Report from Leadville 2017


In my seven years of Leadville experience, I’ve made many new friends. This year, a group of eight of us from the Chicago west suburbs entered the LT100 as a team. This doesn’t mean anything other than a name on the entry form and that if one is accepted, all are accepted, and that it enabled us to feel a common bond as we trained for the race, sometimes together, mostly still on our own, through the spring and summer. On race day, it’s still every person riding his/her own race. The team was Carlos Sintes, Carlos’s son, Nick, Mark Ackerman, Ben Fischer, Paul Meier, Jeff Bolam, Craig McKenzie and me. Nick got mono during the summer, never got his training down and didn’t participate. Jeff had serious back issues in the spring, was recovered, but not enough to race. So there were six of us who lined up on race day.

My wife, Lois, has never been fully on board with my racing Leadville. Let me put it in her words: “If you go down and break your neck, I’m just putting you straight in a convalescent center and getting on with my life.” So, no pressure of any kind as I crossed the starting line this year for my fourth LT100. But I did make a determination that this would be my last one… if I buckled. Having buckled in my first two attempts (2011, 2013), I DNF’d in 2015 (see “Report from Leadville 2015” for that story). I felt if I could earn one more buckle, I would have proved everything there was to prove from this race: one buckle could be a fluke, two buckles probably not a fluke. But three buckles? There’s no questioning someone who’s earned three Leadville buckles. Anything after three is gravy. So the question today was: can I get that third buckle? Answer: Can you say “storybook finish”?

Race Day, August 12, 2017

Writing at 5:04 a.m. Sat. August 12, 2017 – Race Day – In bed by 8:30 last night, read for about 15 minutes, then… gone. Woke at 2:30 to pee, then laid in bed trying my best to “rest”, kind of on the edge of sleep until the alarm went off at 4:00. Then up, the traditional double shot of oatmeal with loads of raisins and a big glass of chocolate milk. Took a calcium pill, and 3 Aleve (for the ankles). Good hot shower, dressed and ready to go. JJ had bacon and eggs, and was sitting at the table, calmly reading Blake poetry.

Feeling good. Good little spin behind the lakes yesterday to scatter Rufus’s ashes. Legs feel ready. Just keep the cramps away.

5:10 a. m. – We’re out the door. JJ hopes to be near 7 hours. I hope for a buckle. Let’s see what the day brings, eh?

Race Report

A few days before the race I took this picture of a wall mural near downtown Leadville. I thought, “Perfect for Saturday.”


Okay, I will!

Written 4:02 p.m. Sunday, August 13, 2017 (edited Feb. 1, 2018) – JJ, Cheryl (JJ’s girlfriend) and I rode into Leadville, parked behind the Opera House and got our duds on.


Selfie with JJ behind the Opera House, 6:10 a.m.

I went down to the Race Store to use the bathroom and stretch. Just like 2013, there wasn’t another soul in there. Great spot to prep: warm, and “far from the madding crowd”. I hate stretching, but I took a good twenty minutes on the hams and the sartorials.

Opera House Parking Lot

Suiting up with JJ

This was JJ’s first LT100. He didn’t know how he’d do, but he had already established some “beast” credentials: 3rd in Race Across the West in 2016 and later that year 3rd in the World Endurance Time Trials out in the Mojave Desert. He was hoping for something between a 7-8 hour finish. Me? My hope was anything under 12 hours: I wanted that third buckle. Note how differently we dressed for the day: he for speed, me layered up for the long haul: he would be getting warm a lot faster than me (See how that yellow jacket makes me look like I weigh a lot more than him? You see that, right?) JJ would carry one bottle. I’ve got one bottle on my downtube AND a 72 oz. camelbak. But he’ll be at Twin Lakes while I’m still descending Powerline.

We headed over to our corrals around 6:15. I knew I was in the last corral, so it made no difference to me, and JJ didn’t seem to care about getting into his corral early. As it was, we were both in the very back of our respective corrals.

I’ve made a lot of friends over my years with the Leadville 100 – today I made a point of not finding any of them before the race. No distractions. I felt sharp/focused in the corral, unlike both 2013 and 2015 (when I felt relaxed, but “fuzzy”). Not nervous at all. The day would bring what it would bring.



Drone view of the start

To give some idea of our respective starting positions, in this picture JJ, at the back of the red corral, was right on Harrison St, which would be the line of buildings you see toward the back end of the pack you see. Of course, that’s not the real back of the race, because 6th Ave. jogs there at Harrison, and the rest of the corrals extend up the hill past the gym, which is the large roof you see just below and to the right of the steeple. So where was I?

Start in two minutes

Five minutes before the start, the sun comes up over Mt. Massive


Selfie – two minutes before the gun.

Miles 1-10 – The gun went off and it was 3 ½ minutes before I crossed the start line. Ha! Turns out there were 1440* racers present (does that mean there’s 560 no-shows?? Seems crazy to pay all that money and not race.) (* Editor note:  according to official race stats, 1261. Seems crazy low – maybe that’s how many actually finished??)

Starting at the back

And we’re off!

This picture is proof of just HOW far back I started the race. It’s the official photo of the very last corral just after going across the starting line. I’m the guy in the yellow jacket on the right, so as this picture shows, there’s exactly ONE racer who crossed the starting line behind me. But I didn’t care. It’s a chip time race, and I was mellow. (One other thing: you can’t roll down 6th Avenue at 6:30 in the morning with 1500 fellow cyclists and friends on a crisp 40 degree morning at the start of an epic adventure with that view of the sun hitting Mt. Massive, and feel bad about anything.)

The usual spin down 6th Avenue and I could tell on that first little 6th Ave. rise that my legs were in a whole different place than they were for the past month. JJ’s advice to rest them all week was good.

After turning onto the dirt, the road was so jammed it was impossible to make speed. Every little hill heard the tumbling calls of “Slowing!!”. I dreaded thinking of what was happening to my time. Maybe my back-of-white-corral start would kill my chances for a buckle.


Somewhere early in the race – still cold

I stopped at the turn for the climb and took off my yellow rain shell, pulling the arm warmers down. That was a good move – the sun was shining and you don’t want to overheat on the Kevin’s climb.

That left turn onto the St. Kevin’s climb saw no diminishing of the crowd. Wall-to-wall riders all creeping along, but… miraculously I was able to ride to the hairpin without having to dismount once. It was a snail’s pace, which as a result made for the easiest ascent to the hairpin of all time.

Now another test of the legs on the rollers behind the hairpin. And they were rock solid. Those little climbs that I remember from 2011 as being so easy… were easy again today, unlike every training ride over the past three weeks. I rocked every one of them, and pulled into Carter Summit with what my Garmin said was a time of 1:07. Wow! That shocked me, considering the slow start. Only two minutes off my split. This was going to be a fun day.

Mile 10-25 – I rocketed down the Carter Summit descent to May Queen in full crouch at speeds topping 40 mph, faster than I thought possible on this bike (I bought a Giant XTC Advanced in 2016 – less range in the gears than my old Trek 8000), and the climb up the south side of the lake to Hagerman Pass Rd. was “easy”, as was the 2-mile stretch of Hagerman Rd. that I have come to despise so much. Effortless.

I stopped for my “traditional” pee at the Sugarloaf turn and then jumped on the bike for my favorite climb. It didn’t let me down, and on this day, unlike every training ride this year except one, it was also the “easy” and enjoyable climb I remember from days of yore. I was having a blast.

As I topped the summit I did a shout-out to Scott Ellis, who died up there in 2015, and to Tom Bryant, whose ashes are scattered and memorialized by a sunken ore shovel.

Tom Bryan's grave

Tom Bryant, LT100 veteran and friend to all – his ashes are scattered just off the trail on the Sugarloaf summit (picture taken a week before the race)

And now the Powerline descent, which is what did me in in 2015. With my usual “Focus Focus Focus” mantra I began the descent. Traffic had thinned considerably by now, but there were still many riders in front and behind. I made sure not to do a crazy descent (but I did have the pleasure of catching air at three different places :-)) and as usual by the steep last decline the line was slowed to a snail’s pace as the first-timers scraped their way down the final ridge line, the sound of squealing brakes and back tires skidding on the pulverized granite.

25% grade -stay sharp and keep your line

I saw several riders go into the ditches but I was able to maneuver around them, making that final big curve at the very bottom before letting it fly down the straight-away to the old creek crossing road. I slayed the 2015 dragon. I was having a ball.

Had to stop to pee. Again!! I guess I was hydrating okay, but come ON!


Powerline behind me – on to the Pipeline!

The turn onto the pavement that leads to those little climbs over to the fish hatchery is also one of my depressing moments on the course. In training, they just seem to take so much energy for such little tiny bumps. There are so many “small” climbs on the course that impose obstacles for racers like me that aren’t even mentioned in race lore. Not today. I flew over to the fish hatchery, on the way gathering up (more like ordering up) a pace line of four guys for when we left the trees and hit the open space. And off we went. The pace line was amazing. We were in sync with each other, each pulling for 30 seconds or so and by the time we reached the turn off of 300 the line had grown to about a dozen riders. We made the turn and just hauled over to the dirt cut-off. I looked down once and we were running at 25 mph. No way I’d have been at that speed riding alone. I had one of those great little “This is SO much fun!!” moments. Once again, those “hills” on the blacktop you hit just before turning onto the connector were NOTHING today. I felt on fire. What a gift.


I THINK this is on the blacktop near the fish hatchery

The little double-track connector over to the Pipeline flew by (I was doing this at 5-7 mph in training – today my speedometer said 10-14 – go figure), and I hit the Pipeline at 2:40:54, right on my target time. I stopped briefly to tell Donna and Marie, wives of my Chicago friends, to call ahead to Twin Lakes and tell them I was on my splits, then took off.

Mile 25-40 – The Pipeline was so much fun. I can’t really describe that feeling of cycling with no pain or discomfort up hills, but I was being given this gift today. It was especially sweet considering how bad all my training rides had felt). There’s one particularly steep little climb on the Pipeline and several moderately long climbs. Today they were fun.

I’ll add here that in addition to having my legs, I also had that athlete’s “in-syncness” that meant I was hitting my lines perfectly, avoiding every unnecessary rock – perfect combination of seeing what was immediately in front of me while also seeing my next line ahead, whether it was picking my way up Sugarloaf at 5 mph or flying along the Pipeline at 20.

Due to traffic, I ran the single track section slower than I probably would have if I’d had it to myself. Near the top the guy behind me says, “Hey man, can I pass you?” I said, “Why? There’s another 25 people in front of me you’d have to pass.” He actually attempted to pass me once, which is just stupid, let alone endangering to others (like me), but he pulled back and got in line like a good boy when I gave my bike a little bump in his direction. If he had passed me he would have tried to pass more, and that was going to lead to a crash involving how many bikes? Dumb. Especially since the single track is what, five minutes?


Single track outbound, Mile 34


Single track outbound circa Mile 35

Rte. 10 over the hills to Twin Lakes was the same pleasant “gift of the legs”. They had all the strength they needed to push me over the top, and soon enough I was flying down the hill in full crouch with the beautiful view of the lakes to the right and the medieval tent pageantry of the Twin Lakes Aid Station stretching to the left and across the dam, flags fluttering and the sound of cowbells in the distance growing louder by the second.

Down past the state troopers holding traffic on Hwy. 82, down that little ditch and into the cacophony of the Twin Lakes circus. Nonstop cowbells now, right in your ears. I flew past the First Descents tent with a shoutout to them, then across the dam (new this year – tents leading from the yellow gates by the road all the way to the dam gates) and skidded into our team tent, where Cheryl was ready with my Garmin refills. My time was 3:36:51, three minutes ahead on my splits). In any event, I was having another of those “time of my life” races. I pulled off my arm warmers and left them and my phone with her, telling her to call Lois and tell her I was doing great. I had to pee again! – went over to the porta-johns right behind the tent to take care of that. Cheryl had me all ready to go when I got back, so I pulled on my gloves and took off.

At Twin Lakes outbound

At Twin Lakes, pulling the gloves back on (photo credit: Cheryl Walker)

Mile 40-50 – The Four Stooges were no problem today and I flew into the back valley, heading across to the base of the Columbine climb. Approaching the tents in “New Twin Lakes” I heard a voice call out from a tent, “Go get it, Bob.” I realized just after passing, it was Brian Feddema, the owner of Cycles of Life. But I was gone before I could respond.

Columbine. This is where things start getting fuzzy for me regarding split times. Not so much because my brain was getting fuzzy, but that I couldn’t remember what the splits were supposed to be. I could remember my target time of 2 ½ hours to the top, but couldn’t do the addition in my head based on the day’s stats.

Near the base of the first steep climb into the trees on lower Columbine, JJ flew past, heading back to Twin Lakes. Holy crap!! I hadn’t been counting exactly, but pretty sure he was in the top 25. I gave him a huge shout. Holy crap. Top 25?? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’ll throw in several pictures of JJ here. He finished in 7 hours, 32 minutes, in 27th place overall, 3rd in his age group.


JJ on St. Kevin’s


JJ near Columbine summit


JJ on the single track

Ok, back to the reality of a 67-year-old Leadville racer.

Columbine felt somewhat better than my training rides, but not nearly as good as the “old days” when I had legs. I recall average speeds on lower Columbine in the 5-6 mph range. My training rides had been in the 2-3 mph range (discouraging), and today I was in the 3-4 mph range. Meh.

Somewhere on “upper” lower Columbine I stopped to put on my jacket, as it was getting pretty nippy. No rain in sight, just cold, which I don’t like being.

Also another harbinger of what was to come. When I’m feeling “good” on lower Columbine, that “Army base encampment” with the Don’t Tread on Me flag and the no trespassing signs at the last hairpin comes sooner than I expect. Not today. Discouraging.

I rode the first steep section after the A-frame as far as I could before dismounting due to traffic, but unlike a couple of training rides this year where I cleaned both early climbs all the way to the Goat Trail chip mat, today I had my first inkling that maybe my legs might be giving out: I could not have made these two climbs today even if there had been no traffic. Hmm.

So up I hiked. I had taken 3 Aleve and I think that really helped lessen the pain of walking. I got back on the bike for the short stretch over to the Goat Trail, and then…  cramps. Adductor, inside left thigh. I was able to ride through it by doing an exaggerated full extension on every pedal stroke, plus I knew I wasn’t going to be riding far. This was a concern, however, and the cramps would crop up throughout the rest of the day, on and off, all the way to the top of Powerline (Mile 83). They were a worry every single time (they can end a race), and every single time I was able to back off a bit and pedal right through them. I also made a point of taking two or three full mouthfuls of liquid through the camelbak as soon as I felt one coming one, and whether placebo or not, the immediacy of the relief was surprising. Maybe because the liquid went (more or less) straight to the muscle.

I dismounted again before I usually do, then began the long dreary march up the hill. It’s simply one foot in front of the other, picking which rock you’re going to use as push-off leverage, and making sure your front wheel doesn’t get halted by a rock, which means energy expelled unnecessarily by having to stop the rhythm of your trudging and lift the front wheel over that rock. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? Well, get up there yourself and you’ll know what it’s like.  Experience tells you it’s easier hike-a-bike to be on the high side of the bike… but on Columbine you must be on the right side of your bike – if a descending rider either loses control or brushes too close at 25 mph you want them to hit your bike, not you. (Luckily, the high side is usually on the right side.)

Today, my back hurt more than my legs or feet. I think it’s either the camelbak putting stress on the muscles in the middle back, or else the pressure on those muscles leaning over and pushing the bike. In any event, if felt good to get back on the bike at that little level-ish stretch before the big curve to the right where you have to get off again and join the march. Columbine was having its effect.

I walked that “second hike-a-bike” much farther than I usually do, with the understanding that 1. I was walking just about as fast as I would be riding it (meaning closer to 2.5 mph than 1.5 mph – thank you, Aleve), and 2. that I was feeling pretty good about my split times.

When I finally got back on my bike, I was relieved to see that the cramps were gone, and I cleaned those final small hills up to the summit like they were nothing (again, a wonderful gift compared to every single one of my Columbine training rides. I can’t begin to describe the mental/emotional difference between being in pain ALL the time in this race as opposed to at just the most difficult times).


Back on the bike for the final leg of the Columbine climb – Mile 49

I topped Columbine at 12:45 (clock time, not chip time!), and a return trip of 45 minutes would mean I was right on my splits after 60 miles. This meant my Twin Lakes-Columbine split was 2 hours 40 minutes, slowest ever. (In 2011 it was 2 hours 26 minutes. In 2013 I was 2 hours 36, and 2015 was 2 hours 28 minutes – with a broken wrist and a knee bleeding like a stuck pig. So go figure.)

Top of Columbine, 12,500 ft. That aid station is the 50-mile turnaround. Head on home!

Mile 50-60 – I made the wide turn at the Columbine aid station and never stopped, turning right back around for that slow slog back up to the summit before beginning the wonderful descent. Again, that trudge was pretty decent, but I was beginning to understand that today short climbs (even steep), flats, and descents were not a problem, while steeper, long climbs were going to be problematic.

Down, down, and down to the base at speeds around 30 mph, taking the hairpins beautifully (if I do say so), and then flying out onto the flats. When I turned left to go through the ranch, I stopped at the Cycles of Life tent. Brian immediately asked “what’s wrong with the bike?” I said it was operating perfectly – I was just stopping to take off my jacket. He spun the rear tire a little, checked things over, got his chain lube and did a good squirt and spin, saying, “You always go faster when the chain is lubed.” Brian understands the psychology of endurance racing.

The dreaded Four Stooges loomed across the valley. One of my least-favorite parts of the entire race. The hills are so small but they come at you one after another after another on the return, and how can they be THAT steep? As I’ve noted in other posts, I think it’s because for the last 40 minutes of descending Columbine, the legs have been mostly unused, and now when asked to actually work, they feel drained. But… another gift today. I cleaned them pretty effortlessly and that put me on that short fast descent back to Twin Lakes. Be careful of that spot where you endo-ed on the 2011 training ride. Be careful of that spot where you went down in 2015.

