IMC 98 - Part VI

Old Man: I'm not dead!
Dead Collector: What?
John Cleese: Nothing--here's your ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!
Dead Collector: 'Ere! 'E says 'e's not dead!
John Cleese: Yes he is.
Old Man: I'm not!
Dead Collector: He isn't?
John Cleese: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
Old Man: I'm getting better!
John Cleese: No, you're not; you'll be stone dead in a moment.
Dead Collector: I can't take 'im like that; it's against regulations.
John Cleese: Come on, do us a favor.
Dead Collector: I can't.
Old Man: I feel fine!....I think I'll go for a walk!
John Cleese: You're not fooling anyone, y'know.

----Monty Python and the Holy Grail

OK, perhaps Monty Python is an acquired taste. Actually, I hesitate to use the word "taste" in connection with MP unless the word "poor" appears in close proximity. But it's entirely appropriate that Bob Mina, David Barclay, and TriBaby were gleefully quoting tidbits such as these while driving this section of the bike course on Friday. Right now, this particular passage rings comically true.

"I feel fine! I feel happy! 'Think I'll go for a walk!"

That's me, the stubborn old man over John Cleese's shoulder, refusing to die quietly. And just as the Dead Collector clunks the Old Man on the head to finish him off, here comes Yellow Lake to deliver the coup de grace to TriBaby.

Yeah, well, I'm not goin' down without a fight, darn it!

Drink, drink, drink. Turn the pedals over. The road is tilting ever so slightly upward; is this the actual climb yet? No, not yet; there's a nice flat section first. But oh, man, does my back hurt! I have to sit up for a bit, I just gotta stretch out. And worse than my back, my butt is killing me. Thirty more miles of this? Man, just don't even think about it.

"The key to doing these Ironman triathlons is always to be present where you are at any given moment."

Present where you are. OK, don't think "Thirty more miles." Think, "The next thirty yards." Notice when the climb begins, pay attention. Gear down gradually, this hill really isn't steep, it just sneaks up on you. It gets a bit steep near the top, so be prepared for it. And after the top, you get the reward of that fantastic descent back into town. Nine miles of pure, easy speed, Clyde, all for you! Now just haul your tail up this silly speed bump.

Heart rate up, legs pumping, but breathing controlled. Not too many cyclists are passing now; everyone's hurting too much. Keep focussing, keep it steady; you're feeling relatively strong. People are lining the road now, this must be the actual climb. Think about Tunitas Creek Road; it's much steeper than this, and you'd always hit it 50 miles or so into a hilly ride. Compared to that, this is a piece of cake.

The landscape around you blurs in the tunnel vision of heavy effort. For some reason the series of imitation BurmaShave signs some whacko had posted out on Highway 97 some 60 miles back suddenly pops into your head. Sign #1 read "Extreme Exercise....", followed by Sign #2 declaring "...causes Extreme Cell Damage." Sign #3, of course, was an advertisement for some product purporting to reduce cell damage. Hmmm, perhaps I should have paid more attention!

OK, that's it, this bloody hill has broken me. No run whatsoever today, just get your butt over this beast and head for that transition area, tail between your legs.

"Boy, I suck."

This time I really mean it. Clearly, I'm not in the shape I thought I was in. I guess all that climbing I've been doing on my long rides doesn't make up for the fact that the longest was only 81 miles. Great. So what does that mean for my chances in Hawaii? I think I may have really blown it. #@&*.

"Come on, you're almost there! Hammer, hammer!" goads an enthusiastic spectator.

I can't help but laugh at this.

"Yeah, right; that's easy for him to say," I crack to the cyclist beside me. "I will if you will." He manages little more than a weak grin in reply. Yeah, that's what I thought.

"All right, please tell me this is the top; this has got to be the top, right?" I implore the next knot of spectators. "You got it, you got it! Just 20 more yards and you're there!" I actually believe them, I think it's true; click up a gear and stand, get this thing over with. Yes!

Cresting Yellow Lake doesn't immediately position you for the descent; there's a bit of flat, a false summit and short descent, and one last climb to contend with. Right now just enjoy the opportunity to sit up and breathe. Man, that feels good! There's the eponymous lake, looking just as green as it did last year, though I'll admit it's considerably prettier under all this (grumble grumble) sunshine than it was beneath ominous clouds in '97. Man, I am SO glad I am done with that climb!

Aid station, yes! "Water! Water!" I cry. The cyclist ahead of me gets the last water bottle and I'm left dry. Damn! I needed that. Have to just make do with the Pepsi and Metabomax I've got left. Can't even remember if there's another aid station between here and town, but let's hope so.

"Go, Tricia!" Whoa, who was that? My head swivels around to see a sag wagon speeding past. The voice came from inside. Bummer, I wonder who it was? (I found out after the race that it was the sonic boom himself, George Ball, who had been forced to pull out at the special needs station in Cawston.)

Stretch a bit now, relax the legs, give 'em a chance to recover. One more climb left. You feel like a limp wash rag, and begin to wonder if you'll have enough energy left to steer the bike on that killer descent back to Highway 97. That's the kind of hill that requires a clear head, sharp reflexes, and precise control of body and bike. At the moment, you doubt you could control a pencil.

