The Iron Hose

In 1993 I thought I'd try racing the Iron Horse mountain bike race instead of its road cousin. Turns out I sucked at that, too.

In 1993 I thought I'd try racing the Iron Horse mountain bike race instead of its road cousin. Turns out I sucked at that, too.

Memorial Day weekend: High gas prices, check; lousy weather, check; Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, check.

I was never any great shakes at the Horse. My best finish was a 12th place in 1991, racing the masters 35 (2:31:33). My nadir was in 1995, the year we hit snow on Molas Pass. I had blown up earlier on Coal Bank, after tweaking a hamstring while working a chase group with Mikey O’Schenk, and was shaking like a dog shitting peach pits on the winding descent into Silverton, having all kinds of no fun at all.

O’Schenk’s wife, Susan, dragged my half-frozen ass into their minivan along with a couple of other blue-lipped Dogsicles. The sound of teeth chattering made the van sound like a Dumpster full of pissed-off timber rattlers. “Worst time I’ve ever had at Iron Horse,” I noted afterward in my race diary. And that was that.

The next year, instead of pinning on a number with the rest of the suckers I worked the race for VeloNews and watched colleagues Tim Johnson and Charles Pelkey freeze their nuts off along with a thousand or so of their closest friends. Some 400 racers were evacuated from the route in ’96, and many of those who made it to Silverton were treated for hypothermia; two were hospitalized.

In ’97, snow, whiteout conditions and 40-mph winds croaked the Horse altogether just as a 13-man break in the elite men’s race hit Purgatory. That year, I didn’t even show up with pad and pen; senior editor John Rezell covered the race for VeloNews.

But O’Schenk soldiers on. He and his wife — who had her own nightmare ride in 2007 after her drivetrain got sideways after an early crash — are registered, as are ex-Dogs Tungsten Alcazar and Mike Elmer. Susan didn’t get a chance to get back on the Horse last year, when the race was canceled due to (wait for it) snow. Here’s hoping she enjoys better luck this time around.

Even the weather should be vastly improved. The forecast is for rain.

8 Responses to “The Iron Hose”

  1. Rick Says:

    Oops, check out the forecast for Silverton – 60% chance of snow! Glad I’m not riding as I had my own bought of hypothermia just yesterday – tried mountain biking at 11,000 feet in the 40 degree steady rain for 5 hours, no fun.

  2. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    Hey, Rick — nothing quite like freezing your ass off at altitude. A bunch of us got a short taste of what you describe a jillion years ago when I was still a man instead of whatever it is I am now.

    We started off climbing Old Stage Road, near the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo here in Bibleburg. The weather was OK at the bottom, but grew steadily worse as we ascended — droplets to rain to sleet to snow — and by the time we hit Gold Camp Road it was a full-on driving snowstorm. Naturally, we weren’t prepared, and bombed down Gold Camp toward North Cheyenne Cañon in a whiteout, shivering and shaking like winos in detox. Big, big fun. Or not.

    Solid chance of snow tomorrow, eh? Hope the O’Schenks brought the heavy kit and some brains. I’ve seen ol’ Mikey ride in weather I refused to drive in, but not over two giant mountain passes with a couple thousand similarly crazy folk.

  3. khal spencer Says:

    Still raining here, but at least no snow. Maybe all the radioactive stuff is keeping us warm.

    I dunno, Patrick. I get pretty depressed when I see pics of myself as a man 15-20 yrs. ago compared to whatever it is I am now. Meena has a picture of me in her office that someone shot as I got off my bike (the original Old Boneshaker Cannondale) after riding 20 miles out to a departmental party on Eastern Lawn Guyland back in 1986. Her colleagues ask “you got a new boyfriend or is that your son?” Sheesh.

    Hope you are holding up better than I am–starting to look more and more like that cartoon character when I wear those Old Guys jerseys.

  4. khal spencer Says:

    Come down and race here in July. While you might have to dodge Lightning Bolts from Hell (aka Patrick’s Zots), you won’t have to worry about snow.

    Apparently, these parts around Bomb Town are Lennard Zinn’s old stomping grounds.

  5. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    Hey, K — still raining here, too. If I see Jimmy Dobson float by in an Ark I’m gonna start rethinking my stance on corporate Christianity.

    I hear you about the pix. We don’t have many shots of me from the deep, dark past, when I was a competitive swimmer and barely cast a shadow, but we have enough of me as a 160-pound bike racer to bring on the doldrums.

    Doesn’t look like we’ll have much of an opportunity to burn fat this weekend, either. The forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain right through Memorial Day. Waah. My ass is growing faster than Phoenix and looks about as attractive. Any minute I expect it to sprout an upscale housing development and a golf course.

  6. khal spencer Says:

    Yeah, its hard to believe I ran the 100 and anchored the 880 relay back in high school. Did a run with the dogs last night since the weather is too lousy to ride, and the dogs were quite bored as I wheezed around the mesa at a pace so blistering that by the time we got home the grass had grown visibly. If the weather wasn’t enough of a bummer, my asthma kicked in last week from all the Juniper pollen… %$#@!

  7. khal spencer Says:

    Nice NY Times article here from a few days ago regarding the old Coppi-Bartali rivalry, in case anyone missed it. Might as well read if we can’t ride.

  8. Holiday travel gets Bug-gered | Mad Blog Media Says:

    […] mutating into a cycling scribe I often frequented Durango on Memorial Day weekend, getting my ass handed to me en route to Silverton, in the crit at Fort […]

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