Sunday, November 14, 2010

little bw

It's been a while since my last post...

I don't know how things will eventually end, but I know how they started...... 

It was a great season, a full year of riding and racing.  I started up the 2010 season on January 1, cranking out cold ride after cold ride.  Many double ride days, including early mornings and late nights.  Amy always there to encourage me on my way out and greet me upon my return, always with a smile.  January turned into February and the rides continued.  With both of us being accountants, February through April is probably the worst time of the year....but we just kept on going - late nights, bike paths, and ice - Amy supporting me the entire time.  The first warm days pushed my excitement and anticipation to yearly highs.  I started pushing the limits of my lungs, legs, as well as my other extremities.  By the time the tax deadline rolled around, my body had put the dead legs and tired eyes in the past.  After a couple great races in April and May, it was time for full on summer and the first big race of the year.

The 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest in McGaffey, New Mexico was on June 19 - 20, Father's Day weekend.  Foreshadowing?  Yeah, I think it's the definition.....  Although I succumbed to an early morning crash and had to rely on an early race lead to hang on to 3rd place, Amy and I had an awesome weekend.  We hit up the Sand Dunes National Park, visited Durango, drove through desert-like terrain and mountain passes and stopped at some fun spots along the way.  A great adventure weekend as a family.  Little did we know that family was bigger than we thought.

June 24th, three days after we returned, we confirmed the family was to be three of us.  The next five months, the three of us experienced more than we ever thought we would - camping, hiking, racing (Amy is becoming an Executive Pit Manager [my official term]), and just enjoying the home we have been building.  It was a busy summer that seemed to go on forever, a summer we'll never forget.

The season came to a close a week ago at the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, near Hurricane, Utah.  (Sidenote: as if 24 hours isn't enough, this race occurs during the time change back to standard time; therefore, we get the extra hour.)
The race was one of our best weekends so far (I'll get to the race later).  Roadtripping together, camping together, racing together, visiting great friends together, and enjoying a happy (and tired) breakfast together (one of our favorite things).  We arrived home (and subsequently at work) tired but satisfied.  Life was good.
Just like racing, life can be cruel and humbling creature.  One minute you are cranking along full speed and the next you double flat and break your chain.

Tuesday morning, only two days after the end of the race, we headed over to the midwife center for our regularly scheduled 24 week checkup.  After the midwife had trouble finding the heartbeat, Amy and I looked at each other with the sinking feeling that only a parent would know while in the background we heard the midwife calmly say, "Amy, I don't see the heartbeat, we need to go to the hospital."  It was a surreal moment that will be with us forever.  Escorted by our midwife, we headed to the hospital where the doctor confirmed with an ultrasound that something had gone terribly wrong.  "No heartbeat."  You'll never understand the emotions and thoughts that can possibly go through your head within a two minute period.  It's hard to fathom that we went from everything going along smoothly to Amy being induced into labor.  At 2:25am on Wednesday, November 10th, Bodhi Finn Welnak arrived.  The little guy was 1lb, 5.8oz and 12.5 inches long.  It turns out that sometime over the last few weeks, Bodhi had managed to move so much in there that he twisted his cord to the point that he cut himself off from life.  One of the hardest things I've faced yet is having to write my son's name on his death certificate.  Our new life started as we made the slow walk out of the hospital Wednesday morning.  We left together, healthy, strong, and ready to face the world as a team.

Just as quick as the season hit full swing, the season hit a screaching halt.

I know there is no real transition to talk about the race because it is so small compared to the massive blow to our lives.  But, I owe it to my family - Amy, who has stood by my side, provided pro style pits, and been my rock and Bodhi, who has taught us what it means to be not only expectant parents, but parents, real parents!

I'm stealing this excerpt from Jill Homer's blog because she is far and beyond a more talented writer and paints a wonderful picture of the whole race experience.  For her blog, you need to go HERE (I would recommend reading her whole race write up.)

"A strange smile swept over his face. "You know, I am," he said, and with that sprinted off into the strange night. Ben came in a few minutes later. He had been officially lapped, and then some. "Did Bill already leave?" he asked.

