Ken’s Lotoja ’08 Bloviations

By Ken H.
The Lotoja Classic – The longest, USCF sanctioned, single day race in the U.S. as seen through the eyes of first-time participant Ken Hicks.

Say Cheeeeeze!

Say Cheeeeeze!

I started seriously (as seriously as a middle-aged, fat, habitual under-achiever can be) cycling last year.  I spent the summer getting dropped on the Wednesday night rides but I was just stupid enough to keep coming back.  The thing that I enjoyed though was the camraderie and encouragement I received.  In particular from Ron B. and Greg B..  With each passing week a few more pounds would come off and I would get a little farther before I was spit out the back.  Greg drug me around on my first century and I learned that suffering isn’t so bad when there are others with you to “enjoy” the festivities.

Everybody was always talking about Lotoja and it was something I was really interested in doing but it was too late to get into the race.  But I got the next best thing – Ron asked me if I could be his support crew and I gladly accepted.  I was just the support crew and I was so nervous that I could barely sleep the night before the event so I spent the night channel surfing and listening to Ron snore.  I really enjoyed all the fanfare and excitement.  Especially at the finish line as riders crossed to the congratulatory cheers of the cycling community assembled at the foot of the Tetons.

I decided that I was going to participate in the ’08 race a year before the event.  The plan was that Greg and I would ride as a “one for all, all for one” team.  I spent the winter spinning at the YMCA and as spring approached I had over 1000 (road) miles on my bike before most people had even gotten on theirs.  I was feeling quite studly until I started getting severe knee pain on a long ride with Jim S.  After a couple of weeks of the pain getting worse I feared that all the mileage had taken its toll on a 15 year old soccer injury that I never had fixed.  A trip to the knee specialist determined that it was merely an inflamed IT band and that nothing was needed more than a regimen of stretching (I loathe stretching), anti-inflamatories, and taking it easy on the bike for awhile.  I was happy to hear that I didn’t require surgery but not too pleased about the taking it easy on the bike part.

After spending about six weeks through June and all of July rehabbing the knee I was ready to try to make up lost ground.  I had one month to prepare and I had only done one century this summer.  I did the Fish Creek ride and got a small taste of what to expect in that the 20 mile Fish Creek climb is said to be similar to Lotoja’s Strawberry Summit outside of Preston.  Then Greg and I did a planned 150 miler in the heat of an August afternoon.  The first 100 miles was a sub-five hour century and we were feeling pretty good but then the heat kicked in.   Around the 115 mile mark my knee was killing me and the heat was taking its toll and I couldn’t take any pulls anymore.  A serendipitous flat gave us some relief under a shade tree and then we started stopping at convienience stores to buy gallon jugs of water to drink and pour on ourselves.  There is a little Ma and Pa store called Fackrell’s in Woodville with a covered porch and a plastic lawn chair in front.  Man that chair felt nice.  After soaking ourselves with more water we made it back to Greg’s but with only 140 miles in.

I was starting to struggle mentally with Lotoja looming so close on the calendar.  “What did I get myself  into?”  About three weeks before the race Greg and I went down and rode from Preston to Montpelier and back and the climb up Strawberry wasn’t as bad as I had expected.  We felt good after the 95 mile trek and I started feeling better mentally about things.

Race day
I wasn’t feeling as nervous as I thought I would – however, I did wake up in the middle of the night and laid awake for a couple of hours.  Our wives (and Greg’s lovely daughter Jenn) saw us off as we headed to the starting line.  This was my first ever road bike race and I didn’t really know what to expect.  Fittingly, the trip from Logan to Preston was not what I thought it would be.  I had envisioned an exrtremely fast moving peloton that took up the whole lane.  I thought I would be under continual stress paying attention to bikes all around me and jockying for position.  But it was a casual two-up pace line that rolled along around 22 mph.  Greg and I wanted the “free miles” but didn’t want to be in harms way in case trouble arose so we stayed at the back of the front third of the group.  Greg’s wisdom/concerns were well founded as we did indeed hear a crash behind us.

The real race begins after you leave Preston and start the climbing.  Greg and I settled into a nice “survivable” pace up Strawberry.  We summited and started our descent.  I had been reading articles on descending and they all say to level your pedals and relax.  I experienced some bad speed wobbles on the Fish Creek ride and was a little nervous about the descents.  I was feeling a little sketchy on the first part of the Strawberry descent and finally said “Screw this” and stuck my right pedal down and planted my weight on it.  The bike felt much more stable and I relaxed and blew past Greg.  We hooked up with two other riders at the bottom and we were working nicely together when a large team went by us.  We hooked on to them and spent some time getting yo-yo’d to death.  I said to one of the guys we had been working with before that we were doing better on our own.  I finally got tired of it and went up the right side of the line to about the #5 spot.  Evidently this didn’t sit too well with the big team because they complained to Greg about me but I thought this was a race and don’t you move up the line on the leeward side?  We rolled into Montpelier and heard that one of the Idaho Falls regulars – Anna P. – was just ahead of us.  We headed out and I told Greg “Ok, from here on out it’s all new to me so let me know what’s going on.”

The Geneva climb came and went and I was feeling fine.  We rolled into the Allred neutral feed zone and there was Kevin Voyles.  He had broken a pedal and had lost about 30 minutes waiting to get a new one.  He said it would be nice to have familiar faces to ride with since he considered his “race” to be over.  But alas, as soon as the road started going up he was gone as Greg and I had decided to race our pace and not try to chase anybody down.  “Bye Kevin.”

