Day 3 can often be the best or worst day when it comes to how your body responds to an increased workload like the one I’m subjecting mine to for the next three days. In an effort to make sure that I had given my body as many recovery tools as possible, at the conclusion of yesterday’s ride I did the following: 1) Two GU Chocolate Smoothie Recovery drinks; 2) A 15 minute cryogenic ice bath in Fishlake; 3) A session in a set of Recovery Pump’s Recovery Boots; 4) A massage by one of the soigners on the trip; 5) An early bed time, although I was restless due to an elevated heart rate and the fact that we were at sleeping at 9,000 ft.
Beginning the day with a proper breakfast was the first order of business, and the good folks from Western Spirit made sure that we had a massive breakfast buffet to choose from. On paper Day 3, even at 104 miles, looked to be pretty gentle, especially considering that it was mostly downhill to the finish. What might complicate things, though, was how the legs and body were feeling after two hard days; Days that saw riders, myself included, lose significant amounts of fluids. I know from personal experience, having done the Trans Andes Challenge in Southern Chile this past January, that the third day can be the hardest, as your body is not only tired from the international travel and time change, but from the rigors of racing back to back days.
Our 104 mile journey would drop us into the small desert town of Escalante, which takes its name from the Franciscan missionary Silvestre Velez de Escalante who left from Santa Fe, New Mexico,in 1176 in an attempt to reach Monterey, California. Along the way, his exploratory party passed by the Grand Canyon and was among the first white men to enter Utah. Obviously not the first to pedal UT 25, a remote mountainous scenic byway, we did have that first time awe that I imagine Escalante felt on his journey. After an 11 mile skirting of Fish Lake, things quickly became animated on the first punchy climb of the day. As has been the case with the past two stages, the usual suspects were in the select group of six that pedaled away.
After 40+ miles our group had worked efficiently enough to keep a 24 mph average, and it was looking like my concerns about day 3 performance were all for naught. Calories and liquids were consumed on a regular basis, as we all knew that the hardest part of the day would begin at mile 52 when we entered the Dixie National Forest and began the 18 mile ascent of Boulder Mountain. As soon as the road tilted upwards in earnest, six riders quickly became three, that then became one off the front. A twisty, precipitous drop down the 9,610ft mountain rocketed us into the stunning prehistoric rock landscape of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and along the famous Hog’s Back road. By the time we hit this spine of road, we were three chasing one, suffering in the high desert heat, losing copious amounts of fluids. One last kick at mile 96 saw our chase of three splinter and we entered our own personal pain caves hoping that the miles would tick over quicker than they actually were. And speaking of miles, what had been reported as a 104 mile day, actually turned out to be 110 miles, which may not seem like much, but those extra six miles,especially when you have not water, were lonely and brutal. With a salt encrusted jersey and parched, dry mouth, I stumbled into our final resting place and immediately began rehydrating.
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, and it wasn’t pretty, but I survived. Check back tomorrow to see if I survive the Queen Stage, a beast of a route that winds 12o miles and ascends over 9,000 ft.