2.5 years of hiatus from being active, this was my first big race. Going into this meant a lot to me. My training commitment had changed, my scheduled and other things on my plate were different and demanded time. I had to revise my goals all the time to the starting line, make sure I was fit and healthy, and make sure I had balanced other aspects of my life.
So I signed up for this race which I believe is the closest IM branded race in US from Seattle. The cost part was OK’ish (the IM brand can get super expensive at times). We booked a place a mile from the race venue, so that we can all walk to the race site and not worry about parking and all. Continue reading →
I had been restless, nervous, anxious, and had all sorts of emotions, after I signed up to climb Mt Adams, the second highest peak in the WA state.
The initial day of climbing (early June) was not possible, because of the poor weather conditions. Lots of snowfall, and heavy winds at the top, even at 9000 ft.
So a good friend of mine, and I pushed the dates out to the first weekend of July. The weekend right after my IM 70.3 Coeur D Alene race. Perfect, right !! 14,000 + ft of climbing to relax after a half-IM.
Come the weekend of July. K and I drove from Renton to the Adams trailhead. We planned to leave early, drive for 4 hours, and then start the hike around 11 am. That would give us enough time to reach the lunch counter (midway stop for most hikers) before 5-6 pm.
I must say, the backpack was heavy, had never done this kind of hiking before. Probably carrying 40-45 lbs. When I started to hike, it did not feel that bad, but the sweating was quick and real. Started seeing slush, snow, and hard to walk trails. Just kept following the shoe tracks. K was always in front of me. I knew that I could push myself, because of the endurance and mental training I have been doing. The load on the back, and the whole idea of ascending a mountain was overwhelming.
Every step ascending was not easy, but worth an experience. Being conservative, and having patience helps. If you are not patient enough, don’t worry backpacking in wilderness teaches you that. Don’t think of taking quick strides, or brisk walking up, because what seems as the top, is never the top. Respect the elevation, be patient, and put one foot in front of the other.
Reaching the lunch counter was such a relief. At 9000 ft after putting our bags down, and putting up the tent, I started to feel a bit nauseous, heavy headed, and dizzy. K told me this is mountain sickness. He asked me not to lie down, instead walk around a bit. I was hungry, so ate some pre-cooked rice, and lentils. I had never eaten such tasty ‘Rajma-Chawal’ (indian dish – rice and pinto beans) ever in my life. They were cold, and dry, but everything tastes good at an elevation. I guess you realize and respect food when you are devoid of it for hours and days.
The sunset and night was the best thing of the trip. The night stars were surreal. Every human should once in their lifetime get out and be in the wilderness. We live on such a beautiful planet.
The next day was the ascend to the top. The day started with a steep hike up the slope. And that slope was never ending. But this time I was only carrying a small backpack, leaving most of the stuff at the camp site. The climb was no joke. Climbing with crampons, every step after the first hour was a struggle. I started to feel some heart burn or maybe lung burn, could have been the altitude. It’s easy to just stop and rest, but the longer you rest going up, the more challenging the descend becomes. So I slowed down, and without worrying about the top, I focussed on one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, I would stop, take a few breaths, turn around and look at the beautiful scenery. Wow!! we miss all this in our daily lives.
As I reached the top, I realized that it is a false summit. The peak is further than it seems. Before you reach your goal, there are lot of mid goals, that you need to reach. And each of those smaller goals teach you patience, sincerity, and consistency.
To get stronger in your craft, consistency is the single most thing that anyone needs and should practice.
Coming down was harder than going up. By the time we were to come down, sun was strong, and most of the snow started to melt. It was scary to slide down, I was honestly scared of the steep grade. So I just switched to ‘Consistently take slower and smaller steps down’.
From the false summit onwards, I still continued walking down, but then I saw folks sliding, and gave it a try. Sliding down was way cooler and faster :). Back to the campsite, pack up and started the hike down.
Hiking down, also seemed too long. I was exhausted. The walk felt never ending. Had a tunnel vision by now. For me the hike was not over until I stopped seeing snow. By the last hour of my hike, I almost started hating snow-sludge. Legs were tired to the point, that I kept falling and sliding, all over.
I relaxed and said “its the home stretch now”, from the point I saw the Mt Adams trailhead sign at the parking lot. I did not say it 1 mile or 1/2 mile before, I was that trashed.