And back to the Twin Lakes feed zone. Cheryl was gone to the finish line for JJ, but I got a refill from Chris Zebrowski. And there was Randy!! What a wonderful surprise. You can’t describe how good it is to see loved ones along the course. We had a little trouble getting the camelbak cap off and back on, but it was a short aid stop and then I was off across the dam. Don’t know chip time here. Was I behind? Ahead? Didn’t know. Just knew I was going as fast as I could, so what more can you do.

Mile 60-75 – What I did know crossing the dam was that I felt pretty confident about a buckle, and also that there was nothing I could but ride as fast as I could in any event. So I spent no time, like in 2013, fretting about the hurdles ahead because they were going to be what they were going to be. Enjoy the day. Which I did… for awhile.

The pavement climb up to the Twin Lakes overlook was a little slower than I would have liked, but again, it was all I had to give it. And then my old nemesis: the dreaded headwind. I remember thinking uh-oh for about ten seconds, and then I never thought about it again until twenty miles later on the pavement to the fish hatchery. As I crested the hill I saw Doc Wenmark off his bike by the side of the road. From the looks of it, a mechanical issue. I exchanged a quick greeting as I went past, but no time to stop and chat. I flew pretty fast back down 10 to the pavement and over to the singletrack. This was the first place where my mind was asking, “Do I have the singletrack in me?” Turns out I did, as once again I got into line and the pace was just perfect, maybe even pushing me a little to keep on the back wheel of the guy in front (you don’t want to be “that guy” who holds up a huge line behind you).


On the single track – Mile 63


Sucking down the fuel – on the edge of cramps


You get on a wheel and don’t look up

Went across the roots and through the pines and out onto the ridge before diving down to Lil Stinker. First disappointment of the day. I can usually slingshot at least a third to half-way up Lil Stinker, but today there was a logjam of dismounting cyclists at the very bottom, meaning I was going to have to hike-a-bike the whole hill. Ugh.

But on a positive note, when I got to the top of the hill I was able to immediately get back on my bike and pedal away, unlike previous years where I’m leaned over my bike seat, gasping for breath for about 30 seconds. (Note here: I moved my Garmin Heart Rate screen away from my first screen, and I’m glad I did. I checked it once during the race when I thought I was running in the low 140s. It read 155. Oh well.)

Back on the Pipeline and the riding was fun. As in outbound, there wasn’t a single one of those climbs in there that gave me any problem at all. That Pipeline ride was another gift. So much fun. I stopped again at the Chicago “team” Pipeline tent just to exchange a few words, and then I was off again. My chip time will reflect that extra minute I stopped at the tent. I was feeling very confident about being on a good pace. (Note: 1 hour 22 minutes from Twin Lakes to Pipeline. (1:13 in 2011, 1:21 in 2013, 1:21 in 2015)

Mile 75-90 – And then another gift. After flying down the doubletrack to the pavement, now exposed to the wind in the open on the way to the fish hatchery where you once again get into the protection of the trees, I hooked up with several pacelines until I found the one that worked best. Another piece of the race no one talks about, but it’s as psychologically difficult as any climb. The headwind on that road was blowing hard from about 10 o’clock, and I had to “train” the lead rider to get more toward the centerline of the road because we couldn’t just line up straight behind him; we all had to tuck behind each other at about 4 o’clock. I was able to paceline all the way to the trees by the hatchery. Wow!! What a difference a paceline makes. That stretch was “easy” compared to what I had been mentally bracing for… and compared to some past years, notably 2013 when it seemed it would never end.

And now another wonderful surprise – JJ and Cheryl were right by the fish hatchery, clapping and cheering and calling my name. JJ handed me off a bottle of cold ice water on the fly! As I went past I asked how he did. “26th!” Holy Crap!!! His first Leadville! I zoomed on past the crowd, pointing back and yelling “That guy just finished 26th!!”

The hills past the fish hatchery were nothing (again, so different from my training rides) and I zoomed down to the turn-in to the Powerline climb. By this point I had made “friends” with a young first-timer in my paceline. As we turned to face the first leg of the Columbine climb, he looked up and asked, “is that the whole thing?” Ummmmm. I hated to tell him the truth… but I did.

Powerline base

Only the first of five false summits on Powerline

Bryan was at that corner filming. I don’t know how far he was able to film. I think I gave him a good positive wave, but truth is I was having inner doubts. How far would the legs hold out? Would it be overall fatigue, or cramps that would do me in? Of course you can’t dwell on those kinds of thoughts, but they do enter your mind. At the same time, by this point in the race, you’re pretty far past singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” In any event, the Powerline ascent should, from past experience in training and races, take me about an hour. You can do anything for an hour, right?

Lower Powerline was… well… lower Powerline. I was off the bike significantly lower than usual, by my choice I’m afraid. Not a good sign. The trudge up the hill was the usual awful, but maybe not the worst ever. Sounds strange, but you need to choose the right line to walk. I saw people “choose poorly”, and they found themselves two feet deep in a rut trying to push their bike waaaayyy above them, having eventually to pick their bike up and carry it over to the “straight and narrow”. (Hmm, is this race a Pilgrim’s Progress analogy? If so, Powerline was my Slough of Despond.)


Close-up of the Powerline terrain

At the top of the first hike-a-bike hill I mounted up and flew down the back of the hill, slingshotting as far as possible up the first climb of upper Powerline. So depressing how fast a bike slows from 25 mph to 3 mph.

I felt pretty good on that first hill, but then, slowly and inexorably… Powerline began to sap me. I rode as much as I could, eventually walking way more than I ever have, again figuring that my walking was as fast as my riding. That should not have been the case, but today, I simply could not ride any faster than walking pace. This was either age catching up with me, or my fitness level being lower than previous years. In any event Leadville, a race of attrition, was catching up to me. In many cases I was riding behind walkers at the very same pace, but I rode whenever I could because I don’t do real well with walking: otherwise I might have walked a lot more. My average speed on that section was around 2.5 mph. Not good. There’s no chip mat at the top of Powerline and I didn’t check my watch (I think the lack of oxygen was now really beginning to affect my thinking), so I don’t know how long that “one-hour” climb took. (Note: considerably longer than one hour, I’m sure)

Another fatigue factor began to creep in. I do more standing than most riders, which takes a lot of arm strength, so by somewhere on Powerline it was my arms giving out on standing pulls before the thighs burned out. It was identical to the feeling of having no leg strength left with which to push the pedals. Only arms. This meant I was going to have to stay in the saddle longer, which meant losing more leg strength. Just one of those juggling acts from here to the finish line. Attrition! (please sing that like Tevye sings “Tradition!” in Fiddler on the Roof)

Somewhere near the top I caught up with Frank Gepfrich. It was like old times, my first Leadville friend, the two of us climbing Powerline together, as we had done on a beautiful morning training ride in 2015. But neither of us was in a jovial mood today. We pretended, but were both pretty deep in our respective pain caves. He’d ride ahead, I’d catch him, and so on. We crested the top, having been riding the last ten minutes in a light, chilly rain (amazing how Leadville weather tends to come at the worst times). Nothing that soaked us, but cold. I asked Frank, “how are we doing for a buckle do you think?” He said, “I think we’re okay.” I asked, “Should we stop and put on our jackets?” because I really wanted to – I don’t like riding cold. He said, “Nah, we’ll be down at May Queen in a little bit and then we’ll just get hot on the Turquoise Lake climb.” Darn. I really wanted my jacket. I was cold. (In retrospect, this jacket-donning minute was vitally important.)

At the peak, Frank took off on his 29er, flying down Sugarloaf. I had no thought for either Tommy or Scott now. This was hammer time with a buckle on the line. I couldn’t stay with Frank. He has become a MUCH better descender, that’s for sure. And I guess I was seeing the difference in those 29” wheels vs. my 27.5” wheels – they just roll over obstacles better. I followed as best I could, but he was out of sight by the time I turned out onto Hagerman Rd. My wristwatch was now telling me a story I didn’t like seeing. It was 5:00 and I had a good 45 minutes up to Carter Summit (IF my legs held) and more than an hour to the finish line from there. That would be 6:45 p.m., if my addled brain was doing the math right. And I needed to cross the line by 6:30 to get a buckle. I was feeling apprehensive now and really stamped the pedals down Hagerman and then down the Turquoise Rd. to May Queen. 25-35mph. Still raining, maybe 50 degrees now. It was cold! Darn you, Frank.

Strangely, I caught up with Frank on that pavement descent and we rode together around May Queen over to the beginning of the Carter Summit ascent where I pulled ahead of him. After a few minutes of climbing I heard him right on my wheel. I called, “Frank?” two times with no response. The third time, a voice said, “I’m not Frank.” A quick look over my shoulder saw no sign of him coming around the curve. Where had Frank gone? My wristwatch told me I couldn’t wait for him. Had to go. This was gonna be close.

The 3-mile Turquoise Lake climb was simply no fun. Sure not as much fun as ten hours earlier screaming down it at 40+ mph in the other direction. Now… maybe a 4 mph average on what should have been at least 6 mph. But it’s all I could do.

And then another gift: unlike 2013 when I was in a similar position and so frustrated at the thought of not buckling. Today, a peace came over me: I’m going to try as hard as I can to get a buckle, but if I don’t, I’m no less of a human being, friend, father, husband, grandfather. It was just a good feeling.

The climb seemed interminable, certainly because of everything at stake. Bless their hearts, Randy and Bryan, JJ and Cheryl were at the summit. So good! Thank you!! As in 2013, I didn’t dare stop. Unlike 2013 when I had an hour 15 to the finish line in what I’ve done in an hour and five minutes on my best short training rides, today as I made the turn I looked at my watch and it said 5:25: I had…. an hour and five minutes to the finish line. I was feeling pretty toasted and my face showed it. I passed them, saying, “I’m on the bubble.” They said later I looked pretty grim; JJ told them it wasn’t a good sign. He knows the look. Would the cramps stay away? What did my legs have left in them?  I simply didn’t know. My job now was to turn the pedals as fast as I could – every second counted.

Mile 90-104 – I pulled off the first climb back to St. Kevin’s pretty well –not anything like the outbound trip, but okay enough to give me heart. Approaching the second short steep climb I was slingshotting in my big front chainring, then jumped down to the small as I hit the steep, and… the pedals wouldn’t turn. Chainsuck. Well, that did it. I didn’t have a minute to spare and this was going to take at least a minute to dismount, get the chain back on the small ring, and remount. Uh-oh. Couldn’t remount – too steep. I walked the top as fast as I could (15 seconds??), then jumped on and flew to Ken’s Corner, where the last steep climb starts. To make the hard left turn onto the climb you have to slow to about 5 mph – no slingshotting – and the climb is steep and maybe 150 yards long. It’s so demoralizing. I pedaled about 20 feet and was done. I’ve cleaned this hill in every previous race AND training ride. But today… Attrition!! Nothing to do but walk. Again. Trudged to the top and jumped back on. I was now going to have to make up time. I flew (and I mean flew – how many times did I catch air? One time came down so hard on the seat I heard a cracking sound: seat post? frame? seat?) down to the hairpin and flew down St. Kevins like I’d never done before. Prudence says take it easy on the Kevin’s descent at Mile 96 because you don’t want to end your race so close to the finish line. But no time for caution today. Out onto the flats and amazingly, had the legs to fly to the pavement. It’s mostly 2-3% decline and you can cut it loose, but I really wondered if there was going to be ANYthing left in the tank. Turning onto the pavement a guy was yelling “31 minutes! You got it.” I knew I needed 30 from the base of the Boulevard (and I was still five minutes from there), but I also figured I had about 2 ½ minutes of chip time. (Editor note: chip time was actually 3 ½ minutes) I flew the pavement, 22-25 mph, and as I hit the dirt leading to the Boulevard the volunteer there was yelling “29 minutes!!!” I followed right behind two guys who were as desperate as I was, all three of us flying through that weird road that leads to the Boulevard. At one point you ride a center ridge about 6 inches wide with two huge mud puddles on either side. Nailed it at 20 mph. Had to.

Then that hard left turn onto the steep, rocky Boulevard. You have to slow way down just to make the turn and you’re dropping from your big chainring/smallest cassette to your small chainring/biggest cassette as you hit soft sand, then the rocks. I rode the whole thing, but the legs simply weren’t there. Attrition!! Hit the smooth road back to town, thinking to myself at one point, “I can’t believe I’ve actually done this entire thing!” And then a minor miracle. I found myself cranking the pedals at 10-14 mph up the Boulevard, faster than my normal speed. I had had no cramps, zero!, since the Powerline ascent. My legs were numb. At the second RR crossing there’s a little tiny hill at which I slowed way down because there wasn’t anything left in the tank (Attrition!!). Suddenly, like an angel from heaven, there was Brian Feddema and the Cycles of Life crew and other friends, maybe about ten people. And Brian knows the clock. He’s out on the road, yelling at me: “You gotta go, Bob, you gotta go, smash those pedals, smash those fuckers, smash those fuckers!!!!!” and he stepped out and gave me a huge push up the hill. Like I said before, Brian understands endurance cycling. What a lift!! Wish I had a video of that, but the memory will last.

The Boulevard becomes steeper as Leadville comes into sight – just another little soul crusher for those of us on the bubble. But I got to the blacktop, and now my watch was saying 6:25. I had timed this section, and on a slow day I was five minutes to the finish line. Add my chip time, and… holy crap!!! I had myself a buckle!

As I turned onto Sixth (I almost can’t believe those words as I write), I stood on the pedals until my arms gave out, then settled in for the 3 mph grind up that last hill. And then another gift: there was a family alongside the road cheering like crazy. They also knew the time situation. One after another, at least three of them, they came out and gave me huge pushes up the hill, accompanied by shouts of encouragement. Oh my gosh – what a lift. I’m sure there’s something in the handbook about illegal assists, but it sure got me up the worst psychological part of that hill. I cleaned the rest, saw that wonderful finish line six blocks away, broke into a huge grin because I knew now for sure I had the buckle, because I knew that even though I might not make 12 hours on the clock, I knew my chip time was all good. And then began that last wonderful descent to the finish line. I was hammering now, because why not? You can do anything for six blocks.  I knew it was close on the clock. But who cares? I had my buckle. And then… there was the banner stretched across the street, a huge crowd in the bleachers and crowding the street for an entire block before the finish line. Ah yes, the “12-hour crowd”. I’ve been in it a number of times, cheering for that “Last Ass Over the Pass” to get over that line before Ken fired off the shotgun and the clock chimed midnight.

The gauntlet approaching the finish line – from 2016

As I began the final grind uphill toward the finish line, there was a gauntlet of people cheering wildly. JJ and Cheryl were at the front of the pack, going crazy. This picture doesn’t show the frenzy of the 12-hour crowd, but it’s all I could find.  My experience was like the Tour de France when they’re approaching the summit of the Col du Tourmalet – the crowd like a wall in front of you, blocking the way, then magically melting to each side like the Red Sea, reaching out to clap you on the back, give you a shove, screaming, yelling, cheering. I was grinning like a fool.

Ken Chlouber, locking and loading

Race founder Ken Chlouber appears at the finish line as the 12-hour mark approaches and fires a shotgun (he also starts the race the same way) at exactly 12:00:00. But I wasn’t paying attention to that.

The PA system came into hearing, and it became clear as I pedaled through the crowd that the clock was winding down to 12 hours and me and one other guy were vying for the coveted “last ass over the pass”. I heard the countdown, “10-9-8-7”. I smashed those fuckers. The crowd was cheering wildly, and I mean wildly – you just want that rider to get across that line before it hits 12:00.

6 – 5 – 4 …

People pumping their fists, screaming at us. iPhones recording. Somebody gave me a push. “5-4-3”. I hit the red carpet. “2-1” and saw 11:59:59. I flashed across the finish line (well, maybe “flashed” is the wrong word) just as Ken Chlouber fired the “12-hour” shotgun. The guy next to me nosed me out, but that just meant I was literally the last guy in under 12 hours. Huge cheer from the crowd. (Editor note: a lady posted her iPhone video of this scene on FB, saying she was in tears watching it happen. It’s not the first time I’ve brought a woman to tears.) I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

3 – 2- ….


1 – BANG!!

I was pedaling so hard I almost crashed into a photographer sitting on the ground about five feet behind the finish line. (Editor note: videotape evidence seems to indicate he was at least 15 ft. behind the line, lol.) He better have got the greatest shot of my athletic career, me crossing the line with a huge grin on my face, hundreds of cheering people going crazy behind me, or I’m gonna be mad at him. (Note: he did.)

Got that buckle, baby

I had my buckle.


I walked the bike about five yards behind the red carpet and collapsed over the handlebars, breathing heavily and laughing. And then a parting gift. That woman in the red fuzzy sweater who cuts you off at the Pipeline with a huge hug and a the smootchy kiss while she’s taking off your number plate chip strip – Suzy, or something like that – she’s in the movie – came over and put the finisher medal around my neck and asked if I was alright. I told her I was more than alright. Before the race, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “There is no way that lady (I actually had another word in my mind) is going to remove my chip strip at Pipeline. I don’t mind dnf-ing as much as I just can’t stand her huggie/kissie thing.” And there she was, NOT taking my dnf, but putting the finisher medal around my neck. Ha!

After I recovered enough to look around, I saw Stephen Rodgers standing to my right. We chatted a bit. I had seen him coming through Twin Lakes on the return; he got pulled there.

At the finish line with Stephen Rodgers

That thing hanging around my neck is a finisher’s medal: you get one if you finish the race in under 13 hours. You get the buckle if you finish under 12. I now owned three finisher medals and three buckles.

Stephen had been talking to Doc Wenmark’s crew who were worried that the 18-time buckler wasn’t in yet. I told them I had passed Doc way back at Twin Lakes. He was stopped by the side of the road, straddling his bike, and that he hadn’t passed me again. As we talked, Doc pulled in. He missed a buckle by maybe ten minutes. He had flatted twice and had some kind of valve stem issue. I felt sorry for his mechanic (yes, Doc has a mechanic), sort of.

