Nov 21, 2006
Nov 20, 2006
Day two seemed like an impossible feat to Topher. I had to take him by the hand and have a heart to heart about why he had to start the next day and get through the first hour for the children back home. We cried a little, straightened ourselves up and marched out like the men we are. Besides,, it was just a little volcano with only 8,707 feet of climbing in 40miles. My faith in Topher was solid, and for myself I had high expectations. The previous day I held back a little in preperation for the next two days. Plus if you looked at the profile you would see about the most perfect bell curve a statistics professor could ask for.
35 kilometers up and 35 down seemed to level the playing field,,umm,, I guess thats not a level playing field but I was ready to establish some downhill dominance. We wouldn’t go all the way to the top of the Volcano Irazu but our peak would still be around 9500feet, and the weather was known to be the most unpredictable of the race. We were almost guaranteed to find cold rain, mist, and possibly hail. So I ditched the hydration pack, loaded up the bottles and pockets with provisions and included armwarmers, an undertee, a vest, matches and a bivy sack to my arsenal. I ditched ther cyanide pills since I had a live volcano at my disposal.
Another group start with about 450 riders pawing the earth, licking yesterdays wounds and getting ready to sacrifice themsleves again to bicycle love in the shadow of an activevolcano. My game plan was to hold a solid position to the top then release the trigger on the return to earth. Gravity proved to be a fickle ally.
The climb started almost immediatly on pavement, and the group quickly began to sort it’self out. We took a few gravel roads and at one point we were on what had to be the only piece of single track in all 175 miles of the race. Unfortunatly that only lasted about 300yrds and was a hike-a-bike for most of it. I found myself with similar folks from the first day which was encouraging since they had all finished in my vicinity. At the top of a run up a group of spectators had gathered to shout, cheer and offer as much vocal support as you could imagine. It was the spitting image of some of the notorious cobble sections of the springclassics, where the crowd gathers and is literally in the face of the riders struggling up the impossible. Once again rejuvinated by the crowd I took the right on the pavement with a lightened spirit ready to climb and hold the 15th position that someone told me I was in.
This is where the weather started to turn and suddenly I had to pull up my armwarmers and throw on the wind vest. At 12km to go the heavy mist rolled over the landscape and a light rain mixed with the fog, turning each rider into a rolling island isolated from the landscape, and escaping ahead of me or disappearing in to the fog behind. I chased a couple of local Lightspeed riders who I was certain were getting little pulls from their support vehicle which rolled with them all the way to the top. That was technically against the rules. I crested the lip of our climb and took a right down a washed out gravel road that was the beginning of our decent. I stopped because I was going to fast to look through my dirty glasses and I took a leak. I was shivering but excited and decided to collect my thoughts before getting to far into the downhill. It was going to be dangerous and fast and would require a clear head to the bottom and I knew I wanted to hang on the edge of safety. Jumping back on the bike, I was enjoying the decent and wondering when I would catch the first person. A couple of minutes passed and I was surprised to have not caught anyone, but I figured it was only a matter of time.
Then I came to a “Y” in the road and saw no signs giving any direction. Shit! A rider support car rolled up. He didn’t know which way to go. Panicking I realized I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. It didn’t make any sense. I guessed it might have been one spot a little further back. I went there but saw no arrows or riders tracks. A different support vehicle with a photographer came by. We discussed the situation for a minute even though they spoke less English than I spoke Spanish. Language barriers are like trying to talk through the glass in the prison visiting section with your lips sewn shut.
I gave up and went on. Screaming, to let off steam. My plans were screwed. I rode for a while with this support vehicle next to me and the photographer hanging out, then I got a sinking feeling, and realized that they thought I had cut the course. I stopped them and showed them my tracks from my decent and made sure they understood that I was back-tracking for fear of them disqualifying me for cheating.
All I could do was climb back up to what ever turn I had missed. I screamed to myself a few more times, said hello to the horses that were in the road which I had passed in happier times going down. On the way up I actually passed my turn again and had to turn back around to go the proper way which was a left. I had gone right, the natural flow of the road. Oh there were the arrows, 10ft up and a couple spray painted on rocks.
I spent the rest of the time catching people I never should have been behind. The drop off the back side of the Volcano was everything I had hoped for, too fast, too sketchy, and too long. Some sections were impassable by car. But it was so fun passing cars and other riders on loose inside corners. I got a lot of personal joy out of that, despite my plans on self mutulation later. In short it was fun.
I figured I lost about 30 min in my little mistake.
The finish was a repeat of the day before, but in a small town with beautiful daughters everywhere. I heared about Jeremiah Bishops downhill dash for glory that ended in a crash. Unbelievably he still came across the line in 2nd despite broken teeth, a cracked cheekbone and a seperated upper palate. I guess I was lucky.
