|Looking down some of the Shafer switchbacks|
Since I hung up the skis in April (earliest ever) I have been dutifully training on the bike for a smattering of races, both road and mountain. The season was mixed with some good results, some dnf's, and a couple unfortunate flats. My best results seemed to come against people who didn't know they were racing i.e. Strava!
One goal for the year was to return to the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park and try to set the FKT for the loop. I rode it last year with Tom, Jason, and Jason and felt like I could go a bit faster. When trying to break a "record", it's good to know what that time actually is. The internet could only tell me that Jeremy Nobis was suspected of having the record with a time of 6:10-20ish.
In early November, I got an invite from the Simmons boys and Paul Hamilton to try and ride to loop fast as a group. We started at the top of the Shafer climb and rode counter clockwise, trading pulls until eventually I found myself off the front gunning for Nobis' time. Bonking hard, I completed the loop at the top of the Shafer climb in 6:09. I felt a little sheepish about calling that the "record" so I decided I'd have to go back and ride it solo.
A couple weeks later, a work window opened up and I made to solo drive down to Green River for a night at the Comfort Inn. All too early, the alarm pierced through my ear plugs. Packing up, I was anxious to get started.
This time, I parked at the visitor's center and rode down the Shafer switchbacks to start my loop at the bottom, climbing back up, and continuing counter clockwise. I reasoned that it would be good to tackle the climb while fresh and then finish on the mostly "false flat downhill" towards the base of the climb.
It was a cool autumn morning in the desert and I was feeling fairly fresh in spite of the Grandeur laps that I'd been doing in preparation for ski season. At the junction with the Potash Rd, I stashed a long sleeve jersey, started my watch, and set in for a long day. It felt good to start climbing and even though I didn't have a power meter, I sensed I had good legs.
Hitting the pavement in 27 minutes, I was ahead of schedule and told myself to not push too hard so early. I tried to stay steady until the Mineral Bottom Rd and then use the down hill treading section to maintain a high pace and get in some calories. At the river, I found the road to be dry and even a little sandy which was not a good indicator of the conditions ahead.
At one point, I dropped a gel flask, thought about leaving it, but flipped a U to go back and grab it. I figured the 30 seconds lost to do so would pay dividends later. I was also glad to not litter. I was not however, glad about the increasingly sandy road ahead. The last trip with the Simmons boys held very little sand and was overly wet. This day was the opposite.
Spinning out and wasting watts, I was a little bummed to be working so hard to be going so slow. My optimistic goal was under 5:45 but I was still going to be happy with sub 6 hours. I could feel it slipping away in the sand.
Fortunately, I still had good power on all the short punchy climbs and didn't experience even the slightest cramping. Maybe I'm getting better at metering these long efforts, or maybe it's the flask of pickle juice that I started nursing around the 3 hour mark?
Doing the math, I could tell that the last hour was going to be tough. I needed to average around 17 mph to slip in under 6 hours. I kept telling myself that I was supposed to feel crappy by this point compared to the last effort as I already had done the big climb. The finish line was the outhouse by the Potash Road.
On the final rise, I laid down all my remaining watts, which by this point weren't that many. With a short and fast downhill to my finish line, I still had a couple minutes to spare. I coasted with glee, glad to be done with the torture and stopped my watch at 5:59:30. To my knowledge, that's the fastest complete White Rim, but as always there are a ton of people that could or maybe have gone faster. It's a big claim, but I'm a big claimer so I'll take it for now.
|Near where I started and finished.|
I alternated walking and laying in the dirt for the next hour and a half and finally, 1:54 after finishing my TT, crested the Shafer climb for the second time. This "cool down" took significantly longer than the 27 minutes earlier that morning. It also was much much more difficult and a fitting end to a painfully beautiful day in the desert.