Mammoth Grand Fondue 2018

September 10, 2018 § 10 Comments

The last time I blogged I was patting myself on the back for submitting to the reality of hypoxia, infirmity, bad form, and the daunting nature of a 102-mile slugfest at 8,000 feet as I made the brave decision to do the shortest ride on the menu.

This time I would pat myself even harder but I’m too oxygen-deprived to reach around.

Saturday morning I got up and went down to the start of the gran fondo. More than a thousand riders were queued up and they rolled out at 7:00 AM, pointy-sharp. Some of them I saw a mere 4.5 hours later as I was finishing my own baby kitten 4055 mile ride. But the great, overwhelming, vast majority of those faces I never saw again.

This is because seven, eight, nine or more hours is how long it took most to complete this beast, by which time I was well into my fifth bottle of Pelligrino and even deeper into my third nap.

Running with the baby kittens

The reduced-calorie, low-fat, baby kitten sub-fondo of 4055 miles started at the same time as the 75-mile ride. I was at the very back of more than five hundred people, and we started at 8:30.

Whereas the tension at the full fondo start was so thick you could cause angsty Old Masters Bicycle Racers to fall over by saying “Boo!” the baby kitten fondo had all the tension of a joke from Reader’s Digest.

Compare and contrast:

  • Full fondue: Rictuses galore
  • Baby kitten fondo: Smiles galore
  • Full fondue: Stravver, Wahoo, timing chip, Garmin, Deep Blue data
  • Baby kitten fondo: Let me push the stopwatch function on my Timex. Okay, go!
  • Full fondue: Hell on a brass rivet
  • Baby kitten fondo: Two fully-stocked sag stations on a 40-mile course. With bacon.

Naturally, the baby kitten fondo had a down side, which was having all of the full fondo people sniff in disgust when you said you weren’t doing the big ride, but that all got paid back in spades when you wandered in a couple of hours later to no buffet line, full servings of everything, plenty of seating, and a noontime nap.

Dad’s in charge

The only real problem of the 40-mile baby kitten fondo happened when I turned right instead of going straight, taking my companions on a 15-mile detour.

“Are you sure this is the right way, Dad?”

“Heck yes.”

“But isn’t that Mammoth over there?”

“This road will take us there.”

“But it’s going the opposite direction in a straight line as far as the eye can see.”

“Look, kid, this is your first fondo, right? Just follow Dad. Plus, it’s a whipping tailwind and crazy fun downhill!”

Eventually I noticed that all of the riders we were passing had green number plates, whereas we baby kitten fondo-ers had blue number plates. So we slowed down and asked some dude, “Hey, is this the 40-mile route?”

“No, it’s the 75-mile route.”

“Where’s the 40-mile route?”

“About eight miles back that way.”

“Into that headwind and up those mountains?”

“That’d be the one.”

With the additional fifteen miles we ended up with a 55-mile ride instead of a 40-mile ride, but the timing chip in our number didn’t give me a lick of extra credit for being a bonehead.


The best fondo ever

Despite the ignominy of having done a 4055-mile baby kitten fondo at just under 11.9 mph, nothing could erase the joy of getting passed by the leaders of the big fondue, who knocked out 102 miles in under 4.5 hours. Rudy Napolitano got second, coming in behind Brandon Baker, twenty years his junior.

The main chase pack blew by us as well, 23 riders with salt on their jerseys and pain on their faces as they jostled for position with ten miles to go. Greg Leibert, James Cowan, and several of the usual suspects made up the group as they waited to pounce on each other at the bottom of the 4-mile climb leading up to the finish.

We baby kittens were only waiting to pounce on the pulled pork.

And nothing was as cool as crossing the finish line mostly un-tired, ambling over to the food line, and critically gazing at the stained faces of the riders who had wrung every last watt out of their legs to do the entire behemoth in five hours and less. After taking in the wreckage, we walked back to our bikes, where a complimentary donut tent had been erected by the Westin Hotel.

“How about a donut?” the nice person asked.

“Why, thank you. Don’t mind if I do.” I plucked out a chocolate-glazed donut dusted with sprinkles, and chewed it lovingly as more broken riders trickled in. I licked the frosting off my fingers. “May I have another?” I asked as a warrior practically fell off his bike, staggered to the grass, and collapsed.

“By all means!” said the nice person.

So I did.



Into thin air

September 8, 2018 § 3 Comments

Many years ago I lived in a mountain town, Dillon, Colorado. I had run out of gas driving back from Oregon to Texas and had run out of money as well.

I parked and asked a dude who was walking by where I could find a job. “In the summer? In Dillon? Nowhere. Everything’s closed down.”

I walked for a couple of miles until I came to Keystone Ski Resort. It wasn’t shut down. I went up to the front desk. The main lobby was deserted. “Are you hiring?”

The clerk, who was about my age, gave me a quick look. “For what?”

“Anything. I’m out of gas and money.”

“You could try La Brasserie, our cafe. It’s over there.”

