Treasure Valley dwellers know that one of the most scenic drives from Boise into the mountains is Highway 21 to Stanley, followed by Highway 75 from Stanley to Sun Valley.
Take the same route and add four cyclists pedaling the roughly 200 miles in a team relay race format and you have the Lyle Pearson 200. Participation is limited to fewer than 100 teams and favors those who are quickest on the trigger when it comes to registration. A mysterious handicapping system lies in the hands of the race promoter, who takes into account age, weight, gender and race experience to make it theoretically possible for any team to win.
Six months ago, when I was asked to participate, it seemed like a good idea, as well as an excuse to start training on the bike again. As usual, I had no idea what to expect.
Teams began rolling out of Bown Crossing, one by one at the crack of dawn on June 2. All the usual cycling-related challenges were there: flat tires, botched transitions and--despite bluebird skies in the valley--occasional rain showers on the backside of Moore's Creek Summit and Banner Summit.
Our four-woman team, though blessed with 20 minutes of time handicaps, faced several challenges. For starters, graphic details aside, rapidly ramping up one's time spent on the bike can lead to all sorts of discontent from one's behind.
Also a challenge was the fact we had never ridden together. A certain amount of communication both on and off the bike is crucial in this type of team competition. It's important to know who's feeling strong enough to spend more time at the front or tackle the climbing legs solo, as well as who needs the pace to drop by 2 mph or who needs another PowerGel. It quickly became obvious, however, that honesty and clarity would not be a problem. We all spoke the same language of chains and spokes, and we bonded instantly over our common goal.
The race's defining moment occurred at the beginning of the 10th and final stage. Aided by a generous tailwind, I had just climbed Galena Summit several minutes faster than expected. In doing so, I had also burned my last few matches, which meant that the descent to Galena Lodge didn't amount to much recovery before the final, windy 22-mile haul into Sun Valley. But as I went sailing through the transition, glancing over my shoulder to make sure all three teammates were rolling into a tight formation so we could fight the wind to the finish together, something happened.
Things started to go slow-mo and I could almost hear Chariots of Fire in the background. My teammates rose out of their saddles to gain momentum, as they applied quadzilla-generated torque. Despite the heat, my flesh broke out in goosebumps and an emotional kick fueled my tired legs. We had collectively smoked our estimated stage times and we were now within spitting distance of crushing our goal by nearly a half-hour. All I had to do was hang onto the wheel in front of me, sitting in the most protected spot to get the full benefit of drafting. And hang on I did. I was hanging onto the other ladies not as teammates but as friends. It made the hanging on a little easier and the victory a lot sweeter.