The Uncharted 30

*Photos:* Jordan Clark Haggard
-who rode his bicycle to shoot this section that would not allow vehicles.

“I fell off my bike twice.” My response must have been something close to silence because Ben laughed and said it again.

“What do you mean you fell off your bike?”

“Well, just what I said, I was riding on this section and I fell off my bike. I’m worried that maybe this 30-mile section in the middle is going to be too hard for the race.”

A couple days before the actual race Ben took us up to the point where the gravel would start. The vista’s into the surrounding valley’s were some of the most spectacular and the bonus that the road was closed to vehicular activity quickly placed the ride into of the ‘best climbs’ category. This must have been part of Ben’s plan. Lull them in with crazy vistas and then strike when they least expect it.

Although you cannot say he didn’t warn us.

You only start to recall the emails and the warning signs when you are deeply embedded. It was once on this section a couple days later that we briefly joked about the extremity of the road.

There will be no support for 30 miles.

This is the last thing you think of when you cross that gate. Aptly so, your jersey pockets will be stuffed with tubes, your bottles filled to the brim and pockets overflowing with snacks.

At least that is what you think about when you are at home planning for one of these adventures. When you get out there the reality of it quickly surpasses anything you planned for. Someone make you hurry to the start line and you forget to bring your pump (me). But, there really isn’t much to do at this point but get on with it. After all, it is only 30 miles.

Here is the briefest list of things that were spotted or overheard:

  • Swearing in a multitude of ways.
  • Flat tires. Our group was fortunate enough to make it out with only one. But that would not be the case for some teams. Allegedly our brother in the Rapha Continental ways, Rich Bravo, made it through the day, but not before securing 5 of his own flats.
  • Cramping. There was a witness to a teammate who “fell off” in the sand and then preceded to writhe in the sand, his leg muscles cramping.
  • Empty water bottles. These were spotted on my own bicycle about half way through the section. Being without water for something close to 10 miles is not ideal.
  • Large sized rocks. They started out about the size of an egg. Littered about the path, they have clattered from the cliffs above to the right, and left. These quickly turned into mini boulders as the route continued on.
  • A helicopter carrying a shipping carton. No idea what kind of drug running was happening out here.
  • Walking. This is a common practice on hiking trails of lesser and greater magnitude. Having to do it with your bicycle is the unfortunate part.
  • The Kona Racing Team. Not only were these guys exceptionally nice, but their disc brake cyclocross bikes seemed much better equipped for the terrain.

All of these things were of little or no consequence. Because they have all, in one form or another, happened in a Rapha Gentlemen’s Race. That year when we went up Pittsburg Road — the race quickly became a game of leapfrog — pass one team, get a flat and that same team passes you, repeat. Then there was the year where everyone ran out of water because it was 105 degrees. Actually that might have been the same year, but whatever the case all of these things have been witnessed.

But when falling off the bike happened I should not have been surprised. The rider was twisting more than he was turning. At one point it looked as though he was completely perpendicular to the trail, his bike pointing off at the horizon rather than the forward we had been plodding through all day. And then he stopped. His pedals stopped turning, the bike stopped moving and the recognition of what was happening spread over his face. And he fell.

There wasn’t much I could do at this point and he picked himself up and dusted himself off (he didn’t writhe, screaming on the ground) and I snorted to myself and thought “well, I guess that’s what Ben meant.”