I rode in the Krempels King of the Road Challenge on Saturday morning. It was easily one of the most fun things I’ve ever done on a bike. You need to be a part of this event next year.
I signed up for the 100k route, which in a normal year I would not find particularly intimidating, but having such a weak mileage base I was cautious. I leaned heavily on the memory of the ride to Warner two weeks ago, and how food played such a pivotal role in how I felt that day. It was time to crack open the cookbook. No more fucking around. The night before, I took the balance of the sushi rice we didn’t eat for dinner, and whipped up some race cakes. Tomorrow was going to be a little experiment. Let’s see if this stuff really works.
I didn’t have any peanuts, but I worked with the chocolate/peanut recipe, substituting some lightly salted almonds we bought at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago. I can’t believe I’ve never made rice cakes before. Even a complete idiot like me can put these together with minimal effort. Cooked rice, chocolate chips, the almonds (I smashed them up a bit), some shredded coconut I keep in the freezer for who knows what. A bit of molasses because the mixture was a little dry. I forgot the salt, but figured I’d be covered with salt content of the almonds. Mix it up. Into a pan. Compress it a little. Cut into pieces. Wrap. There’s your ammunition. There was good stuff in these things. I had a really good feeling.
Morning of, I woke up and had a fluffernutter and a coffee. You won’t find fluffernutter in the Skratch Labs cookbook and I don’t really care. It’s about all I had time to put together, and it has worked really well for me over the past few months. Packed my jersey with a payload of rice cakes. No gels, no bars, no beans, no waffles, no gummies, no nothing. Just the cakes. We were going to do this on nothing but the food we made, and our venerable Secret Drink Mix. Or crack trying.
The Krempels ride was surreal. You’re in a small mob of riders, consuming an entire lane of traffic behind a moto leading the way on largely quiet country backroads. Ted King and Tim Duggan are on the front, and I’m surrounded by people I know that not only ride more than I do, but ride a hell of a lot faster. I am waiting for the bomb to drop. The tempo out of the gate is easy, but deliberate. I’m right on the wheel of a few riders who I don’t know, but are clearly pros. When will the party be over. This is kind of interesting – being right there with these guys – but they’re going to ramp it up sooner or later. When will I get leveled. When I do, when will the death march begin. Who will I be with when that happens. How far behind will I end up finishing.
Never, ever mattered. And that’s why this ride was so awesome.
Ted holds the whole thing together the entire time. We’re making a pretty good pace, but the pressure is absolutely zero. I feel this swell of encouragement. I’m actually able to ride and socialize with people I only ever get to see from the other side of a computer screen. It is fun as hell. And I decide to really start working. I spend a lot of time near the front, putting in big efforts. Big for me; nothing for these guys. I’m motivated by this lurking thought that the bottom could still drop out. I ride in the front in kind of a self-preservation mode. I’ve never done this ride before, and have only seen a few miles of these roads. So I revert to the old “stay at the front, stay out of trouble” strategy. It works in other group rides, so I apply it here.
My legs are telling me I’m working. Strava confirms this. On Durham Point Road, where I remember driving hard off the front on roller after roller, I’m making 800-1200w efforts. This is concerning because while I ate at the first stop after an hour and felt awesome afterward, we rolled through the second stop. The rice cakes are wrapped a little too well to be opened while riding in the pack. So the middle third of the ride, when I’m really putting in some work, I’m under-fueled. And I can kind of feel it. Knowing SDM has some caloric value, I drink in earnest. Ideally that will get me to the third and final scheduled stop where I can fill my face.
Also I start to remember that this is a charity ride, and I start to curb my enthusiasm a little. But I’m too excited. I never get out like this. And never with a group like this. So I keep flogging these legs anyway, sitting up every now and then when I start to feel like a jerk. But it’s so hard because I know everyone behind me is stronger than I am, and my “working hard” is probably their “casual pace”. I still don’t care. I’m just happy to be alive today.
The second time we stop for food, I eat my second rice cake. That’s all I’ve had today, and all I plan to eat to complete the full 60 mile route. I know, based on the great energy I got from the first cake, that one more will be all I need to finish out this last hour. I do eat a half a banana as well; they looked good and I couldn’t resist. I can’t believe how, on past rides, I would be draining gels. Even just the thought of that right now seems gross. It’s just not real food. For me it’s just throwing newspaper on the fire. And your palate gets so sick of them. I knew from two weeks ago that my body was begging for real food about halfway into the ride, and today it was sure as hell getting it, and loving it.
The final third of the ride the battery is back to 100% charge. It’s completely foreign. The only time I’ve ever felt this solid on a long ride was the Prouty in 2008, when I was riding a huge wave of fitness from the Gap ride. I have nothing like that under my belt this year.
My only moment of mortality was on the Watsonburg, which everyone in the group appears to have ridden before except me. Everyone knew to go all in on that road and drop bombs, which I committed to memory for next year as I was drifting back like a piece of trash thrown from a car window on the highway. Ah well. Things regrouped on the other side, and shortly thereafter we were at the finish, enjoying the spoils. Burritos, chicken cordon bleu pizza. Friends. My family.
The total food I consumed on the ride: two rice cakes, half of a small banana. That’s it. In terms of hydration, about four bottles of SDM. It was readily available at the sag stops(!!), so I kept topping up. But look at that list of food. It wasn’t a wad of gels, or a bundle of bars. Just basic, real food. I wish I had this figured out about five, six years ago.
I’m not sure I’d ever not do the Krempels ride again. Having been through half a dozen concussions, including the one that completely fucked with my life for half of 2009, I feel connected to the cause. I feel a tremendous impetus to help. The sight of people whose daily lives are a struggle due to TBI, who are receiving positive care through the Krempels Center; it’s impossible not to want to contribute to their success. I couldn’t possibly have had a more rewarding time racing cyclocross this weekend.
Some of you have read the stories surrounding Skratch Labs founder Allen Lim over the past few weeks. They’re easy enough to find; I’m not going to link them here. Reading that stuff was pretty difficult for me, given that I had just established a relationship with Skratch this season. It produced some moments of serious consternation, and I was very seriously considering abandoning my relationship with the company and sending their big box of promotional product right back to Colorado. But what I realized, in the days after meeting Skratch team members at Gloucester, and over the course of last week’s introspection, and what was all but solidified after my experience with food on the Krempels ride, is that I believe in a company. I believe in the science and values of this organization. I didn’t agree to come on board because I had a fanboy crush on a man connected to the Protour. My days of hero worship ended a long time ago.
What I realized after Saturday’s ride is that the power of what Skratch is trying to do is more important than the transgressions of one man. Perhaps it’s presumptuous to call them transgressions. Perhaps evidence over time will prove me too cynical. But what Allen Lim did or didn’t do aside, there are too many good, honest people involved with Skratch who have nothing to do with the ominous, illicit infrastructure of cycling we are all working to dismantle. The principles of nutrition that Skratch and I and countless others are trying to communicate are unchanged. They are sound, and they work. The mission is still a noble one. What Lim and others have built is too important to abandon. It is an end-game of healthy eating that transcends sport; something I’m tremendously passionate about. That’s what my involvement with Skratch Labs really means, and that’s why they’re still worth your investment.