cycling utah August 2000


LOTOJA provides plenty of great story fodder

By David R. Ward

      Unusual experiences are the source of great stories and vivid memories.
      For me, cycling has led to many such unusual experiences which will furnish me with fodder for story-telling for years to come. The LOTOJA Classic (for the uninitiated, a one-day, 203 mile race from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming) annually provides just such an experience. Contrary to some recent rumors the race will again be held this year,
      Indeed, let me share my own experience from the 1986 edition of the LOTOJA. I was new to racing, having started toward the end of the racing season the year before. My longest race to that point had been about 50 miles, but I was intrigued by the challenge of riding 200 miles in one day. About in June, I started asking around and soon I was excited about participating.
      I trained. I sought advice on eating and equipment. I even invested in rain gear based on the advice of employees at a bike shop. I should have been smart enough to realize they just wanted to sell me a bunch of stuff.
      Race day arrived and I showed up at the start line in my goretex jacket and rainpants. Back in those days, we all started together, and at 7 a.m. nearly a hundred of us headed off on our grand expedition.
      The jacket and pants actually turned out to be a good idea, as it soon began to rain as we made our way north. Aside from that, things went quite well till Preston where we had our first feed zone. That was a mess as nearly a hundred riders, still riding in one pack, attempted to find their support person and grab their feed bag on the fly. Carnage ensued. I was fortunate in that I avoided all of the crashes, but unfortunate in that the crashed had separated me from the leaders who had planned well their feed exchange, and were using the confusion to leave the less fortunate behind.
      As I chased, I came upon a friend and teammate who had also been dropped. Being newly-indoctrinated with the team psyche, I decided it was my duty to slow and help him along. So I was dumb. But I learned my first lesson: If the guy you are with cannot keep up with you, you have no duty to wait. I waited too long before realizing he was never going to match my pace, even while sitting in my draft. I finally left him behind, but by then it was too late. I chased for many miles, only to see that gap between me and a fairly large group up the road continue to grow.
      Meanwhile, it continued to rain. I rode by myself up and down the rolling hills between Preston and Soda Springs, and after awhile a group of three riders caught up to me. Together, we rode for about a half hour. As we rolled into Soda Springs, one of the riders pointed over to McDonald's and suggested we make a bathroom stop. Now, I had wondered about that particular aspect of this event, but had not made appropriate inquiries. So, when he made his suggestion, I just assumed that was what everyone did: Stop at a convenience store or other easily accessible bathroom.
      Okay, so I was really dumb. I should have figured something was not right when one of the riders failed to slow and stop with us. Dutifully following our self-appointed leader, we trooped into the McDonald's and I availed myself of the bathroom facilities. You can imagine my consternation, however, when I exited the bathroom only to discover my partners ordering Big Macs. I may have been stupid, but at that point I made my exit, mounted my bike and once again headed north.
      Shortly after leaving Soda Springs, I had my first stroke of good fortune. I was certain by then that I was not only the most foolish person in the race, but most likely the last one in the race. Gratefully, I was wrong. Another rider caught up with me, and we actually began riding well together. We took turns leading the way, each able to relax somewhat when in the other's slipstream.
      Then, just as I was thinking I could ride with this guy all the way to Jackson Hole, he dropped alongside me and said, "Well, this is the hundred mile mark, and that was my goal."  He stopped, and I was once again on my own. I cursed my fate, and him, but stubbornly continued to push the pedals northward, certain once again that I was dead last in this race.
      From there on, things are a bit of a blur. I rode all alone for quite some time, including over Tin Cup Pass and through Freedom, Wyoming. I was delighted when, on the road to Alpine, a group of several riders caught up to me, and I was able to join in.
      As we cycled up the Snake River Canyon, three of us pulled away from the remaining riders in our group of about eight. As the other two picked up the pace and my legs began to hurt, I began to question whether I should be with them. Still, I hung on, doing my share of the work, even though it was hurting me. Next lesson: Don't be afraid to just suck wheel. If someone else has it and you don't, but you can stay in their slipstream, do it. Pride is a terrible thing, especially when you are just trying to hang on.
      As luck would have, the rear derailleur on one guy's bike suddenly blew apart. His race was over. I then tried to work with the other fellow, but this time I was the one who could not hang on. Off he motored, and once again I was alone.
      This time, I knew I was not dead last, but sure enough, the others we had dropped soon caught up to me. By this time, I was really starting to hurt. I did not want to eat or drink, I just wanted to get to the finish line. Another lesson: Never stop eating and drinking, no matter how bad it feels. The last fifty miles is when you need it the most.
      It was on the last climb before reaching the town of Jackson that I was dropped, alone once again, and for sure this time dead last. Nor did I care. My stomach was in knots, the bottoms of my feet burned, and my butt hurt. Still, I doggedly continued to turn the pedals as I focused on one thing only: Reaching the finish line.
      It was no longer a race for me, but a battle between my body and my will. With ten miles to go, I realized I was going to make it. I then promised myself I would never do it again. I had done it once, had proven to myself I could, and that was enough. As these thoughts slogged around in my head, I would alternately stand up and sit down. I stood to relieve the pain in my rear, but then the pain in my feet became unbearable. When I sat to relieve the pain in my feet, my butt became the focus of unbearable pain. During all of this, my stomach continued to knot up.
      You can imagine my joy when the ski towers at Teton Village came into sight, and they did not look to be too far. This is when I learned my next lesson: Your destination is always twice as far as it looks. And fate still had a trick in store for me. With about a half mile to go, it began to rain again. I finished the last quarter mile in a driving rain storm.
      Soaked to the skin, and with the rain still pouring, my wife, Karma, helped me off my bike and loaded it and me into the car. It felt good to stop pedaling and sit in a soft seat. The pain was over, or so I thought. When we reached the hotel, I moved to get out of the car. CRAMP ATTACK. My whole body tightened into one huge knot.
      Well, Karma and I managed to lift, drag and carry my body to our room, and dump it into a hot bathtub. That felt great . . . till the nausea hit. Then, being the wonderful caretaker and nurse Karma is, I was treated to Coke till my stomach finally settled down.
      By this time, I had related my resolution to Karma to never do this race again, sharing with her all the good reasons why I would not. So, you can imagine her surprise when, while eating dinner that night with the other participants and their support crews, I started talking about what I would do different the next year. Karma thought I was crazy, but it's funny what a little rest and some good food can do to your reasoning processes.
      Well, that was fourteen years ago. Since then, I have started twelve more LOTOJAs, and finished ten of them, each providing its share of tales to tell. Karma still thinks I am crazy, but then she seems to love me in spite of that, or maybe in part because of that.
       To be honest, I am not certain I can really explain what drives me. But I am glad the LOTOJA is still happening. Riding the LOTOJA is an experience, one that cannot be found elsewhere. One that every cyclist should try. At least once.
      By the way, I did learn from my experience of that first year. The next year I took sixth overall, first in the Masters 35+ division, and improved my time by two hours. Marty Jemison was in that race as well. He beat me, but only by seven minutes.

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