Frank pulled in right behind Doc. I saw him cross the finish line, but by now I was engaged in my own victory, talking with Bryan on film and spotting JJ, Cheryl and Randy behind the fencing. I couldn’t stop grinning. I remember hoisting my bike over my head and shaking it up and down. I called Lois, who of course had told me, per pre-race tradition, to either come home either with my buckle, or on my buckle.

After about a half hour at the finish line, Bryan took me to his truck where he had a quart of chocolate milk waiting. Cheryl and JJ took the bike and camelbak to their car, and then all of us went to the Grill where they ate well. I was simply not hungry, but forced down a beef taco a la carte and about four glasses of water.

Home and in bed by 10:30 or so, wondering how bad my cramps would be that night and how many times I’d be hopping out of bed, teeth clenched, foaming at the mouth, trying not to cry. JJ suggested taking ibuprofen. I took three, and had zero cramps during the night. J (Note: or the next, or the next!)

Sunday morning

We got up at 6:00 a.m. (oh man!) and headed into Leadville to get our buckles and jackets. JJ was a podium finisher in his age group, so he got to get up in front of the whole gym and stand on that podium. I know JJ: he’s not satisfied with that small plate. (Little story about his 27th place finish: the guy who finished ahead of him in his age group cheated, and JJ witnessed it. The two of them got to the top of Lil Stinker and there was a guy waiting in a van who pulled out a bike. He proceeded to lead, with this other guy drafting. They dropped JJ. At the ceremony, this guy didn’t show up to get his 2nd place plate. Scumbag.)

JJ with his 3rd place in age group platter

Hooked up for pictures with Ben Fischer and Carlos Sintes, the only other racers of the “Chicago Eight” to buckle.

Bob, Ben and Carlos

Carlos: 11:53 (despite getting whacked with a rock that broke six spokes and flatted his rear tire at Mile 92. He descended St. Kevins at breakneck speed to beat the clock on a wheel that could have collapsed on him at any time. You do what you have to do.) Carlos was an Olympics-caliber racer when he was younger. His major claim to fame, though – he played one of the bad guys on the Italian National racing team in the 1979 cult classic film, Breaking Away.

Ben: 10:45 (a little slower than he would have liked, but not bad for his first LT100)

Bob: 11:56:37

Mark: missed the Twin Lakes outbound cut-off by one minute

Paul: got pulled, I believe, at Pipeline inbound

Craig: dropped out at Mile 66 at base of the single track

Jeff: did not race due to long recovery from his back injury

Nick: did not race due to long recovery from mono

Garmin Stats

11 hours, 56 minutes, 37 seconds on the bike


8.6 mph av. speed, 42.4 mph max speed

142 bpm av. HR (this is good!), 169 bpm max HR (didn’t know I could go that high anymore!)

11,800 feet of climbing (this beats Warrenville’s Mt. Trashmore hill repeats)

5313 calories burned

Third buckle earned


Age group 60-69 – 41st/52 finishers ( 12th percentile) 41st/69 starters (17 dnfs) (41st  percentile – makes me feel a LITTLE better)

Overall – 1158th/1261 (8th percentile)

(both indicators of two things: my increasing age, but even moreso the attraction to the race of better and better riders each year)

Gun time – 12:00:03 (although pictures clearly show my number plate across the line at 11:59:59)

Chip time – 11:56:38 (and never more proud of any of my Leadville finishes)


Split Times


Start to Carter Summit (11 miles) – 1:07:20 – target time 1:05-1:10 – pretty much right on track

Start to Pipeline outbound (26 miles) – 2:40:54 – target time 2:40 – doing great

Start to Twin Lakes outbound (40 miles) – 3:36:51 – target time 3:35-3:45 – exactly on my 2011 split, actually at the front edge of my window

Start to Columbine Summit (50 miles) – 6:15:50 – target time 6:00-6:15 – Oops, now on the back edge of that window – lost 15 minutes

Start to Twin Lakes inbound (60 miles) – 6:59:55 – target time 6:45-7:00 – still on that back edge – the very back edge

Start to Pipeline inbound (74 miles) – 8:22:15 – target time 8:00-8:15 – losing time when I was feeling “fast”. I can’t account for losing seven minutes in this stretch.

Powerline ascent – approx. 1:20 – should be an hour or so. Lost even more time.

Start to Carter Summit inbound (89 miles) – 10:53:03 – target time 10:30-10:45 – Uh-oh. On the other hand, 10:30 to Carter makes for an 11:35 finish. 10:45 to Carter makes for an 11:50 finish. 10:53 to Carter makes for an…. Uh oh. Better get my ass in gear.

Carter Summit to Finish (103 miles) – 1:03:35 – ties my fastest time in any race or training ride

Post-mortem: Talked with Frank on the phone Monday morning in the car driving home through eastern Colorado. I asked him what happened. He said when he got to the bottom of the Sugar Loaf-to-May Queen descent he had goose bumps and was shivering all over. Couldn’t stop shivering, so he felt he had to stop and put on his rain shell. He also felt he had to eat something. This is why he wasn’t there when I looked back over my shoulder. When he got back on the bike to begin the Carter Summit climb, he just didn’t have it. I told him I felt bad about leaving him, but I knew I was on the bubble, and I hoped he would have done the same thing if he were in my shoes.

About two hours after talking with Frank, I got a call from Stephen Rodgers saying that Frank’s girlfriend, Christina, had had a stroke and was airlifted from Leadville to Denver!

As the day went on, I talked with Frank, who had driven down to Denver while Christina was being airlifted. When he got there they had determined that it wasn’t a stroke, but a “non-medical” condition called complex migraine, which has stroke-like symptoms. They gave her blood thinners. By the late afternoon, Christina was home with full recovery.

They had gone out Sunday evening, had a few drinks, tipsy but not drunk, came home, went to bed. In the morning Christina threw up. Odd because not really enough to drink the night before to warrant. As is the case, she felt a lot better after throwing up and Frank started to make her breakfast. She was standing next to him when she started to pass out. Frank got her over to the couch, and she said she couldn’t feel anything on her left side. Frank helped her to the car and drove her to the emergency room (one minute away) where their quick diagnosis was stroke, and they called for the Denver airlift. Frank was impressed by the professionalism of the Leadville hospital.

(Feb. 2018 – Christina is fine today, but it was a heckuva scare.)

Post-Post-Mortem August 29, 2017

Physical stuff. Upon returning to Naperville, I had the usual several days of “god-like” fitness. I went out on the bike several days later and it was a pure joy to just pound hills with no sense of fatigue. This, plus no kinds of aches or pains in general, plus feeling as fit and trim as I’ve ever felt, made for a great first week home. Simple things, like putting on socks effortlessly and reaching more of my back in the shower. I was thrilled to get on the scale a week after the race and weigh less than on race day. Our scale here is about ten pounds light, but I know to adjust for reality, which meant I was under 170 pounds. My previously-recorded race day weights of 165 were in reality a shade over 170. In any event, I’m pleased that for the first year in four LT100s that I’m keeping the weight off. Past history saw me work so hard to get fit and lose weight for race day that the day after the race I’d start “rewarding myself” for my labors, and the downward (or upward) slide would begin. I’m determined not to let that happen again, and to never return to the 205 pounds of my retirement year. In fact, I have another ten pounds I could lose, and it would be lovely to do that.

After a week or so reality began to set in. I read an article in Smithsonian about Astronaut Mark Kelly’s return from the ISS. He talked about gravity feeling like a 10-ton weight. I’m wondering if there’s a bit of that same feeling when you return to sea level from 10,000 ft. I first noticed the feet and ankles. It’s not that they didn’t bother me at the cabin, but by comparison they were much better up there than down here. Humidity? Altitude?

And then it was other minor aggravations that began to return one by one, particularly on the bike. The hamstring issue that plagued me all year but had disappeared in Leadville and was not an issue of any kind on race day. The adductors that gave me no problems in training at altitude, (although they cramped up on race day).

Post-Post-Post Mortem – August 31, 2017

The end of a great month.

Unlike previous LT100s where I let all the work I’d done to get my weight down go right down the drain as I “celebrated” the whole thing being over, I’m determined this year to keep the weight off, and I’m pleased that my weight today is just a few pounds over my race day weight. I’ve got Chequamegon on Sept. 16 and my 50th reunion in mid-October and Iceman in early November as incentives, plus Lois as inspiration. She’s lost 25 pounds this summer and is hell-bent on losing another thirty. She’s looking good and I’d like to look good beside her.

Upon reflection, it’s a pretty amazing thing to reach the kind of peak fitness needed for Leadville. All kinds of things you thought were “routine aches and pains of aging” simply disappear in the urgency of the race. For instance:

  • By early summer I was noticing a clicking in my left knee when I stood on the pedals. Was going to have Steve Baker look at it when he was visiting the cabin in August, but forgot to. Disappeared on race day.
  • I was using toe spacers between the big and second toes on my right foot as the bunion there pushed my toes over to the right, irritating them. I quit using them.
  • The hamstring issue – never entered my mind on race day.
  • The Achilles heel issue – never entered my mind on race day.
  • Lower back pain. Definitely felt it on the hike-a-bikes, and I think it did slow me down
  • The ankles. Not until Powerline did the left ankle really give out (see below)


I am particularly grateful that on race day I was able to focus on the right things and not the wrong things:

  • that weird clicking that had developed in Colorado in my left knee when under load climbing. It was a non-factor on race day or since. Go figger.
  • an even weirder thing that happened with my jaw on its right “hinge”. I noticed one day in training about a week before the race that it was really sore. I thought, man, I must be really clenching my jaw while climbing… but I wasn’t. I had taken a minor fall a few days before – had I somehow jarred my jawbone? What was the deal? TMJ? Cancer?? (only because my cousin Jim died of throat/tongue/jaw cancer). It was a non-factor on race day and two weeks later now I can feel only the faintest trace of pain and that only when I open my jaw wide.
  • My ankles. I took three Alleve race morning. Did that help? By the Powerline climb I did have to do that awkward “right foot straight ahead, left foot 90 degrees to the left” thing because I couldn’t put weight on it, and I did walk more in this race than any other, but it was just one more pain that had to be dealt with, as opposed to a (mentally and physically) crippling handicap. Fortunately I was able to push off the right foot all day.
  • the week-old road rash on my right hip (I fell hard in training at the top of Powerline – a silly fall that makes you realize you can fall at any moment), still kind of “fresh”. It stung when I slid my shorts on in the morning. End of story.
  • leg cramps. None in the calves (never have had those), zero problem with my left hamstring that had given me problems for the past couple of years. None of those “tennis ball” cramps on the quads just above the knees. The adductor cramps that came and went and fortunately never really took me off the bike. I don’t believe I lost any time due to them. Super lucky. (As mentioned, because of the amount of standing I do, my triceps were toast by the 80th mile. My arms gave out before my legs on standing stretches, and they were so sore the next day.)
  • taint issues. JJ’s bike seat did the trick and I rode 103 miles with only the slightest chafing the next day. I don’t think I even added butt lube at any point in the race.
  • lower back muscles. I really felt the lower back muscles tightening up on the upper Columbine climb (my first hike-a-bike) and they grew more uncomfortable with each successive hike-a-bike, particularly the steep ones where it feels like you’re pushing your bike over your head. I tried to keep on the high side of the bike whenever possible, which helped, but the muscles never cramped (thankfully).
  • I made very few mistakes on the bike, in fact I felt absolutely locked in finding the right lines, whether picking my way through rocks on ascents or descending fast. –
  • I remember in 2011 being so concerned about the morning cold. That year my solution was the poncho. In 2013 I had leg warmers, arm warmers, a jacket and two layers of gloves. In 2015 it was pretty much the same. This year, no leg warmers, the yellow rain shell, arm warmers and a single pair of full-finger gloves. The cold lasts, what, 20 minutes out of 12 hours?
  • I had prepared a bottle of HEED/NUUN mix to leave with Donna in the morning to take to their Pipeline aid tent. The idea being that I usually run out of hydration by the end of the race, so I’d add that bottle to the camelbak at Pipeline and be good for the rest of the race. But I forgot to give it to them. Rather than have it bother me for the entire race, I didn’t give it a second thought. Grateful for that, especially since I didn’t need it.
  • I didn’t completely drain any of the three camelbaks all day long. This could have been a deep concern. It wasn’t. (Maybe it should have been.)
  • Heart rate. In light of the death of Scott Ellis in 2015, you might think it would be high on my list of things to keep track of. I remember being very aware of it on my Garmin in previous races. Too aware. So this year I moved it off my first Garmin screen (I ran with ‘mph’ and ‘time elapsed’ – mph because I wanted to know if I felt like I was flying along whether I actually was flying along, and elapsed time because that’s the critical factor in a buckle. I figured by now I know when I’m blowing up so why bother constantly monitoring it as I ride.
  • My contacts. A combination of the dry climate and the speed and jarring of descents on training rides meant a contact lens would pop out, usually at the worst of times. Rather than worry about losing one or taking the time to put one back in I chose to race without them. It was a non-issue on race day. One more thing I could have worried about that I never gave a thought to.
  • Pedal squeak. Okay, yes it’s minor on a 10-minute ride, but not for 12 hours. My right pedal for some reason “squinches” on every turn. A little oil in there makes it go away. Except I kept forgetting to do it, and on race day there it was. It could drive you crazy if you let it, but it was one more thing that just didn’t get in the way of the race.



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Report From Leadville 2015

Part I – The Race

 My third Leadville race provided a new experience: failure. Epic failure, as it turned out. I earned the silver belt buckle for my first two Leadville races, but today, well…

 August 15 – Race Day

When you prepare mentally and physically for a particular day for the better part of nine months, the tendency on that day is to “over-emote”. But this was my third Leadville and while I had been feeling more nervous than ever during the preceding week (I think because I had two buckles and didn’t want to not get a third), when  race day arrived I felt great.

Got up later than usual – 4:00 instead of 3:30. Ate my usual double oatmeal with raisins and glass of chocolate milk and got suited up. Alex, my friend and fellow Chicagoan, came over from our neighbors where he had been staying, we put the bikes on the Subaru, and headed for Leadville at 4:45. Matthew (my soon-to-be son-in-law) and Alyce (my daughter) drove with us and we (or least I) psyched up listening to my iPod playlist through the radio all the way to town. Saw one more shooting star on the way in. Alex was unusually quiet; at one point he seemed almost out of it. Can’t remember the detail of it, but at one point as we neared Leadville he said something that was out of left field.

Got to town and parked right in front of the race store on Harrison. Perfect spot. Used the nice warm bathroom in the store (nobody there), and also used the store (nobody there) to do my stretching. Made a point of stretching for a good 10-15 minutes: hams especially, but also the sartorials and quads. It would turn out to be a very good move.

I glanced at the bank time/temp before going over to my corral: it read 48 degrees.  Warm! Temps are usually in the mid-30s at the start of the race. I’d be comfortable in my jersey, arm warmers, the black vest plus my blue Gore vest, leg warmers and one pair of fingered gloves (I usually wear fingerless while riding, but decided to wear full-fingered this year). This temperature should have been a warning to sign to many of us, but I took it only as the good news it represented at that time of day: a warm start to the race.

Got over to my corral about 15 minutes before the gun, settled in, said hellos and good lucks to my friends Kirsten McDaniel, Bob Tuma, Paul from Palo Alto, Rob Bernhard from San Diego (brother of John and Larry, my high school classmates), Frank, and other friends I’ve made along the way. Felt focused, ready to go. My big question: what would my legs feel like when I hit the dirt to St. Kevins? Two years ago I knew it was going to be a painful day when I hit the dirt and just didn’t seem to have it. What would happen today??

Because I was racing this year for First Descents, I was in the Blue Corral, right up against the fencing on the left. Waited for the gun to go off, feeling calm, cool and collected. No nerves. In what would be a sign of things to come, it seemed to take forever to cross the starting line… and I was in the Blue Corral, ahead of 50% of the racers! Had to actually walk the bike all the way to Harrison, at which point it was a creep across the line.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I crossed the starting line within 15 feet of Downers North High School graduate (where I taught until my retirement in 2010) and endurance athletics legend Rebecca Rusch, four-time winner of the Leadville 100.


The Start – Me in the blue vest – so serious! (See Rebecca over there?)

This year she was racing with Ride-To-Recovery athlete Matt Carpenter, an Iraq war veteran double amputee. Rebecca was in the process at this time of her life of reconnecting with her own history, having lost her father, shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1972 when she was a toddler. (2018 note: Red Bull Media released the beautiful film about Rebecca’s bike trek on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 2015 to find the spot where her father’s plane went down. It’s quite remarkable.) Rebecca, in her mid-40s now, was at a stage in her professional life where younger, faster women were taking the podium. This was a way for her to stay in touch with the race she loved, and to connect with a terrific movement while at the same time beginning to reconnect with her father. The week before the race, I ran into Rebecca with a group of the Ride-To-Recovery racers at the base of the Powerline. Take a look at Matt’s bike. Notice there are no brakes or shifters on those handlebars. His prosthetics grip the handlebars to steer. To brake, he skootches his butt back on his seat to contact a brake lever. To shift he presses in with either his left leg (front derailleur) or right leg (rear derailleur). Amazing.


Rebecca and Matt DeWitt, double amputee

Miles 1-10. We finally got moving, and the ride down to the dirt was the usual good pace and uneventful. I hit the dirt and soon got my answer: my legs felt not just good – they felt great! I just knew this was going to be a good day. Once again, as I crested the first small hills, I took in the beauty of the pack of riders stretching ahead as far as the eye could see. Today there was a beautiful layer of mist drifting across the valley and sliding over onto the trail that gave an ethereal beauty to the whole experience. Simply beautiful. The sun made its first appearance, peeking over the Mosquito Range, and all was well with the world…

…until the turn onto the St. Kevin’s (again, that’s pronounced ‘Keevins’) climb. What a mess! It’s always crowded, but for some reason this year it just seemed ridiculous. I’m not a fast climber, but there were just way too many slow riders, and walkers, and people coming off their bikes on that narrow, steep ascent. Somehow I managed to weave my way through the mess to the hairpin, being forced off my bike only once, and fortunately being able to get right back on.

