For those that are unfamiliar with the Rockwell event here is a bit of background information:
The Rockwell Relay is a relay race that started two years ago and takes you and three of your buddies from Moab to St.George. You cover a distance between 516 and 528 miles and battle lots of interesting challenges from snow in the first year to tire-swallowing cattle guards; each year has unique challenges and each year the race has doubled in size!
[Joe] [Leg 1] Friday June 8th 7:30am – sun is out, temperature is a nice mild 75*, the wind is present and currently blowing from the south (headwind). Race starts in 30 minutes and the director is giving race instructions. I’m angling like crazy going over my mental checklist, carbo rocket, headphones, pump, extra tube, tire levers, gloves, helmet, how hard to go out of the gate, and how do I avoid 20 ton semi’s on the road from Moab to Monticello, and finally – can I do the rider 1 tasks? Next thing I know, race director is counting down from 1 minute and all of a sudden I have a strong urge to pee – I know this is just the pre-start jitters and it will go away as soon as I start pedaling, air horn sounds and I am joined by 247 other racers with only 3 of them being of huge importance to me and they are John, James, and Brandon (in order of appearance). We roll out and they give me a good send off shouting words of encouragement as they turn around at mile 4 and head back to town. I step up my pace and quickly pass other riders finding myself looking ahead to find the next set of “carrots” to either chase down and pass OR work with as the headwind is starting to get stronger. I find a group and work with them for a few miles only to drop them on the next climb. So off I go to find the next set of folks and we work together for about 10 miles, each taking half mile pulls – and like the group before, on the next hill they fall back and I pull away going solo the rest of the way (15 miles) into Monticello.
The exchange is quick – I slap the bracelet on John and he takes off chasing the next “carrot”. Todd and Brandon greet me congratulate me on a good start and give me a much desired quart of choco Jate milk.
[John] [Leg 2] Taking off from Monticello the day was warming up, and as Joe said, the headwinds were steady. My first order of business on the bike was to find someone to ride with, to conserve energy and be efficient in this wind! This turned out to be not as easy as I had hoped.
When I did Rockwell 2 years ago, I saw a couple of riders a half mile behind me and rode at a relaxed pace until they caught me. We worked together in the wind through the flats and downs, and that left me enough energy to have a good ride through the climbs near the end.
This year, despite there being 4x as many riders, there was no one in sight ahead or behind me! I rode for about 8 miles before I finally saw a rider gaining on me from behind. I relaxed a bit, and hoped he would catch me soon. When he did catch me, I was in for an unpleasant surprise. It quickly became apparent that he was a much stronger and faster rider than I. He was also the only rider around, so I hung on for dear life! I had to weigh blowing myself up to keep up with this guy to get through the wind quickly vs. battling these winds by myself. We took turns pulling, his pulls being about twice as long as mine. I apologized for my short pulls, but I’m sure he was grateful to have some help through the unrelenting wind. After riding with him for about a half an hour my pulse was a steady 185, a ways beyond my aerobic threshold! Time to ease off the throttle, or I would have nothing in the tank for final climbs. I watched him ride away slowly, but at least we had covered some ground and there were a couple of riders just ahead. They turned out to be too slow to ride with, so I was solo again.
There was another half hour of flat windy riding before the fun, scenic downs and ups. The down hills are steep, winding, short and fun. A Winnebago decided to pass me on one of these down hills. Really? You’re going to pass me on the one place I can go faster than you? I’m doing 40+ and am sure I’m going to have to pass him or jam on the brakes. Somehow the Winnebago pulls it off, teetering dangerously around the curves, but he stayed out of my way!
Adrenaline, climb, descend, wind, climb. 14 miles to go, hot and windy, I take on 2 last bottles from Diana and James, and tell them to go to the finish to get James ready. I quickly fumble one of the water bottles and it explodes sending CarboRocket across the pavement, damnit. Only fourteen miles left to go. Wind, descend, climb, descend, getting worn out, longing for the finish. One more climb, two riders in sight, I can get them, climb, climb, climb! I pass one, two and three. Legs are full of lead, two miles to go. Legs cramping, quick shot of Elete Electrolytes fends off the cramps. End in sight, one more rider ahead. Didn’t catch him, but I made the finish. James is off in the wind. I felt great about the ride. Now time to rest!