For me this was the first ascent. I definitely could not have done it without the endurance training I do for triathlon.
Patience and consistency is what I got out of this.
Never focus on reaching the summit, focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
Oregon gravel grinding series entered into my To-Do list since 2019.
So 2022 was supposed to be it.
Ochoco was the event that worked well with everything I had on my calendar, and so I signed up for it. Having had continuous eventful weekends, from doing Ironman in CdA, summiting Mt Adams, and getting lost in the Snoqualmie forest, I wanted to do this off the grid ride as well.
After the sign up, the most important thing was owning a gravel bike and practicing gravel riding. Most of my riding is on the road, and a tid bit of MTB’ing around.
So just 2 weeks before the Ochoco gravel race, I bought the only available bike in the store Cervelo Aspero with GRX groupset, and my first bike with tubeless tires.
Next was gravel riding. My schedule on the training peaks still had swims and runs on it, and I was under the impression that my road cycling, zwift rides, will help with the gravel grind. I still tried to get in a few gravel rides before the race. My practice rides were like 18 / 35 / 21 miles before the Ochoco grind. But I was looking forward to experiencing the whole camping and biking thing at the event.
Travel to the event site in Ochoco national forest was a long 7hrs and 30 mins from Seattle. You are off the grid once you reach the Ochoco forest area.
FYI: If you are using google maps, do not kill the application, the maps are buffered on your phone, so even though there is no network, the maps still work.
Once I reached the site, a volunteer suggested me few areas to put up my tent. So for the night, it was just setting up the tent, eating dinner, and going to sleep.
The night was beautiful, not cold, but all lighted up with stars. Clear sky which became bright mid-night, as the moon came up high. Woke up to the sound of the birds chirping, and early morning light. Headed to the event site, for restroom, food, and sign up.
Food: Damn !! This was like a 5 start resort breakfast, in the woods. I have been to so many events in the last 10 years, but have never had such amazing food. There were fruits, salad, bakery, patties, vegan and meat options. Juices, and awesome coffee.
Dinner: They had options. From pasta, and cole-slaw to salad, and noodles with broccoli, and saute veggies, lemonade, and iced tea. Not to forget the macaroons and other deserts.
For beer enthusiasts, and alcoholic drinkers there were a ton of options.
From the start of the event registeration, the volunteer team was amazing. Our small talks led to friendships by the end of the event.
Ann (power-house), DeAnn (energy booster), Colleen (emcee), Mitch (life-guard), and many other amazing volunters, whose names I did not learn. Sorry !!
In all my experience, it is the team of volunteers, who make or break the events and races.
9am start for the BigGrinder (82.43 miles).
I heard a few folks who had done this race before, that it might be good to stay at the back of the peloton, the first few miles of loose gravel, and downhill will result in crashes and falls.
So I reset my expectations from “racing this race” to “just having fun and learning”. I started somewhere behind the middle pack of riders (all Big and small grinder participants). The start 1-2 km was on pavement, and was like butter, and then the actual fun began. When I started seeing riders falling and crashing, I slowed down to avoid any scratches early on.
Reached the first aid station at around mile 17. Yay !! mission 1 accomplished. Ann and James from the GoodBike Co, were there. I got some snacks in, and refilled my bottles. Chatted with folks, until it was time to leave the first aid station.
I was pedalling along making new friends, not realizing they were doing the small grinder. When I saw the big and small route signs, I thought for a second to do the small grinder, but it would not have satisfied my ego.
A mile into the big grinder route, I turned back to look if anyone was following me, I saw no one. May be they are riding slower than me. I turned again after some time, I still did not see anyone. I slowed down further, and still no one behind me.
I figured I am definitely in this to grind solo :), and it will be an adventure of its own.
Turned some music on, looked around, there was enough natural beauty to enjoy, and lots of gravel to grind.
I was riding slow, the climbs weren’t hard or challenging, I just did not had the experience to ride on gravel. Add to all this the feeling that I was alone out there.
By the time I reached the second aid station, I had realized I was last in the pack, riding the big grinder. Kudos !! to the aid station support team, they kept me motivated.It was by far my longest gravel ride at mile 44.