The rest of the St. Kevin’s climb to Carter Summit was relatively uneventful and I was able for the most part to ride my pace. Course knowledge pays off here by being able to slingshot some hills, thus passing dozens of riders who have to gear down and grunt.

Because of the traffic, I felt my Carter Summit split was slow. It wasn’t. At 1 hour, 2 minutes, I was 8 minutes ahead of my split time. A sign that I was either going out too strong, or that it was going to be a very good day.

On Hagerman Pass road

Somewhere on the Hagerman Pass Rd, circa Mile 15

Miles 10-22. The 3-mile Carter Summit descent is always fun and today was no exception. I hit 42 mph, my high speed for the day, in the tuck position for most of the hill. On the climb past May Queen up the back side of Turquoise Lake, I noticed my heart rate was higher than I’d like, but my legs felt so very strong, I just discounted it as the adrenalin rush of race day’s first 15 miles. Certainly it would drop as the race progressed, just as it had in previous years. The 5-mile climb to the base of Sugarloaf was easy. I stopped to pee at the turn, and also to remove the leg warmers. Unzipped the blue and black vests, but kept them both on. Leg warmers and arm warmers both off now.

            Headed up the bumpy Sugar Loaf fire road, which was fun, but somehow not as fun as usual. The legs, however, were still strong to the top, and I hit the summit in great spirits. I looked for the memorial to Tom Bryant as I went by, but missed it. Then, with my traditional “self-warning” to “Concentrate, Concentrate, Concentrate” I began the descent of Powerline.

You never know what you’re going to get by way of traffic on Powerline, but I was pleased that it had thinned enough that I was able for the most part to descend at my own pace. I started off behind a group of very fast descenders, but resisted the temptation to try to keep up with them. You have to find your own pace on Powerline descent or you can be in trouble very quickly. I was feeling very, very good about my descent until…

…about ¾ of the way down I came up behind a rider on one of the flatter parts, a part where you shouldn’t be on your brakes too much. I was right on his wheel when he inexplicably hit his brakes. My front wheel touched his back wheel and in that instant cyclists all know, I went over my handlebars over to the left. Really? Mile 20?? I landed, hard, on some large rocks beside the trail. All the contact was on the heel of my left hand and on my left kneecap, so there was very little distribution of force. I got up as quickly as I could, got my bike off the trail, did a quick head-to-toe check, and a quick bike check (which are frankly meaningless when your brains are scrambled), and got back on the bike as quickly as possible. I was grateful for my full-finger gloves, which prevented my hands and fingers from being bloodied. My knee hurt, badly, (broken kneecap?) but I didn’t even want to look at it. Only thing to do is get back on the bike and find out if it works. As is often the case, it hurt for a hundred yards or so, but then began to find its rhythm, and I finished the Powerline with no further mishaps. (One nice thing about the timing of this accident is that the concentration level on Powerline has to be so great that there’s no space in your brain to think about an injury: your levers and joints are either going to work or not. If they work, you keep going. If they don’t, your race is over. Mine worked: I was happy.)

At the base of Powerline, as we approached the blacktop, it was strange to “cross the creek” now with no creek, no plank “bridge”. The landowners had filled it in and put a culvert beneath for the creek. This is a little piece of LT100 that is so much a part of the event that it’s truly weird for it to not be there.

Miles 23-28. So up on the blacktop, around the fish hatchery and on to the Pipeline. Again, legs feeling great, and I remember a moment of being grateful to God for being able to be a part of such a beautiful and crazy adventure.

You’re supposed to find a paceline on this exposed blacktop stretch over to the Pipeline, but I made the mistake two years ago of latching onto a line that was moving too fast for me. I kept up, but spent too much energy I needed later. This year, a paceline moved by me very fast and I resisted the temptation to jump on. There was no wind at all, so I decided to just move at my own pace (low 20s-mph) and I’m glad I did.

Miles 28-40. I crossed the Pipeline chip mat at 2 hours, 34 minutes. Six minutes ahead of split time despite my crash. And feeling very good. The 12 miles from Pipeline Aid to Twin Lakes was just as good as the first 28. My legs felt SO good. Heart rate still high, but I figured, “it is what it is” and kept moving at my pace. Again I found myself almost out-of-body, being so thankful for how much fun I was having. Despite the crash, I felt I was in tune with the world; hitting the lines perfectly, gearing up or down exactly right, everything in sync. Somewhere in here I stopped to remove my two vests. For the first time I was racing in just the First Descents shorts and jersey.

On the singletrack (approx. Mile 35), I smiled for the official photographer, but he apparently caught me in that instant just “before” smile, so I look like Edward G. Robinson in “The Ten Commandments” taunting “Where’s your God now, Moses?”


This was actually the beginning of a smile for the camera – not a smirk!

The more disconcerting thing about this photo, though is the knee. This is roughly an hour after the fall, and it was still bleeding fresh blood. Not good.

The knee

Not good

On the moraine on the last hill before Twin Lakes I caught up with Alex, who had started in the corral in front of mine. You pass and get passed by a lot of riders in this race, so it was almost startling to look over and see my friend.  “Alex! How you doing?” I got a blank stare and a shake of his head. Uh-oh. Not good. He said he didn’t know what was wrong – he just never had it right from the start today. He looked terribly discouraged. It sucks to put in nine months of training and have nothing in the tank. I tried to pep him up with the usual bromides, but ended up pulling away and going on my own.

As I flew down the hill and across Highway 82, I thought of that day about ten years before when Lois and I were stopped in our van right there on that highway, backed up in traffic, wondering what the heck was going on with all these guys riding across the highway on their bikes. That was my first twinge of curiosity about the Leadville 100. Now here I was, zooming across Highway 82.

Across the road and down the little drop onto the gravel. There was the First Descents aid stop, and a bunch of people cheering for every FD rider coming through. I had decided not to make this my stop since it was before the chip mat and I thought I might need every minute to beat the 4-hour cut-off.  I was wrong today, but you never know. So I waved, gave a shout, and kept going across the dam.


First Descents

Flying past the First Descents tent at Mile 39

3 hours, 28 minutes into Twin Lakes! Better than 2011! Seventeen minutes ahead of split time!! Alyce and Matthew were there, determined to hold me to my goal of 2-minute stops. They came close, but in the haste of the stop I made a critical error that would haunt me later, and just might have led to my day ending early. More on that later.

I’ll mention here that perhaps another mistake in retrospect was switching out the camelbaks. My big one is 70 ounces. The one I took up Columbine was 50 ounces. In training I had never come close to using a whole 70 ounces, so I figured why carry the extra weight. I did have an extra bottle of water/NUNN mix (no HEED left), just in case. But it was a deceptively hot day: air temp felt fine, even cool, but ground temp was another thing, and it was sapping riders more than they (or I) realized. Lots of racers were still wearing arm and leg warmers, or vests. Many of us paid consequences for not hydrating enough.

Before leaving I mentioned to Alyce that “something was wrong from the elbow on down, but as long as I can grip I’m alright”. This was the left hand I’d landed on at Mile 20 on Powerline. By now I was also paying attention to my knee, which was still running blood. I’ve fallen before and these kinds of things usually dry up within 10-15 minutes. Not today. But it felt okay, and that’s all that mattered to me.

Miles 40-50. I pulled away from Twin Lakes and I think this is where I began to feel different. Hard to exactly put my finger on it, but even though I had no trouble pulling over the Four Stooges (the first set of small hills before the real Columbine climb begins), I know I wasn’t feeling the same “joy” I was feeling earlier. The ascent of lower Columbine felt interminably slow. I was remembering the relative “speed” of 4-5 mph I was hitting in training, compared to what seemed to be about 3 mph today. I could turn the pedals fine; it just didn’t seem like I had the same oomph. Lower Columbine seemed a long, hard slog.

I hit the A-Frame (Mile 48), which is where you begin to move above treeline and the trail steepens sharply, and decided to ride as much of the first steep ascent as I could. In training, I ride this section all the way to the Goat Trail chip mat (Mile 49). But per Art’s advice, on race day I usually don’t in order to conserve energy. So I decided to split the difference: I’d ride as much as I could before being forced off.  There’s a place where you have to go to the left side of the road in order to avoid a rockpile that will otherwise force you (okay, maybe not you, but I’m not a great technical rider) off your bike. On race day, there are riders descending at high speed; you don’t want to go left, so I figured that would be my hike-a-bike start. And it was. I hiked to the top of the first hill, then got back on to ride, when…

…both my hamstrings and my left Sartorius seized. It was instant. Almost no time to even jump off the bike. But I did, thinking to myself, “Ok, that’s it. Race over.” With more than a mile of hike-a-bike and riding ahead before turning around at Mile 50, all above 11,500, this seemed a certainty. You simply don’t get your legs back if you have more climbing.  But I did the only thing I could do at that moment: got off the trail, stood in a position where I didn’t cramp up any further, and began sucking long draughts from the camelbak. I looked for those magic “no-cramp” pills (SportLegs) I carried with me ever since they worked so instantly in May in Illinois. And realized with a jolt they were in the top pocket of my blue Gore vest… which I had left with Alyce and Matthew at Twin Lakes. Possibly a race-ending mistake; the kind you never make twice.

Not sure how long I waited – maybe 2 minutes, maybe 3?? – but I got back on the bike, and miracle of miracles, I was able to find a seat position that worked. Hallelujah! How long would it work? Who knew? I just knew I was so grateful for whatever it was going to give me.

Upper Columbine was simply crazy, a repeat of St. Kevins. Pieces I could ride in training required walking today simply because the line of walking riders would allow nothing else. And as I said before, you couldn’t pass on the left because of descending riders. And so I walked. And walked. And walked. It got old.

But I finally reached that point about a half-mile from the 50-mile turn-around where you can get on the bike again. Many were still walking. Not me. My feet hurt; I was ready to ride.


Approaching the Columbine summit at 12,500 ft

The knee though, while not causing any issues, wasn’t drying up.


Not good

But the cramps held off and I was able to make the 50-mile turn-around. For the first time in my three races, I stopped at the Columbine Aid Station to ask if anybody had any of the leg cramp pills. Nope.

Miles 50-60. I got back on the bike, made the U-turn for “home” and the little discouraging climb back to the summit, legs still holding, and then the long descent back to Twin Lakes. My legs would now get a 30-minute reprieve from serious work, with maybe a chance to regroup and finish the race. But that reprieve has another side: it’s a 10-mile drop in which you’re on your brakes constantly for 30 minutes until you reach the valley. By the time I reached the bottom I was having real trouble with my left hand. In addition, I had sucked the 50-oz. camelbak dry by the time I reached the Stooges, those four “little” stubborn hills coming out of the hot valley, my least favorite part of the course, the part that never gets mentioned by anyone. It takes just a few minutes to get over them, but for some reason, probably because you haven’t really used your legs for 40 minutes, they just seem to suck all life from your legs. When you get over the Stooges, you’re within minutes of Twin Lakes again. But as I said, my camelbak was drained, and now my oxygen-deprived brain arrived at an oxygen-deprived decision. Here’s how it went: “My legs have cramped up, I’ll need them again real soon, I haven’t had a drink in a good ten minutes, Camelbak is empty, MUST hydrate, which means using my downtube bottle. Can’t grip bottle with left hand so must grab it with right hand.” So I proceed to grab bottle with right hand, while holding the handlebar over a bumpy/sandy 5% downslope… with a hand that can’t grip. Not good. Finish drinking, try to put bottle back into cage… and front wheel caught a rock, jerking the handlebar out of a weak left hand. The bike crumpled and I went down, hard, landing this time on my right thigh/hip and arm. You know something? When you’re twenty and you hit the ground, it may not even phase you. But when you’re in your sixties, it’s another thing. Took me a few minutes to unscramble both my brains and my handlebars, which got caught in my brake cable (the handlebars, not the brains). But got back on the bike again, pretty road-rashed up on my right side (forearm, upper thigh and buttock – shorts ripped in a couple of places). I rode the remaining minute to the Twin Lakes aid station and Alyce and Matthew, in a daze. This crash never had to happen – I never should have reached for that bottle. I was going to be at the aid station in less than one stinking minute. But lack of oxygen leads to bad decisions, a lesson I should know: you have to really focus on thinking clearly after 60 miles on the bike at altitude.

I pulled into Twin Lakes to the welcome sight of Alyce and Matthew. (Alyce was awesome. At both Twin Lakes stops I heard her voice calling, “Dad! Dad! Dad!” before I saw our tent.) Bryan was there filming at both Twin Lakes stops, so we have a record by which to compare. Doc Wenmark was there, encouraging, telling me I was way ahead of my times, (despite my sense of being extremely slow and losing time on Columbine, once again I was somehow ahead of my splits – in fact I had now gained time – a little more than 20 minutes ahead of my split now), that I was doing great, that I mustn’t quit. “No quit, no quit,” I said. But in fact, as I look back on it now, I was out of it. I don’t remember this conversation with Doc. I don’t remember much. I do remember at one point bending over, putting my hands on my knees for a minute, then knowing I had to sit down. I walked over to our tent, found a chair, and sat. And sat. My addled brain (math-challenged even without accidents and altitude) figured that since I was so far ahead of my split that I had time to sit and collect myself and still be on my splits. Right? I sat there for 17 minutes! before I collected myself enough to get back on the bike. This was now the first time I got to take a good look at my knee – still oozing fresh blood – not a good sign. There was a solid caked stream of blood down my leg and into my sock. My left wrist was goofy – not really painful, but something was definitely wrong in there. Trouble making a fist. The fall minutes before left me with stinging road rash on my right thigh, hip and forearm, also oozing.

Miles 60-75. When I finally climbed back on the bike and plodded over the dam and onward, leaving the comfort of family, friends, and humanity for the solitude of my own mind games, I was still either on or only slightly behind my originally-planned split times. The third buckle was still within reach.

I climbed the first hill after the dam, feeling pretty good. But by the time I got to the singletrack climb (Mile 65), I was feeling the legs empty out. Not only that, but my grip issues were now more serious: I couldn’t shift the front derailleur with my thumb, but had to take my hand off the grip and shove the palm against the shifter. (Pulling back the other way wasn’t an issue.) I made it to the top of the singletrack, but began to now think in sinking realities. I know what it takes to get up Powerline (the next major climb at Mile 80) and the blacktop climb behind Turquoise Lake (Mile 87) and the smaller climbs after Carter Summit (Miles 91-93, and the Boulevard back into town (Mile 100). And I knew that if I didn’t get my legs back, I couldn’t do it. At the same time, I knew that in every race you reach a point where the legs just aren’t there, but you just have to keep going until they come back. I made a decision that I’d give my legs the next ten miles to the Pipeline Aid Station at Mile 75. If they didn’t come back, I wouldn’t have what it takes to do the last 25 miles of the race.

Add to that a non-functioning wrist: how would the remaining descents be? Would I be able to grip enough? Shift? Brake? Would I be a threat to myself and the safety of other riders?

I continued along the Pipeline, but I was fading – an 1 hour, 20 minutes from Twin Lakes to Pipeline, fifteen minutes off my split – only the first time all day I was behind my split: between my long stop at Twin Lakes and my slowing, slowing time from Twin Lakes to Pipeline, I was now 20 minutes behind my overall split as I approached Pipeline (Mile 75). If there was any good news, it was the fact that I was still 50 minutes ahead of the Pipeline cut-off time, meaning I could still get a buckle.  But I was done and I knew it. This wasn’t a matter of “digging deep”. I was already at the bottom of the well. I was, however, determined to ride across the Pipeline chip mat to get my time recorded. A seventy-five mile day; 55 of it pretty busted up.

As I rode into the Pipeline feed zone I saw Frank’s girlfriend Anne Nevitt sitting under her little canopy on the right. I stopped and told her I was done – that I was going to ride ahead and go across the chip mat, but I’d be back to borrow her phone. It felt surreal. I got back on the bike and rode the hundred yards and crossed the chip mat, then turned back. I was immediately approached by race officials who asked me if I was done. “Yes.” They took my number plate and pulled the timing strips off. Now I was officially done. This was a new Leadville experience for me.

Out of nowhere, Mark Ackerman came up. He had DNF’d at Twin Lakes and had come with his friend Paul to the Pipeline to watch everyone come through. Mark took a look at me and told me I needed to go to the medical tent. I think it was the look on my face more than anything. He called Lois in order to get Alyce’s number. (Another case of oxygen-deprived thinking: Alyce had MY phone – I never even needed Alyce’s number.) I told him not to tell Lois I fell. Lois asked him if I was okay. He lied, and Lois knew it because she knew I wouldn’t be quitting the race unless I had to.  Mark called Alyce and Matthew, who were on their way to see cheer me on at Carter Summit (Mile 90). They turned back and came to the Pipeline aid station.

After sitting down on the med tent cot for about two seconds I felt my whole body drain of energy and I knew I had made the right call. No regrets. I didn’t know it until that moment, but I had nothing left in the tank.

The med folks wanted to clean the road rash in the med tent, but I had had such a bad experience with that in 2011 at the end of that race that I said no (emphatically). They looked at the knee. I now looked at the knee seriously for really the first time. It was a pretty deep cut; they said at least a couple of stitches. There was still a lot of fresh blood.  They wrapped up the knee and said I should go to the hospital to get the hand x-rayed. They were worried about the bruising on the inside of the wrist and the loss of function.

Leaving med tent

Alyce and Matthew arrived and we loaded the bike and headed for St. Vincent Hospital, just blocks from the finish line. And thus begins Part Two of this story.

Part II – The Hospital

I checked in and got a bed where a doctor looked me over and arranged for an xray. In the bed next to me was a woman who was in the top 15 when she went down on lower Columbine descent. She ripped a whole flap of her upper arm open to the tune of 25 stitches. She was hurting.