Now came the tough part.  The last 2.5 miles of the Salt River Pass is a 7% grade.  Child’s play for the likes of the grand tour contenders but a tad daunting for us mere mortals, especially since you already had 110 miles on the legs.  I would say that this was the only time that I did what one might call suffering.  But in hindsight it wasn’t that bad.  I was glad to reach the top but it wasn’t a demoralizer or anything like that.  We ran into a friend of Greg’s from Utah named Bill H. at the top of Salt River so we had a three man thing going on the descent and through Star Valley.  We got hooked up with a good group and we were bombing though there at 30 mph at times.  We stopped in Afton and needed to go pee but the porta potties had big lines so we just rolled out and planned on finding a nice bush down the road.  We picked up a guy named Troy that had a cool jersey with a VW 21 Window Bus on it so now we had a four man crew going.  A big group came by and we hooked on to them and cruised for awhile but Greg really needed to pee.  We told Bill and Troy that we were peeling off to pee and dropped off the group but Greg didn’t like the spot so we changed our minds.  The group we were with were off the front so it was us four again.  The big group was about 1/4 mile up the road and I figured it was easier hanging on the back of them than taking pulls in a four man rotation so when I got to the front I dropped the hammer (assuming the other three would sit in behind me) and bridged the gap to the big group.  I got on the back of them all proud of myself only to look back and see my group a few hundred yards back.  So I just sat up, broke out a Salted Nut Roll and waited for the three slackers. 🙂


Ken (in #2 spot) and the three slackers

We got another group and cruised the rest of the way to Alpine (Greg still needing to pee) while playing “bob and weave” with the rumble strips every time we would overtake slower riders.  I thought the rumble strips were over so I wasn’t paying attention and got a good headset check as I rolled over a set.  We stopped in Alpine and my wife was amazed that I wasn’t beat down and tired.  I was feeling fine but I did realize that I wasn’t eating as much as I had planned but we only had 47 miles to go.  Troy the VW Bus jersey guy disappeared into the feed zone so we were back to the three man gig.  We stopped at the porta potties and then settled into the home stretch.  We hooked up with a nice little group for a long time then a big team of guys in white jerseys with red scorpions came by and we hooked on with them.  The train was the scorpion guys and the 12 or so of the original group we were cruising with.  I was near the front of the original group and a little gap was developing between us and the scorpions.  I told the guy at the front of our group that I would take a pull and got us across the gap and only Greg and Bill were able to come with me.

Greg said he needed to stop at the King’s Wave feed zone.  I grumbled a little but since the scorpions were pulling in too it was cool.  Then Greg said to keep going.  We  didn’t get hung up at the stop sign at Hoback Junction for too long so it was back to the task at hand.  I had been feeling good until then but the combination of the headwind, Recycling Center hill, and not eating as much as I should have finally started to catch up to me.  Luckily Greg was in no hurry to motor up the R.C. hill either so I set an easy pace up it.  About halfway up it I see the VW Bus jersey in front of us.  I yelled “Troy!!!” as we came up to him and his response was “Dude, I’m sucking real bad!”  I was hoping he could stay with us to the top and then pull him into Teton Village but after we turned the corner on South Park Loop Road and did that little descent I looked back and he was nowhere in sight.  Sorry dude.

The headwind was grinding me down and our pace fell to around 16-17 mph and I hooked us onto a couple of guys that weren’t going much faster but it was nice to sit behind them for awhile.  We made it through the pedestrian tunnel and were informed that we had eight miles to go.  After the little descent we came upon a large group and Greg said to park behind them but that only lasted about 10 seconds (sorry Greg) because they were going too slow for me.  I pulled us around them and we turned the corner for Teton Village.  There was a little protection from the wind in the trees so we were back up to around 19-20 mph and then the scorpion boys came by again.  We hooked on back with them and were cruising in the lower twenties as I kept an eye on Greg’s shadow.  About two miles from the finish I saw Greg’s shadow start to fall back.  Bill H. was in front of me and I just let him and the scorpions go.  There was a guy in a green jersey behind Greg that was looking like he was just hanging on for dear life so I just settled in to pull us home.  Greg cashed in one of his favors and made me finish a half bike length ahead of him and green jersey guy was content to roll in behind us.

206 miles – 3 states – 11 hours 29 minutes. A little slower than I had hoped for but satisfying nonetheless.  The finish line crowd was awesome (as well as all the encouragement from spectators along the way).  The best part, however, was riding with Greg and having a familiar face with me all the way.  I also enjoyed the little friendships that were made along the way even though some of them were rather brief.  It was also nice to witness all the camaraderie between complete strangers engaged in a common battle.

Next stop – Seattle to Portland ’09


4 responses to “Ken’s Lotoja ’08 Bloviations

  1. The IF Peloton

    Editor’s Note: Greg has astutely pointed out that the guy in the #4 spot is not VW Bus Jersey guy Troy but a Barbacoa rider.

  2. Ken, congrats on finishing your first LOTOJA. Also on raising money for Huntsman. Sounds like you has a good ride.

    Thanks for all the rides this summer.

    STP, well, one double century a year (LOTOJA) is enough for me.

  3. The IF Peloton

    I definitely has a good ride! 🙂

  4. Ken!!! You’re my hero! I wish I could have been there to share it with you.

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