Sunday, July 31, 2011

Booty 2011: Riding Through Hell, and I'm OK With That

The word for this years Booty was “sweltering.” The forecasted highs for Friday and Saturday were 99 and 98; definitely temperatures worth amending your goals for. And I had a lofty goal of 300 miles. But I also have a hard head - not always a good combination.

My Friday prep for Booty couldn’t have gone more perfectly. I slept in until 5:30am, got up, had a huge blueberry pancake breakfast and laid back down at 10am for a short nap. Then I loaded up my car with my camping gear which I had gotten together the night before and my cooler which I had packed to the gills with heat-beating supplies - frozen water bottles, frozen wash cloths and towels, Smuckers Uncrustables, pasta salad, watermelon and as much ice as I could fit. Oh, I also put my chamois cream in there (try it, you’ll like it).

Jill and I met up with my camping buddies, Steve and Jen, and we all headed to Bootyville to set up camp. Holy shit it was hot doing that; just a small sample of what was to come. After camp set up, we hit The Flying Biscuit for a late lunch. My selection of Pasta and Egg Scramble with Creamy Dreamy Grits left me feeling confident for having a full tank of energy to help get me through the night...or at least until the Midnight Pizza Party!

With belly full, I headed home with Jill for a couple hours relaxation and hydration prior to the start of the event. We cranked the AC down in the house and I had a full hour nap before heading back out to Bootyville. My whole day had gone so perfect, which was so different from in the past. Normally, I’m so jacked that I can barely eat or nap. This year I had no problem with either. Maybe after 7 years of doing this thing, I’ve finally learned the proper prep?

Back at camp, with nary a slight breeze for a bit of relief, we yearned for the start of the ride - but first, a team picture (with Bob Roll), a few announcements from the cancer community and ride organizers, and 30 minutes of lining up 1200 riders. Dripping with sweat already, having done nothing so far, I was anxious to feel the cooling breeze that my bike would provide for me.

As a participant of one of the Top Fundraising Teams, my teammates and I were given the privilege of lining up behind the cancer survivors to lead out the parade lap. It’s both a humbling and uplifting experience to be in such a position. On my way to the start line, I ran in to one of my friends, Kellie, whose bike was decorated with a tractor, stuffed cow, alligator, and several different types of flowers. Her Grandfather, a farmer, had died of cancer among many others of her family and as she told me the stories represented by each object I remember thinking, “Wow, this family has seen enough of this disease. This is simply not fair.” At the start line she handed me a can of hot pink hairspray - breast cancer runs in her family - so, I sprayed my platinum hair pink in a very small effort to show my support.

The first few laps of Booty is an absolute surreal experience. Crowds line the streets with signs and sound making devices screaming their lungs out for you. The homes along the Booty Loop are lined with one yard party after another - people, neighbors, sharing in this unique event. PA systems blare out not just music, but words of encouragement. Just before the right turn onto Hopedale Road, which is re-named Alpe d’Hopedale for Booty, there is a resident with a mic that just talks constantly...for hours. He calls it “Heckle Hill,” but he’s only “heckling” at the beginning while you still have energy and are smiling. By Saturday morning, he’s giving you the news headlines that you may have missed since you were on your bike all night. Then, by Saturday afternoon, he really starts in on the encouragement because he knows that this is about the 75th time you’ve climbed this hill.

Sometime during the second hour or so, I gave a quick glance behind me and found myself looking into the eyes of, none-other-than, Bob Roll, who many cyclists recognize as the voice of pro-cycling. He is a former pro who competed on the European circuit during the 80’s and 90's including the Tour de France. I was a little stunned to see him there, so I let him come around me and then decided I’d sit on his wheel for a while. Well, a while turned into about an hour. After a couple of laps I finally decided to spark up a conversation with him. He was very gracious to everyone who wanted to talk to him. He had lots of people yelling for him on the side of the road. Within a few short minutes, he and I had solved the world’s problems and figured that beer and cycling go perfect together. Thank God we’re not running things, eh?

After I attacked and dropped Bob Roll, I continued to ride until midnight, only having stopped to rehydrate and to have a couple of short conversations with friends. All of my food intake on the bike was Uncrustables, Clif Blocks and gels. I felt really good. Full of energy. Had a good average of 16.8 - remember that includes the parade start. My legs were great. No soreness in my body...yet.

At midnight me, Steve and Jen met back up for the Midnight Pizza Party. I had planned this as one of my bigger breaks cuz I knew I needed to stay topped off with food. At this point, my body was still accepting food. What I didn’t realize at the time was that by morning, my body would not be so receptive.

Back on the road at 12:45, I was feeling great. I was closing in on 100 miles and was getting anxious about hitting 130. It was at the 130 mile mark the last time I went for 300 that my body shut down on me. The pain shooting through every joint from my finger tips to my neck and down my back is still memorable to this day. And it happened almost instantly. I still am not sure how I survived another 170 miles after that other than pure inspiration. So, I was nervous about hitting that point. Regardless, I pressed on and hit 130 feeling surprisingly good.