And so it went. As the minutes went by, more and more riders checked in. The hospital became more a triage or M.A.S.H. unit than a hospital. Doctors, nurses, interns would check in on me, apologize for the delay, then bolt from the room. They told us there had been six airlifts off the course – three to St. Vincent, three to Denver. At least two cardiac arrests. I had to go to the bathroom just down the hall, and looked into a room where they were doing the cardiac paddles on a rider. I told Alyce, “it’s got to be at least an hour since they brought him off the mountain; if they’re still doing paddles, that’s not good.” This patient turned out to be Scott Ellis, 55-year-old 18-time LT100 veteran, and he would be the race’s first casualty in 22 years. He had gone down just after summiting Powerline; just got off his bike and sat down. People asked if he was okay. He said he was, then fell over and stopped breathing. People stopped and began doing chest compressions, taking turns. Other riders rode both up and downhill to get help or to try to get into cell. This took precious time. Eventually they airlifted Scott off the hill and got him to town. I don’t think they ever got him back. Here’s the “Men’s Journal” article. And here’s a picture of Scott taken at the 75-mile mark, coming through the Pipeline Aid Station. Less than ten miles later he was dead.

Scott Ellis

Scott Ellis at Mile 75

As the day turned into evening, more hospital personnel kept ducking into my room and apologizing. One doctor told us they had never seen a race day like it: almost double their usual patients. Matthew went over to High Mountain Pie and got us a large pepperoni and black olive pizza. Bless his soul. I had two pieces. It was enough. Delicious. Matthew and Alyce polished off the rest.



More and more riders were coming in. The waiting room ran out of chairs. They were sitting on the floor. The arm woman next to me was checked out and replaced with an early-20s guy with no body fat who finished the race under 9 hours, went home… and began throwing up. Serious dehydration. And so it continued for hours: cuts, scrapes, stitches,  xrays, but mostly dehydration. I waited to be cleaned up and xrayed.


At the hospital

Four hours later I got my xrays. The doctor came in with them and said it looked like I had a buckle fracture of the distal radius. “A WHAT??” That’s right – a buckle fracture. We all laughed: I got my buckle after all!

Another doctor came in to do the stitches. First stitches of my life. She stuck the knee with a hypodermic no less than 20 times (okay, maybe four) and it numbed up almost immediately. Then she used a suction cup thing to pull any gravel out of the deepest part of the cut (which went to the bone). Then the stitching began. There was no pain for any of this after the needle. She did a great job. Turns out she was the doctor who had put Doc Wenmark’s shoulder back together two weeks before. Then they tackled the road rash, which was my least-favorite part of the whole thing. I frankly don’t remember any of it.

Matthew and Alyce

Alyce and Matthew react to the situation (while having pizza)

I was stitched and wrapped. My wrist was held in place with a Velcro splint. My right thigh, hip and forearm were wrapped in gauze. I looked something like The Mummy. We checked out of the hospital around 9:30 and were home by 10:00. I didn’t shower that night or the next (I did washcloth sponge baths – very unsatisfactory). I didn’t shower until my motel in Kearney, Nebraska on the way back to Chicago. That was Tuesday morning.

Debrief: Looking back, I think a combination of things led to this being a bad day not only for me but for many riders. Frank Gepfrich dnf’ed at Mile 85. Mark Ackerman didn’t make the Twin Lakes cut-off. Alex Derderian pulled himself out of the race at Twin Lakes outbound (Mile 40) after trying to go on, but turning back. Jeff Bolis cramped up on Columbine and dnf’ed at Twin Lakes inbound. Carlos Sintes finished the race, but didn’t buckle. Many friends who buckled, had times an hour slower than normal. There were bloody knees and arms all over the course, according to many spectators. And of course, the hospital. And… Scott Ellis.

The 48 degree start temp should have been a warning sign for all of us. The air temp was good all day, but it was the ground temp that snuck up on you and, imo, made all the difference. We all needed to hydrate much more than we did. Of course, if you’re only planning on a normal “day at the races” with a 70-oz. camelback, then what do you do?

The second factor was the dry condition of the course. That decomposed Rocky Mountain granite is best when it’s a little tacky/wet, and dangerously fast and loose when it’s dry. And it was very dry. (But note: it was very dry in 2011 and again in 2013.)

So the first factor led to dehydration and cramping issues; the second led to crashes. I believe neither of my crashes was due to inexperience or reckless riding. What I’ll never know is whether my legs going out was due to dehydration or to a 65-year-old man crashing hard twice, and maybe even to a loss of blood (altho I don’t want to overdramatize that). I tend to believe it was more the crashes that did me in over the long run, not dehydration.

Other factors. Was I in shape for this race? Oh yes. I was concerned about the ten days in Europe in June. Non-factor, as it turned out. I was a little worried in July when I just didn’t seem to have the strength, but about ten days before the race I went to another level, and I was having a good race – no- a great race… until the second crash. That one really scrambled my brains.

One caveat to that. Is it possible that I didn’t do enough long training rides? After arriving in Leadville, I seldom put two pieces of the course together. I think my longest Leadville training ride was 60 miles. Maybe I needed a couple between 70-80?? Perhaps more importantly, I think I had only one century ride in Illinois (that day with Carlos and the gang) and the 95-mile day in Kearney. Could that be a reason why my legs gave out after 60 miles?? As Art has always said, Leadville is as much about the distance as it is about the climbing and the altitude.

Another caveat. Did I commit the ultimate rookie sin of going out too fast. I thought I was feeling great… up until the Columbine ascent. Did my legs go because of the crashes, or were my record split times up to Mile 60 actually foolhardy and should have been warning signs to take my foot off the pedal just a bit? Or was it the crashes that did me in? Without the crashes, would I have “breezed” to the finish line in 11 hours?

Or… did the crashes save my life? Could it have been me with the heart attack on Powerline at Mile 83 instead of withdrawing from the race at Mile 75?


So… what now? This year’s race was sobering in a way I’ve never experienced. A cardiac death. Two crashes for me. Racers like Doc and the Ride to Recovery woman, both of whom crashed out of the race with serious injuries in the weeks prior to the race. I don’t want to sound macabre, but how long can I go on dodging bullets? Or death? I told Alyce that all the talk of Scott Ellis would be of how he went out doing something he loved, that he couldn’t have chosen a better way to die, etc. etc. etc. Alyce’s response: What about the 30 quality years he would have had with his wife and children and grandchildren? Wouldn’t he have rather had those years than to die on a mountain in a silly bicycle race? And wouldn’t his wife, children and grandchildren rather had him around for the next 30 years? Doc said he died “living large”. Apparently his wife said all the “right things” at the funeral. Yeah, ok.

Me? I have to think about this. I seem to have a race day crash syndrome. I crashed in the 2011 LT100. Came out with knee, hip and arm road rash. Lucky. No broken hip. I crashed in the 2014 Iceman. Went over the handlebars and face first into mud. Lucky. No broken collarbone or neck injury. I crashed in this year’s LT100. Twice. Once over the handlebars with 4 stitches in the left knee. Came out with some kind of left hand injury, either a bone bruise or possible fracture. Lucky. No broken collarbone or neck, head or spinal injury. And then crashing again, this time down hard on the right hip and forearm. Came out with road rash on the leg and arm, and a good-size hematoma on the hip. Lucky. No broken hip or other bones. (It’s all that chocolate milk.) Add these to a number of smaller, less-serious dings and scrapes in training, as well as two collisions with automobiles (lucky both times – no significant injuries at all!), and the question seems legit: how long does one’s luck hold out?

I feel death all around me this year. Our friend Brett Foster is dying of cancer as I write. He’s in his early 40s. Carol Welch is dying of cancer as I write. She’s 70. (Update Dec. 29 – both died in November) A former student, Ben Silver, committed suicide this summer. Another, Andrew Zajac, died in the Washington State wildfire that took the lives of four firefighters. Our neighbor of 20 years, Pat Smith, who contributed each year to my fundraising, died suddenly in November. Heck, our parakeet died in November! Death is closing in.

And yet, the race is so compelling. I’ve made a lot of really nice friends in my years there, and more all the time. I simply love riding my bicycle. I love being in shape – not just kind of in shape, but in race day shape.

I stepped on the scale the morning after the race: I reached my race day goal of 160 pounds. Okay, it was a day late. I raced at 165 pounds. But I haven’t been 160 in more than twenty years. That feels good.

Garmin Statistics: First – Hooray! I actually remembered to turn it on crossing the start line and turn it off at the end. Second – Boo!!! My Garmin calculates distance incorrectly. I know I rode 75 miles, but it says… 71.82 TOTAL MILES,  7 hours, 9 minutes on the bike, 10 mph av. speed, 42.9 mph max speed (that lovely Carter Summit descent), 147 bpm av. HR, 171 bpm max HR, 3518 calories burned (this seems significantly low), 7890 ft. of climbing.


As I write this on January 31, 2018, two and a half years after this race, I have something more than just the memories of it with me all the time. I’m not sure if it qualifies as “badge of honor”, but every time I see it I’m reminded of this great adventure of my life – the Leadville 100.


The knee

P.S. It works fine.





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Entertaining Assassins

Hebrews 13:2 – “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Serbian Sniper

It was October, 1993 or ’94. I was teaching in my 3rd floor social studies classroom at Downers Grove North High School (Downers Grove). It was the middle of the period when a tall young man with a blonde crew cut stuck his head in the door of my classroom and asked in an eastern European accent, “Are you Mr. Graham?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Can I see you for a few minutes?”
He stepped into my classroom. I had never seen this person before, and thought it might be obvious to him that I was in the middle of a class, but apparently it wasn’t.
There was an urgency. He said, “Piotr Brodowski said I might be able to find you here.”
Piotr had been an exchange student from Poland both Lois and I had taught the year before. He had become a friend.
I asked him to wait for me in the social studies office – that I would be able to speak with him in about twenty minutes – and continued teaching.
At the end of the period, with other things on my mind and much to do on my free period, I stopped in quickly to find out what this guy wanted… and didn’t leave his side for the next fifty minutes. Twenty years later I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his story. Here it is.

He had met Piotr at a party in Chicago a few days before. Piotr suggested he find me. I’m still not sure why. He told me he and his friend had recently gone awol from the Serbian army. They could no longer do what they were being asked to do.
He was at least 6’5” tall, chiseled features, in his mid-20s. It was his eyes I remember best. They were pale blue, and empty.
When he had joined the army the year before he had scored very high in marksmanship, and was put into training as a sniper. After his training was completed, he was told by his superior officer to get himself across the border to a little village in Bosnia and to find a certain man. That man was in charge of what essentially was a defacto Serbian army unit in Bosnia. (The Serbian army, of course, wasn’t in Bosnia, as Slobodan Milosovic repeatedly told the world.)
And here’s what they did. A village of Muslims would be targeted. One day the village would be flooded with handbills informing the people that they have one week to leave their village or they will all be killed. After a couple of days, this young man was sent into the hills around the village. He was on his own, with his tent, provisions, and rifle with night-vision telescopic lens. His job was to begin to encourage villagers to leave. He did this by waiting until dark, then singling out individuals on the streets of the village… and killing them.
He would shoot one each night, then move quickly to another hiding place where the next night he would shoot one more. The idea was that by the time the week was up, the population would need no more “convincing” and would evacuate the village. Those who didn’t were killed (justifiably, right?) when the rest of the Serbian unit would enter the town.
This was what the world eventually came to know of as ethnic cleansing.
His friend was in the unit that entered the town to “clean up”.
I tried to wrap my head around what he was telling me. Here was an 18-year-old young man whose life and soul were used in a horrible way. A few months (weeks?) before we sat talking, he was lying on the ground, scanning through a night-vision scope, choosing a victim, and pulling the trigger.
I invited him and his friend to come and talk to my classes. They sat in the front of the room, telling their stories. He described in clinical terms what it was like to target a human being through the telescopic lens. He said he couldn’t really make out individual facial characteristics; just the frame of body and head. I wonder.
I was so intrigued by the story of this young sniper that I didn’t ask many questions of his friend who did the follow-up work. For one thing, he was not nearly as striking physically, and was quieter (less ready to talk?). But I’m thinking these years later that his stories might have been even more horrifying. I’m sorry I didn’t ask more of him.
The stories were so far beyond the comprehension of the 16-year-olds from suburban Downers Grove that I believe the horrifying nature of their stories simply couldn’t register in the brain or heart or soul of my students. They asked very few questions. It was clear, in the two or three classes these young men spoke to, that I was going to have to carry the questioning. I’m guessing that twenty-plus years later, none of them even remember these “guests” in their Social Studies class.
But I think about these two young men (now in their forties). We invited them for Thanksgiving dinner at our house later that week. They came, bearing a gift of vodka. They were genuinely nice boys. We tried to help them with their asylum problem with Lois’s brother Ken, who works for the U.S. Dept. of Immigration. They had paid a lawyer a lot of money (memory says at least $10,000) to help them. Ken said that money was probably wasted.
And then we never heard from them again.

“We are not angels. Nor are we the devils you have made us out to be.” – Slobodan Milosevic


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The Way We Teach

(Written originally on Sept. 12, 2013 in response to a Michael J. Fox Facebook meme stating “If the child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”)

I disagree, Michael. Schools, at least public schools, were never designed to be private tutoring agencies. They were designed to be socializing agents, meaning the student was taught how to fit what society felt were the important things a person needed to know and also about being a member of that society. This was done using what was called a classical education…. which all began to change in the 1960s, as we abandoned the concept that there could be any absolute truths, and began to see the world as a mass of relativity. What has resulted is a world in which there are no truths any more, and that your truth is just as valid as my truth, even though yours (or mine) might be far, far away from anything remotely reasonable, let alone the Truth.*
Relativity has impacted the educational community by evolving to the conclusion that there can be no set standards by which to measure a child since each child is measurable only to him/herself, and thus must be taught individually. As a career teacher, now retired, I found myself asking the question, how can I possibly write 30 individual lesson plans for every student in my class (times 5 classes)? Nor is it possible for school districts to hire one-on-one teachers for every student (although by being forced to try, the Special Education budgets in many districts are sinking them, and the regular ed students are on the receiving end of the cuts). It would all be nice in theory, yes, but it’s not only physically impossible, it’s fundamentally a bad idea because it destroys the very essence of public education. Bottom line, we have devolved to a point where the school must fit the child, and abandoned the much-healthier concept of the child fitting the school (and therefore their society).

February, 2015 addendum
*Thus, Wisconsin Governor (and presidential candidate) Scott Walker’s recent attempt to strike “search for Truth” from the Wisconsin state universities’ mission statement of 19th century origin makes a certain amount of sense. It also exposes the schizophrenic nature of today’s Republican party philosophy, which constantly spouts Christianity, but when it comes down to it seems to want to deny the possibility of finding any Truth.

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Who Really Benefits?

I came up with this question while teaching Sociology a number of years back, and I think it’s a good one. It was an evolutionary process; I had for years been trying to get at the essence of what was wrong with what I saw as predatory capitalism. One day it hit me: Who Really Benefits?
Who really benefits from marketing to children? Who really benefits from casino gambling? Who really benefits from liquor sales? Who really benefits from televangelism? Who really benefits from the sale of violent video games? And on and on.
I challenged my students to ask this question prior to every purchase, or even every decision. But in order to ask the question, they had to understand who all the players in the game were: Who were the beneficiaries involved in every purchase they made? You’re buying a house? The bank is a beneficiary, the real estate agent is a beneficiary, the builder perhaps, the home inspector, the closing lawyers, and on and on. But hopefully, so are you, and so you purchase the house because you’re buying a home. You really benefit. The trade-off is worth it (unless you buy a money pit). You could say the same about the purchase of a car and many of other things.
But who really benefits from the increase in the sale of vices, like gambling? Who really benefits from the 50% sales at the discount malls? Who really benefits from an overflowing plate and unlimited refills for just a dollar more? Who really benefits from convincing people that the outdoors is a bad place to get fit for free?
It’s a good question to ask in our personal lives as well. Who really benefits from our having sex together at age 15? Who really benefits if I take this first marijuana hit? Who really benefits when I get drunk on Friday night?

This could probably go other places, but I’ll just throw it out there for starters.

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Report from Leadville 2013

Here’s my race report from the 2013 race, written in the days shortly after the race in August. My two Leadville experiences are a “tale of two cities”. My first LT100 was a dream day. My second one was much less so. I have two buckles. I earned them both, but boy, that second one wasn’t pretty.
At the end of this post is a list of post-race reflections on why the 2013 race was so much more difficult. Not on that list: every day is a different day – sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.

