Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Walking Like a Viking

Before one can run, one must first learn to move along at an agonizingly slow pace that brings one to empty aid stations and the like. This is my polite way of telling you that before the Alcatraz race report, I need to get a bit caught up here. So, without further ado:

If there’s one single MOST important thing I learned from doing the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, aka Groundhog Day in Hell, it is this: never go camping with people you don’t know all that well. There’s a reason most slasher movies take place in or near a woods. It’s because most people who camp are clueless dolts, thus turning their companions into homicidal maniacs. Case in point: the HHH.

Having reserved the last camping spot available for that weekend at Blue Mounds State Park, I offered to let some CTC folks who I don’t know that well camp there too, since most of my friends had gotten shut out of this funfest, thanks to the Monkeys-R-Us organization that is active.com. Let’s call these folks Larry, Curly, and Moe. I head up with Larry, who’s brought one essential camping item: his sleeping bag. Meanwhile, I’ve packed enough camping gear to survive in the Amazon for 3 months. We get up there and start to set up camp with Curly, who we ran into on the drive-up, and who panicked when, as our separate cars were approaching the turnoff to the campsite, I went a slightly different route and we were out of his sight. The 6 follow-up calls asking us where we were do not bode well.

So, camp. Curly has brought a brand new humongous Taj Mahal-ian tent, which he just got on eBay. Perfect! Wonderful! Except! One needs a hammer to set these things up. He has no hammer. In fact, the only things Curly brought were said tent and 2 cots. Oh, and a boombox, from which he proceeded to blast loud hip-hoppy music into the previously tranquil woods.

After I rummaged through my Immense Pile of Crap and gave the two a hammer, I then proceeded to do the usual camping tasks: set up a lean-to, dig a well with spring water, make sure I had marked a trail from our campsite to 5 miles in any direction in case someone got lost, etc. Okay, I actually did none of that, but I could have. In the meantime, Larry and Curly had managed, after many wrong turns, to set up the tent, and were loudly proclaiming their superiority and brilliance. Unfortunately, this lost some of its impact with the following conversation:

Curly: Hey, there’s an extra piece of material left. I wonder what it’s for – maybe a room divider?
Me, after walking into tent and looking around: Go into the tent. Look up.
Curly: What? What am I looking at?
Me: THE SKY, you idiot! That “extra” piece needs to go on top of the tent – you know, in case it rains??

Finally, camp is set up and we head off to town to pick up our packets and have dinner. Since Larry and Curly are apparently “new-age” men, they have no opinion on where to go for dinner, so we find an Italian restaurant in Mt. Horeb. After Curly comes to the table after another endless cell phone conversation, I watch in horror as he picks up a piece of bread and...and.......scrapes the cheese off! He does this with piece after piece, even asking our server to bring more bread, which he proceeds to massacre, leaving about a half a pound of cheese on his plate. I think there are laws against that in Wisconsin. Finally I can take it no longer.

Me: What’s wrong – you don’t like cheese? It’s a perfect food, you know.
Curly: It’s too fattening. I’m cutting back.
Me: But 12 pieces of bread are okay? What kind of diet is that?
Curly: Gotta watch my girlish figure, you know.
Me, sighing: Okay, so you guys did bring SOME camping stuff, right? I mean, basics, like matches, flashlights, lantern, something?
(they look at each other, puzzled)
Larry: How dark does it get in the woods?
Me, after a moment of stunned silence: Umm, it’s the WOODS. In Wisconsin. It gets pitch black. What were you expecting, streetlamps?
Larry and Curly: Uhh......
Me: So, to recap. You guys decide to go camping, and between the two of you you have a tent but no way to put it up, 2 cots, and a sleeping bag?

We lapse into silence.

That evening, Moe shows up, having gotten a ride from Sandbagger. He at least has brought a tiny flashlight – hallelujah! Still, I gaze longingly at the campsite next to us, set up neatly and efficiently by someone who apparently understands the camping concept. This helpless guy thing, I just don’t get it.

That evening, after I gather kindling and start the campfire, we’re sitting around when I hear a rustling in the woods. Bigfoot? Of course, I go to check it out. As I’m trudging deeper into the woods, following this unusually loud rustling noise, it occurs to me that this is perhaps not the best idea. After all, if something were to happen, my camping companions would probably spend several hours trying to get a cell phone signal, walking 5 paces in each direction muttering “Can you hear me now? Now?”

