The Pettit files~the most excellent miss adventures of Jonny P, racing with legends and broken hands
I’ve often heard people say, “I’m jealous of your life, seems you can do what you like when you want to” The reality of my days and months are in stark contrast to the jealousy in which they feel. After the bills are paid and the food is bought, the “Divide” ends dangle in front of me, almost like a haunt. Working in a bike shop gives you a discount to the goods, but it won’t make you rich, usually it’s the people you work with and the customers that you like pass the long hours away.
On my radar this year is of course the tour divide, a month-long bicycle race spanning two countries, five states, nearly 3,000 miles, oh yeah one more thing, it’s all unsupported, meaning you are the pack mule for whatever you deem necessary to bring; and the bike is the vehicle in which can take you home, at whatever speed you can manage for the miles. On my wall is a list of things I would like to accomplish, one side is current things, and the other things that take a bit more planning, but are a lot more extravagant. The overall Marathon title is one I would like to win, but also to taste a victory would be sweet as well, seems the months in the desert without the top step is drying up and proving elusive, I’m comfortable in the fact everyone and race bar one that has beat me this year is a better rider than I am currently, but also that I’ve been consistent and have had to deal with some health problems.
Currently however its moral that seems to be an issue, and its uncommon for me to say that, as I consider myself a motivated person and usually prefer to look on the chipper side rather than dwell on what I don’t have. Just getting back from a 12 hour race in Gallup, New Mexico where the weather was ideal for me to get that victory, instead I type on a delicate finger and swollen palm, further more adding to the long list of things that need to get fixed or taking care of before I depart for a month. The trip was funded by my change, Coinstar to be exact, I left my house with 153 dollars, 25 in my savings account and a total of 8.53 in my checking, and the final number has to sustain me through wed at midnight till my latest installment from the shop gets deposited, so I wonder if they’re still jealous? It doesn’t bother me , I usually enjoy making things happen out of will and thin air, but all the travel planning, gear, money, and parts are taking their toll and the stress is high and tiresome. The living arrangement isn’t condusive to my obsessive planning and bike tweaking, causing more uncertainty where there should be no problems when I’m out in the middle of nowhere, with nobody else to count on except for me and my equipment.
I was stressed and relieved to be traveling with my friend Mike Melley, who’s taken on more of an advisory role lately with me, his words of wisdom are one’s I cling and listen too about racing, food and overall endurance and friendship, and like most of my friends I’m a little flattered to be calling him one. The stress comes from the lack of Benjamin’s, I sent him a text mid-week saying I might need to crash in your car instead of the hotel do to the fact that Chase ‘What Matters’ says my ass can only afford to sleep outside. But instead I shared a bed with Travis McMaster, and yes he slept on top of the covers in a sleeping bag and I under the sheets, I almost feel sorry for Jodi, Travis’s wife, the dude is a bed hog. But like my women says, all these add to the overall story of my life and this “divide” thing.
Fueled up and running towards New Mexico we follow map quest and got there in decent time, pick up Travis at the Red Roofie inn and headed into downtown Gallup for packet pickup in a cool old theater. Cruising for food and the lack of good eateries had us gaining calories at Denny’s, yup home of the grand slam. After dinner it was the usual last-minute bike tweak, I was relieved I didn’t have to partake in this, but I desperately wanted to sleep, with the hands on the clock holding each other at the midnight hour I knew our alarms for 4 am would come sooner than we would like.
Up early and the shuffle heads towards the door and this time to McDonald’s, I know we are going all out on this trip. We slam down some food in the dark hours of pre dawn mountain time and make our way to the start/staging area. After a little lost and found we meander on open dirt roads looking for the not well-marked “start” area. With the disaster averted we bounce down a rutted jeep road that had Travis a little worried about clearance, but we make it with muffler and bikes intact, find parking close to friends and think it best to just have our feed station near Melley’s element. The forecast was epic, winds up around 50 mph, rain, snow, sleet and miles. I’ll admit I was a little giddy about the prospect of riding in snow, not to mention logging some sweet miles without the usual rock gardens I now call home.