August 10, 2013 – Race Day 

I woke up before the alarm clock (set for 3:30), after a fitful four hours of “sleep”. I laid in bed for the ten or fifteen minutes until the alarm went off, then up to make the “traditional” double oatmeal with raisins breakfast – this after the daily glass of chocolate milk. Then suit up and run down the checklist. My son-in-law and daughter, Mike and Ruth, bless their hearts, were up by 4:00, and we all headed down the hill to pick up Alex in Twin Lakes at 5:00 and head for Leadville.
It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day – deep purple sky giving way to lighter shades as we drove in. NO CLOUDS!!
We got to town about 5:40, finding a parking place on Harrison less than a block from 6th. The bank time/temp read 39 degrees. I jumped on the bike and rode up the street back to where we had seen a Leadville cop had pulled over an SUV right at the curve coming into town? Really? Is that the way you want your race day to start? I thought I’d offer a word of encouragement. Got there and it was a non-racer pulled over, so I left it alone.
Back to the car, where we got shoes, gloves, etc. on and got our bikes over to our corral. Alex and I got a pretty good spot toward the front of what was going to be the single largest corral of riders. They really seemed serious about somebody being with the bikes at all times, so we took turns, one of us staying with the bikes, the other using the porta-potty. I was able to say my goodbyes to Ruth and Mike and then lost sight of them as they moved on down the street for a better view of the start.
I don’t remember much of the last few minutes before the gun went off. For some reason, the scene seemed surreal, and I had a feeling at one point like that dream we all have of being on stage at a packed Carnegie Hall, just sitting down at the Steinway in our tails, and realizing we have no idea how to play the piano. What was I doing here?
In fact, I didn’t feel sharp, in focus, and that feeling would be with me all day. Slightly fuzzy. The 2011 race day lives in much more vivid memory for me today than this race of just a few weeks ago.
After the national anthem, which was actually sung acapella, beautifully and non-country-musically, by a female soloist, the final countdown was inaudible to those of us in the cheap seats. As two years ago, I never heard the shotgun, just a distant shout that informed us the race had started, and then the now-customary wait to be able to move. Unlike two years ago, this year there was no joking around about this waiting to move, and this was my first inkling that the back corral contained more seasoned riders than 2011. Just a lot of serious faces, focused ahead of them on their start, very little group feeling. Okay then.
And then, off we went, creeping along for a block or so before the start line, having at one point to put feet on the ground, but finally able to get a little movement and sweep across the start and begin my chip time. I had the presence of mind this year to start my Garmin at the start line so I’d get accurate stats.
I remember at some point as we swept down 6th Avenue toward the first little hill thinking, “this just doesn’t feel the same as 2011”. My, how true that would prove to be.
The three miles down the hill toward the Arkansas were uneventful. I was better-equipped this year. I was wearing good fleece gloves over my fingerless gloves and my hands felt much warmer, even though the temp was colder. And of course, this year I was wearing my yellow rain jacket, zipped and velcroed to the max, as opposed to the “unique” green poncho of 2011. In addition, Alex had lent me a set of arm and leg warmers. I had never used these before and they would prove to be very valuable assets as the day wore on.
As we crossed the river and made the turn to go over the tracks, there was the customary logjam as not only is there a 90 degree turn onto the dirt, but the dirt road is significantly narrower than the blacktop. It was another point where I had to unclip and put my feet on the ground for a few seconds before traffic began moving again. I expected this, and more to come on the flats leading toward the St. Kevin’s climb (and let’s make sure we’re pronouncing this right – it’s Keevin’s- and no, I have no idea why).
But for whatever reason, there was nowhere near the tight traffic this year as 2011 on this 3-mile dirt road, and I was able to move at whatever speed I wanted. This may have led to my first feeling of the day that I was slower than the others in my corral. I felt like I was pushing to keep up, and I don’t like that feeling. And it’s not like I was racing their race; I was pushing to maintain the speed that I knew I had to maintain in order to make my cut-off to Carter Summit. This was not a good sign. In 2011 I had felt like I was master of my domain, riding better than most, or at least WITH, most others in my corral, helping out, advising a lot of newbie riders (even though I was a newbie myself, I had spent a month prior to the race training on the course, so I knew it well). Today, I felt like a stranger in a strange land, riding with a lot of people who were flat out faster and more fit than me. The month off in June began to weigh on my mind.
As I rode along, however, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment. I remember the moment the sun broke over the Mosquitos to our right and began flooding the valley. It brightened the color of the hundreds of jerseys and jackets in the long line of riders ahead of me, and brought a cheer to the day. And then it got better. Ahead of us I could see the most beautiful bank of mist laying across the valley, reaching its fingers across the road where it met the trees. I’ll never forget cresting one hill and seeing the unbroken line of jerseys, hundreds and hundreds of them, moving for a mile ahead of me into that mist through which the sun was now shining. A lifetime moment… which was unfortunately the highlight of the day.
At the turn to begin the St. Kevin’s climb, where I often stop to pee, I had no need to do so, and so began the slog up the hill that just keeps getting steeper and steeper. And now the traffic increased exponentially, just like on any highway at rush hour when you begin to climb even the slightest hill. I believe I was forced off the bike two separate times because I just couldn’t make it through the riders ahead of me. In both cases I was able to remount after just a few steps and keep going. Unlike two years ago, I suffered on St. Kevin’s, but never dismounted of my own volition, largely because my pride wouldn’t allow it, not because I didn’t want to.
Again, I realized that this wasn’t 2011. By the time I reached the hairpin, that short but amazingly-long 15 minutes later of grades up to 21%, my heart rate was in the 170s, a problem that would stay with me for the next 50 miles. Unlike 2011, traffic thinned out after the hairpin and I was able to ride my race all the way to Carter Summit. And again, unlike 2011, it was a much more difficult piece of the race. Those little climbs after the hairpin just weren’t fun this year.
I got to Carter Summit in 1 hour, 5 minutes. I’m pleased with anything under 1:10, but again, somehow it just seemed to be so much harder than 2011 and not nearly as fun. And I just didn’t feel “in” it. Why?
From Carter Summit it’s that wonderful 3-mile sprint downhill on the pavement behind Turquoise Lake. As in 2011 I achieved my fastest time of the day here: 41 mph in the full racer crouch most of the way. Unlike two years ago, I left my jacket on because it was still chilly with a bite to it. Down, down, down and then the grind two miles uphill to the Hagerman Pass Rd. and another two miles of light climb on the newly-graded, almost-pavement-like Hagerman road. No washboard! Good going up at 10 mph, but it would be even better news for the return at twice that speed.
I forced myself to pee at the turn onto the Sugarloaf climb, even though I didn’t really feel like I had to. This in itself was a bit alarming, as not peeing usually means improper hydration. But what’s this??? My urine was burning as it passed from my body. This is a heck of a time to be passing a gallstone. It was really painful. No time to worry about it – it would be what it would be. Although I had felt like I had been hydrating regularly, I began to wonder. (In hindsight of a month later, I’m thinking that my hydration was insufficient in the weeks before the race, not necessarily on race day itself. More on this later.)


Near Sugarloaf summit, Mile 15 – (note photo-bomb guy taking leak in background)

And there it was again. I should have been cruising up the Hagerman road at 10-12 mph. Instead I was struggling at 8-9. The Sugarloaf climb, which I usually look forward to, was less enjoyable, and more of a struggle than any time in the past, including the 3 or 4 times I had done it in the previous three weeks. I was just expending too much energy, and my heart rate in the 160s on a relatively minor climb was proving it in numbers.

And I was still cold. The jacket stayed on.
And now… the Powerline. It was a highlight of the day. Unlike 2011, I was never obstructed from going as fast as I felt I could, and hopefully I didn’t hold anyone up. I knew by the top of Sugarloaf that this day was going to be a struggle, and that one advantage I had over a lot of racers around me was knowledge of the course. I also knew that I had descended Powerline without dismounting (somehow) three weeks before in what Art Fleming described as the worst condition he had ever seen it in his 10-plus years here. So I knew I was going to have to get my buckle on descending, contrary to what all the experts say.
So I let it fly on Powerline. No, not in Alban Lakata/Todd Wells fashion, but I’m guessing as fast as anybody in my age group, maybe faster. For whatever the reason, I’m a good descender, and feel confident in letting my bike take the lead. I just stay back as far as I can on the saddle and let ‘er buck. I had no incidents of any kind, not even a little “scare”, on the Powerline descent this year, and I felt very, very good at the bottom of the run, all fifteen thrilling minutes of it.
Powerline is very difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t ridden a mountain bike. And the YouTube helmet cams just don’t do it justice. There are certainly more technically-challenging descents in the mountain biking world, but there is something about the raw physicality of the Leadville Powerline that I think makes it unique. The wheel-eating ruts that run vertically along with you can be as much as two feet deep. One momentary lapse of concentration and your day is over. The bowling ball-sized rockpiles you have to navigate through at speed also present the challenge of knowing that one wrong decision two seconds ago will result in you going over the handlebars. Now put rockpile and ruts together. Now multiply that by a good five or six places like it. Think you can let up near the bottom? It’s like those Colorado highway signs on I-70 for truckers: “Don’t relax! Six more miles of danger!” The wrong move near the bottom on the 90 degree turn while you’re navigating down an 18% grade along a foot-wide strip of loose Rocky Mountain composite granite with a gully on your right and a 50-foot hillside on your left… well, you get the idea. And finally, you have to maintain an intense level of concentration for the entire descent. This is not like going down some 50-foot drop at your local singletrack park. This is a solid fifteen minutes of brow-furrowing, laser-stare, no-blink concentration. One micro-second lapse equals the end of your day. With 1500 racers, there are some who do end their day here. If you’re reading this and aren’t a rider, you’re thinking it’s crazy, but it’s not. It’s doable, but it’s not for the faint of heart. You have to look forward to it. If you’re afraid of it, it’s either going to eat you alive or you’re going to creep along at a rate so slow as to infuriate the hundred riders behind you.
At the bottom of Powerline, you head across the new “ABC” bridge (built by Art, and two other guys starting with a ‘B’ and a ‘C’) across the creek (the bridge is now widened to at least two feet – it’s like an interstate for cryin’ out loud), and then you climb up onto the pavement and head over to the fish hatchery and on toward the Pipeline.
For the record, I maintained my concentration this year and did NOT fall off my bike ten feet after crossing the bridge.
After rounding the curve on 300 by the fish hatchery, I caught up with a pace line that was frankly moving too fast for me. Looking back, it was probably a mistake. There was almost no wind, and I would have been smarter to go it on my own. But the common wisdom is that you “must find or create a pace line between the fish hatchery and the Pipeline.” And so I did.
The good news is that we averaged 23-25 mph for the approximately five mile distance. But by the time we broke off onto the dirt doubletrack that leads over to the Pipeline, I was pretty gassed. And I never took the lead once! Again, my heart rate was soaring – in the low 160s!! This is CRAZY high! Should be 130s, maybe low 140s at tops. What was going on? My legs were hurting too much, but more to the point I was feeling gassed. Just no “oomph”, no kick, no ability to take it up to the next notch. And I wasn’t to Mile 30 yet.
And now my mind began to enter the picture. I began doing what you never must do – I began looking ahead. “I’ve got 15 miles of the Pipeline, then the 10-mile Columbine climb, then I’m only at the half-way mark…”, and I began to settle to the realization that it wasn’t going to be my day.
I crossed the Pipeline chip mat at 2 hours, 39 minutes, almost dead on my interval of 2:40. But I was in trouble and I knew it. The rest of the Pipeline to Twin Lakes was a struggle. It’s pretty flat (as flat as it gets anyway – in fact, there are six climbs that the Sunday bike rider might well be walking), and then there’s a 2-mile steady ascent on good gravel over the moraine just before descending into Twin Lakes. Again, no ability to kick it up to the next level. Just plodding, plodding. Hurting.
Add to this, at some point on the Pipeline my left hamstring began acting up. The back story is that I had been struggling with this hamstring for months. It never got bad; just “there”. But now, here I was at Mile 35 and it’s starting to twinge. But wait, now my quads were beginning to ball up! What??? The only time that EVER happened to me was last year in the Iceman, at Mile 25 of 30 after I was just pushing so hard and was so unfit, that it felt like two tennis balls that were at some point going to force me off the bike and onto the ground. Fortunately, that course leveled out and I was able to finish the race. But here I was at Mile 35 with Columbine, not to mention the Powerline ascent ahead, miles ahead. But WAIT! now my stomach was beginning to feel queasy!!! This could NOT be good! Too many miles ahead of me. A bad stomach forces many, many riders to end their races ( Between the ham, the quads and the stomach, I was really becoming even more convinced now that this was simply NOT my day today. I had NONE of these issues two years ago.


On the Pipeline outbound – Mile 35 or so

Hamstring, quads, stomach issues…

Even crossing the dam was a struggle. And what’s this!? The leaders, three of them, came tearing across the dam, nose to tail. There was such a long line of us heading outbound on the “good” packed-down gravel that they were just ripping toward us through the loose stuff on our left. It didn’t seem to be slowing them down. Holy crap! Two years ago I didn’t see the leaders until I was over the Stooges and on my way across the flats to Columbine (another 2 miles ahead). I was on my splits, so it was clear that these guys were on their way to a course record… but that was their world. I had a long way to go and I was hurting.
Again this year, thanks to Frank Gepfrich, (, the friend I made and trained with back in 2011, my crew was under the HerbaLife “umbrella”. I assumed the big black and green HerbaLife tent would be highly visible right near the dam; they’re a major sponsor, after all. But I had never seen the dam so chaotic and so crowded- a sea of tents and flags… and I simply couldn’t find HerbaLife. About halfway down the road there was a big ambulance blocking the entire road. I couldn’t see around it, but surely HerbaLife wasn’t THAT far from the dam – they’re a prime race sponsor! I must have missed it. I circled back toward the dam, somewhat frantic and frustrated, asking at the main LRS feeder tent, “Where’s HerbaLife, where’s HerbaLife????” Thank goodness someone understood me, and said they were way down on the right. I headed back down, but volunteers were blocking the right side of the ambulance, and the left side was being kept open for outbound leaders. As I approached it looked like I was going to have to actually stop for this traffic issue. It’s an indicator of my increasingly frustrating state of mind that this was bothering me as much as it did – that I was already beginning to realize that every second might count.
Just as I approached the ambulance, it began moving, then stopped abruptly. The guy in front of me actually hit the rear bumper and came off his bike. But I saw an opening to the left; the volunteer waved me through and I tore around the ambulance and quickly saw the HerbaLife tent on the right. (I later discovered that that ambulance was there for a spectator who had had a seizure. By coincidence, she was the girlfriend of one of my Chicago friends, Carlos Sintes, who I had trained with back in the spring. She ended up okay, but it finished Carlos’ race. Even though he eventually went on, he lost 45 minutes and didn’t make the 9-hour cut at Pipeline.)
I pulled in, skidding to a halt and there were Ruth and Mike! And Roger and Sandy! And Frank’s friend, Dave, who I hadn’t seen since 2011. Can’t begin to explain how GOOD it is to see people you know at the aid stations. One of my goals was to make my aid stops much faster than 2011 by staying on my bike, not getting off and sitting down under the tent like I did before. And I really felt I was doing that. Bryan has this entire stop on video. Comparing this stop with the aid stop in 2011, there’s just a completely different feel. In 2011 I gushed about how much FUN this was – and I was bleeding in three places then!! This year I stated quite early in the stop that I was worried about my heart rate, that I was having problems with my legs, and there’s somewhat of a haunted, detached look on my face pretty much the whole time. I was panting; couldn’t catch my breath. I thought the stop was fast; in fact the video shows that I pulled away from Twin Lakes aid after – are you ready – 4 minutes, 26 seconds!!! Granted, the camelbak had to be adjusted a couple of times, and there was some fumbling about my rain jacket (Sandy was semi-insisting that I wouldn’t need it any more. I had to insist that I did – it was going to get cold on that mountain. I had only taken the jacket off about fifteen minutes earlier – at the base of the singletrack, I think – and I was still wearing the arm and leg warmers up). (I also got a bit upset at Sandy because she said I was behind my time of two years ago. I corrected her sharply; that in fact I was ahead of my time of two years ago. I was into Twin Lakes at 3 hours, 38 minutes, just a little ahead of where I was in 2011. But I think the real reason I was cross with Sandy is because I was just cross: I knew how much trouble I was in.)
And now…Columbine. I left the comfort of family and friends and headed up the hill toward the Stooges. Unlike 2011, I was able this year to climb right up and over them without a struggler in front of me forcing me off the bike. And then it was across the broad valley ranchlands to the base of the Columbine climb. I kept looking for Rebecca (Rusch), but never did see her. Saw what I thought was a woman pass by, but again, that was their world.
Passed through a mini-Twin Lakes dam scene where the road comes in from Granite. Amazing the number of tents now set up at this alternate/impromptu/unofficial aid station. Must have been 100 yards of tents lining the road here. Lots of cowbells and waving and cheering. I wasn’t in the mood. I knew what was waiting. And I figured Columbine was going to be where either my hamstring and/or quads and/or stomach and/or dead legs were going to do me in… or not.
Somehow that first steep incline right at the start of lower Columbine was okay, but then I fell into my “new” pattern: simply no get-up-and-go. I plugged away up the hill at speeds mostly in the 3-4 mph range, significantly slower than my 5-6 mph training average. Importantly, I never got off the bike, but part of the reason for that is that it’s more painful for me to walk than ride: so, lesser of two evils.
And now something ELSE: a headache began to form itself around my temples. Oh great. I’m just above 9000. What’s this going to be like in two hours at 12,000? What *else* could go wrong? I had NONE of this in 2011.
After what seemed hours (because it was) I finally felt the tripod (it’s what I call that metal mining structure just before the first steep climb that signals the beginning of “upper Columbine”) nearing, but not before a frustrating experience. There was a guy ahead of me, walking… and I simply couldn’t catch him. I’ll say in my defense that I have never seen a guy walk this fast, but still, I mean, come ON! This was so demoralizing. I must have followed him for two miles before finally passing. Sheesh.
I got to the tripod and stopped to pee (more pain!!) and put my jacket back on. The quad issue had dissipated to nothing. The hamstring hadn’t sprung. My stomach issue was gone. The headache was minimal. Even my heart rate had dropped into the 140s now, where it should have been tens of miles ago. I should have felt more thankful than I did. It was sunny, but cold. Decision time. Jacket or no? Decided no – I’d use the leg and arm warmers. What to ride and what to hike-a-bike now. I decided, again against most advice (you’ll waste energy that you need to have later), to try to ride the first steep section. So I did, and made it probably ¾ of the way up before getting off the bike. This is when I found out that, true to the day, my feet were going to be problematic. I have been having some issues with the toes on my right foot, and I now found that I simply couldn’t place full weight on that foot in a “straight-ahead” gait. I had to turn the right foot almost 90 degrees to the left and just use it as a “place-holder” while I pushed off with my left. One-legged hike-a-biker.
I got back on the bike whenever I could, but there’s probably a good mile (?) of hike-a-bike, along with everybody else, and it was, in fact, painful. I thought briefly about what got me through two years ago – comparing my self-imposed “misery” with the real misery of 18th and 19th century American slaves. I tried that this year and just didn’t have the mind for it. Fuck that, just walk and get it over with. I do remember at one point glancing up and seeing the line stretching up and up what seemed like Jacob’s Ladder to the heavens. It was discouraging. I was cold. Everybody else raved about what a perfect day it was. I was cold.
Finally, I reached that point where I could get back on the bike and grind away to the summit. I was not enjoying the “beauty” above treeline this year. My feet were appreciating being back on the bike again. And again, the remaining climb to 12,600 feet was a slow grind. So discouraging to be so much slower than any training ride. What was going on???


