Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Triathlon Monkey Business

It’s about 25 miles from my office to my house, and just over 100 miles from there to Rancho Cordova, CA. On a Friday, if I leave work before 3pm, it can still take an hour to get home by car. Today, it took an hour and a half of agonizing crawl. I spent most of that time reflecting on how I can do the same ride in an hour and 40 minutes on my bike. At home, I threw my bike and kayak on the roof, an overnight bag in the back and then my wife and son piled into the car for what should have been a two-hour drive to Rancho Cordova, a nice little suburb of Sacramento. Almost four unbelievable hours later, we arrived with gnawing hunger, black spirits and an uneasy fear of missing the packet pick-up for Eppie’s Great Race.

Marketed as “The World’s Oldest Triathlon,” Eppie’s Great Race comprises a 5.82-mile run, 12.5-mile bike ride and 6.35-mile paddle (mostly kayaks) along the American River. We have competed as team for the past couple years with my wife doing the first leg, me the second and my son finishing up. The race was founded in 1974 by local businessman Eppaminondas “Eppie” Johnson to promote his restaurants. The event raises money for charity and apparently the larger-than-life Eppie would make a show of everything. Once, he dressed as a superhero. Another year he poured $50,000 in cash and coins on the dais in the Board of Supervisors chambers. When he died in 2013, one online mourner wrote, 
“Rest in Peace, Eppie. You were a sunflower in a garden of weeds. The world needs more sunflowers.”
We picked up our neon green event T-shirts, bib numbers and advertisements before they closed up for the day. Surprisingly, our finishers’ medals were already in the bag. Then off for dinner. Although I thought they closed years ago, we found a Chevy’s Mexican restaurant. News of their demise was highly exaggerated – there are still plenty of them, just not around our house anymore. Did you know that the first one was in Alameda, CA? Anyway, there’s nothing like Mexican food and a $10 margarita the night before a race!

CycloMonkey was once again tucked away with my bike helmet, shoes and so forth. At 6am, we are all bustling around the hotel room getting ready. I expect to start the bike leg of the race shortly after 9am, but we need to drop the kayak off first so my son can wait close to four hours. Logistics, ugh. If there’s one trait my family shares, it’s a mild compulsion for getting somewhere as soon as possible. After the kayak stop, my wife drops me, CycloMonkey and my bike off near Sacramento State University and then heads toward the runners’ starting line. I take a slight detour across the pedestrian bridge and eventually head over to the bikers’ corrals (I was never actually lost). I find my assignment for corral “C” – family team category – then I immediately start pedaling in the opposite direction to warm up with my monkey in my back jersey pocket. I return and see that I still have about an hour to wait. Two nice ladies are chatting so I ask if they’d take a photo of me and CycloMonkey. They tell me their story some other toy animal who got handed off to various friends and traipsed around Europe. They also explain that “Ride for Willie” on the backs of their shirts is for their soon-to-be-slaughtered cow. Grass-fed, organic, humanely-raised, but Willie was always intended to be what’s for dinner. This isn’t Stockton or Harrah’s Ranch, but it’s not too far either. CycloMonkey didn’t ask; I didn’t explain.

One more warm-up ride and I’m up to about 20 miles in preparation for my 12-mile race. I noticed on my warm-up that there’s a headwind. Given that my training regimen included a 10-day cruise to Alaska with an all-you-can eat buffet, this didn’t bode well for improving upon last year’s time. Now I’m watching the clock and well before I expect her, here comes my wife! Whee! Showtime. To set the stage, the bike route covers 12.5 miles of the two-lane, paved trail in River Walk Park which runs along the American River. It’s closed for the event this morning, so no on-coming bikers, hikers, strollers, roller bladers or pet walkers. The total elevation change is maybe 100 feet but no more than a few feet at a time. Where the trail crosses roads or other trails, there are police blocking the cross-traffic. Accordingly, there are a lot of competitive types on time-trial bikes with skin suits and aero helmets. All those people are long gone because their runners were blistering. Being a family event, there are also people in costumes, some with capes, a few with balloons. I’m not aero, but I’m planning on riding as hard as can. And I’ve got a monkey on my back.

I start out riding within myself, at 20mph – “on your left!” After half a mile, all systems are good; CycloMonkey seems secure, so up to 21mph – “on your left, thank you, ON YOUR LEFT!” Still good, the wind isn’t bad, maybe it’s a cross-wind here, 22mph – “on your left, you’re fine, sorry.” Yikes, people on mountain bikes three-wide! 23mph. Okay, that’s probably all I can do today but that’s ahead of last year if I can keep it up. People of all shapes and sizes, none too fast. I come up behind them so quickly that I can’t get a slingshot. AAAAAAHHHHH, on-coming cyclists! AAAHHH. Whew, survived, what on Earth are they doing? 26mph down a little dip in the road, 18mph back up …back to 23mph. Feels great. Oh, hi there Mr. Photographer …serious face, Blue Steel. Now I’m counting down the miles; aren’t we done yet? Uh oh, why aren’t we done? I’m fading. Keep going. Finished!
The valet takes my bike. I trot over to the bridge, hand the transponder to my son who takes off. Then I spend what seems like three days looking for my bike …red bike, green tag, number 170 – anybody seen it? I see this other lady looking for her bike; I see her over and over again. I make a mental note of her bib number. Finally, I find her bike. I see her again, “yours is over there.” Then I find mine and head back on surface streets to the kayak finishing point and also where the food is at the party. I get a couple of positive comments on CycleMonkey from passing motorists. Have I mentioned my navigational shortcomings? It’s not that I get lost or don’t know where I’m going. It’s that I sorta know where I’m going and figure I don’t need to review the details before taking off. So I get almost to where the bike leg started when I realize that’s not my destination. I text my wife, and show up at the party about 30 minutes late. CycloMonkey collapses in the shade. But I got to ride some extra miles!

I beat my previous best time and averaged about a half mile-per-hour faster. My wife’s latent stress fracture never materialized; she’s happy. The kayak didn’t capsize in the rapids; my son had a great time sailing his pirate’s flag. We earned the medals that we had already received. Near as I can tell, CycloMonkey had a good time. Any extra anxiety was unwarranted. My son wants to sell my kayak and buy himself a river/surf kayak – lighter, more maneuverable. Yes, there’s something wrong with the pronouns in that previous sentence. Credit for being clever; it never hurts to try.

Will there be a next time? You’ll have to keep reading.

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