Sometime around 4am or so, I friend of mine came flying past and he had about 7 guys on his wheel. I sprinted to catch up with them and hung in for a lap, but Andy is a very strong cyclist and I knew I couldn’t keep that effort up given my 300 mile goal, so I backed off and went my own pace. About a half hour later, he lapped me, still with a bunch of guys on his wheel. I didn’t even try to get on this time, but it turned out, I didn’t have to. Andy gave up pulling those guys around and came back to find me. He asked how I was doing and then instructed me to get on his wheel; that he would go my pace and help me around the Loop.

In case you’re not a cyclist, let me try to explain how much easier it is to ride when you can draft off of’s infinitely easier. I was putting in less effort, but going about 4mph faster by having Andy there. And because I know him and know how good a cyclist he is, I know I can trust him to get me around the Loop safely. Believe me, not everyone is like that. I had a dude nearly put me into a barrier just a few laps after I left Bob Roll (who, btw, is also a trustworthy wheel to follow...very steady). So, all I had to worry about was watching his rear wheel and staying there.

Andy set a perfect pace for me for nearly 3 hours. It’s because of him that by the time I stopped for breakfast, I had 178 miles, which is about 12 more than I would have had by myself. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but in perspective he saved me an extra 45 minutes of riding. Also in perspective, the last time I did 300, by breakfast I only had 155. Andy was a huge help. I am still very grateful to him.

It was at breakfast that my stomach quit accepting food. There were scrambled eggs, whole wheat rolls, fruit, oatmeal, bacon and sausage. None of it was appetizing for me. And I couldn’t rely on just cycling food. I still needed real sustenance to get me through the last 122. I forced down what I could before getting nauseous and then had some pasta salad. I knew I needed to eat, but the heat was beginning it’s attack. The thought of food had me dry-heaving.

I’ll tell you what. The sun comes up fast. Just before breakfast, the sky had barely started to lighten and then, within minutes, the sun is up and it’s 1000 degrees.

Back on the bike. A short time after breakfast, I ran across another familiar face, Christina, who I had seen the night before as well. But, this time she played Sherpa to me much like Andy had earlier. Like Andy, Christina is a seasoned cyclist who you can trust to just follow. And follow I did. For about 2 hours. Then we took a short break and rode for another 30 minutes or so. At this point, the fatigue was starting to settle into my legs. The hills were quite bothersome and my lack of food intake was about to threaten my whole day. I was at 251 miles when I cracked. 50 to go. An easy training ride on a typical day for me. But, the heating of the day happened very quickly and although I hydrated well, I could not seem to get any real food into my stomach and cycling food was not cutting it. Then, out of nowhere, my heart broke and I forgot about food and water entirely.

A few months ago Jill surprised me with a 2011 Booty Charm necklace; a limited edition that was designed by Donald Haack Jewelers for this event and sold for donations. With my jersey unzipped trying to stay cool, I could see the charm dancing around my neck each time I climbed a hill. Until it wasn’t there. I looked down and only saw 2 parts of a broken chain; the charm gone. Under normal circumstances, this would only mean we’d go purchase another one, but after no sleep and 250 miles, it became a huge emotional loss and all of the air left my lungs briefly. I rode straight to Bootyville where Donald Haack had a booth set up. I began explaining to them in a very disjointed manner what had occurred. I couldn’t quite get it out properly. I was trying to explain its importance to me but I was aware I was sounding like a fool. The more I tried to not sound ridiculous, the more confused they looked. I finally just said, “I don’t supposed you’d consider replacing it for me?”

“Oh, honey. Of course we would.” New chain. New charm. New resolve.

At this point, Jill had finished her volunteer work and was sitting at camp. I was having to take more breaks now because of heat and fatigue. When Christina left me, my average speed had gone up to 17.8. Within a couple hours it plummeted to 16.3. Each time I stopped, Jill had iced wash cloths and towels for my head, neck, arms, legs and chest. I’d eat as many bites of pasta salad as I could without throwing up and drink extra water then head back out. Oh, but the miles came so slowly, I might as well have been riding backwards. And the heat index was up to 104.

With about 30 to go, I was able to eat half a black bean burger. I was looking at about 2 more hours to reach my goal. I headed back out on the bike.

I rode about 3 laps. And to be honest, this is where it all gets a little fuzzy. As long as I was on the bike and had a wheel to focus on in front of me, I was ok. But, every time I stopped for water, I got very dizzy and the heat and humidity engulfed me. I went through that process a number of times before I found myself self sitting under a tree blacking out with a horrible headache. Head between my knees, I said out loud, “Enough.” The point of this ride is to keep people out of the hospital and I had already heard two instances of emergency vehicles that afternoon. I poured ice cold water over my head and went to my car 5 miles short of my goal.

Jill had already broken down my camp, loaded it in her car and headed to Moe’s to pick up burritos and queso.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally made it home. I left the bike on the car, barreled through the door and laid on the floor in the middle of the living room with my dog, who was (as usual) extremely happy to see me. Jill arrived shortly after with food and by the magic of being home and in the AC, my appetite returned.

Then I slept for 12 hours.

It’s Sunday afternoon now and already it’s all a blur. The important thing is that we raised 1.25 million dollars for cancer charities. The important thing is remembering why we do this. The important thing is that as I sit here sharing a glass of champagne with my wife, dog asleep at my feet making little doggy dreaming sounds, just as the sticker on my laptop says...Life is Good.


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