Cram for the LOTOJA? What a ridiculous idea. But what could I do? On June 3, three months before the LOTOJA, I had hip replacement surgery. So for the next month I was off the bike. Not good preparation for a 206 mile bike race.
But can I say right now how good my hip feels? I had heard before my surgery that the first thing I would notice was the pain was gone, and that was true. A few days after surgery, while crutching it with my wife and daughter on a short walk, I turned to them and said, “Can I just tell you how good my hip feels?” Indeed, I now tell people it is the best part of my body.
Just a week before, we had gathered with our children over Memorial Day. I tried to be cheerful, but when you are in constant pain, it is hard. And it was depressing to be with those I love the most and not be able to enjoy it. This hip has given me renewed life in doing the things I like and enjoying being with those I love.
Anyway, I had my first real post-surgery bike ride, a 20-miler, on July 10. I felt like a slug, and was out of breath after a mile long section with a gentle incline. I thought then, “There is no way I am going to be ready for the LOTOJA.” This is not like a school exam. You cannot cram a sufficient amount of fitness into your body to last long enough to just get you through a single endurance event.
But I decided to soldier on, reserving my right to withdraw from the LOTOJA if the fitness was not there. So for the next month, I tried to ride more, but could not ride consistently due to work, family responsibilities, and a vacation. But finally, in August, I was able to get some consistent training, albeit a little late.
That brings me to the Summit Challenge held on August 24th. Prior thereto, I had been quickly trying to increase my mileage and the amount of climbing. A week prior, I rode 75 miles, including a climb up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the Brighton Ski Resort. As I crawled the final miles to Brighton, I remember thinking this was so fatiguing that I did not even want to do the LOTOJA. Once again, though, I revived my drive and talked my good friend, Elliot Morris, into riding the Summit Challenge with me the next Saturday.
So it was that we arrived at the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, the charity for which this ride was a benefit. I fully expected this to be a good ride as it was Cycling Utah’s “Event of the Year” for 2012. Also, I was looking forward to not doing as much climbing as I had the previous Saturday riding to Brighton. Clearly, I had not thought that through.
Consisting of three options (18, 62 and 102 miles), the route starts at NAC, does an 18 mile loop through Park City and environs and returns to NAC. For those doing a longer ride, the route heads to Kamas and includes a climb of over 1500 feet. From there, it heads to Heber City via the south side of the Jordanelle Reservoir which, from the east side, includes a 400 foot climb. The nasty secret though is that, after descending to and looping through Heber City and Midway, you have to climb back up the west side of the Jordanelle Reservoir, a climb of over 1000 feet. Then, after winding north through the Kamas valley, the route descends down to the base of Brown’s Canyon for the final climb which ends about a mile before the finish at NAC.
All told, and with all the rolling climbs in between, my computer logged 5400 feet of elevation gain. Not exactly the gentle ride I was expecting. But had I given it even a little thought or glanced at the map, I would have known better. I have ridden all these climbs before, and should have known what to expect.
But what a ride. We had perfect weather, partly cloudy and the temperature had been dialed down to make for a comfortable ride. The Summit Challenge takes in some of the most lovely farm and rural area one will find in northern Utah. And I had a good friend to ride it with who patiently waited for me after I lagged behind on the climbs.
And the organization was great. Packets were ready and quickly picked up. The volunteers at the start/finish and food stops were extremely friendly. And the peanut butter filled tortillas were a big hit, at least with Elliot and me. And as we crossed the finish, and we were among the stragglers thanks to a late start and lots of conversation and casual riding, volunteers were there to cheer us.
I need to make special note of the last food stop. We were tempted to skip this stop and just keep going as we only had about 10 miles left. But as we approached, one of the volunteers was blowing a whistle and calling out, “ice cold waterཀ” That was enough to convince us, and upon stopping we were promptly plied with the promised water, fruit, and snacks, and some very interesting and friendly folks.
After we finished, I spoke with Gail Loveland, one of the NAC staff charged with organizing this ride. They had over 600 entries this year, including nearly 70 participants with disabilities. To their credit, the ride is free for such participants. As Gail said, “We used to have them pay something, but then I thought, ‘This is who we are benefitting. We can’t be charging them.” Included among such participants I saw several hand cyclists, a trike rider and a recumbent tandem hand cycle.
The Summit Challenge was my final prep ride before the LOTOJA. Was it enough? Doubtful, but we shall see. My goal is to finish, but I am not confidant the body will agree. At the top of the Salt River Pass, I shall likely know if enough is left in the tank to make it to the finish.
But even if I can’t finish the LOTOJA, the tradeoff is well worth it. My hip feels great, and I am enjoying life more than I have for at least a year. I nevertheless had a great time riding the Summit Challenge which, while used for training, has become the highlight of my abridged cycling season.