“Thanks,” I said, and walked over.

The manager was standing at the entrance, bored. The restaurant was a cemetery. “You hiring?” I asked.

“Yeah. We need a dishwasher. Can you run a dishwasher?”


“Okay, come on back to my office.”

“Our dishwasher just got sent to prison,” he said.


“Yeah. Norm. Norm Phlebbets. He got in through the roof, went through an air duct, broke into the main office a couple of months ago, cracked the night safe, and made off with over $100,000 in cash.”

“How’d they catch him?”

“He didn’t have a car. He was just walking along the highway with a suitcase stuffed full of cash.”

“Oh,” I said. The manager didn’t seem surprised at the craziness of the story. This was my welcome, I later realized, to mountain living, where thin air, lots of mushrooms, and not much to do makes everyone completely insane.

With age come scars

One of the most insane things I did during my tenure in Dillon was the Bob Cook Memorial Hillclimb. I was a Cat 2, and when we hit the first turn, before the road had even kicked up, I was shelled. Over the course of the next little while I was passed by the 3’s, the 4’s (there were no 5’s), the women, and then the “veterans.”

I quit at the halfway mark, coasted back down to my truck, and drove back to Dillon.

What I learned from that bike race I put to use when we arrived in Mammoth on Thursday in preparation for the 25th Mammoth Gran Fondo. The lesson? There ain’t no air up here.

We checked into the very nice St. Anton condos, got dressed, and went for a short 15-mile ride, avoiding as many hills as possible, which wasn’t possible. Back at the room it felt like someone had dropped a 500-lb. safe on my head.

“This fondo,” I told Yasuko, “isn’t going to be pretty.”

You’re doing the full fondo, right?

On Friday morning I got up early, ate, coffeed, and was out the door at seven. I climbed up Minaret Rd., a mild little 6-mile ride, taking baby kitten breaths all the way. At the top I descended to the Reds Meadow campground, a trailhead for insane people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or trekking over the hills into Yosemite, you know, kind of like how you’d walk down to the store for a carton of milk, except it takes weeks, you carry all your own shit, and every hundred yards or so there’s a pride of hangry bears.

I u-turned and did the 8-mile climb back up. If you do no ride in Mammoth but this one, you’ve seen one of the most gorgeous vistas there is to see. The road was deserted; I saw five cars. But the climb back up was challenging since here, as well as in Mammoth Lakes proper, someone had left the door open the night before and all the oxygen had escaped.

I kitty-breathed it home, ate a second breakfast, and took a long nap.

At one o’clock I was leading an “easy” 20-mile tune-up ride from Footloose, the main bike shop in Mammoth. “Are you ready for the fondo tomorrow?” I was continually asked.

“Yes,” I replied without wavering.

Then, invariably: “You’re doing the full 102-mile fondo, right?”

“Wrong. I’m doing the mini baby tiny reduced-fat sub-fondo, a/k/a the Piccolo.”

“You are?”

“I are.”

“How come?”

“There is no air here, anywhere, and I know because I’ve looked for it. And I don’t do well without air. In fact, by my calculations, the 40-mile Piccolo, starting at 8,000 feet, will be the rough equivalent of riding 700 miles at sea level. On a Big Wheel.”

“Are you sure you’re not just copping out?”

“I’m sure I am copping out. However, when I’m on my third plate of pulled pork you’ll be 80 miles in, dessicated like a prune, out of water, out of food, and riding into a 20 mph headwind as you climb the final two thousand feet or so. You will accomplish much and get an awesome finishing picture, but you won’t really appreciate it until you’re out of the intensive care unit.”

An easy 20

We left Footloose and rode onto U.S. 395 headed towards Convict Lake. The wind was closely related, perhaps a twin sibling, of the winds that used to caress me in the Texas Panhandle.




We got to Convict Lake, turned around, and experienced the joy of a tailwind for a short way until it turned right back into a headwind. Greg Leibert and I sat on the front, he smiling and chatting, me pinned and barely able to turn the pedals.

As we struck the bottom of the 3-mile climb up to Mammoth Lakes the wind redoubled, the road jolted up, and our “easy” ride disintegrated into a horrific honkytonk beating. I didn’t bother to look back. People were either on our wheel and miserable, or somewhere else and miserable.

Some dude who had been nestled on our wheels waited about a mile, then attacked viciously. Greg easily closed the gap but I didn’t easily anything. Danny Lupo breezily came by, dragged me for a bit before I cracked, then recovered, caught the guy who had gotten it started, and clawed my way back to Danny and Greg’s wheels.

They were chatting, which reminds me of something: Everyone should have a cycling friend like Greg, who’s always there to remind you that no matter how well you’re going, you aren’t going all that well.

Attacker dude finally fell off just before we got back to Footloose, and there I was, my 20-mile “tune-up” ride having left me completely destroyed.

Back at the condo I crawled into bed for the second time that day and slept deeply. I awoke to aching legs. The 40-mile fondo on Saturday was starting to look like the smartest move ever.



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