Nov 19, 2006

La Ruta Part 3: Race Day 1

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. 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.
Fingerless gloves
4 energy bars
4 packs of hammer gel
two tubes
extra brake pads, chainring bolt, Co2, valve stem,
cyanide pills
Ergon grips

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.