"Yes," Amy and I both replied at the same time. He let out a long, probably unintended sigh. Later, Bill told me that Ben caught up to him and attacked throughout the night, launching up hills and sprinting the singletrack. It was all Bill could do to keep up, but Bill did keep up because that is what Bill does. Bill races, even when it hurts so bad that every other good thing in life is sucked into a vacuum of pain. Bill races, even when it the meaning of it all is completely hidden from view. Bill races, and often Bill wins. To me, it was symbolic. The race as a metaphor for life. They usually are, and that's why we do it."

Another good race report comes from Bill Martin, the experience hardass enduro from Missoula, Montana and the man who put me in my place by beating me during this showdown at the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow.
I've stolen some excerpts from his blog, as he has done a great job telling the story.  It's also pretty cool to get the perspectives of others involved.  Check out his blog HERE for the full writeup and future adventures.  Both Bill and Jill are quite inspirational individuals.

As Bill writes: 
"Frogtown is the name of the 25 hour race venue for that weekend. IT was all a buzz with the usual 24 hour affair. Everyone was excited to get underway and at 10 AM we were off and running down the road to our bikes. Once on the bike I looked up and realized that again it was confirmed that my running sucks. I put my head down and hammered up to the second pack from the front. I pulled in beside Ben.

"Is there any solos up their", I gestured to the pack of five up on top of the gravel road climb.
"No I don't think so." I took the lead momentarily and realized that Ben and I should just work together until we found out if there were any solo riders in the lead. Ben took over the lead and busted out a wicked fast inaugural lap. I struggled to hold his wheel and keep from going too hard.

"beep beep beep beep beep", my heart rate monitor was ferociously reporting a anaerobic status.
"Is that your heart rate monitor", Ben asked.  "Yep, I am not comfortable with this pace." "So of I keep it beeping you will eventually blow up?"  "Um, probably", I mentally smacked myself upside the head for disclosing vital information.

"Cool", and then he turned up the pace. He was putting the screws to me. I thought that he had to be damaging his own chances as well and gambled by mirroring his pace. As we approached the timing tent I followed him in. One lap down and many to go. No need to get to the tent first.

In the tent the personnel took a long time to find out score cards. They found Ben's and he was off like a scared rabbit. As the volunteer ferociously dug through he score cards I watched Ben attack up the hill. Three full minutes later they found my page and marked me down for a lap. I was free to go. I got to my pit where Beat was getting his bike ready for a lap.

"They took like 3 minutes to find my damn score sheet ... where did Ben go?"  "You guys are doing great", Amy encouraged me.  I took off after Ben with irritation in my cadence. It really wasn't fair to be attacked like this but we WERE in a race. And it was apparent we were in the lead. I needed to catch Ben and calm him down. Maybe we could ride smart to distance ourselves from the others. It took me half a lap to catch Ben. He was surging the hill climbs and I tried desperately to catch. When I finally found his wheel I was exhausted.  "I shouldn't have caught you this fast but ... WTF ... what is up with the timing tent"?


I didn't get or couldn't understand the answer so I resigned to just ride behind him again. Maybe I could get some kind of recovery. Just after the Gem Trail section I passed on a downhill and tested his technical skills. I was able to put a gap on him and by the end of lap 2 I had a 10 second lead.


Suddenly he sprinted up and tried to pass. I put it into the dog and responded. We sprinted full cross country style to the timing tent. I won out by a thread ad got to transition first. Still though Ben was impatient and wanted to get going before I did. I made sure they had my name down on my score sheet and chased him to the pit area. We pitted at the exact same time."

Bill goes on:

"This time I was on Ben's wheel immediately and as we started the first climb. On lap three around 2:20 into the 25 hour race Ben had a bobble. He dropped his water bottle. I picked it up and rode up to him.  "Are you OK", I looked into his eyes.  "Yea, sure, go ahead, I'm fine."  "OK but Ill go slower", and pedaled in front of him. 

He didn't appear to be fine and I saw some doubt in his eyes. His breathing was labored and the fact that he dropped his bottle was the first sign of weakness I saw. I rode steady and kept my heart rate right where it needed to be. I was finally in charge of the race. Once out of sight I picked up the pace and rode the downhill single-track with great passion. I knew I would be faster on the downhill and I took advantage of it right away. He disappeared in the distance behind me.

