By Alison Tetrick,
Pro cyclist, Entrepreneur, CTS Contributing Editor
It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Nothing like riding an event with your partner to stretch the ol’ relationship rubber band. Will it snap back, or just snap? And no. We weren’t racing with or for each other. There were no team tactics. And we aren’t brave enough to try a tandem yet. We value our relationship too much. When I first met Blaize, he loved cyclocross and short punchy XC races. Then he found himself traipsing across the country for a new “longest ride he had ever done” on my gravel circuit.
How it started
This summer we planned a truck driving, rooftop camping expedition to attend some events together and see friends, and he decided to become a fly fisherman. We left Petaluma, California and headed east, well, first south to Specialized, but that’s another story. The Leadboat Challenge was looming and both of us are notorious disasters at altitude. We signed up for the Leadboat Challenge for the challenge itself. Two hundred and fifty miles of dirt in 48 hours (it’s actually closer to 36 hours, with just a touch of sleep in between). I had never done a MTB race and thought the Leadville 100 would be a fun way to start that party. Sounds crazy, but keep in mind the plan was not to race but rather just enjoy myself and finish. I wanted to do SBT GRVL as well, and go figure, it was the following day. So, Leadboat just happened to be the icing on the cake. More miles and more gluttonous dirt.
Why did I sign up for the Leadboat Challenge? Funny story. I received a text message from my good friend, Kristi Mohn, who is the Queen of All Things Good when it comes to the Unbound 200. She asked if I wanted to do something crazy. With no hesitation I texted back and said, “Sure, sign me up.” She responded and asked if I wanted to know what I just signed up for. Oh, right. Then she said, “Why don’t you do the Leadville MTB 100 on Saturday (106 miles of mountain bike all over the altitude of 10k feet), drive to Steamboat, and then ride SBT GRVL the next day?” One hundred forty-four miles of gravel bliss in “The Boat”. That’s what we call Steamboat, Colorado. Locals probably don’t, but we do. Oh, that will be hard. I thought for maybe 30 seconds and said “Yes.”
My much more organized, patient, and calm-to-my-chaos better half, Blaize, formally applied, wrote the required essay, and signed himself up for Leadboat. Yes. He signed up for the event like he signs up for my crazy every damn day. Like… he actually completed a competitive, anonymous application and got into this thing on his own. Now I wonder, did he put that much thought into signing up for my crazy, too? I’m not sure, but I put him through the wringer all day every day, so considered decision or not, he probably still regrets his life choices.
Normally, Blaize is my primary support at all the events where I need a pit crew, like Unbound 200. He is so good at it that he’s been voted “Best Support Crew” by Girls Gone Gravel. He is always at my side with a beer in his fanny pack, a level for my saddle, and stashes of meat and cheese sticks. How did a girl get so lucky? And now, there he was, signed up to ride the inaugural Leadboat Challenge. I never even got to read his essay. I am sure it was a dramatic saga of his dream to exit the mechanics’ tent and venture out on his own odyssey.
How it went
So, here’s the setup: The Leadboat Challenge. With our truck and roof-top tent. Driving from California to Colorado.
How did that go for us? Well, in theory, we had everything planned. We were going to be prepped and ready to go. We were going to have spreadsheets and minimize stress and take great care of each other. In reality, we were a s*&%show. Work was hectic and I was injured. Blaize normally rides about 8 hours a week and was doing less than that as we drove to Colorado to conquer our schedule. We were far from dialed, yet our tornado-meets-volcano felt right. We ate chicken wings the day before Leadville and toured the expo. We stayed with our bike family, the Pruitts and Scott Tietzel. A little side note about Scott: He was about to finish his 10th Leadville MTB 100, all of them under 7:20. WHAT!? Hero status. Oh, and he walked away with the biggest belt buckle I have ever seen. I am jealous.
Sue, Scott’s mom, made us dinner that night and breakfast for our early wakeup before the race start. Sue is one of those people who is better than we deserve. She is too good to be true. Rice and eggs it was. Game on! Game on.
I have never been less nervous on a start line. I was calm. I saw my friends. I laughed and I hugged. I just wanted to finish with both skin and teeth intact. Blaize was excited, or that’s how I choose to describe it. He was a little trepidatious and he primarily wanted to overcome the course. We took off. We rode. I was terrified of the descents. He was calm, which made me calm in the chaos (ok, calm-ish). He even rode too hard at the start, just to escort me through the start of my first MTB race and make sure I was as confident and settled as I could be. That effort did not set him up for success, and many hours later he paid the price. Between the altitude and intensity, he was dry heaving his way back up Powerline. BUT. HE. FINISHED. He missed his goal time by three hours and finished just 14 minutes before the cutoff, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. We cried. We hugged. A random couple took our picture because we looked… emotional?
I was so happy he when he finished, in part because I really needed out of my chamois. He had the truck keys (and the drink and food tickets), so I was sitting in my chamois at the finish for 2.5 hours waiting for him and getting more nervous and hungry by the minute. Thank heaven for the hot dog cart.
I drove us to Steamboat that night and the next day became all about survival. Riding with friends was the only way I was going to get through it. I joined a girl posse and had the best day ever. Blaize survived again and finished. And once again, I was waiting for him at the finish line, prouder than ever. From the couch to Leadboat. Incredible. We all giggled and celebrated my girl power group, Scott, and Blaize, and my whole bike family. It was a day.
Alison’s Advice for Still Having a Partner After a Cycling Event
With many miles and several events behind us this summer, I’ve been thinking about the keys to successfully participating in sporting events with (or near) your partner, and reaching the finish lines as a stronger couple.
- Expectations: If someone needs to ride ahead or drop back, give each other freedom to do so. Talk about when and how you anticipate needing each other, when you are going to leave each other, and when you are going to reconvene.
- Communication: Communicate your goals. If someone wants to race and go for the win, do it. If you want to cruise along together, by all means go for it. And perhaps most important, communicate about how you’re going to adjust your goals if one of you is having an exceptionally bad (or good) day.
- Planning: Both of you should carry keys, or stash a key to your vehicle somewhere, so whoever gets to the vehicle first can get in. Instead of the delicious catered event food, I bought a $4 hot dog on the street. Don’t be like me.
- Love: Participating in the same event requires love and acceptance. Grace and grit. Just love and accept your partner where they are in their journey as an athlete. Hand them a beer, give them a hug, listen enthusiastically to the stories of their ride.
- Celebrate: Whether your goals are the same or different, whether you ride the entire event together (without ruining other people’s races) or wish each other luck at the start with no plans to see each other until the finish line, celebrate being together in your community. Sharing an experience with others is great, sharing it with a partner is what life is about. Whether that partner is the love of your life, a best friend, or a person you met in the porta potty line that morning, whatever. Love the one you’re with and celebrate bikes and life together.
The Moral of the story
It will be remembered as the best of times because it included the worst of times. The hardships will fade and the good stuff will stick with you. Soon you’ll even end up laughing about those worst of times. Take the good with the bad, the triumphs with the defeats. Remember to communicate and have a plan. Trust each other and be each other’s most ardent cheerleaders (whether you’re first or dead last). Be careful to avoid using condescending words. If you have the opportunity to participate or compete alongside your partner, recognize just how special that is and cherish it. And be sure to stash a key somewhere.