Tuesday, November 25

Our Customer Paul Tells Us All About Riding La Ruta

My goal was to successfully complete La Ruta de los Conquistadores with an "Official Time". Simply put I was not successful. However, given the situations which transpired, I can say that I am at peace with the result.

Day 1: Originally to be 97 kilometers and 12:30 hours to complete. The course was changed prior to the race and extended to 110 kilometers with the same time allotment. OK, I however did not know this until after the day one was complete. Day one actually turned out to be 117 kilometers with no increase in time allotment for completion. We got started at 5AM and I felt good. I had about 1 hour of sleep that night but I still felt alright. We began with a moderate pace and as I rode I kept hearing the same voice inside my head (just keep moving forward). We began the mud section on day one which was unreal. Literally unrideable crevasse of mud and rock which was precarious at best. I had my share of falls within the first mile. Up and down the ravines, through the rivers, unreal. You simply cannot train for that. We had almost 6 kilometers of mud which took about 4 hours to traverse. At times my bike weighed about 40 pounds and the wheels would not roll. We would rinse our bikes as best we could in the rivers we crossed throughout this part of the course. The mud was so abrasive that it wore my sidewall of my rear tire through, ruining a brand new tire. Anyway, got out of the mud, and began climbing a road which never seemed to end. I road with a guy from Botswana whom was great. We had a good pace and felt confident with our time as we reached the 3rd checkpoint well within time. We decided to have a more substantial meal in the small town where checkpoint 3 was located. It took about a half hour to eat and get rolling again. The next part of the route took us up a 6% grade for what we were told was 8 kilometers. I crushed the climb however was not real happy with the fact that it was actually more like 17 kilometers to the top! So, arriving at check point 4 (the final checkpoint of the day) I had been riding 11 hours and I still felt strong. I knew I had 1 1/2 to try and make the time, so I felt confident. Arriving at checkpoint 4, I began to fill my bottles and my camelback when my bike was taken from me with the words "No Mas". I grabbed for my bike and again I was told, "No Mas" I was confused and finally an aid whom spoke English said, "Checkpoint 4 closed 15 minutes ago, you missed the time check". Right then, I had lost my goal. I did try my case but to no avail. I was told it was too dangerous to proceed with dusk approaching and a technically fast downhill and a city I would have to traverse in the dark. So, No Mas. I put things into perspective pretty quickly. Regardless of the circumstances, I did not make the time. You cannot fake fitness and I simply did not make it. So, I got on the bus which was picking up those of us whom did not complete the time check, (over 30% of entrants did not complete day 1). Sitting a waiting for more riders to get to checkpoint 4 my now friend, Brett from Botswana and I had a good laugh and shared a beer as we talked about the day. We must have waited there an hour before finally heading back to the finish line.
Day 2: I was tired but my legs felt good, I just needed to get rolling and I we would see from there. A bit intimidated from day 1 but still determined. We rolled out at 7:00AM with 76 kilometers and 10 1/2 hours to complete. I started out fine but once I got to the first climb of the day I began to have a problem with my front derailleur. Not fun on a big climb. So, I tried to fix it as we climbed a 12 - 15 % grade. This thing was tough! I spent most of my time doing a "hike a bike" (basically walking your bike). Had my first flat within 3K of the start, not a great way to get going but you work the problem. Great, fixed the flat and had a go at the front derailleur with mild success. I had to get this sorted out or it would be a very long day. So, I got that out of the way, hoped on my bike and "bang" another flat! Apparently my sidewalls on my rear tire was so badly abraded that the inner tube was pushing through the sidewall, not good. I tried to fix it but the holes were so big that it was not going to work. Just then, a person I had been riding with the day before rode up and said, " I am cooked, I cannot go any further today. Use my rear tire and I will pick it up at the finish line". That was lucky! We had not even gone 6 miles and I had two flats, a derailleur problem, Monty's revenge and a gift of a new tire! So, I got it all sorted out and was back on the road. I had lost almost an hour with all the stops and fixes but I was rolling again. I kept a good pace and was able to finish what I thought was probably the easiest day in 9 hours 18 minutes. Back on track!
Day 3: No problems out of the gate, I just did not feel very good. 66.7 K with 10 1/2 hours to finish. I was more than tired, I just did not have any power. I rolled out slow and just keep thinking, you got to keep moving. I powered up the long climb up the volcano keeping a good pace. Trust me when I say it was not easy. I did the ride at 235 lbs and carrying that, my bike at 23 lbs and a camelback at about 20 lbs up some of these climbs is a feat. Most of these guy weigh 160 to 180 if they are lucky! Anyway, having pulled myself up this climb, I finally reached the top and began to change into warmer clothes as it was chilly up in the "cloud forest" As I geared up and got my bike ready for the long downhill, a gal asked if I wanted to hot chicken noodle soup. It was the best soup I ever had! When you are used to tuna fish, peanut butter, bananas covered in flies for a break, this was heaven! So, I got started on the downhill and took it easy because it was somewhat technical. Thank God for Jason Masterman prepping me for the parts of the course to look out for. Jason successfully completed La Ruta last year and was the person whom introduced me to the race and was invaluable with training tips and advice for the race. He was right about this part of the course, it was technical and fast. Fortunately it was not raining like it was for his race. A driving rain and mud! I don't even want to think about how difficult that decent must have been. I took the dry conditions and ran! A great day on the bike, beautiful scenery and spectacular views! Other than my right knee feeling like it was on fire and swollen, I got my second wind after the soup and had a great day on the bike. 8 and 1/2 hours on the bike and no problem with the time checks!
Day 4: The day started out kind of shaky, a tough night with the knee but it was the last day and I felt positive. The bus broke down on the way to the start but nobody freaked, 15 minutes and a new bus, we were on our way. Got a good start and began the long, long climb up into the hills, that long climb lasted about 3/12 hours. We had 125 k and 10 1/2 hours to finish so, I knew I had to make up some time! We had a great downhill which seemed to go on forever! 45 mph and my hair on fire though some of the sweeping turns, it was great! Finally I could get some speed! Once down the climb it was flat and I could really get going. Many of us began to ride together in a pace line which really made us all go much faster. As well, we were encouraged to stay together through the "train track section" (about 15k) because of the rough neighborhoods. we were moving! Riding the train tracks was different, not much fun but do-able. We also had to cross several train bridges which was a bit scary, talk about focused! Some of the ties were loose and slippery. Anyway, as it turns out, the locals were right on staying together. Two people were mugged during those sections. We were lucky in our pace line and kept the pressure on for the last 50 K. We lost several riders due to our pace until finally there was only four of us. I picked up the lead with about 35 K to go and pulled the rest of the way. I felt great and was finally able to put my power to work on the flats without having to worry about getting up a hill! Finished strong!

Overall I guess you could say it was a successful failure. I did not achieve my goal of becoming an "Official Finisher", however, I did finish! More importantly to me was that I did not quit. I met some incredible people, made some new friends, strengthened friendships at home and got to experience a beautiful country. Not a bad vacation! The ride was very difficult, I found myself drawing on past experiences to get me through the days. I understand that the GPS had some issues and for that I am sorry but thank you to Jason and Ed for trying to sort the thing out! As well, thank you for all of your support and friendship! You were all there, driving me forward so my thanks to you! I am blessed.

Take care,

Glad you had a great time & thanks for your story!

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