Later that evening, I do see a fluffy raccoon start to emerge from the woods, so I leave him a brownie before going to bed. Or attempting to. Because, dear reader, this is where we all discover that Curly snores. Loudly. Buzzsaw loud, in fact. At one point I pick up a pillow to throw at him, hoping he’ll shift to his side and will cease snoring....but then notice he’s already on his side. Sigh. Some time in the night, Moe creeps outside, and I just KNOW he’s getting earplugs. I sense it. This does in fact turn out to be the case, damn him.

The next morning, Curly is chipper as can be, while the rest of us look a bit bleary eyed. As I’m preparing my eggs benedict and French press coffee on my camping stove, Curly is relying on the Heed we all got in our packets the day before for his day-of-ride nutrition. I shake my head. I also shake my head at the fact that he’s taken 45 minutes to get ready for the ride, and has used copious amounts of hair gel, on hair that’ll be stuck under a helmet all day. This, I’m a bit unclear on, but don’t bother asking about.

At this point, you’ll understand why I was eager to get going on the ride, and so I set off. A chronicle of the day’s events:

Hour 1: I get to the first massive hill, a climb that goes on for 3.6 miles. Are you people nuts? Here I meet Laurie, someone who trains with Renee from the CTC, who’s biking with another Renee athlete. They introduce themselves, as I’m wearing my CTC garb, and then Laurie starts chattering: “come on, think positive thoughts, your legs are strong girls, keep it going, chin up” blah blah blah, all cheery and encouraging, with a broad smile across her face. I immediately start plotting ways to kill her.

Hour 2: I get to the first aid station, where they’re already down to just water and some oranges. What happened to the cookies? Why do these damn rides keep promising me cookies, and I have yet to see one? And just water on a humid, 95 degree day – somehow this does not seem like a recipe for success.

Hour 3: I see the first sign for the Hooden-Svenlund wedding, and the mind start churning. A wedding? Surely they won’t mind if I crash the party, so to speak, for a little while? Some cold water would be good, or maybe some champagne. Hell, even some odd Swedish delicacies, like lutefisk – that would still be better than this hell. I’m going up a hill with the blazing sun directly ahead of me, when ahead of me I see a water spigot that someone has put in their front yard, with an accompanying “Free water!” sign. I see the house owner, and am pathetically grateful. Why again did I pay good money to do this thing?

Hour 4: I meet up with 2 guys from St. Louis and we bike along and chat on the lovely country roads. We pass another sign for the Hooden-Svenlund wedding, and I tell them I was thinking of going, perhaps meeting a nice Swedish farmer, following the path of true love and so on. Too bad the direction the wedding sign was pointing to led to a hill that went straight up. Damn. Then SL #2 takes a corner too wide, goes into the gravel, and falls right into my path – so to avoid biking over his hand, I also swerve and almost wipe out. Idiots. Now I’m in a big gear trying to get up a hill. ARGH!

Hour 4.5: This is the first time I get to a hill and think to myself, you have got to be fucking kidding me. A lady is getting her mail as I’m slogging up, and cheerily notes that “this hill is the reason I never do the Horribly Hilly ride!” Well, at least she has some brains, unlike the rest of us.

Hour 5: Aid station nirvana. Is there anything better than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, after one has biked so many godforsaken miles, all uphill? I wish I could camp out here all day, but that’s the problem with riding a bike somewhere – you always need to get yourself back to where you started.

Finally: What the......you mean we need to go up this horrible hill AGAIN? The 3.6 or 4.8 or 10 mile one, again?? Shit. Not for the first time today, I walk. As I do so, I discuss with another woman whether or not Vikings actually rode bicycles –we decide probably not, they mostly boated, so wouldn’t walking be more historically accurate? This validates our decision to walk. Someone has written on the road – “Become the Road.” Yeah, I was there many hours ago, bub. At the end, I hop back on the bike, finish triumphantly, and make a beeline for the free Culver’s ice cream. If ever there was a time to not worry about calories, this would be it. I seriously think I’m never going to get on a bike again.

The next day: I have decided I’m going to spend the month of August biking across Wisconsin....