Back in March, when I got serious about this adventure, I found a link to this Salt Lake City to Las Vegas relay. A race! A relay! A change of pace! And a benefit for ALS! All intriguing. I posted to the “looking for a team” message board and got sucked back into the vortex of the rest of my life.

Then the comment on the post appeared, and I was sucked into a vortex of preparation: mailing a check for my entry fee and jersey, booking my flights to the saints (Salt Lake City) and from the sinners (Vegas, baby), sending my bike to Salt Lake City with other SoCal riders on an affiliated team, and so on.

Our team captain Laura and her husband Bob organized several teams. The 5-woman Tuhwanda team was one of several, including a 5-man team and a 10-person mixed team. Lots of moving parts, and all I had to do was show up.

Laura was kind enough to meet me at the train station and give me a tour of the area. We did some last-minute shopping and bike adjustments, had an early dinner with Bob, and turned in for the next morning’s pre-dawn start. They were wonderful hosts, and I was so lucky to be part of this huge operation.

We had been told that there’d be breakfast at the start, and I was the anchor leg, so I didn’t bother to eat or caffeinate, planning to catch up on sleep in the car.

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I wasn’t riding with my teammates. Instead, I was with three riders on the 10-person mixed team. Before we even started, technical difficulties: dead battery. After a few stages? One of the guys in our car had knee issues on his stage and dropped out. I was recruited to pick up his last leg in Nevada… resolving some of my missing mileage issues.

So, the first 12 hours were spent sightseeing in rural Utah:

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Finally, it was my turn to ride. Bike off the SUV, coffee covers off the cleats, and… Thunder.

But of course.

For the next two hours, I rode in an ominous not-quite-rain with three other riders on our affiliated teams. The guys were helping pace the other women from the 10-person team. I was working really hard for the speeds I was getting on a slight downhill. Which wasn’t a downhill, as I realized when I looked at the elevation profile:

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What you’ll also see, if you look closely, is that this segment isn’t the 50 miles my first leg was supposed to be. Why? Oh, I was working hard to keep up with the guys, drafting a little too close on a climb, and didn’t slow down when the rider ahead of me did.

The next thing I knew, I was climbing up from the pavement (and off the road) and being inspected by off-duty medical professionals. I’d hit my hip and my head, but nothing seemed broken, so I hopped back on the bike and climbed for another hour to finish my shift.

It wasn’t until I got to the relay exchange that I began to understand what had happened. My face was cut where my glasses had met the bridge of my nose.

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My shorts were fine, but my thigh had a fist-size bruise, and my hip was scraped.

And there was this :

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So… I might or might not have had a concussion, but my helmet was done for the race. Chanda, my 10-person teammate and car mate would loan me hers. But now, napping until my next shift was out of the question.

Night fell. Rain fell. A little after 2am, I climbed out of the car for a climb/descent on pitch-black roads in the rain. Accompanied by my affiliates from the afternoon shift, we did this.

It was fast, and my teammates were praying, and I knew I was in the hands of the laws of physics. Finally, we reached the bottom, and there was a traffic signal. The first I’d encountered in 80+ miles of riding.

We rounded the corner, and I saw the green mermaid, my patron saint, Our Lady of the Caramel Macchiato. It had been nearly 2 days since caffeine had passed my lips. I knew we were almost to the exchange, and so far, the route had backtracked to the main thoroughfare after the exchange. I looked at the illuminated display on my Garmin. 5:15. Inside that Starbucks were a Grande Caramel Macchiato and a Maple Oat Nut Scone with my name on them. I dropped the hammer. The exchange couldn’t be more than a block away, right?

Wrong. Miles passed. I finally reached the exchange and its indoor plumbing. And then the route didn’t backtrack.

Onward toward Arizona and the dawn.
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Notice how the pavement abruptly changes from blacktop to chipseal at the state border. The road only goes through about seven miles of Arizona, and no actual Arizonans drive on it, so… Arizona doesn’t really take care of it. Poor Chanda had to ride this leg, into Nevada, where she switched out with her husband.

At this point, I decided to hop on my bike, too. The relay rules forbade riders from riding the leg that immediately preceded their own, so now that I was riding for two teams, I was even more restricted. And still, on paper, only riding 40 miles in Nevada. So, looking at the course guide, there were 11 relatively flat miles in this leg before the hills started. And the day was dry, but still cool. I asked Chanda to head up and wait for me where the hills started. I rode through the start of civilization, marveling at the mountains in the bacground, enjoying a leisurely, non-race pace. Several miles later, I hopped back in, we rolled off, and then I checked my Garmin:

(The Strava screen capture tells the story batter)
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Not enough miles! And now it was too late to get more miles on the course. I’d need five miles at the finish.

As the day went on and the temperatures rose, I slogged through my legs. My last segment went through the Lake Mead recreation area, and I was dying on the final ascent. I couldn’t keep my sense of humor when someone wanted to spray me with water.

Then I coasted into Lake Las Vegas, not DFL, but pretty darn close. People had been waiting around forever. We took some team photos:

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Suddenly, my bike was whisked off for its ride back to Southern California, my gear was loaded out of the SUV, and everyone was gone. Everyone, including the race organizers. Me and my stuff were sitting on a curb at the Westin Lake Las Vegas.

I couldn’t have had a better and more generous support system in place, yet I had come up five miles short on the state of Nevada. Exhausted, uncaffeinated, concussed, failed, and no one’s fault but my own.

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