Well, here's the first short descent, let's see how we do with this:

Rrrrrrrrreeeevvvvv it up. A little bit. A very little bit. Hell, you're too tired to even turn the pedals over, just let gravity do the work. You can push on the real descent, just recover here. Tuck tight, hold your speed as far as possible before that final climb. Oh, cool, more llamas!

The road has widened and the mountains have opened up as you tackle the final 300 meter boogie man of the day. Oh, swell, _this_ is where they've put the photographers. That's right, capture _all_ the pain, baby.

Others have reported that they feared blacking out on the descent after Yellow Lake. I know exactly what they meant. I'm not quite that far gone, but I'm pushing the envelope. I'm grateful merely to have strength to grip the bars, hold a tuck, and focus on the 50 yards of asphalt immediately ahead.

I've made a point of preserving enough of my wits to look out for the twin key hazards on this descent: the abrupt dissolve of the shoulder into gravel, and the squishy crack fill about which a local had warned me earlier: "Avoid that stuff if it's hot, 'cause the bike'll get really squirrelly under you if your wheels hit it. Bad news."

I hit such a spot just once; that's all it takes. I stay so far away from those black squiggles for the remainder of the descent that you'd think they were dynamite rather than plain old tar.

More heinous than even the crack fill, however, is the wind. Last year: 45mph, coasting. This year: 35mph, hammering. The crosswind is wicked to boot, grabbing the front Shamal from time to time and shaking the bike like a puppy worrying a toy. Pure misery! You don't even get to relax on the descents. No free speed to be had here. What a gyp!

Despite all this, I manage to roar past scads of cyclists as we head back to 97. "On yer left!" I holler again and again. Gets a bit dicey when they simply can't hear because of the wind. Whew! Can't remember the last time I had to put so much effort into a descent.

At last the hill bottoms out and we scoot through a tightly controlled intersection back onto Highway 97 heading north, back to Penticton! And directly back into the teeth of that southbound wind.

Head down, keep it aero, push that gear. Man, I am _so_ glad I don't have to run after this. Gazing far across the sparkling blue of Skaha Lake below on the right, you just barely make out the glint of a car travelling on Eastside Road. Ha! All these other suckers have to go run out there. Not me, baby. It looks mighty pretty over there from up here, but it's just more pain. And it is WAY the hell out there.

Even if you wanted to, there's just no way. You are toasted, spun, bent, sprung. My chemistry teacher in high school always requested that we not "Fold, spindle, or mutilate" any course materials. Well, this bike course has thoroughly folded, spindled, and mutilated TriBaby right into oblivion. I have but one thought in mind: Get back to that transition area.

Well, ok, maybe two thoughts in mind: You might just barely be able to make or beat last year's bike split if you wring the last ounces of Ooomph! outta these tired legs. Come on, you can do it, don't give up now. It's all downhill, and you don't have to run afterward. Slam it, baby!

Hunker down and fight that wind. Pass a couple of fellows in RST jerseys and holler a weak greeting as you fly by. Focus, focus. Concede to the stiffness in your back and neck for a few moments, sit up and stretch. Ahh! Now get back down and fight that wind.

At last you round the big righthand bend that brings you down to lake level at the north end of Skaha Lake. A few hundred meters more and make a left on Skaha Lake Road. OK, two miles and a straight shot back to the transition area. You won't beat last year's time, but you might be able to equal it, hammer!

Skaha Lake Road runs into Main Street. And you know what? It might look innocuous, but it ain't really flat. And just because you're back in town, that doesn't mean the wind suddenly disappears. Yeah right.

That's it, Uncle! I give up! I admit it, the wind has beaten me. I have nothing left with which to fight, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna struggle my way up Main Street just to gain another 30 seconds. I'm sitting up.

I'm so discouraged and disgusted that I no longer acknowledge the growing crowds as I roll through downtown; I'm just too beat up. The raised borders of the crosswalks act like miniature speed bumps; each thwacks my wheels, THWACK THWACK, sending reverberations through my tired body, making it even more tired (if that's possible). Ugh, the torment never ceases.

Runners are heading out the other way, and most do not look happy. An awful lot are walking, poor blighters. Not for me, man, not after this.

At last we roll through the left turn onto Lakeshore Drive. I hear Skippy cheering in the crowd on her usual corner and I holler, "It was brutal out there, Skip. The wind is from hell!" Another hundred yards and tap the brakes as I roll into the bike lot. Great, 6:29:something; 2 minutes slower than last year. I really do suck. Bleah.

I roll to a halt at the end of the racks, click out and throw a leg stiffly over the saddle. A volunteer grabs my bike and I clop slowly from the concrete to the grass of the tranition area. Man, am I stiff. Grab a cup of AllSport.

Hmm, I wonder what I should do now.

"Two-ninety-four! Two-ninety-four!"

"Here you go, good luck!"

Oh, look at that. A volunteer just handed me my run bag. How funny. Guess I'll go through the motions. At least I can sit down in the changing tent and relax a bit. Man, am I stiff. Thank god my legs still work. Sure feels good not to be on a bike any more, though.

Continue on to Part VII...