The start was fast, the first few miles were down the road where we attempted to find the staging area, groups broke up and a bunch was at the front, I made my way easily to them and sat on some wheels being pulled along in their vortex, I found Brian Bennett a local Phoenix endurance regular, and a guy who’s done this race a time or two, so I knew I was in good company, after the jeep road it turned right into a sweet bit of single track, burmmy, twisty and plain ‘ol fast. A Fort Collins kit was in front of me and I was surprised at his lack of skill to float the bike through the corners and rail the burms. Passing was tight but I made it through without hooking bars or rubbing shoulders. Once ahead of the trio I had open trail, a smile was wide across my face and the speed was high.
The first lap is shorter than the regular laps, I came through at about 48 minutes, feeling good my stomach burned of heat lamp biscuits and shitty coffee, I was a little over dressed preparing for the worst. A base layer, jersey, insulated arm warmers and a windbreaker, along with thermal leg warmers, a cover on my bald head and booties with duct tape on the shoes, also we had taped up the vents of our helmets preparing to battle the elements with our Y2K material. Going through the start finish banner and towards the first climb, a short steep little sucker that claws at your legs, I almost followed a line of rocks clean off the ledge but caught myself in time and turned left towards some rolling hills and sweet trail. A loop was around 13 miles with a decent amount of climbing topping out around 7,000 feet, the climbs where short punchy ones that hurt, especially now with the wind, at times climbing you almost don’t move at all, the gales nearly blowing you over, or sometimes at your back so hard you didn’t have to pedal uphill instead the force shoved you along, I came through lap two and still felt ok, I knew 10 laps won it last year and looking at my time I was going to easily do that if not more. In my mind I had a pit strategy of 3, 5, 7, 9 and knock out the last two, eating on the course proved difficult because it was mainly single track with 4” loam on either side of the smooth swath we rode, I got the hunger knocks around 2 ½ laps but got some food down the gullet, but now I was just burning up, the 70 percent chance of bad weather gave a window of nice sun causing some over heating. One lap three I pitted, lost the arm warmers, leg warmers and felt a lot better, the wind was still at a maximum but my internal thermostat wasn’t boiling.
I was riding a good solid pace, maybe a little too fast at the start, Melley caught me on the 2nd lap and I wanted to ride with him, but I still know he’s a couple notches ahead of me in racing, we chatted for a bit and I said I feel good man, just cruising, I watched my tall friend roll down the trail with ease and smoothness. I was finding my rhythm and just rolling, enjoying the smooth track and ripping some berms, I came up on a couple other guys from our neck of the woods, on the ridge before you descend down towards the start finish you can look out over the mesa and see the dark cumulous clouds fat and heavy with precipitation and knowing it was only a matter of time before they part and share with us all they hold. Looking at the time and knowing the laps of last year I knew I was on pace for a podium if not better, I tried to regulate my eating, take on plenty of water, endurolytes and other goodies, I was again on the short nasty climb up and was thinking to myself this will be a good long day, so long as my stomach will come around, I was 50 plus miles and in and feeling good.
The clouds caught us and began to spit rain but the chilliness turned that to snow, in flurries I smiled, the epicness was upon us, the wind still howling at times I couldn’t hear my iPod with the force rushing over my ears. Flying through the woods, on an open stretch, before you start to make your way back to the staging area, the head wind shifted and blew at my left, picked up a handful of sand and dirt and somehow managed to fit it in between my glasses and helmet straight into my eyes, blinking like a mad man I tried to stay on the trail and at least see something, I drifted into the thick loamy earth, lost control and was flung blindly over the bars. I felt my hand hit first, I took off my winter gloves in the sun and all I felt was a sharpness and burning, I rolled over to my back but my hand stayed in a pile of stones. In the typical rush after a crash you pick up your bike and make sure everything is in place, I hoped back on and tried to shake off the crash and relax, I pulled to the side and rinsed out my eyes so I could see, then once again I was on the trail.
Descending down a bit of technical drops I reached for the front brake but nothing happened, I looked over at my left hand and saw a long line of blood and a twisted bent pinky, and all of a sudden a sharp pain in my palm every time I hit the smallest of bumps. I knew the start finish area was coming up so I just winced and rode knowing if I could grab my gloves, take a moment and move on I’d be alright. At the car my finger was bent nearly sideways and the thick line of blood had nearly frozen in the cold. It hurt to bad to put a glove on it, I though of cutting off the pinky finger of my glove so I would have some protection, now it was snowing heavily, I went to the aid tent and the medic told me I most likely broke my finger and bones in my palm, asked if I wanted a ride to the hospital, I declined as my friends where still on course and I wasn’t ready to stop.
