One-Legged Sand Pedallin', Literally!

Little did I know that last fall, when I wrote a short blurb here -- One-Armed Sand Peddlin' -- that I'd ever really think about it again.  When I wrote it, I was a bit nervous about some life stuff, possibly some mortality mumbo jumbo.  RIP Benghazi crew.  

So, then I went out for a short ride during which I remember getting caught up in a bit of sand (while I was fidgeting the phone or food or something w/one hand).  Having to push on through that thick sand, a bit off balance and in too high a gear, the "uneasiness" sorta resonated w/me at the time, at least metaphorically.  Obviously, everything worked out.  I'm alive and well.

That mantra came straight back at me recently, in far more of a literal way than I would've hoped.  Recently, on a short travel layover, I thought it'd be smart  fun to enter a local grassroots desert double-duathon -- mountain bike 20K, run 5K, mountain bike 20K, then run again 5K.  I thought heck yeah, I LIVE in the mountains, I KNOW the mountains, I'm sometimes even considered a REAL mountain biker.  This is perfect!  There are no mountains in this region, so I might be able to make it a good training day, an honest way to drop some of this post-TransAndes-eat-everything-in-sight weight and most likely seal the deal w/a podium spot!

I begged, borrowed and nearly stole to try to find a bike to use.  Come to find out...not really an option 'round there.   One expat guy offered me his - a sweet cf stumpjumper - although XL.  Even after adjusting the stem (6" yikes) and some other things, it simply wouldn't cut it -- still simply way too big for this shrimp.  Ended up getting a "rental" from a mall.  So, imagine those bikes ya see at walmart (can't believe I actually referenced walmart in this blog...yuck!).  Now imagine one of those as a hardtail. About 40lbs. Cast iron.  Too big.  With reflectors...about 10 of them.  Tubes (wtf are those!?).    I'd always learned to 'love' my crappy old cast-iron beater bikes in Iraq, and so for this little race, I thought I should focus on simply being able to come out to play rather than focus on the machine and all its inadequacies.  "Be the machine", I said to myself!   Yeah, well, that was the plan anyway....

The event was on a tiny barren desert peninsula, at least 15k away from any roads.  It was pretty flat, but w/surface a combo of hard-packed "road" (there really was no actual road), super thick sand and really jagged rocks.  I showed up at the startline which was really just a handful of people in their 4x4s and who had arrived on site based on directions which yes did include references to sanddunes and grid coordinates.  Trust me, you see nothing, not even a tree when you recon the grids on google earth.

Confident in my own abilities be what may, I must admit I was a bit embarrassed about my gear.  I was surprised to see that there were full-on carbon fiber S-Works, Niners, Orbea, etc., racers in full kits, etc..  There I was w/my crappy walmart bike, a $15 child's helmet, a Lululemon fanny-pack (with a TUBE etc. haha).  But I was still confident that between my "done-harder-than-this" approach and my improved run speed, my performance would eventually overshadow my short-term humiliation.

The race started - about 20 people in all for my heat (the full course) (about 100 total for the trail run and MTB-only options).   We followed along the shoreline for a few kilometers which again was a crazy mixture of terrain: for 100m, you could get by w/a TT bike, the next 100m, you'd need a DH bike, then the next a fat-tire snow bike.  

The boys pushed the pace hard, but I did what I could do to keep up on my wanna-be bike.  I was a little nervous I might get lost out there because basically it was only white sand/sea as far as you can see, pretty flat (w/hidden drops/washes/cliffs), and we were supposed to just ride from flag to flag, but sometimes you couldn't see the next flag.  I figured as long as I kept the lead riders in sight for the first lap, I could buckle down on the run and then push harder on the 2nd lap once better oriented to the route. 

Of all the flags in all the world (in this totally desolate spot on the globe), the wind blew the most awesome one right over the only American tourist in the lot...priceless!
[Photo courtesy of D. Catalan]

I kept worrying about getting a flat.  Since going tubeless, about 4-5 years ago, I haven't had a flat.  Seriously, I haven't changed a tire in years.  I did get a few in Iraq, but never turned down offers by CB and LP to fix em...doh!   This terrain was like Bootleg canyon....really really sharp edge rocks; made the Sedona rocks look like marshmallows.   Don't take a walmart bike to Bootleg!

I first discovered the bike was not a good choice when, at my first attempt of downshifting, the chain dropped.  Doh. Get off the bike, fix, get back on, go.  Stick to 3 gears for the rest of the day.  

A few minutes later, a handlebar grip slid right off.  Doh.  I wouldn't have cared, but seeing how I didn't spend $ for this, I was sans gloves and w/the humidity and rocky ridin', that would've been brutal.  Fix. Resume riding.  

The good news flats!  The left friggin' pedal pedaled right out of the crank.  I'd put my own SPDs on (always travel w/them, for gym bikes, etc).  Turns out, this walmart bike had crank sockets made of some crappy material and the left one totally stripped out - couldn't even screw the pedal back in.  OMG.  

So I pedaled ONE-LEGGED for about 4 miles.  Seriously.  Had there been even one tree or bush or stick out there, I would've tried to make some sort of temporary platform to at least rest that left leg on, but nooooo.   So I'd alternate by "resting" my non-pedaling foot up on the toptube of the frame and simply holding it mid-air to the side.  Not easy. 

Did you know that one-leg pedaling for 20 minutes sucks?  Heck, it sucked after about 2 minutes (the most I'd ever done/for drills).  Try it.  Better yet, try it on technical terrain.  Try dropping down a 20-foot berm.  Yep, that was my morning.  I never really got upset though.  I kept thinking about that adage "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey."  Then I thought who ever came up w/that was surely just some slacker trying to justify slack-arse efforts.  

Then I remembered the rockstar Alejandro who did all of La Ruta  (the epic 4-day mountain bike stage race in Costa Rica) with only one arm (smiling more than most!), as well as lots of other people who get out there and do it and feel lucky to be there.  So, I sucked it up, tried not to be a big baby, and relished in the idea that one day I could say "this one time, at band camp....".

I finally made it back to the transition area (surprisingly NOT in last place), and though I told the race-folks that I was calling it a DNF (my first ever), that I wanted to do the run...make the most of the day.  Had a solid 5K run though the same deep sand, rocks, etc..  Then congregated at the beach w/the rest of the racers - a really solid mix of expats mainly the always-athletic Filipinos, south Africans and Brits.  Apparently, I was the only "tourist" and everyone seemed quite amused by that.  The primary sponsor, a wealthy young local Shaykh (who yes was quite sheek as well w/his white dishdasha, raybans and brandnew white LandRover) was beyond curious how I even found out about it.  (A girl does her research.)

Overall, I had a great day!  It was a unique area that I likely never would've seen otherwise, met a bunch of cool peeps, experienced a true grassroots race (I love that vibe!), and later in the afternoon survived nearly getting lost in the desert and w/out water...after the race exploring.   I didn't make the "podium", but I did deserve 1st place overall for one-legged sand pedaling.  Boomya!!

(zoom in on this one)




Anonymous said...

I'm very proud of my daughter. Dad

twopullupeddie said...

My hip flexors started tightening up just reading this. Definitely one for the "this one time at band camp..." file.

Anonymous said...

Definitely a story to be retold and remembered! You have always had "grit".

jojo said...

You are amazing and truly Mary Beth's daughter.