When you get older, you begin to look backward a lot more. I have over 66 years behind me and, sadly, much less than that in front of me, so I speak first hand of this. Of course, I do still look forward. Right now, for example, I am looking forward to this year’s LOTOJA, No. 30 for me, which takes place in five days.
But being No. 30 means that I have 29 LOTOJAs to look back on. I remember my first two really well. No. 1, in 1985, saw me finish in a driving rain storm, and my behind hurt so badly the last 20 miles that I am sure I spent more time out of the saddle than on it. But I had finished. I figured I had now done it, and didn’t need to do it again. So why 29 more you ask? Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Good question.
No. 2 was memorable because I won my division and took 7th overall. Our group was the second to finish. We were 8 minutes behind the first group, which contained future Tour de France racer Marty Jemison. That turned out to be my best LOTOJA ever.
After that, the LOTOJAs blur together a lot. But one edition does stand out more than all the rest: The infamous 2005 LOTOJA. Promoter Brent Chambers, who has been putting on the LOTOJA since 1998, will tell those who ask about what to wear to talk with someone who rode in 2005. I was one of them.
As does everyone else, or so I thought, I was watching the weather forecast in the days leading up to race day. It was looking sketchy. I still remember the morning thereof, checking the forecast for the final time, and deciding I should dress warm and for rain. So I did, and then set off on my bike for the start line.
When I arrived at the start, I remember looking around me and wondering if my fellow racers had seen the same forecast I had. I had donned long pants, a full jacket and long-fingered gloves. Around me I saw that most had maybe a vest and arm warmers. Some had nothing extra on.
Well, the race started and by the time we reached Preston, Idaho, it was raining. By the time we had started up the canyon toward Strawberry Summit, it was getting cold and I began to see cyclists off to the side of the road. Just before arriving at the short flat about 4 miles from the summit, it was snowing huge flakes. Fortunately, though, while the snow was accumulating off the road, on the road it was melting so it was not getting slick.
My biggest surprise, however, was when I reached the summit and started down the other side. Despite my preparations, I was extremely cold. I could hardly feel my fingers. Logic told me it would be somewhat warmer once I descended, so I got into a tuck, determined to descend as quickly as I could. As I rounded the sweeping bend leaving the summit, to my astonishment I saw at least 50 cyclists walking their bikes down the road.
I was amazed. I couldn’t understand why they would be doing that. But I wasn’t stopping to ask why. I did notice that many still had little to no extra clothing on, and on later reflection, I figured that they were likely so cold they were shivering and unable to control their bikes. The one piece of good fortune for us all was that it had stopped snowing.
When I reached the lower elevations, it was a little but not much warmer. Along the way, I saw bikes leaning up against cars, homes and other buildings. I even saw an idling police car with three bikes leaning up against it. Personally, I was soaked and cold and anxious to cover the next 15 miles or so it took to get to the feed zone in Montpelier. I kept passing riders who, I could tell, were worse off than me, and likely just trying to pedal their way to Montpelier where they would call it good for the day.
At that time of my life, I still considered myself a racer. So, instead of stopping at the feed zones, I was still just grabbing a feed bag from my wife and loyal support person, Karma, as I would ride by. But this time, while she was there ready to hand off my bag, to her surprise I pulled off and stopped, telling her I needed to change into dry clothes. (Just to brag a little, I bet I was one of the few people to bring not one, but two sets of warm clothing to the LOTOJA that year. Smart me.)
She was parked on the other side of the park, so off we ran across the lawn. She offered to start the car and let me warm up awhile, but I knew I just needed some dry clothing. So, with no thought of modesty, upon arriving at the car I began stripping while she fished out my dry clothes. In the midst of doing this, Karma also told me that a board had been set up and it was announced that if a rider’s number was posted on it, his or her support was to head back on the course to find their rider.
In a few minutes, I was dressed again, dry and back on the road, with even warmer gloves than I had been wearing before. After that, the rest of the ride was comparatively uneventful. It rained off and on the rest of the race, but I was warm, or at least warm enough, and finished without incident.
I later learned that I was among the one-third of the riders who actually finished the race. I heard stories of riders suffering from hypothermia, which was no surprise to me. I think I saw about 50 of them walking down the road from Strawberry Summit.
I believe it may be been after that year that the LOTOJA was moved from the third Saturday of September to the second Saturday. Good move. Every year since then has seen decent weather.
This year, the forecast is calling for warm, dry weather. That’s good. Hopefully we will have a nice tailwind to make the ride even better. At my age, I need all the help I can get. I just hope to make it, and maybe even before dark.
Still, I’ll be taking along my warm clothing, long-fingered gloves, and water/windproof booties. I remember LOTOJA 2005 and I’ll be ready. Just in case.