[James] [Leg 3] This being my first road race I was a little nervous and eager to get riding. It was nice being rider 3 because it gave me a chance to see how things worked as far as support goes. All nervousness disappeared as I started pedaling; it just became another ride.
My first leg, leg 3, was beautiful. There were a handful of times I’d have loved to stop and go for a hike, but I had a task at hand. There was a pretty steady cross wind for most of the leg. I was able to ride with a small group for a few miles, which helped, but I couldn’t keep up. Though I finished in the late afternoon, I knew I needed to start thinking about sleep because my next leg would be starting after midnight.
[Brandon] [Leg 4] Well, it all seems like a blur, but here it goes.. This race has a fast pace, driving ahead to have bottles ready, passing other support vehicles and getting ready for my stints really adds to the excitement. My first stint, was hot! I launched at 5 pm and it was great to pedal! Being the last rider gave me the chance to see all the hard work Joe, John and James put in. The wind was on and ultimately it never relented. What you should know about this race is that it’s beautiful! The whole time I thought, “Why am I going so fast? This is spectacular scenery and I want to just soak in it all!” but we are racing and before I knew it, I was back off the bike…
[Joe] [Leg 5] My second leg starts at 7 pm, I’m rushing to get ready on this one and almost take off without my helmet (thanks Todd for making sure I had it on!) I know I will finish it in the dark and unfortunately I didn’t grab my reflective vest, or my tail light (DOHHHHH!!!!!) and to make things worse, I dressed in the ninja CTR black kit. The wind is still present and will be with me the entire ride. The sun is setting in the west and is making the red rocks some of the most intense reds and oranges I’ve ever seen thrown in the blue sky and it is an amazing site. 25 miles in and I see no one in front of me – Todd and Brandon pull alongside and tell me I need to put my reflective vest on, so about a quarter mile up the road I stop to put on the vest, and Todd lets me use the his rear blinkie! I again take off and am alerted that some folks are behind me, I decide that I will work with them (the idea of “safety in numbers” while we go thru the canyon is very appealing) and we take 2 minute pulls. This works great and they are amazed at how bright my light is and how it totally drowns out their own battery operated lights (yay Schmidt Edelux and Alfine Dynamo Hub!) Only a few miles left on the ride and they make a break getting to the checkpoint first – not too worried though, since John is going to be rallying up Boulder Mountain, and rally he does!
[John] [Leg 6] My second leg, the sixth leg, at night, Torrey to Boulder over Boulder Mountain: 3,400 ft of climbing and 3,500 feet of descending in 39 miles, woo hoo! I was looking forward to this! Two years ago I had rain and snow on this leg, and missed my turn! (Thanks, Jason Copier, for quickly letting me know I was off course, another story!) This year should go more smoothly!
Warming up I got pretty nervous, my legs felt dead tired, had I overdone it on leg 1? Joe was easy to spot when he came in, light blazing! I was off and there were 2 riders no more than 5 minutes ahead of me. I took off at 10:25 p.m. full of adrenaline. Time to wake up the legs, catch a couple of riders, and climb some hills in the dark!
I caught the 2 riders within a few miles. They were riding at a pretty mellow pace. I said Howdy and moved along side of them. One of them told me to fall into his draft, so I did – maybe the three of us could jam out some miles together. When we were going slightly downhill, and they were coasting, I knew this was not the group for me and I took off into the night in search of the next rider. At this point the wind was pretty mellow and it was a perfect night for riding! I rode along, the grade slowly increasing. Diana and James informed me the next rider was about half a mile ahead, carrot! The legs were feeling strong, and I was in a good rhythm. I kept looking ahead for the rider ahead but saw only blackness. Riding, climbing, the wind was picking up. Next check in with Diana and James, “Do I have any chance of catching that guy,” I asked? “Yes, he’s struggling,” they replied. Finally, I saw him up ahead; he saw me too, and picked up his pace.
I finally caught him and was pacing behind, getting ready to pounce and leave him in the dust. I put the hammer down and flew past him, don’t look back, just crush him. I put ten yards between us, then around the next bend, BAM! Icy headwind! The wind pounded me into submission, and the rider I had just passed was right back on me. We attacked each other for awhile. Finally I admitted this was futile. “We’re killing ourselves in this wind,” I said. “Let’s ride together till we get through this.”
