When we left off, I was tearing up on top of Rock Creek, but there wasn’t much time for that, as I needed to recover as intensely as I just beat up my body. At the top, the great volunteers had recovery drink mixes, soup and other goodness to replenish, salts, calories and other necessary elements. Having snacked for a bit, it was now time to make my way down the hill. And that’s where Brooks and I had a bit of a SNAFU.
I managed to get a ride down to Tom’s place, but was solo from that point on. I didn’t see Brooks at Tom’s Place and hoped to find him at Millpond, where we started that morning. It was about 19 miles to Millpond, mostly downhill on 395. However, the speed with which one can actually go down 395 on a bike was largely exaggerated during the pre-race meeting on Friday. I was hoping to hit 50, but had to settle for 30s at the highest of speeds. I think next time I’ll pack a few bricks into the bag I send to the finish.
When I got to Millpond, I noticed the car was gone. I figured that Brooks took it to Tom’s Place, or to the summit to try to pick me up. Oops! I flagged down a couple, who was packing in their gear at the car, and asked to use their phone to call Brooks. I left him a message that I was going to head to the hotel. It was another six miles to the hotel, but other than the first flat mile, the other five were all downhill, so I pretty much just rolled.
This little adventure actually wasn’t that bad, as it let me spin my legs easy and my cramping was almost gone by the time I got to the hotel. Now it was time for an ice bath and compression tights. I have to admit, this was my first time ever trying the ice bath therapy routine, and I’ve decided that it will be reserved only for such extremes as Everest Challenge because it is probably more unpleasant than most of the cramps I had to deal with that day. Compression tights and the roller are always part of my recovery equation, and this was no exception. Race hard, recover harder!
My legs actually felt okay on Sunday morning, and I was happy that there was no excess built up lactic acid – at least none I felt. The morning was much cooler than the day prior, but as always for this race, I dressed to a bare minimum – bibs and jersey – no warmers or jackets of any kind. After a few neutral miles, we crossed 395 and began the ascent up the first climb.
The first climb of day two is about an eight-mile climb up to Glacier Lodge. Most of the climb averages about 8 percent and it flattens out considerably in the last mile and a half or so. It wasn’t a bad climb because it was still cool, but it was taxing because of the steep steady grades and 15,000 feet in my legs from the day before.
The field stayed together in the beginning, but once the steeper sections began, it split up and I was once again on my own. I was passing some and being passed by others, making my way toward the top of the climb. I knew that this day was going to be different. There weren’t going to be any clouds, or cool winds, and I had to brace for heat that was surely going to hit the desert at some point during the race. But for now, it was all about making it up this first climb.
As I approached the top, I saw Brooks begin to descend. The front group, with which he went up the climb, had already descended and I knew exactly what was going on. Brooks decided to wait for me at the top, but got too cold and began coming back down. This was reaffirmed when he said he was going to wait for me by the car as we passed each other. The idea was for him to stay with me that day, but what worked out best for both of us was for him to drop me on climbs and eat at rest stops while I caught up. I had a buddy to ride with part of the ways, and he wasn’t bonking and getting dehydrated. I’ve gotten used to being able to consume most of my calories while on the bike, but I know that doesn’t come easy for others. It certainly didn’t for me at first.
I made it down from Glacier Lodge and found Brooks waiting by the car. I kept going toward the second climb of the day, he quickly caught on and we continued together. At this point we were about a third of the way through the race distance-wise, but of the 40 or so miles left in the race, 30 would be uphill.
We began the second climb, which rises just over 2000 feet in 6.6 miles. It is the complete opposite of the Glacier Lodge climb – the pitches are all very mellow, averaging around 6.3 percent, but it is completely exposed and hot. There is absolutely nowhere to hide from the sun. In fact, if you ever wanted to see the California desert up close and personal, this is the road to take.
Luckily, when we began climbing, it was not too hot, and Brooks was doing a nice job of pacing me up the climb through about half way, then he took off. At the end of the climb, there was an aid station, and Brooks was waiting for me there. As with the rest station at Glacier Lodge, there were no handups, so I had to stop and have my bottle filled. I also grabbed a banana to munch on the way down.
Two climbs out of the way, one to go. That’s what I kept telling myself as I flew back down through Waucoba Canyon toward the last climb up White Mountain. This was the last climb of the day, but it was also the longest and in my opinion the hardest of the whole race. From the bottom of Waucoba Canyon, it was 22 miles to the finish on White Mountain.