Ascending Columbine, about 12,500 ft., Mile 49. Lost 20 minutes on this climb. Disaster.

I reached the summit and coasted down the hill to the turn-around, which I barely noticed. I felt like I was in a mental fog. I knew I had taken too much time getting to the summit, but I was unclear on just how much time I had lost. I just knew it was time I didn’t have to lose. (In fact, my time from Twin Lakes to Columbine turn-around was 2 hours, 35 minutes. This was the first split time I missed, and I missed it by a LOT. My target was somewhere between 2:05-2:15, so I lost somewhere between 20 or 30 minutes here… and I was shooting for splits that would give me an 11:30 finish. This is where I knew I was done for the day. Again that little voice began taking control: “If I just lost a half hour on Columbine at Miles 40-50, how much more am I going to lose on Powerline at Mile 80, or on the climb to Carter Summit at Mile 90? I’m done.”) I gave no thought to stopping at the Columbine summit aid station. Seemed senseless in light of the 45-minute “rest” I was about to get on the way back downhill to Twin Lakes.

Powerline inbound

Trying to put the best face on for the camera, just past the Columbine turn-around at Mile 50. Homeward bound. (I beat that guy to the finish line by seven minutes.)

Now the word “rest” is a very relative term, because descending Columbine is a test. It’s not anything as technical as Powerline, with the exception of a few short steep spots on the upper reaches. The test comes in its length. I descend pretty well, so I knew I could cut it loose here. But it’s a test of physical strength, especially the arms and hands. Forty-five straight minutes of high-speed (for me, that’s 20-25 mph) descending. The road is quite rough at the top and you feel like the eyeballs are going to get jarred loose from their sockets. Everything’s a blur, literally, on the upper section (2 miles), but again you have to trust the bike and your instincts. Once “lower” Columbine is reached (8 miles), the road “smooths” into decent fire road, but you’re always braking. There are about six hairpins you don’t want to over-shoot or lose your traction on. So it’s alternatively letting the bike run out, but then knowing you’ve got to get it under control for the next hairpin, then letting the bike run, etc. etc. etc. For 45 minutes. By the time you get back down to the ranchland, the forearms, wrists and neck are pretty sore from maintaining the same position for so long.
Also, I knew that my time up Columbine was poor, so I felt I had to get what I could on the descent. So I was probably a shade more reckless than I should have been. What did it get me? Two minutes. I made it down in 43 minutes, two minutes faster than my desired split time. Whoopee.
I was in trouble.
And I REALLY knew I was in trouble when I pulled into Twin Lakes again. The HerbaLife tent was down. This meant that ALL their riders had come and gone and they were packing up to go home! THAT was depressing.
The demeanor of my crew was subdued. Though they tried not to show it, I knew they had been expecting me a lot earlier. Heck, I had been expecting me a lot earlier. I don’t remember anything from this aid station stop other than a feeling of impending doom. We changed out the camelbak and I hit the road. There was a little less enthusiasm in Ruth’s “You got this, Dad”. I’m pretty sure they, like me, were thinking I didn’t.
As I rode away, I created a new, “realistic” goal. “Ok, I’m not going to buckle. There, I’ve said it. So just give it everything you’ve got until you either give out or cross the finish line. You should be able to get a finisher medal (for an under-13-hour finish) if your legs don’t give out on you before then. In any event, just keep going until you can’t go any more.” In fact, although I felt bad for disappointing Mike and Ruth, who came all the way from New Hampshire, this re-adjusted goal set my mind at ease for the first time in many, many miles of worry.
Things didn’t get any easier physically, but I at least now had a new approach: keep going until you physically can’t go any more. I was not going to allow myself to be defeated mentally.
So across the dam and up the moraine and over to the single track. Okay.


The start of the single-track, inbound, Mile 65

Up the single track, through the woods, over to Lil’ Stinker, the short but super steep hike-a-bike, and wheeled onto the Pipeline. Okay. Not fun, but okay.
Up and down the swales and across the Pipeline. Barely conscious of riders around me or the environment, or the circumstances. Somewhere I stopped to take off the jacket again. I don’t know where. (2014 note: Where did I put it on? I’m not wearing it in picture on Singletrack.)
I barreled through Pipeline aid station, wondering not so much if, but how and when Powerline was going to do me in. I knew I didn’t have much left in the tank, so it would probably be Powerline where I went down.
I crossed the Pipeline chip mat 1 hour, 19 minutes after leaving Twin Lakes. This was a good fifteen minutes behind my planned split time. In 2011 I did this split in 1 hour, 5 minutes. And that was the FLAT part of the course! Now I was a MINIMUM 35 minutes off my splits for an 11 hour, 30 minute finish. If you’re doing the math, that’s a 12 hour, 5 minute finish. No buckle.
But for some strange and absolutely irrational reason, I felt for the first time since very early in the race, that I might have a chance to buckle. After all, I was close. But I was also keenly aware that I was on the bubble, and so did every rider around me from that point on. Two years ago, I was riding from Pipeline to the finish line (last 28 miles) with a certain degree of comfort, knowing I had a pretty good time cushion. This year, I was exactly where I had hoped I never would be at that point: riding desperately on the border of Buckle Land. On the other hand, having any chance was a lot better than my feeling 15 miles earlier of having no chance.
Of course, the headwind had started back at the dam, but Pipeline is rather sheltered in the trees so you don’t get it too bad. But after Pipeline aid, you head out to the blacktop and there’s not a tree in sight. It was approaching mid-afternoon now and the wind really picked up. Serious headwind. Of course. I scrounged a pace line: all two of us. And then we found Dave, another “old guy” I had trained with on several of Art’s rides. Very nice man. He was hurting, like me, so we joined up and encouraged each other. Our third rider soon dropped us two old, tired guys, so for most of the blacktop all the way to the hatchery, it was Dave and me, trading leads about every 30 seconds. I felt like the stronger of the two, and that gave me strength: I had to lead – Dave was counting on me. At one point, Dave told me he couldn’t take his turn, and it was alright. I pulled another turn. I knew we were going to make the shelter of the trees pretty soon. And we did. At that point, I moved on ahead, and my gut feeling was that Dave just might not make it. (So it was one of the great pleasures of the day to see him cross the finish line just a few minutes after me and get his buckle. He told me he couldn’t have done it without me, but I think it’s just as much the reverse.)
And now… Powerline. There simply wasn’t anything to do but do it, right? I mean, you don’t train for a year to quit at the base of the Powerline. I made a point of riding at least a few feet farther up the steep base than I rode in 2011 (maybe 2/3 of the way to the 90 degree left turn). Then off the bike, again the feet really hurting. So much that I actually got back on the bike for what is probably a 20-yard rideable section on that first steep hill. I remember getting to the top of that first false summit, the steepest behind me now, stopping to rest, and thinking, “Thank Goodness! I will NOT have to walk again until the finish line.”
Or will I? I still had forty-five minutes of Powerline ascent ahead of me. Tricky, rock-strewn, gullied, and still steep enough. In other words, not just climbing, but pulling the front wheel over rocks and across gullies for another three miles. Two years ago I rode the entire rest of the Powerline without stopping. But two years ago I had energy. Today, I didn’t know how I’d even gotten this far. I peed, then stepped over the center bar, clipped in, took a deep breath and went after it.
I remember a few things. I know I was forced off the bike several times by technical mistakes compounded by the fact that I was going so slow that my front wheel could have hit a pebble and it would have grounded me. How slow? My Garmin kept ‘beeping’ off because it was reading 0 mph, that’s how slow. It irritated me, because I knew I was moving, but I bet it happened more than thirty times in the next hour. And then… NOOO!!! There was that walking guy again!!!! Ahead of me again!!! Same guy!!!!! And I couldn’t catch him…. Again!!!!! This was a revoltin’ development (that’s an age-appropriate joke). After what seemed ages, I finally did catch up with him and remarked on his amazing walking pace. He told me he hadn’t really trained for the race, but he was a big hiker, so his race plan was to walk every hill and then descend like crazy. He didn’t say this in a friendly way; almost like I was bothering him by asking. He took off on me again, and in moments was a good ten yards ahead of me. Grrrrrr.
Finally I passed him just as we summited. When? Just about an hour after starting the ascent. Like the descent of Powerline, there’s a mystique on the ascent. It becomes timeless. You want to keep track of the false summits, but by this point in the race your oxygen-deprived brain isn’t able to remember the number. Was that the third one, or the fourth one? Oh, forget it, just keep climbing. You know it’s going to end, but it’s like a form of hell – there simply is no time attached to the pain. You just keep going, knowing only that it’s going to end SOME time. (I guess that’s not like hell, then.)
I don’t remember any particular stab of joy upon summiting. There was no time for emotion. I had to get my ass down Sugarloaf, and I tore it up. I don’t have a specific Sugarloaf split, but I know I descended that hill faster than I had ever done before. It was a blur. It was desperation time and I knew this was my last real chance to go real fast for any amount of time. Every minute counted now, and I had minutes to make up if I was going to buckle.
Sugarloaf isn’t technical, but it’s also not smooth. That same eyeballs jarring out of sockets feeling (I don’t ride one of them new-fangled 29” full-suspension bikes that just roll over everything like your grandpa’s Caddy. Mine is a 13-year-old 26er hardtail, emphasis on the HARD, feeling every little rock, like your great-great grandpa’s covered wagon. And I was feeling every jolt on my 63-year-old spine on this descent.)
But it was a thrill, I have to say. And I knew that the newly-graded Hagerman road was going to work in my favor. Two years ago I coasted down Hagerman road, resting. Today, I put the hammer down and hit the mid-20s for most of the two miles. Same thing on the 2-mile descent behind Turquoise Lake.
And then… the big 3 miles of steady pavement climb to Carter Summit. It’s Mile 87. What’s in the tank?
Turns out, enough. One of the main things that pulled me up that hill is that I knew Mike and Ruth were waiting at the top. I had had the foresight to anticipate that Mile 90 might be a good time to see family again. I remember wishing two years ago that I had seen Lois again somewhere between Twin Lakes and the finish line. So I asked Mike and Ruth to make the effort. And they did. And knowing they were going to be up there at Carter Summit is exactly what I needed.
I’ll be honest, it was a long, grind up that hill, but I seemed to be making my training speed of 5-7 mph. In any case, I couldn’t have gone any faster, so it was going to be what it was going to be. As I neared Carter Summit, my watch read 5:15 p.m. Once in training I had specifically timed myself from Carter to the Finish Line. I had heard you should make it in an hour. I did it on relatively fresh legs as fast as I could: 1 hour, 3 minutes. But that was after only twenty miles, not ninety. I now had 1 hour 15 minutes. This was going to be close.
Mike saw me approaching the summit and ran to the turn-off with me. I saw Ruth there. My heart felt good. I had been planning on stopping at the aid station. I was needing to pee. Badly. I was low on hydration. But I simply couldn’t afford to stop. I yelled something to the effect, “I’ve got to keep moving. Can’t stop!” and I never slowed down as I turned off the pavement for the haul across to St. Kevin’s. I hoped they knew how much their being there meant.
I’m not going to say it was easy, but I was motivated now. There are three “grunts” on the way to the Kevin’s descent, and they were no fun, especially the 100-yard one after the sharp left turn at Ken’s Corner. But I stayed on the bike the whole way. No more walking.
When I passed the old mine tailings I knew it was a long downhill ahead of me. Again, I had to throw caution to the wind and let it rip down St. Kevin’s. You don’t want to crash your race at Mile 95, but I had to take chances.
I hit the flats at the bottom of Kevin’s, that place where a half a day ago (or was it months) I had ridden in the other direction through the magical morning mist. And now it began to rain. As far as I can tell, I’m the only rider it rained on all day. But it was after 6:00 now and it was a cold rain. My jacket was in my camelbak and I simply was not going to take the chance of losing a buckle because I stopped to put it on.
I was flying now. Unconscious. Can’t say I was feeling no pain, but the finish line was within reach and maybe, just maybe…
I crossed the river and headed over to the Boulevard, that last little kick in the teeth they throw at you just so you know it’s not going to be easy. I remember very little of the Boulevard except checking my watch. A lot. I did not like being on the bubble, but now, for the first time, it was becoming increasingly clear that barring sudden collapse I was going to get a buckle. I remember not being quite able to digest the fact. For the better part of eleven hours I was resigned to the fact that I wasn’t. Now, in what seemed the space of a relatively few minutes, I was having to deal with the fact that I was. I couldn’t wrap my fuzzy-headed mind around it. It wasn’t really registering as anything other than a “fact”. I’m glad I’d ridden the Boulevard a number of times before race day; otherwise it can get to you mentally, as in “Will this *&#@&-ing thing ever end??” In fact, that slow, smooth climb on good gravel was painful, but at Mile 101 of 104, what is pain?
I made the last climb up 6th Avenue, looking for my marker pick-up truck in the driveway on the right that told me I had summited my last hill. On training rides I always looked for it – even saw the owner once who assured me it would be there on race day. I figured at Mile At the top, you get your first view of the finish line. I picked up speed and pedaled as fast as I could down the hill toward it.
And now, because I was one of those riders on the bubble, there was an amazing sight as I neared the finish line. There was a gauntlet of people for about a half-block before the red carpet, cheering on any of us who were trying to beat the 12-hour deadline. There was a “center aisle” through the crowd maybe five feet wide and I headed for it, the cheering, clapping, cowbells growing louder by the second. I smiled for I think the first time all day as people reached out and clapped my shoulders and arms. Maybe it was a kind of teeth-clenched, grim kind of “damn-it-I-DID-it” smile, but it was the best I could muster. And then the crowd dissipated and the last twenty feet before the red carpet it was just me, alone, smiling.

Mile 104 – The Red Carpet
I took a quick look around – nobody right behind me. Did I have the energy to do it?
I found the last reserve of energy and picked up the necessary speed to hit the red carpet with both hands in the air. The clock read 11:48 as I crossed the finish line. I had ridden from Carter Summit to the finish line in 1 hour, 3 minutes. Same as my training time.


The Finish Line (that’s Mike running up from behind)

Merilee put the finisher medal around my neck and I collapsed over my handlebars.
Mike came up from behind me and Ruth got there moments later. Hugs all around. Frank and Tim showed up, and then Rebecca Rusch, who gave me a big hug and high five.
Done. Somewhere, somehow, I’m still not sure, I had made up my lost time. My official chip time was 11:48:37. I got the buckle.


So why was this race so much more difficult than 2011? Race day conditions were perfect. After three weeks of rainy, cold, crappy weather, race day was perfect, if not a tad chilly. Sunny, the course was that perfect, tacky, slightly damp granulated granite, many of the rough spots either graded by machine, like Hagerman, or beaten down by all the bike traffic in the two weeks prior to race day. Powerline being a perfect example: it was SO much better than it was in mid-July. Here’s some variables, any one of which could have made the difference, but probably more like the combination of them all:
1. Family vacation in June. I knew I might be sacrificing my race by essentially taking the month of June off from training. I was on my bike a total of three times in three-plus weeks, and those three rides combined totaled less than six hours. This had to be a factor. In 2011 I remember riding much of the course, especially the flats and the smaller hills “effortlessly”, meaning no leg discomfort. FUN. This year my legs hurt all day.
2. Pre-race hydration. I had been noticing for a couple of weeks that when I urinated it was a darker yellow than usual. In fact, I usually run almost clear. In hindsight, I think perhaps I wasn’t drinking enough good liquid (too much diet Coke) in the weeks prior to race day, and perhaps that had a cumulative effect. It could explain almost all the race-day symptoms I experienced: quad cramps, hamstring, stomach, headache, stinging urination – am I forgetting something?
3. Race day hydration. I THINK I was drinking regularly, but unlike 2011 I don’t think I completely drained any of my three 70-oz. camelbak bladders. The cooler weather may have had something to do with this, but fact is, you’ve GOT to drain those things even if it IS cold. An indicator that I may not have been hydrating properly would be the fact that I peed significantly fewer times this year than in 2011. And this also may have had something to do with the pain – don’t know. (The painful urination ended after the first discharge the next morning. Never returned.)
4. Age? I just felt mentally fuzzy all day; not the laser sharp focus of 2011. On the other hand I was sharp “in the moment” this year: no falls, accidents, mental errors. I ran a really clean race, so I’m not as sure about this one. Overall, fuzzy, but sharp “per second”.
5. Lack of excitement. I never was quite AS excited about this race as I was the first one. Then again, I’ve never had a more sustained excitement about any athletic event in my life as that first race. There could be several reasons: 1. “Second race” syndrome. I don’t even know if this exists, but I know I thought often along the lines of “how could this race possibly top my “perfect day” in 2011?” How do you get better than perfect? 2. Lois not on board. It’s hard to say this, but it’s difficult to mentally gear up for a race your spouse doesn’t want you to be gearing up for, especially when you love that spouse as much as I love Lois. Hand in hand with this is 3. The feeling that by going to Colorado for a month I was abandoning not only Lois, but also Anna.
6. Bad taper. Not in riding as much as in fatigue-inducing activity. Volunteering to course mark and do registration so early on the two days prior to race day at 7:00 a.m. – just too much for my ankles. I was in real pain leading into this race, and I think that may have had something to do with the pain I experience on the hike-a-bike sections.
7. Serious lack of sleep not just on Friday night, but for most of the week prior. Somewhat hand-in-hand with #6. I slept poorly for several nights prior to the race, and then got a maximum of four hours of definitely-not-deep sleep the night before. I remember seeing the clock say “11:30”, with a 3:30 alarm set. Way different than 2011 when I slept like a baby the night before, a good 6-plus hours.
8. Lack of cross-training. Because of the ankles, I can’t run or do most gym machines, so I’m limited to bike riding. But unlike two years ago where I alternated road and mountain bike training, this year I trained exclusively on my mountain bike. I wonder if I so overused those specific muscle groups (and gave no other muscle groups a chance to work) that by race day I was worn out before the race started. My journal indicates all spring and summer long how much my quads and hams were hurting on training rides.
9. Hosting – From Wednesday night through race day I was host, first to Tim, Frank, and Alex, then on Thursday to Roger and Sandy, then Friday evening Ruth and Mike came in at about the time I should have been in bed. Just a lot going on mentally in terms of having the right amount of food, cooking, and determining where everyone was going to sleep. Would have been much better to be isolated those last few days. Lois would have been a big help here.