Topher showed up later in high spirits. We signed autographs for the kiddies, I passed out a bunch of stickers to them and generally had a good ol time.
I know this is long but I have to mention the Lodge we stayed in that night. It was at 9000ft, shadowed by Volcano Turriable and invloved the best food the the trip. Check the pictures.
Nov 19, 2006
This is getting tedious...I’m sorry but like the race promoters say..”More than a race, a personal growth journey.” I’m trying to take you there.
Race day #1. We are gathered in front of the Best Western Jaco, it’s 5am and techno music to make the europeans blush is pumping. To our right, hidden by the hotel, is the pacific ocean and to our left are mountains, rain forests, volcanos, 9 micro climates and the endless unknowns of Costa Rica. With 515 starters it was important to be near the front for the start. I made it within the first 50 people along with Tim and Topher not far behind.
A quick rundown of my race day choices might be interesting for some of you, in case you decide to do this one day. Much debate goes into these choices and Topher and I spent much time calling around and waffling. Ultimately I decided on these things.
HydroPack..no bottles or cages for easier carrying of bike.
Hutchinson Bulldog Tires.. for mud with some custom knob shaping thanks to my clippers
Two Pairs of thin socks.
4 energy bars
4 packs of hammer gel
extra brake pads, chainring bolt, Co2, valve stem,
The race start was great. The sky was dark blue with streaks of light coming from the east. For a 1/4 mile the race headed east and for a brief moment I thought hanging in the front would be a possibility, but as we turned left and looked up into the emerald jungles my dreams were run through a cheese cloth and all of my grandiose beliefs in my ability were strained out and I was left with the raw truth. This race was about going up. 10mins in and we started our first hour climb. I had prepared myself for the worst, this was expected but the wall of gravel, the lewd glistening of the jungle and the sight of Tico’s scampering up the road in front of me was a one-two-three punch. I settled in and waited to reel them in from below like bringing a kite back to earth.
We climbed and climbed and climbed, then moments of relief came in the form of a short decent that lead to another climb. The weather was almost perfect, no rain, random cloud cover to protect us from the sun and about 75-85 degrees. There were lead motorcycles, support four-wheelers and cars where cars could go. But they couldn’t go everywhere, and we were warned about a 12mile section that no emergency vehicles could get into and I walked past several motorcycles with riders trying to get them unstuck on the muddy climbs.
Most of the roads in that section weren’t really roads. I walked down one section. Topher later told me he walked down more than that. I don’t like walking downhill, but I also like my teeth. The mud was legendary, but probably not as bad in past years. My bike actually suffered frequent chainsuck for the first time and it made noises similar to the sound of sharpening and ax on a grindstone. A savior was the frequency of stream crossing which gave us plenty of chances to wash the mud and lube off our bikes. Plus a quick dunk for the body was better than any Landis style waterbottle douche.
During one particularly harrowing climb I looked over and saw Andreas Hestler lying on the side muttering something about the heat and loving Canada. I figured he was good to go, made fun of him and kept on riding. About a quarter mile up a farm kid was watering his cows and after a moment of wondering what his “When I was a Kid” (when I was a kid I had to hike 10miles up hill both ways to get to school), tales would sound like I thought about turning around to tell Andreas about the kid with water. Again better judgment interrupted that thought.
You have to understand that this first day was about survival. I went in knowing that any mental collapse would be the death taps and even if physically I broke down I could keep pushing if the brain was accepting of the situation. At one point I was out of water and the climbing starting to feel like a tread mill. I had been riding with a local named Marco for a while and he was gracious enough to give me clues about what was coming and he actually had a couple guys on a Ducati feeding him even though that was clearly against the rules. But it was standard practice for all locals and I didn’t feel bad about accepting plastic bags of water, coke, fruit and baby formula during the three days. At one point I stopped and used the bit of advice Keith Bontrager had given me and asked some kids who were watching the race if they could get me some water.
Again these four boys were in a place I couldn’t imagine there being a school, and there definitely wasn’t any electricity, but they ran inside and came back out with a two liter bottle of fresh water that I filled my camel back with. After thanking them and the shadowy figure of a woman in the dark house, I took off, rejuvenated by the generosity of people.
A particularly cool part of the race were the number of people who sat in front of their houses watching the parade of lunacy ride by and extra special were the locals who sat with their hoses ready to spray you down. I took advantage of each opportunity.
Through the day I steadily caught people, and took great pride when I would pass the majority of them on downhills. At least if I couldn’t climb with them I could fly my IF colors with pride as I took nasty lines around them. Loco Gringo.
As hour 7 came and went I started to worry about Topher, and wondered what he was experiencing. Hopefully it wasn’t hate for me.
My relief came when I rounded the final bend of the day and saw the finish line in a field on the side of a hill overlooking the central valley of Costa Rica. The organizers had showers, food and massages ready for us. Top notch and I was much happier with where my entry money went.