When you are in the lead you make gains in the pit area. If you pit slow your competition comes along and has the chance to catch back up. But if you pit fast and you can get out before they come in, it is a huge mental advantage. At first Ben would ramble in, then later I would be leaving as he rode up to his pit, and then after a while I was totally gone out of sight before he came in. When this happened I surged and attacked pretty hard. I needed to lap him. I knew that if I wanted to win the race I would have to have a lap on him."

Bill does an awesome job of describing the dagger he stuck in me to finish it off:

"Ben had come in and watched me try to do repairs and must have seen me getting comfortable with my new found cup of joy. He left his pit and attacked so hard he was enveloped by darkness before I even looked up.  I saw him leave his tent and knew this was it. This was where the race would be decided. If he were to take back his lap he would of won. I had to catch him or loose everything I had worked so hard for.
"Jill I have to go", I said so despairingly it sounded pathetic.  "Its OK bill, you're doing great"
"Bye Jill." "Bye Bill."

It took me 15 minutes to catch Ben and found that I had legs. In fact I felt marvelous. Jill had saved my race. That cup of soup was working miracles. I wondered if it was indeed the soup or just that my fitness was finally coming through. Finally I didn't question anything I just stuck to Ben. he was ripping up the hills so violently I was left momentarily shattered at the top. but then he would slow to catch his breath and I would catch back on. And the dance continued. He surged and I struggled to catch back up. Surge, struggle, surge, struggle .....

Near the top just before the downhill single track we were sided by side gasping for air. The battle was just about over. We both gave it everything and the next slight uphill before the single-track would be the entire race. Who had enough to make that final attack and push the dagger onto their rivals heart.

I got out of the saddle and put it all into my bike. We reached the single track first and coasted to the mandatory dismount. I was in the lead and this would be the last time Ben saw me as I ripped away into the darkness that night. I knew at this point I would be able to win if I could keep my bike in one piece."

From my perspective, I gave it what I had.  I pushed the pace from the beginning, trying to soften him up and see what he had.  I was a little surprised by his response and just thought to myself, "hmm...this is awesome.  I wouldn't want to be anywhere buy here, actually racing during a 24 (well, 25 hours) hour race."  Even after Bill put the dagger in the race, I stuck it out, focused on being consistent and held off a strong, experienced, 3rd place Mark Wallace, who also finished with the same 20 laps that Bill and I did.  Bill was an strong competitor and even stronger guy.  I'm happy to know that he will always be part of this memory.  Thanks Bill and thanks Mark.  I have a feeling all of our paths will cross again.









I can't ask for anything more than being in this position in my 4th 24 hour race and only one year into it (Moab last year was the first.)  I can't ask anymore from Amy - she was there every lap, resting the hour in between laps and getting me food and a report on the leader and third place each time around.  We were a team and she was the foundation. 
As I wrote to Jill, "It's these times when life and racing really do mirror themselves and why I gravitate to long adventures," Ben wrote. "It's like the 15th hour of a 24 hour ... you just don't know how you'll get through it. But, you bear down, jump back on, and keep going. That's just what we will do."

Although I recognize that racing isn't nearly as important as "real life," I do know that there are some similar lessons.  One of the most important of them is to know that it's most important how we respond to adversity.  Do we stop and feel sorry for ourselves or do we surge up that hill into the darkness with all we have?  I know our answer. 

I don't know how things will eventually end, but I know how they will start......

7 comments:

  1. Awesome Ben, simply awesome ...o/o

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  2. Awesome report... however still dont know what to say i light of your and Amy's loss =(

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  3. My heart goes out to you and Amy. Feel I know you (from all the reports) - enough that my heart is saddened by your loss. I sense you have a lifetime of adventures in front of you - both racing and family! Nice post. Ed (Missoula friend of Bill and Jill).

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  4. Ben AND Amy,
    Please know that I my heart pounds for your loss. Your words are inspiring. Keep in touch and know that we miss you and love you both.

    Mrs. K

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  5. Ben,

    Your whole season was inspiring, but the strength that you and Amy are showing through your loss is even more inspiring. Big rides and long races often force us to face and overcome things that we didn't think possible, and that is why I (we) love the sport. But the love, strength and compassion you are showing as you deal with this tragic event goes beyond all that. You're one of the good ones dude. Stay strong. You both will continue to be in the thoughts and prayers of me and my family.

    Jason

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  6. And this is why we are so proud to call Ben our son-in-law...

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