This past weekend I learned a number of lessons here in my new home state of Montana. Or perhaps relearned these lessons—lessons of my own mortality; of my fragility; of my limitations. Full of hubris and vigor I entered the 2010 Beartooth Challenge, an 8.2 mile uphill run over 2,500 vertical feet followed the next day by a grueling, ~33K, 4,500+ vertical foot uphill time trial from Red Lodge, MT to the East Summit of the Beartooth Pass at around 10,800 feet. Silent and still, the Beartooth felt me on its back. It saw my face and sensed my fire. And then it wheeled around and bitch-slapped me back to reality.
The race results went well enough—5th in my age group for the run (30-34), 6th in the time trial (21-30), and 5th place overall (for the men) in the Challenge. I also beat my friend Rick—more a runner than a cyclist, to be sure, but a high-altitude hardman by any standard who recently completed the infamous 20-mile Ridge Run here in Bozeman—by about 6 minutes overall. But as I pedaled squares at 10kph into a frigid 35º headwind up the last brutal 6K from 9,200 to 10,800 feet, the Beartooth reduced my rasping lungs and burning thighs from competition to survival. I am humbled. That is one hard motherfucking race.
A chronicle exists of these lessons, sent as text over the course of the weekend:
To Le Frank, 8/28, 7:30pm
Live texts from the top of the pass, scouting for tomorrow. Initial thoughts: holy fucking shit. This is the uphill time trial of all uphill time trials. Large doses of Rule #5.
To Le Frank, 8/28, 7:32pm
Lessons from today’s run: first, an abject lesson in Rule #42. Running is a dumb activity, and should only be practiced while drunk and/or being pursued by the law.
To Le Frank, 8/28, 7:33pm
Secondly, altitude matters. Rule #5 was rewarded today with a feeling not unlike inhaling a fist full of nails.
To Le Frank, 8/28, 7:40pm
I am well positioned for tomorrow. Not sure who is riding from today’s group, but I can’t be too far out. Ready to hammer. Wish me luck in feats of Voigtian strength. A-Merckx.
To Le Frank, 8/28, 7:45pm
Also, one final lesson from today: do not leave a canister of bear mace on the dashboard of a hot car. It will explode.
To Le Frank, 8/29, 6:15am
Ready to go. Feeling great, no major soreness from the run. A slightly strange feeling when I accelerate, but I’m sure I’ll loosen up in the first few kilometers. Not going to be a problem. I start at 7:08.
To Le Frank, 8/29, 11:08am
AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! AHHH!! My guns! Ahhhhh hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…
To Frank, 8/29, 2:30pm
Lessons from day 2: see lessons from day 1. e.g. running sucks, don’t mace yourself.
To Le Frank, 8/29, 2:32pm
Addendum to lessons from day 2: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Fuck that was hard.
Coda: Rules That Go Without Stating: Don’t Fucking Mace Yourself
Rick films grizzly bears for a living, so he’s pretty comfortable with bear mace; me, not so much. Bear mace is basically Oleoresin Capsicum—that is, the chemical capsaicin (the stuff that they measure to come up with Scoville Heat Units to tell you that Habeneros are hardman food), suspended in a waxlike substance. Shit smells terrible, and is all but impossible to get rid of. And it’s all over the dash of my car.
Now, you think of bear mace as a problem for your eyes, nose, and mouth—and it is—but it is also a no-fucking-around skin irritant. Which I discovered. When the canister exploded, it apparently soaked my headlamp…which I later put on, only to have a two inch band of skin around my head burn like fire for the next five hours on the night before the time trial. Lesson learned. Don’t fucking mace yourself.