I made it up the first climb, slower but still moving soon though the climb gave way to rolling rocky trail and it threatened to tear my hand off with every bump, it was all I could do to finish the lap, I again returned to the medic tent, asked if they could tape more padding to my palm to try and dull the pain. The cold wasn’t numbing it enough to not feel, the rest of my hand was purple from being exposed to the elements as I couldn’t fit a glove on it. I made the mistake of looking over the results and saw I was only a minute out of first, so I tried to fuel up with that thought, I left the tent and again got back on the bike and started climbing but now all the adrenaline was gone, riding over some small drops I nearly lost control and was flung over the exposed edge, here I thought about what the months ahead hold and decided that I should probably call it a day, my pride hurt the most, it’s not technically a dnf as I had ridden 70 plus miles, but the thought of not riding the entirety of the race ate away at me.
I returned to the Melley mobile, threw on all my warm clothes and was greeted by Brian Bennett, he too had enough and was ready for some beers, together we made our way towards the free kegs spewing IPA, in the windy tent we chatted with others, but every time I looked outside I was tore up I wasn’t racing with Mike, the thought he was out there without a buddy alone in the elements, a sense of let down came over me and a funk moved in, the pain in my hand was intense and all I could do was hold a cold beer with it and drink the contents to dim the feeling, with no dough and a high co pay I wasn’t left with a lot of options anyways.
The snow continued to blow sideways, men and woman continued to roll in with tortured faces in frozen pain, for some reason a story by Bob Roll came to me, a stage at the Giro, and a story he named “the day the big men cried” but this days was not as epic, but it was close. I was unhappy to not have the same face, Mike came in and did an extra lap that didn’t count, he was tired but warm and won his class and all the single speeders, go figure. After the awards I already had the car packed we headed back to the Red Roofie inn to shower and find food. At a booth in Applebee’s we talked about the event, the future months and poked at each other like friends do, I was happy to be with two good dudes, afterwards we found a sixer of Coors original- the banquet of beers- from Walmart, and retreated back to the stinky hotel room where we watched cheezy movies and drank the Rockies, within minutes Mike was out and talking in his sleep, outside the wind kept at it and it snowed all through the night.
In the morning it was back to McDonalds, then gas and the open road. Somewhere along the directions we followed map quest backwards and somehow took a wrong turn and added an hour to our drive and a bunch of miles, Melley and I talked a little about everything and it eased my pain of not racing the entire 10 hours and the throb in my hand, arriving in Phoenix I was unusually looking forward to seeing Amber, usually after days like that I prefer to be alone, but maybe I was needing the soft touch to recover and a big clean bed to forget about the prior day. It was nice being away from bikes everywhere and put my feet up and think. Nakita her black lab kept nudging me for some scratches further distancing me from the race and disappointment I felt.
In the early hours she commuted to work leaving me the jeep to drive, off to the shop and later the doctors where they confirmed I had broken the triquetal and pisiform bones along with my pinky, but on a lone bright spot no hard cast but also no mountain biking for a bit, but also no Arizona trial 300, an unsupported mountain bike race from the Mexico border to Superior along the Arizona trail, an important ride to test gear and give Taylor and I a chance to ride together. So now here I sit enjoying the last three beers from a Wal-Mart in New Mexico, watching the Rockies turn white on the label and try to type one-handed, I’m again at Amber’s, away from the guys and bikes, just me and the dog and some sappy tunes from the iPod seems to make everything bearable.
But I’ve already begun to plan a tour on the cross bike since I have three days off in a row, all while wearing a soft air splint, after all, the doc said no “mountain biking” so technically I’m not not listening. But the pit of disappointment isn’t being easy to shake, I don’t know why I seek the validation of the top step, I also just want one race to feel my normal self, I know there is no days more important than those that begin June 10th at noon, and last for almost 3,000 miles but perhaps on the trail loaded down for 36 hours I’ll find it off in the distances of both paved and un paved roads looking over the canyons and pines of northern Arizona, riding through small towns drinking alone in dive bars and logging long hours and miles giving myself the time to deal with defeat and move on, but also a chance to see things I usually don’t, an opportunity to slow down and smell the pines and collect some cones, think about my friendships, love and all that I’ve accomplished not what I haven’t. And isn’t that really what it’s all about, it’s the journey not the finish.