I showered, ate and got a massage from a man who wasn’t shy in the least. Tim came in on his single-speed and we sat and waited for Topher. And waited. And as the cutoff time inched forward we began to worry. When woman after woman came in in we worried some more. Then when the white-bearded, shirtless, cutoff jeanshorts wearing hippy with SPD sandals came in we really began biting our nails. At 11hrs and 46 mins he finally showed with a big smile and 14mins to spare before the cutoff time of 12hrs. If he hadn’t made the 12hr mark he would have been out of the race but allowed to ride the remainder days without getting timed. Apparently he took a few naps. Only about 260 of the 515 people who started made the cut off.
I directed him to the showers, massage man and food. I cleaned the bikes and waited for the shuttle to take us to our hotel in San Jose.
Nov 17, 2006
As we exited from the airport a man holding a sign saying “Tinker” was gesticulating wildly at us because we had bike boxes. It was tempting to accept his offer and see what kind of digs the “T Dog” got. Our better judgment led us through the crowd of taxi drivers till we found our ride to the hotel. I let the kid with the sign that said “Harlan” wheel my bike box to the van, while Topher let some random man with no hotel connections haul his bike. He ended up giving the guy a tip. It was fun watching them try to be overly careful with our hard cases, no matter how awkward they were too handle.
With Lilliana, the Kalexma hotel owner, behind the wheel we made it safely to the hotel. Our drive took us past random people standing next to burning piles of trash and every house had bars over the windows with uniformed school kids milling about in the streets. Their starched white shirts and pressed pants sharply contrasted the dingy city and humidity.
At the hotel we asked Lilliana if she knew where the Best Western Izaru was, since that would be the central point for racers in San Jose. She took us outside and pointed to the north where we saw a Best Western sign across the road. That was pure luck to be in such a central location at a third of the price, even if the hot water heater gave a shock when touched while in the shower. Our luck didn’t stop there, Lilliana’s daughter was the head of La Ruta’s transpiration and we had her at our disposal for pre-race questions.
We ate some dinner, flirted with some local girls then went back to our room to fall asleep watching Costa Rican TV. Just before falling asleep we caught a strange expose on soccer players who intimidate opponents by jamming their fingers into their opponents rear end. We agreed we were glad to be cyclist.
First full day in CR we got up, ate our first of many meals based around rice and beans began prepping our bikes. Ready for a test ride we decided to go explore San Jose. Getting directions from the Kalexma was turning out to be oddly difficult, mostly because of the language barrier, even though from the map it looked like it should be rather simple. After deciding to strike out and wing it we realized the main problem was the lack of any street signs. Apparently everyone in Costa Rica is born already aware of where everything is. After about an hour of winding around neighborhoods on very few tourists maps we made it to the central park and the trees with multicolored bark. (see pic) That was our first taste of Costa Rican biodiversity.
We meandered to the other end of the park and jumped inside of an empty reastraunt to grab a bite to eat and wait out the rain. The food was great but what was really interesting/unsettling was the requiem table that was being set up at t he entrance the whole time we where there. On the table was a couple of photos of an older couple surrounded by various dishes of food, an open bottle of coke, beer, lit candles, flower pedals and one lit but unsmoked cigarette that was allowed to burn down to the filter.
Thursday we had to catch the shuttle to the race start in Jaco on the Pacific side. We walked over to the Best Western, signed in and handed our bikes off to the bike transporting truck. It was nerve-racking watching them pile our bikes in, then putting a layer of cardboard on top and then add another load of bikes on top of ours. We found a few new niks later but over all our bikes came out unscathed. We jumped on our bus and began the 3hr ride to the coast. Costa Rica is famous for having notoriously slow roads because of potholes and 260 degree switch backs. Our bus had Jose as a tour guide to give us Gringos a bit of cultural and ecological history, both are partially intertwined. At about the half way point we stopped for a bathroom and refreshment break. I had my hands full of things like plantain chips, avocados and coconuts and went to pay. I pulled out 2000 colones ($4) but dropped some change and after I picked it up my colones were no where to be found. The guy totally snagged my money when I bent down and put it in his drawer. I wasn’t about to get into an argument so I left all my crap on his counter and walked out to another shop and got something from someone else. I’m such an easy target!
On the bus we had bike legend Marla Streeb with her husband and son next to us. She was a nice legend and talked easily about Costa Rica and her baby. None of that “oh when I won this race,” or “I’m Marla Streeb don’t you know”. I came real close to insulting her husband about being from California, but fortunately their baby Nico was the only one left with his foot in his mouth. Our hotel was 4star all the way and right on the pacific. They had cocktails waiting for us which we killed while staring at the sea and waited for our room keys.
