Sport is nothing, if not a gateway to physical and psychological possibility. All one needs is the courage to push the boat way out: the deeper and rougher the water the better. Such a test distinguishes the fiery from the faint. Confronting it you are either pointed or pointless. You can do as much as you imagine. Often more. Or you come up short.
In June 2014 Shawn Kingrey pushed the boat out. He had petitioned to enter the Four Horsemen of the Solstice bike race and been accepted. The race is described as, “lasting 24 hours, covering +/- 250 miles and +/- 30,000 feet in elevation gain.” In short, EPIC. While driving west to California for the race Shawn broke the fork on his bike. His race could have ended there, before it even started.
I have a spare bike we might have made fit or we could have pulled the fork from it to repair his bike. Instead I called my local shop, explained the situation and asked them to fix the bike. We decided that, “Gym Jones would cover the cost,” because such generosity is perfectly in line with why I started the gym in the first place.
Shawn imagined, and then invested much in the race, just as he has done with his own development. Helping him to fulfill his objective was automatic. We wanted him to see it through. And to demonstrate our belief in a man who expresses the ideals we hold dear by helping him.
The shop fixed his bike. Shawn drove out to Bishop. The previously-undisclosed details of the event (distance, elevation gain and time limits) were explained. He ate, grabbed some sleep and was ready to roll at 4 a.m. Shortly after finishing he sent me a text that read, “I attacked about 70 miles in and then rode a 200-mile individual time trial to the finish,” which he reached first.
After his initial recovery Shawn sent me a full report. It offered as close a look at what he went through as an observer could ever have. I understood because I’ve been on the boat: 24 hours deep, 40 hours deep, 60 hours deep. It was a privilege to read so I have included part of it here.
To hear more details discussed several years after the fact listen to Episode 9 of the podcast.
Our small field took off at 4 a.m. The climbing started at 6-7 miles. Jamie and I immediately put a gap between ourselves and our compatriots. The sun was rising over the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and the wind picked up as we hit the first dirt section at 10,000’. The altitude and surface made it brutal and Jamie fell off the pace. Sharp diamond-shaped rocks - some the size of grapefruit - littered the washboarded road. The climbing was steep and the dirt so loose that standing to pedal was not an option.
At the top the cue sheet showed a u-turn to descend that same dirt. I didn’t descend much faster than I had climbed because I worried about destroying my wheelset. I was relieved when the dirt ended. During the descent, Jamie caught back on and passed me. Back at the hotel Section One was complete: 58 miles, with 7000’ of climbing.
I changed shoes and shorts and then Jamie and I set off on Section Two. We worked together across the flats as the wind and heat increased. The temperature was stifling on the climb to South Lake. Sweat ran off my face like I was on a turbo trainer. I saw that Jamie was suffering too, maybe more than me. Two miles from South Lake Lodge I put in a bit of a dig. I don’t know why. I just put my foot on the gas. The gap opened. One voice inside suggested I ease up and wait for him. The other voice reminded me of something I once heard, “If you have the knife in you might as well twist it.” So I grabbed a gear and went for it.
At the top of the South Lake climb I had a 5-minute margin. I descended fast, trying to protect my lead. Then I started my iPod and pushed hard on the climb to Sabrina Lake. At Sabrina Lake I was 100+ miles into the race with a 10-minute gap on Jamie. I have to admit I took more than a few chances on the 20-mile descent.
I pushed hard into a cross-headwind toward the next climb. I started to really believe in myself. When I reached the fire station on the Lower Rock Creek Road climb the race director told me I had a gap of just over 30 minutes. Near the top of the climb I was bonking, and emotional. When "I Love You Even More" by Pretty Boy Thorson & The Fallen Angels came through the headphones I nearly cried.
Pedaling alone into a headwind for fifteen miles gave me plenty of time and space to think about about all of the people who have helped me. Mark, Rob, Lisa and my wife stayed at the forefront of my mind. Rob’s text of “crush some shit”, and Mark’s words, “to repay me, go win it!” kept repeating in my brain.
As I turned and gained a tail-crosswind I raised the pace. Heart rate didn’t seem useful as a guide any longer. The race director pulled alongside and said that he would be my sole support car now. The gap was big enough that the other vehicles couldn’t leapfrog the course anymore. I ticked off two more moderate climbs at 141 and 176 miles respectively. I felt good but I had no pop in the legs. Fear of being chased down and insecurity fueled my head. I kept eating and drinking, knowing this race would be done with my stomach.
At 14:36:00, with 205 miles and 20,532’ of climbing recorded the battery in my Garmin died. The sun was slowly setting over the Sierra. I was still super-motivated even though my body was starting to hurt everywhere: hotspots on my feet, bruises on the the palms of my hands, and every joint in my body ached.
Nearing Big Pine the race director asked what my longest ride had been.
“LOTOJA, 210 miles.”
He smiled, “Not anymore you’re at 240 miles!”
I was fried. At the start of the final section doubt filled me. I was a complete emotional wreck, unsure I could complete the race. Still, I set out into the darkness alone with only the “Voices” (by Matt Skiba and the Sekrets) in my head.
I cracked on the Death Valley Road. I couldn’t distinguish between the grey road and the grey gravel next to the road. I rode off the pavement a couple of times. When jack rabbit jumped into the middle of the road focus returned. I flashed back to the Tour de Park City last year where I saw a rabbit take out half a peloton, sending several guys to the hospital with open fractures. I felt doomed. But I pedaled. Then the race director pulled up and I was relieved not to be alone in the desert any longer.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m cracking …”
“As director I have the right to change the course at any time. I’ve decided to make it a summit finish, to neutralize the final descent. Safer, that way. For everyone.”
I still doubted I could make it. I ate a gel. My stomach was going flips. I put my head down and pedaled. Another suicidal rabbit dashed across the road. Then a snake. I felt like I couldn’t generate any power when seated. But my feet screamed when I stood. I just kept telling myself, “This is what I signed up for.”
When I crossed the line I could barely unclip from the pedals. I thought I was going to fall over. The race director told me to get into van. I was done.
267 miles, over 24,000’ of climbing, 18 hours, 21 minutes.
A while after he sent the race report, Shawn and I traded some email. I asked if he had found what he was looking for. Then, “Have you recovered physically? Psychologically, will you ever really recover? And do you want to?”
“Physically I am well, I feel like I recovered and got a bit of a bounce.
Psychologically I don't think there is a recovery. I think the layers that were peeled back leave me more open to experiences. I think that is the reason I do some of things I do. I want to feel and experience it all, to be open and present in every moment. No hiding, but digging in and embracing the pain, the sorrow, joy and love of life. I want it all! I want to live like a give a fuck!”
A few brave sentences that provide one look beyond the gateway that is Sport.
For a different perspective check out Ryan Tetz’s race report here.