Truce, wind, pull, rest, pull, rest, wind, pull, climb, bye-bye. Solo, and climbing steeper and steeper. I saw what looked like a fire through the trees to my left. Climb, wind, climb, wind. I kept seeing the intense orange glow to my left, it turned out to be an amazing huge fire-orange moon, rising above the mountain – spectacular reward!
James and Diana were waiting near the crest of the final summit to see if I would want a jacket for the descent. It then dawned on me that this downhill would go so fast, they would need every second to get to the transition to get James ready. “Get James to the start, Hurry!” I yelled as soon as I could see them. Diana drove James to the start line like a bat out of hell, she knew I would be there soon.
I had to stop to zip up my jersey and vest at the summit, because the wind wouldn’t let me do so while moving! I passed two more riders at the summit who were also suiting up for the descent. The descent was ridiculously fun. Steep and fast. 40+ mph, near 50 sometimes. Cruising, dark, fast, fun, fun, fun. Short climb, down, cruise, fast, dark, fun, pass, fast, fun! Another pass. Am I crazy to be going this fast in the dark? Probably. Adrenaline, pedaling downhill, faster. Glowing eyes by the side of the road, always watching for deer.
Here comes the finish. Woo Hoo! What a rush! That was definitely my favorite leg, I love riding at night!
[James] [Leg 7] Started around 1am. John got to the exchange a lot quicker than I was expecting so I was scrambling to get ready. I was dressed, but still had to get my lights set up and food together. I left in a hurry but it certainly woke me up. The ride started with some nice steady ascending, then I had 3-4 miles of 12-14% grade descending (I only know this because the signs told me). It was an incredible feeling cruising at 41 mph through a canyon at 2am with just my lights. I do wish I could have seen more of it because I could tell the landscape was incredible. I had high, smooth, steep rock to my left and god-knows-what to my right because a few feet from the road it dropped off and I could vaguely make out the other side. I had to tell myself that if something jumped out, swerve left – otherwise they’ll never find you. After the fun part I started a slow, 20+ mile climb which took a lot longer than I was hoping. I’m glad I couldn’t see what was ahead. I almost hit 3 rabbits and a handful of mice along this stretch. The leg ended with about a 12 mile decent to breakfast burritos and coffee.
[Brandon] [Leg 8] my second stint, the road race is over and the endurance race begins. This memory is why you do these, I fell asleep for two hours in a park to be woken by a frantic Joe saying “James is on his way, you have to hurry.” Up and at it, put all my warm clothes on, inside out and backwards – I didn’t care, I was hustling! Thank god they had warm coffee for us. Two riders come in but it’s so dark all you see is the lights, so Joe calls out each time “James?! Is that you?” Off I was to meet the sun in an hour and pass the baton an hour or so later to Joe.
This is a side note, but I feel I need to say it. To those shameless, unsportsmanlike and morally bankrupt bums who drafted their asses from this point on, who lacked pride and courage to face the winds and hills on their own, well, I sleep soundly with a full heart watching my teammates fight, endure and slay all obstacles that were placed in front of them with dignity and intestinal fortitude. I’m so proud to ride with each of you!!
