Monday, October 02, 2006

Riding into Las Vegas

Alongside Interstate 1-15, the night in Baker, CA. high beamed its way through the motel’s dirty windows. The motel squatted across the road from the more famous “Mad Greek’s Gyros and Date Shakes!” truck stop. You can see the Mad Greek’s eponymous road signs for miles…the shakes are worth pulling over for. The gyros not so much. The Greek’s motel even less so.

Baker is an ancient travelers’ crossroad…the intersection of the old Spanish Trail, (now I-15) led through the desert to California on a dusty wagon trail (Rt. 127). Some starving 49’ers cut through Ibex Pass to save themselves from the death part of Death Valley. There must be a lot of bones out there in the desert.

Mark, my husband, had snuck out of the Mad Greek’s Motel before the sun rose at 6:00 am. His ride along 127 to Shoshone, about 50 miles could take him anywhere from 3 hours to 5, depending on how colorful and inventive his explanation was.

We’d meet up, change up and my ride would begin in Shoshone, and end about 100 miles later in Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel.

There in the digs of the Doge’s I’d be trapped by four days and four nights of cafeteria-style food, a labyrinth lobbies, a dearth of daylight, piped in music, flickering neon. That’s Interbike.

But the road to Interbike made all the difference.

It seemed a like there was a headwind wind no matter which way the road wound. A five thousand foot climb that shimmered on the horizon of the longest and straightest riser I have ever pushed through. The monotony of the miles was broken by a motorcade of Germans rumbling past in strict formation on identical Harley rentals. I could tell they were German tourists an hour later when I stopped in Pahrump…the rental fleet were all parked in a neat row, equally spaced apart, each front tire at the same 33 degree angle, and beside them in their leather lederhosen clicked cameras and clinked bottles of America’ finest…Coor’s Light. Down the road, out of the desert now past ticky-tacky subdivisions of houses that will probably never be homes all the way to Terrible Herbst’s where the commercial sprawl of Las Vegas unofficially begins. Then, for the last 15 miles or so I snaked my way along frontage roads, and through traffic lights, keeping my eyes on the golden shimmer of the Mirage.

Dirty, sweaty, dehydrated, elated, I alighted at the Venetian’s cool cascading fountain lobby: a mountain biker.

Signing autographs, shaking hands and smiling the next day at the Clif Bar booth, my legs still felt more alive than I did.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Not to the swift, nor the strong

Last weekend I entered the High Sierra Century, which began and ended in Mammoth Lakes, CA. I wasn’t planning on a race, but I guess my big brother, John, was.

A Century, sibling rivalry, and smack talk should not be commingled. My training the last few weeks since I “owied” some ribs in the Brian Head Super-D, has been mostly on the road. So, I figured my legs would be good to go. But, I had never ridden before with John for 100 miles. It turned out that there was no way to prepare for such an effort.

This 100 miles, at about 7,500 feet, was jotted down on my training calendar as ‘Base Mileage, for the up-coming La Ruta stage race. John knew that. I had told him on the phone weeks before. Then we discussed it at dinner the night before and again over our morning coffee in his Mammoth Creek condo. A training ride. That’s all it was…for me at least.

marla streb
Marla and her brother John at the Century.

John, as the oldest of my four brothers, has always led the way. And as we rolled through the dusty parking lot near the small airport, it was no different. By the time we crossed the first cattle grate, our group of four had fallen apart. John was a bike length ahead of all of us, and my husband, Mark, was more than a few bike lengths behind.

I tucked in behind John and hung on. Jerry did some of the work and I took some pulls, too; but John’s were as hard as pulling teeth.

Since, this was a ‘fun’ ride, I wasn’t equipped with my i-Pod (they’re like, SO anti-social). But there wasn’t much socializing among us until the 50 mile feed zone stop two and half hours later. The day’s big climb was still ahead at mile 70. None of us chose to discuss that, though.

As we readied to hit the road gain, I mixed and topped off my three water bottles with Mango Clif Shot, Red Bull, and water. During the first 50 miles of the ride I drank a bottle every half hour. The last ten miles or so I was dry. No way was I going to allow that to happen during the second half. Jerry re-filled his CamelBak, and his three bottles.

John’s two big bottles were still full, untouched, and his third, smaller one still had a mouthful in it, I noticed. He didn’t even top it off.

“You better get a re-fill on that,” I said.

“Nah…no need to drag the extra weight up that climb.”

So, now I knew where I would attack…at my brother’s weakest point…when he would be the most dehydrated…

I led up the climb, John stayed close and Jerry played it smart riding his own pace. At the feed zone at the top. I downed a bottle, topped it off and refilled another, and watched John roll past without refueling.

The last thirty miles I toyed with him, surging and waiting for him to catch up, steadily raising the tempo until he dropped off. I bridging ahead to ride with some other pacelines and then waited for John near the finish before sprinting across the line.

I took the Century Ride by a bike length. My big brother John is swift and strong, but in this case, not too well hydrated.