Being the Lanterne Rouge

/Being the Lanterne Rouge

The thunder crashed around me as I struggled up the measly two percent grade. “Keep pushing, Brent… keep pushing,” I muttered to myself. I had pushed through the hard twelve percent grade that came at mile 112.  While I was thankful for the cloud cover – anything to cut down on that sun beating upon me off the pavement.

I heard a gust of wind blowing through the trees, as if Thor, god of thunder and storms, was willing me on. The sound got louder and louder as it quickly approached the road. I could see the grass around me start to bend in the wind – the opposite direction from which I was bicycling and then it hit me! Pebbles flying around, hitting me in the face, chest, and pinging off my bicycle. The clap of thunder that followed was the loudest yet.  “Keep those pedals ticking over.”

Earlier in the month I had completed a 110-mile bike ride. It had been hard, but not impossible. Upon reflection on the ride data, I found that the temperature reflecting off the road was over 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot! I continued training, with the ultimate goal of this ride – 150 miles around Bryce Canyon National Park.

This event, put on by Ride Southern Utah is the culmination of their rides. Starting in February, with a ride in Mesquite, NV. I followed the outlined course to get to the ultimate goal. Starting with a metric century, followed by a 75 mile ride at the Tour de St. George, and then a 102 mile ride in Parowan, UT.

Doing a couple more centuries around Kanab in higher heat, and I thought I was ready. Ready to challenge the Desperado Duel 150.

The ride starts and ends in Panguitch, UT – gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park. A short run up Highway 89 and you turn out towards Bryce Canyon. Riding along the bike path which parallels Scenic Byway 12, I couldn’t but wonder at the amazing canyonlands we were bicycling through. The skies were blue – the temperature a very comfortable sixty-eight degrees for the uphill climbing we were doing.

A turn onto John’s Valley Rd. found us riding along a forest on the riders right, with meadows and farm lands on the left. A slow descent took us another twenty miles – keeping our average speeds rather high after the initial climb on the bike path.

The canyon that we descended through was breathtaking – dropping down one of the stairs on the Colorado Plateau through a river cut break in the rock. The temperature was beginning to rise as we pedaled past Otter Creek State Park.

On a ride like this, you tend to find the people cycling around the same speed as you and pass them, and then they pass you. You see them at the rest stops, and you see them out on the road. “Hey, lucky number 13!” quickly became what I’d hear as people passed me on the flats – and I’d shout, “Keep those pedals spinning,” as I passed them on the uphills. I was trying to pace myself, knowing that I had a long way to still go.

“Pssssssssssssssssssssst,” said Beast, my bicycle. I looked down and noticed that the rear wheel on my bike was quickly loosing air. My first one on the new Specialized Diverge. Unfortunately, with the amazing new thru axles, I had my trainer mount thru axle on it – it was not going to be a quick change. I managed to make it to the top of the next rise before pulling over into the dirt to start changing it. Every group of riders that passed me, as I began replacing the tire, asked if I was ok – “Need anything?” I waved them on as I ate a gel to put over the rough area I had discovered inside the tire. Twenty minutes later, I was back on the bike, having finished pumping up the tube. Twenty minutes! While I was on a relaxed hundred, I did have a schedule to keep!

I found a group of riders that were all taking turns pulling in a pace line and worked with them. They helped me finish the first 106 miles of the day as we pedaled back up Highway 89 back towards Panguitch. The wind was beginning to pick up and thunder heads were beginning to form across the valley. Let me tell you, a pickle, after bicycling ninety-two miles, in ninety degree heat, will be the best pickle you ever eat.

After arriving back at the beginning “checkpoint,” I surprised myself by telling the person checking times that I was headed back out for the next 38 miles. I had already covered 108 miles. The weather was turning. It was over ninety on the pavement. But there I was – headed back out. Teresa handed me a Mtn. Dew and a new tube to carry as a spare. Some words of encouragement from the surrounding bystanders as I headed out after my longest break off the bike yet, 10 minutes.

The Lanterne Rouge signifies the last rider to cross the finish line. Commonly used to refer to the final rider in a Grand Tour. The phrase comes from the red lantern that normally signifies the end of train – typically hanging off the caboose of a steam train.

The uphill climb to Panguitch lake was grueling. All alone on the road at this point, I began talking outloud to myself… to the wind… to the thunder… to the trees… to the cows that I passed. I saw two support vehicles – each of which were amazing – treating me like a rider in Le Tour – allowing me to hand them empty water bottles and handing back full, ice filled water bottles. I kept the pedals going over – slowing to a crawl at times on the steeper grades. Two percent grades felt like ten percent. Ten percent grades felt like twenty. I got to Panguitch Lake and was dismayed to find that I still had two more miles to go, with one last quarter mile of anguished steep climbing. Tears were threating to leak out as I crested the final rise and finally saw the last tent that signaled the final rest stop.

Each rest stop was staffed by volunteers from the Panguitch High School Cheerleading team – and these four people had waited almost 40 minutes from the previous group of riders for me. I looked at my bike computer clock – it was 4:40pm and the course closed at 6:00pm. I thanked the cheerleaders and straddled Beast’s saddle one last time. This short 6 minute break, scarfing down cookies, fruit, red potatoes, and a banana, was enough to get me back up to the high point on the climb and starting the descent.

I kept the bike computer on the display screen with the time and distance – knowing that I had one hour, fifteen minutes to cover the last 18 miles. To say I was worried about finishing was an understatement. However, I knew that if I could cover 140 miles before 5:30pm, I could finish the ride – including six miles of steep descent that I would cover in a fraction of the time it had taken to go up them.

The descent flew by. The skies opened up and I descended through a brief spout of hail, followed by heavy rain for about 10 miles. It only encouraged me to go faster. The last two percent grade felt like twenty percent as I struggled to keep my pace up – always keeping an eye on the time. 5:15pm rolled by and I was still struggling up the last small rise. Watching my average speed, once again, dip below eight miles per hour. At 5:20pm, I finally reached the beginning of the steep descent – at mile 540 and knew I had it… I could complete the ride before they closed the course!

I had heard that the Lanterne Rouge received almost as many cheers for crossing the line as first place. Not only was I the last person for the 150 mile route, but I was also the last person on the course. I got back into town and sprinted to the corner before the finishing line. Taking the corner extremely wide, I stood up, using all the rest of my energy to sprint… huffing and puffing. I crossed the line at ten hours, forty-four minutes.  Teresa and the remaining support staff were all there, clapping and yelling as I crossed the line. I stiffly got off the bicycle and just stood there – still dripping from the rain I had bicycled through. I had just completed the Desperado Duel 150.

By | 2017-07-17T13:12:24+00:00 July 16th, 2017|Feature, General|0 Comments