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The Dark Power of Harold Ramis


(I wrote most of this in March, 2014, but it needed polishing, and then life intervened. I’m publishing now because the topic is important to me.)

Like almost everybody else, I was saddened to hear of the death of Harold Ramis on February 24, 2014. Too young. Too soon. Too talented. Too nice. Of all his roles, my favorite was his relatively small one as the kindly doctor in As Good As It Gets. He seemed perfect for the part; blushing, beaming, gentle, self-effacing. No one, it seems, had a negative word to say about him. How could you? The man was an American comedic film legend.
But his death has led me to think about his other side – maybe his dark side? – namely his influence on our culture as a director and writer. The March, 2014 Atlantic, which went to print before his death, features what has become a widely-circulated story titled “The Dark Power of Fraternities” . Author Caitlin Flanagan makes a strong case for the moment in time when fraternities went from being seen as fuddy-duddy preservers of the old order to the hip, alcohol-crazed, off-campus sanctuaries of bacchanalia they are today. Maybe you’ve already guessed: “Animal House, released in 1978, at once predicted and to no small extent occasioned (my emphasis) the roaring return of fraternity life that began in the early ‘80s and that gave birth to today’s vital Greek scene.” The article is replete with horror story after horror story describing alcohol-induced deaths on campuses across America.
Ramis wrote and directed Animal House. Judging by obituaries like this one in the New York Times, it ranks as one of his crowning achievements: “His breakthrough came in 1978 when he joined Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller to write ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’, which starred Mr. Belushi and broke the box-office record for comedies at the time.’ The obit continues: ‘More than anyone else,’ Paul Weingarten wrote in The Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983, ‘Harold Ramis has shaped this generation’s ideas of what is funny.'”

I would like to make the case that Harold Ramis shaped much more than a generation’s idea of what was funny. We could engage here in the argument of whether art reflects or directs culture, but in citing the importance of this one movie on the rebirth of a dying fraternity system, and to the general party atmosphere on college campuses today, Flanagan seems to believe the latter.
And so do I, more or less. Like everyone else, I laughed at the outlandish behavior of John Belushi as John Blutarski (how could you not love it when he took that dweeb’s guitar and smashed it to bits against the stairwell wall?), but deep down I remember an overall sense of discomfort with the idea that I and so many people around me in the theater, and in my generation, were laughing at the unstated premise of the film: that virtually all aspects of the Ancien Regime are ridiculous and by (hilarious) inference, are not worth saving. I distinctly remember thinking that I would not want my children (to be born just a few years later) to be anything like John Blutarski.
Does that make me a prude and a killjoy? Maybe by today’s standards, but call me what you want, we’re talking something deeply important here. If you step back and look at other Ramis films, Caddyshack (1980) or Stripes (1981), you’ll understand the real purpose behind Animal House. All three films mock moribund American institutions – the old-line military in the case of Stripes, old-line conservative education in Animal House, and the old-line greed and hypocrisy of the country club set in Caddyshack. Granted, there was plenty to mock.

And they’re all hilarious. All three were extremely effective at ripping the shrouds off of and exposing the bloated corpses of these institutions. But when you take them together you see the real message: there’s NO institution worth saving.

But then what? What solutions were offered? None, except “Let’s dance on the rubble of what we destroyed.” Caddyshack, in fact, ends with Rodney Dangerfield joyfully exclaiming to a cheering crowd (in a line that seems out of place until you understand its larger context)  “Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”. As in Animal House, the future being offered by Ramis to America’s next generation? Let’s get drunk, let’s get high, let’s get laid. Why these solutions? Because everybody knew that by 1980 American liberal Christianity was in crisis mode (Read retired Notre Dame professor George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief)It had offered no viable solutions to the Baby Boomers, who as children were taken by their parents to Norman Rockwell-looking churches which by the 1950s had been emptied of any real content. The children were not fooled and by the 1960s they had either abandoned religion altogether or were experimenting with other more exciting and exotic religions, like Taoism or Buddhism, to fill the void.

So, I would argue that what happened as a result of Ramis’s films was the “second generation” of an already-tattered ’60s New Left movement. Some history. In 1962 a group of intelligent and motivated college students at the University of Michigan issued their Port Huron Statement, listing concerns for a world they saw being ruined by their elders and offering clear, intelligent and humane alternatives. Go ahead, back up two lines and read it. It doesn’t take long. Does it not offer a reasoned response to what could be called, without much argument, the real problems of their day, most of which were being ignored by The Establishment? It put some big ideas out there.

But what happened to this movement within a few short years? By 1969 it had been dragged down by a tidal wave of youth’s lowest common denominator, who took its call for fundamental change as license to open the floodgates of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll”, and a helpless adult American culture, now awash in teen Baby Boomers, sat by and watched the revolution envelope them, their only responses as the waters closed over them being knee-jerk demands for “law and order” and Richard Nixon. At the same time, the very real concerns of the Port Huron Statement (ie., nuclear annihilation, civil rights, poverty) actually were beginning to be addressed, but… its real message was lost on most Baby Boomers, who just wanted to get drunk, get high and screw in the mud at Woodstock: the ideals of the New Left were lost in a fog of purple haze.

Enter the next (or “second”) generation of cultural gate-keepers, led at least in part by Ramis and his National Lampoon cohort, who jumped on a bandwagon that by the late ’70s seemed unstoppable (and we now begin to see art not only reflect the culture of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, but target its direction).
We began to see more and more movies that tore apart the hypocrisies of the “old school” (literally, in the case of Animal House) but offered no solution other than sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. (To make my point, Ramis didn’t write Stripes; he co-starred with Bill Murray. But the screenwriter’s first acting choices were  … wait for it … Cheech and Chong.) It was the New Left/Port Huron crowd stripped of its moral base, much like Poor Richard’s aphorisms in the early 18th century were 17th century Puritanism reduced to one-liners and stripped of its moral base. As happened in the ’60s, the lowest common denominator saw this movie in its most simplistic terms, and off they went to college with the expectation of (or at least the hope of in the case of Animal House’s “EveryMan”, Larry Kroger) getting drunk, getting high and screwing on the grass in the Quad. After all, it was their turn, wasn’t it?

By the turn of the century, as Flanagan points out, the entire culture of “higher education” had been changed, and not to the benefit of either education or the nation. Many prospective students now make the Princeton Review party school listing their first college research. Local and national media, like Chicago’s Fox affiliate in 2013, highlight these Princeton results before any other: “The University of Iowa may top the list of the nation’s top party schools but the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign isn’t far behind.”

Side Story (This could be a separate blog entry, but it belongs here. Sorry.)

Back in 2002, Lois and I hatched a book idea. It was a culmination of three things: 1. our concern for the degree of alcohol abuse by our athletic teams at Downers North High School (I had two consecutive varsity soccer seasons ruined by drinking incidents in the early 1990s) combined with what was our perception of a lack of parental concern for the problem in our school community; 2. our reading of Indiana University Professor Murray Sperber’s amazing 2001 expose of college athletics and alcohol (Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education); and 3. attendance at our daughter’s freshman orientation at University of Colorado-Boulder in 2000 where we heard that it’s not the college’s job to police student drinking; it was our as parents job to instill non-drinking values in our children before they got to college. (Please picture the university wiping its hands here.)

Bottom line: we felt that outside of a Wheaton College or Bob Jones University, there was an entirely new level of bacchanalia of which today’s parents were simply not aware. The reigning opinion seemed to be, “Oh, I drank when I went to college, too,” and when we would try to tell them that what was going on now was at a completely different level from what they were doing in college, they simply didn’t believe us. Besides, and maybe the root of the problem, how could they tell their kids not to do what they had done when they attended Faber?

Our idea: take a year’s leave of absence from our teaching jobs and travel from coast to coast, visiting one college or university campus each week, from major “big-name” universities to the smallest of small colleges. On each campus we would interview students, deans, janitors, campus security, campus health center personnel, frat and sorority presidents, college presidents when possible, but most importantly we would observe the party scene, a new one each week. During the week we would write it all up, and then move on to the next campus. The idea was that by documenting the horrors of collegiate alcohol abuse on campus after campus after campus, that American parents would no longer be able to slough the epidemic off as something either exaggerated or infrequent. (A decade later, Flanagan’s Atlantic article was heartening to us.)

We thought the book was a good idea, and decided to do a test run.
On a weekend in January, 2003 we made arrangements to visit the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana, staying two nights. Our first stop was a pizza joint with more than a dozen of our former students. For over two hours they told stories that confirmed – no, exceeded our worst fears. They wanted us to write this book.
Over the course of the next two days and nights we: met with the Dean of the University, the president of the campus Greek system, the head of Health Services, the head of dormitory maintenance, rode the infamous “night bus” from midnight to 2:00 a.m .  (from a U of I nightlight website: “Transportation is always open for students through safe rides. The weekends is very hard to find someone that can actually walk in a straight line. The parties here do get out of hand sometimes.” You can read many more entries for yourself, but we can affirm the truth of that statement.)

If it wasn’t an exhaustive study, it was exhausting. We returned home Sunday afternoon, sobered (no pun intended) and convinced that this was a subject in need of a book, but we soon realized we weren’t the ones to write it, a decision that had as much to do with our not being able to afford taking a year off from our teaching jobs as anything else. The need is still there: View this 4-minute Youtube video put together by U of I students. It’s part of a series of “I’m Schmacked” videos on campuses all across the country. It appears to confirm that nothing has changed for the better since we visited over ten years ago.

Our short weekend at the University of Illinois showed us that everyone benefited from the current alcohol policies; everyone except the students, of course, who naturally thought they benefited (remember, they’d all seen that American classic, Animal House). And the parents, who were ignorant either by absence or choice. And our nation.

Here’s the way it worked.
The university banned drinking in the dorms, and the fraternities (over 55 of them at U of I) were now all dry (most of them own separate “party houses”, so yes, there’s no drinking allowed at the frat house itself [get it?]. This looks really good in the college alumni and fraternity magazines.). That made the bars on Green St. the prime focus of legal alcohol consumption. The university felt, as the Dean of Students said, “with regret” that this was the best the university could hope for in at least controlling the problem. It’s remindful of the red light districts in 19th century American cities.
So the university and the frats are absolved of responsibility, right? Okay, next step.


At Kam’s on graduation day: remembering the best part of their college experience?

The City of Urbana has a law that allows 18-year-olds into the bars, but they’re not allowed to drink. Did you get that? “Sure, go ahead and sit with your friends at Kams (“Home of the Drinking Illini”), but whatever you do, don’t drink!” Right. What happens, of course, is that the underage drinkers, identified with a special bracelet, sit at the tables while the 21-year-olds buy the pitchers at the bar, bring them to the table, and you know the rest of the story.


I’d like to stop here to talk about Animal House again. Because I’m curious how we got from the 1950s and early 60s to the present. In the 50s yes, there was certainly drinking and pre-marital sex and who knows what other behaviors on college campuses, but at nowhere near the levels we see now. The drinking culture is perhaps now the primary culture on campus, to the extent that it has begun to exert powerful influences over the academic culture. And as Sperber surmised, any university that doesn’t offer a competitive mens’ football or basketball team is simply out of the race. (My theory is that as true liberal arts education is now all but dead on university campuses anyway, replaced by technology-driven job training, the traditional feel of a college education is gone. A college diploma is now the equivalent of what a high school diploma used to be. It’s nothing special… and students, I mean, customers, may not feel any more special at U of I than they do at Costco.)  Sperber points out that the older tenured professors, of which he was one, have first dibs on the class calendar. As such, they place their classes between Tuesdays and Thursdays. Why? Because the partying starts on Thursday nights and they know from experience that there’s a significant “hangover effect” on class attendance on Mondays. That leaves Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as the remaining productive days of the week. If this rings a bell, by the way, it’s because it’s almost identical to what was happening in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s before the fall of the Wall: alcohol abuse so rampant that factory production on Friday’s and Mondays showed seriously deteriorated production quality.
Alcohol abuse affecting factory production in a dying Soviet Union is one thing: Russians had every reason to be depressed. But rampant alcohol abuse affecting virtually every institution of higher learning in the United States is, in my opinion, quite another, and more serious thing. Way more serious, partly because the college years are the peak years for expanding one’s mind and examining one’s soul, partly because college students represent the future of American society, and partly because college should be a “high-brow” affair (as in, you know, “institutions of higher learning”).

The real concern in all of this? If in twenty years campus life has deteriorated to this level of moral depravity, what will we see by 2040, and what will the ramifications for the nation be? It should be noted here that while other nations also have campus drinking, the United States stands virtually alone in its degree of moral depravity in its institutions of higher learning.

Now, of course, the issue of campus rape is on everyone’s lips. We have but one question. How much campus rape is alcohol-fueled? In our opinion, the problem isn’t rape; it’s the alcohol that fuels the rape.

Back to Urbana. On both our nights riding along with the Urbana police, the night ended just before 2:00 a.m. as we pulled up across the street from Kams. It soon became obvious why. As the students trickle onto the sidewalk at closing time, the police don’t have to wait long. On my night, it was a girl who fell down within a few feet of leaving the bar. My policeman got out of his car to “assist” this young lady. Bringing her to the squad car, she got into the back seat. He obtained her ID and discovered she was 18 years of age. She pleaded with the officer not to write her a ticket. He was sympathetic, but firm. He wrote the ticket. She was crying now. How much? $400. That’s $400 into the city coffers from just this one student. Start doing the math.
So let’s review. The university is absolved of responsibility, the frats are absolved of responsibility, and now we have the City of Urbana raking in how many tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars each year, simply by waiting for girls to fall down on the sidewalk. That’s easy pickin’s, man. And let’s not forget the immense profits for Kam’s and the dozens of other bars in both Urbana and Champaign which, like the Urbana police, have zero interest in making any attempt to curb binge drinking.

I asked the officer if I could talk to this girl. She was still crying, drunkenly distraught over her situation. Her parents would be notified, so it wasn’t just a matter of the money; she had to face her parents. I felt sorry for her. She had gone to Fremd HS in Palatine, a northwest Chicago suburb. I asked her how often she drank like this. She said just about every weekend. I asked her what her gpa was. She said it was a 3.2. I remember wondering about the level of academic rigor that allows a U of I student to maintain a ‘B’ average while drunk every weekend. (although as we know, you pretty much have to be a corpse to get a grade lower than a ‘B’ in college these days – otherwise, the “customer” gets upset and takes his business elsewhere, be that a different professor, a different major, or a different university.)
I don’t remember now how it came up, but she volunteered that she had been sexually abused at a party while drunk. Maybe at more than one party; she wasn’t sure.
She was a freshman.

While I was parked at Kam’s, Lois was in another squad car responding to an alcohol-caused 1-car intersection accident, but raced away from it to answer a more urgent call: a group of male students was seen dragging a female up the stairs of an off-campus apartment building, apparently against her will. When they arrived, there was no sign of anyone.

Just another weekend at Faber.

Postscript May 27, 2014: There was another mass shooting the other day, this one is Isla Vista, California, near the campus of UCSB. The killer released a 140-page manifesto plus a YouTube video that displayed his rage at the fact that he was still a virgin. He’d show those girls. The shooter, like most these days, took his own life. The media is awash with the usual questions. I mention this here because this article caught my eye. Apparently movie star Seth Rogen is highly offended because a Washington Post movie critic, Ann Hornaday posed the theory that his recently-released movie, Neighbors, might have had an influence on the shooter. The movie apparently (haven’t seen it) is at least in part about a college guy who gets a lot of sex (I know – shocking, right?). Among other things, Hornaday says, “Movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it.” 


1. Thomas Frank critiques the negative impact of Ramis from a different, and also valuable, perspective in  Salon. Worth reading.

2. Our Book Proposal…that was never proposed (2003)

            There are now numerous scientific studies dealing with binge drinking on American university campuses. We are drunk with statistics. They are comprehensive… and stunning.

To those who read them.

But most Americans do not read scientific journals and so do not realize how significantly the culture of alcohol on campus has changed since their own college years. It is the anecdotal version of the scientific studies, then, that remains to be written. We believe if it were, America would read.

The academic and administrative communities, the college towns, the student body and the providers of alcohol have no interest in changing this new alcohol culture; they all benefit from it in their own way. In his recently-published book, Beer and Circus – How Big-time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education”, Dr. Murray Sperber calls this type of symbiotic relationship a “non-aggression pact”: all parties appear to benefit (although the student certainly does not).

And America does not. There are obvious short and long-term health issues for our nation costing billions now and hundreds of billions in the future. There is the precipitous decline in academic standards and performance. Finally, and perhaps most serious for a democracy, there is the astonishing disappearance of intellectual, moral and political discussion on our university campuses.

Upton Sinclair exposed the ills of the meat-packing industry in the first decade of the 20th century in his muck-raking expose, The Jungle. His book was visceral. We learned that there are two productions the average American never wants to witness; the making of laws and the making of sausage.

In the first decade of the 21st century, we hope to expose a third “production” Americans don’t want to witness; the making of a campus weekend. We hope to shine a spotlight on these weekends because we feel that only the “outside world”, the off-campus world, can bring change where change is desperately needed.

We propose taking America with us on a one-year tour of university campuses, one campus per week, between September, 2001 and May, 2002.

Each stop will include visits to campus and off-campus parties, interviews with students, college administrators, campus health officials, campus and local police departments, maintenance workers, rape counselors, bar owners, residence hall supervisors, local ministers, local residents, fraternity and sorority officers and members, and any others who can provide local information.

We believe the results will be shocking… and sobering.

We will present the events that have led to this catastrophe in American higher education, illustrate its rapid growth, and the extent of its cover-up. We will show who benefits in the short run. And we will attempt to demonstrate that, in fact, the nation as a whole is the biggest loser, and stands to lose much more if current trends go unchecked.

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