[Joe] [Leg 9] Third leg starts at 7 am, this is my last leg and is the steepest and shortest of my legs. It is a tad chilly with the wind so I put on my wind breaker, and prepare for what appears to be a very quick and fast leg since I have a strong tailwind (like 30mph strong!!) Brandon comes in and I am off – the tail wind pushes me very quickly for the first mile, and then as I turn to go into the canyon, it does an about-face and turns into a nice 30 mph HEADWIND. First 20 miles I am alone and just spinning and enjoying the scenery and the music that is called headwind! I look behind me and see the folks that I rode with on Leg 2 coming up, so I take the opportunity to stop and shed my parachute wind breaker. But they don’t stop and just keep rolling; I try and catch up to them but the wind is strong and they are working together taking pulls and putting some distance between us so I let them go and continue on. Around mile 31 I see an RV off to the side of the road with a road bike sprawled out behind it, but no rider is lying on the road so I take it they are just supporting a rider coming up. Around mile 36 I see the RV again, and apparently it is being pulled up the canyon by the side mirror via the rider of the bike previously seen sprawled behind the RV. Before they get to me, the RV finally has enough power to pass me on its own and the rider comes up and rides with me for a few seconds – not breathing heavy, not breaking a sweat but looking fully refreshed –– and passes me. He has now turned into my carrot and, thanks to Brandon and Todd telling me that I have a sweet descent (think two miles of 10-13% grades), I push it and as I see the sign of 10,270 feet pass me, I know I am in for a great treat. I push harder and I see the descent approaching so I shift big ring, and drop it into the highest gear and just MASH. In about 10 seconds, I SCREAM passed the RV carrying the cyclist and all I hear from the RV is “suck on his wheel”. I go to pedal a few strokes – yeah that’s not going to do anything – I’m spun out, and pedaling is just making my rear bounce, so I focus on control and tuck – 50 mph, 51mph, 52mph, 53mph as I rip towards Brain Head. One last turn, apex in apex out, and looking in my mirror I see the RV carrying cyclist sucking on my wheel. As I turn into Brian Head, John is ready. I pass the baton over and he continues on down the canyon. We exchange words with the RV cheaters, and then we get into the vehicle and I know that my ride is over.
[John] [Leg 10] My Third leg, The 10th. One hour of sleep in the last 28 hrs! So tired, but this leg is going to be easy, right? Brian Head to Enoch, 4,200 feet of descending, 180 feet of climbing in 26 miles, easy! In comes Joe with more news of sticky bumpers and mirrors, lots of that going on. The wind is really beating people up.
Descend! Steep, steep, steep! Fast, fast, fast! Faster than I have ever been on a bike, 56 mph! Fast, fast, crosswind at 50+ mph, ugh! Fast, wind, steep, fast, wind, flat, wind! Only 16 miles to go in this wind. Head down, crank, crank, crank. My computer is telling me 25-30 mph headwinds. Flat, wind, crank, wind. 5 miles to go, leave nothing in the tank, crank.
My day is done, and I’m pleased with my effort, but James’s is just beginning!
I really have to hand it to James Davis, a novice rider in his first road race. He’s already ridden 100 or so miles, minimal sleep, and now he is going to ride 47 miles directly into a 25 mph headwind, with no shelter or interesting scenery to take his mind off of the WIND! He rode through it all with a great attitude. I know I would have been thinking about quitting, but he drove on and on, and on! Great ride James!
I’ll echo Brandon’s sentiment: I was so proud to ride with Joe, Brandon, and James. They all showed so much heart in the face of extreme adversity. Thanks guys, for a memory that will last a lifetime! A special thanks also to Diana and Todd, your support and effort were amazing.
[James] [Leg 11] was supposed to be my easiest and shortest leg, but with the fierce head and cross winds (17-20 mph I was told) it ended up being the most challenging and time consuming. It’d be one thing if the scenery was as beautiful as it had been up until this point, but I was met with vast farmland and long, straight roads that never seemed to end. To make matters worse, about 12 miles from the end, I didn’t turn where I was supposed to. Luckily an older gentleman stopped me about 2 miles into my detour to tell me I was supposed to turn “back at the gas station”. I finally made it to my last exchange. Joe simultaneously handed me a beer and took my bike, which I could barely get my leg over (I think I almost fell on Todd).
Rockwell was an incredible experience for me and I’m thankful that I got to ride with the people I did. Everyone was extremely supportive and patient with me. And I am extremely thankful for John and Dianna for their support and advice; I couldn’t have done it without them. I’m already excited about and looking forward to next year.
[Brandon] [Leg 12] My last stint, and off to finish what we started 470 miles ago. I can honestly say that I, Joe, John and James left nothing in the tank, I pushed every ounce out to reach the end. Why? Because I knew there was some cold Babas waiting in a sunny park with my Cutthroat teammates, and that made it all worthwhile. Cheers!
At the park we all relaxed and waited to see if we won anything…..
Brandon got some nice blueberry bars and John well in his own words ……
Oh yeah, we won a free entry into next year’s race!! Cutthroat Hoppers, ride on!