s just not for me. If I’m going to suffer on dirt roads and grind on the gravel, I’ll just stick around Bellingham to do it–that was the last time I’ll travel for one of those Gran Fondos. I’ve got a rad little adventure organization here at home, and I’ll do all of those rides. My Mister felt the same way and was pleased that he met his early season goals. He was on his way back up the climb and we passed eachother as I was heading to the aid station. “Go got it, you killer!” he yelled.

A true Killer I was not, but I did ride 78 miles and climbed 7,334 feet seven days after The Stotty. So good goddamn, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Next up is Ski to Sea.

I’m hoping to beat my time from last year and do better overall in the cyclocross leg. Those 13 miles will feel easy AF compared to the last two weekends. I’m really proud of my little team for jumping into doing a race they’ve never done before, and I love being the captain. Twenty years ago when I was partying with all the cool kids who BBQ oysters and drink all day during Ski to Sea, I would not have believed you if you’d told me I’d captain a team someday. Life. This life. It’s magic.

To conclude this post, I’ll quote the great French rider Bernard Hinault:

As long as I breathe, I attack.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, #OER, professional development, adult education & writing. Travels to talk about Open Education during the workweek. Advocates for more girls on bikes during the weekend. Bike racer w/ @queensofdirt A Memoir.
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