After leaving the aid station, half an hour later, I saw the aid station team pass by me in a truck, and then another. Moments later, a guy on the motorbike came by, to check on me. I started to get the feeling that I was the last. After a while, the sweeper truck came close to me, Mitch asked me if I needed anything and I said I was good. I actually wasn’t, because now it was confirmed that I am the last one on the course :).
But Mitch stopped there, and he let me ride. At mile 55 or so, I stopped under the shade of a tree. That shade was so inviting me for a nap. I started to get wavering thoughts, if I should just stop, and let Mitch come by and pick me up. I waited there for 20 mins, and Mitch did not show up.
So I guzzled up a pineapple juice (I carry it for such dark moments on the bike), and got back on the saddle. I did not want to go home, and tell my daughters that I quit the race, and DNF’ed because I was weak.
Mitch had been following me very closely, he offered me some water, but I said NO, because I only wanted to stop at the 3rd aid station, and then quit.
I had been trying to ride the tangents, but that did not work on gravel, because tangents usually have loose gravel, which makes it hard, and wheels just spin.
At mile 67 or so, I reached the 3rd aid station, and they were wrapping up. I told them, that I want to quit, but they pushed me to finish off the remaining 15-16 miles. I too wanted to cross the finish line.
The aid station team took my water bottles off the bike, and filled it for me. Offered me snacks, and eatables. I gulped a small cup of pickle juice, thinking it is Gatorade :), and man that was strong.
This last stop was a short one, and I quickly bounced on the saddle, thinking if I fall, these guys will pick me up.
At mile 70 or so, I stopped again, with a really bad back pain. By now, my lower back and upper traps were all hurting. Never had a good fit on the bike, bike was just 2 weeks old. The 3rd aid station folks also came by, they did stop and check on me, and relayed something over to Mitch (maybe) over a walkie talkie.
The thought of telling my daughters that I overcame the dark spots, and fought the inner demons, and did not DNF, pushed me again.
My pedalling was slower than usual, there were few downhill sections, but I did not make any good time on those. As I reached 75 miles, I started reverse counting the miles left.
It is always easy to count single digit numbers than to count double digits.
Once I saw the 5k to go mark, I was excited, because I had a wrong calculation of the mileage going on in my head. I had calculated it as 10k. At the 5k left to go, I stopped, had some water, and focussed on finishing strong.
I saw the 3k mark, and then checked my watch, it had almost taken me 15 – 20 mins to get there.
I was getting tired, and almost fading. I did not had enough water left in the bottles, but I wanted to reach the finish line.
There was a point, where I was so slow, that the bike came to a standstill. I saw Mitch coming behind, I asked him for some water. He told me, that, I might have just 1.5 km to go. Drinking water gave me some energy, I started to ride again.
At the 1K mark, I saw some pavement. I rode it hard.
And then I saw the timing mat, and Blaire standing over there with his dog. I was super excited.
I rode hard to the final finish line, which still seemed far enough. But I rode fast.
Everyone at the finish line was cheering !! Colleene, Ann, DeAnn, other volunteers, and riders. Man!! That was a kind of a hero’s welcome. They took pictures, Colleene got me a glass of ice-cold water.
I guess if you cannot win the race, might be better to come last, as that is when you receive huge applauses, and cheering.
While this was my first ever event where I came last, but I was ecstatic and grateful that I did not quit.
I could go back and tell my daughters, that I did finish a hard race.
The reason I tie these two words together is, because I carry my Sikh identity everywhere I go, it is to let the world know that Sikhs are in every sphere of the life. Yes, there is still a large population out there who are ignorant about Sikhs, and that is why I proudly prefix ‘Sikh’ to whatever I do.
I am proud of my heritage and have never ever thought that Sikhi has held me back from anything. If there is anything holding me back then it is the discipline and structure in my daily life.
I write this post to clear any air about Sikhi being inherently disadvantageous to me in the sport of triathlon. For over a year there is a documentary titled ‘The Odd Couple- A story of two Triathletes’ going around in various movie festivals and seminars. I would like to point it out that the movie depicts a journey of a Sikh guy who loves to be active outdoors, but the movie is falsely advertising that Sikhi is challenging to follow while being in the sport of triathlon or Sikhi is inherently disadvantageous to the guy shown in the movie, and that guy being me.