The climb is best described in three parts. The first part of the climb is seven miles long. It rises from the desert to 6000 feet, where the first aid station would be waiting for me. The first two miles are rather mild, with low grades and some rollers so the legs can get momentary reprieve and coast. Then, however, it pitches up to 8-10 percent and stays that way to the end of the section.
Once I hit the higher pitches, I knew I was about to pay for all of my pervious efforts and then some. The sun was high and so were the temperatures. My Garmin registered the highest temperature of around 97, and my body was feeling it. It was a struggle to hold a pace of higher than 5mph. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the first aid station. The only thing that kept me in the saddle was the fear that if I stopped midway, it would me one of many stops and this climb would drag out forever.
At 6000 feet, Brooks was waiting for me (having dropped me about 2 miles into this stretch of road). I had to stop and get some ice in my bottles and swallow some coke with endurolyte pills. Then we were off again.
Now it was time to climb another 2000 feet in seven miles toward the second aid station on the climb. This middle portion is not too bad. It has milder pitches, a few flats and a couple small rollers. Additionally, once I got above 7000 feet, the temperatures began to drop and heat was not as much of a factor. One thing that never really left my mind, however, was the finish of this climb – three miles at 10 percent or more. I reached the second and last aid station, and Brooks was once again there waiting for me. After some more coke and a few pieces of banana, it was time to finish this climb.
After the last aid station, the climb continued mildly for several miles, with false flats, a downhill and some mild pitches before turning on a switchback and pointing up. I knew as soon as I turned the switchback that this was it; these were the last three miles.
Twenty-seven and a half thousand feet were already in my legs over two days of racing. The sun at the bottom of White Mountain sapped much of my energy reserve. I was physically very exhausted and mentally I wanted to be done. It was a struggle between my mind that wanted it to be over and my legs that could push no harder. My hear rate absolutely refused to go above 140. There was one thing I was thankful for, at 8000 feet, it was 77 degrees and breezy.
One leg turning over the other, I pushed as much as I could, but often slowed down to barely a crawl. I knew that this was going to be a very long slog like this, so I started playing a game – a couple minutes of steady pedaling, then 20 pedal strokes out of the saddle, then repeat. This kept me entertained for a bit, but the fatigue kept catching up to me. I felt like my body needed more calories and that I was headed for a bonk. I knew I had about a mile and a half to go, but I would not make it if I didn’t do something immediately.
I got off the bike, legs to the sides, head on my forearms, on the handlebars. Not a minute passed by that a car parked behind me and a guy walked up to me. All I saw were his shoes, as I had absolutely no intention of lifting my head to see who it was. He offered me endurolytes – I declined saying that I don’t have cramping issues, which was the truth. Then, he decided to be helpful and show me how much further I had to go, but I already knew that too, so I told him I’m fine, again. With a pat on the back, I was left alone. I reached back for my last Mojo Bar and when I looked at it and started salivating, I knew that the dreaded bonk was just around the corner. I quickly ate the bar, drank it down with water and pressed on.
I was remembering how much I suffered on this climb a year ago, having to stop many times to prevent overheating and muster up the energy to continue. This year was better, but still miserable (and I use that word in the most endearing sense possible). I finally crossed the 1000M mark and I knew it was just a mater of a few minutes before I can get off my bike. I started to pick up pace, or at least as much as I could, and push as high of a gear as my legs would allow to get this over with as quickly as possible. Then the 200M mark was in sight, and just then I saw someone in my field coming even with me on the climb. I really didn’t want to be passed in the last 200M of the race, so I got out of the saddle and “sprinted” for about 50 yards to the turn, knowing that it was a slight downhill from there to the finish line. I yelled out my number as I crossed the line. I did it!!!
I was done. That was it. I was now a two-time finisher of Everest Challenge. My official time for Day 2 was 6:36, a much better time than last year’s 7:29. The total time over two days was 13h58m41s. My goal when I started day two was to finish under 14 hours – I didn’t think it would be that close, but I’ll take it.
When I started writing about the first stage of this race, my legs still hurt too much to think about doing this again, but now that the final keystrokes are being put toward this chapter, I know that I’ll be back at EC next year, hunting for an even better time, with hopefully a better pair of legs.