The beach had a volleyball net set up and signs that said no swimming due to dangerous undercurrents. I don’t know who was supposed to get runaway balls in the ocean. Maybe they had a fish net with a long handle.
We caught the bus to the race registration hotel in Jaco and proceeded to stand in line, get our bags, electronic timer sensors and other race paraphernalia. They had a party planned and trotted out two sets of three scantily clad women, each set representing a different sports drink. I think there is a picture of me wedged between two of them. The party was preceeded by a fireworks display but with a 3 am wake-up I don’t know who they expected to stay up and party. I don’t think the UCI passes out a Rock Star award. Topher and I did our best to not let the ReStart energy drink girls feel useless so we went and tried to dance with them in the rain for a minute, but our better judgement sent us to our hotel within minutes.
To be cont...
Nov 14, 2006
La Ruta 2006: Hola Gaucho!
Despite the fact that we were on a mission to retrace the steps of a group who raped, pillaged, plundered, converted and attempted to steal the soul of an indigineous culture in the name of a Queen and gold, I was looking forward to participating in the 14th addition of La Ruta De Los Conquistadores. I’m sure it was a torturous 20 years the Spanish endured in order to find a passage between the Caribean Sea and the Pacific Ocean but I hardly see how it is fair to call it progress when we do it in three days on a bike. Fortunatly I approached the race expecting the worse, and as the hours in the saddle ticked by and climbs poured from the heavens like melted nacho cheese I basked in the glory of once again conquering Costa Rica like my Euro forefathers. Without the raping or pillaging and so-forth. This time they got my money.
Five weeks before La Ruta race day I had a decision to make. Sign up for 24hr Worlds or not. I felt like one more big event in my dosiere was due but god how I dreaded the idea of staying up past 2am unless it involved a dancefloor and some solid narcotics. (just kidding) But since there was little chance of dancing in a heavily Southern Baptist state like Georgia it seemed like La Ruta would be an acceptable cop-out to all those people who thought I should show my endurance skills as a 24solo racer. (I did it once 2003)
So with decision made to go it was time to recruit an unsuspecting partner in travel, expenses and pain. In stepped Topher Valenti. A nice Italian boy, a little naive, a little hairy and one little gear. But big wheels and a big smile seemed like good company and true to his dashing style he signed up without much thought. Over the next few weeks I slowly came to realize he hadn’t much idea about what were were about to get into.
We booked our flights for October 31st, which is Halloween, which might explain why at the airport I helped a Terrorist get through security, why a man in a wheelchair wore three fedora hats at once and why the Haitian next to me on the plane was unable to allow his elbows within three feet of the rest of his body. Or why when I offered him a hunk of my apricot and pistachio bread he stuck it in his 1970’s brown polyester suit pocket without a thanks. And finally why he periodically burst out in tourettes like converstions to the back of the seat in front of him all the while madly skribbling words in the air with his index finger as if he was conducting a flea sized orchestra in fast forward. Oh yes, and why he stood up clapping when the plane landed in Miami. Did he know something I didn’t? I would like to imagine the terrorist, the three hatted man and my Haitian sitting around a table in a Cuban cafe in Miami’s little Havana congratulating each other on another successfull weird-out and dedicating it the the late-great Hunter S. Thompson.
Of course the plane was late leaving Miami for Costa Rica so I arrived a couple hours after Topher who was on a seperate plane. An interesting greating at customs was the multiple flatscreen TV’s extolling the eco-adventures that awaited. Canopy tours, zip-lines through rainforests, whitewater rafting and picturesque horseback rides on empty honeymoon perfect beaches. That was in full view above the passport toting crowd in line. As we inched forward posters for a new tourist attraction became more visible posted at waist level on the immigration booths. A montage of two images, a man behind bars in a dark prison and a young Costa Rican female looking up into some far-away space forlorn and distraught. “You get fined, but she loses her soul” or some derivative of that was the message. Not exactly a catchy sales jingle. Apparently Costa Rica has a healthy sex-for-sale industry. Disturbing to know that people come here for more than a nature tour, and I start to feel embarassed to be me; white, male tourist traveling with another sort of white male tourist. I guess the pillaging of the souls has yet to stop. That includes my soul.
I’m not the best planner and tend to intentionally ignore the details after creating a general plan. All in the name of the unknown. For some reason I felt a little more responsible for my travelmate’s good time so in order to iron out potential problems I booked a hotel a the Kalexma before we arrived in San Jose, which included a pickup from the airport.
I have to go to bed. This is to be continued.....
Nov 1, 2006
Umm, I don´t know if I should blame the date or the plane for the strange crowd on the plane Miami.
Back to Central American internet? Can´t find all the buttons.
If you want to keep track of the race...Live coverage at www.adventurerace.com
Back to Central American internet? Can´t find all the buttons.
If you want to keep track of the race...Live coverage at www.adventurerace.com