There weren’t many pictures taken, our hands were too busy gripping water bottles, kayak paddles, handlebars, throwing high-fives, thumbs-up and handing off a sweaty maroon rubber wristband baton. I’ll do my best to make things visually stimulating as well as colorful word links to click on for another layer of exploration.
The 2nd Annual Siskiyou Challenge, a relay event in Ashland, Oregon benefitting The Rogue Valley Farm to School , connecting efforts of two of the hardest working groups in the valley, farmers and educators. This year’s event drew an ever bigger turn-out of racers and increased support from the community. Goes to show that the organizers Tracy Harding and Deborah Gordon have started something that the community wants, needs, loves, and enjoys!
If you weren’t able to support by attending the event you can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here.
The team this year was brought together by Bradley at Chad’s Birthday Party the week before, and graciously sponsored by Modern Fan.
Introducing, team #130, “The Robots With Souls”, If you want the nitty-gritty on each leg you can click on the colorful words next to each person’s name.
Leg #1: Bradley “Low-Tech” Whelden
Leg #2: Chad “Smooth Operator” Woodward
Leg #3: Me and the road bike
Leg #4: Pete “Hayduke” Wallstrom
Leg #5: Me and Le Black Beauty
Leg #6: Joe “Father of a Baby named Courage” Vaile
A cup of coffee and Warren G made the pre-dawn start to the day smooth as possible and with each of us preparing in our own special way, the E.R.M. factor began to rise with the sun, gloriously cresting the Siskiyou Mountains a round orange ember ready to rally.
Bradley “Low-Tech” Whelden rolled out early on the first bike leg. Some bike racers lust over their bikes, some lust over their legs, and some just ride their bikes as hard as they can. Bradley is the later. And in an extreme sort of way. While many of the lycra laden competitive racers for this leg were sporting $3,000+ bikes, clipless pedals, aero bars and skin-suits, Bradley was not. Platform pedals, steel cyclo-cross bike with knobby tires on low tire pressure, lights for commuting on the front and back, and no spare tubes.
If it was a hunting match the competition would have looked like this…
and Bradley would have looked like this…
Good equipment doesn’t guarantee success. However, good motivation and attitude do. And of those Bradley had the best on the road early Saturday morning. Charging, pedaling, E.R.M.ing the sh#%! out of every inch of asphalt between Lithia Park and Emigrant Lake.
Chad and I watched as Low-Tech rolled into the transition chute, blue helmet (turned out to be a child’s sized helmet loaned to him), baggy blue Adidas shorts and blue T-Shirt flapping ragged in the wind. I could see dilated pupils and a focused stare behind his tinted safety glasses, tell-tell signs of Bradley spending serious time on the E.R.M. bullet train.
The wristband “baton” was handed off to Chad as he sprinted down the boat ramp to the same kayak we were loaned last year, a 16 ft. fiberglass beauty named ‘Mariah’. Early that morning Chad had keenly applied a gracious coating of PAM to her underside. Mariah, in her curvaceous, glossy, sleek form, was like a Hawaiian Tropic beauty that just couldn’t wait to get wet. Which was evident when earlier in the morning Chad and I were staging her on the steep shore of Emigrant Lake and had a hard time keeping her from sliding un-manned into the lake.
Mariah, a Hawaiian water loving craft, like this but with a lot more fiberglass…
With his intimate knowledge of E.R.M. science, and a solid week’s worth of training under his life jacket, Chad charted his course. A prominent triangular wake crested from the bow of Mariah and radiated through the calm surfaced of the lake as she and Chad knifed through the water. Chad’s history as a river-runner and river-keeper gave him an edge.
With an arsenal of three paddling techniques, and the laser beam focus from a previous year full of Bikram Yoga, Chad pulled some time in on the leaders. Going from paddler to sprinter 50 times faster than a Seattle Duck Boat goes from water to land, Chad made the final sprint back up the boat ramp. Once he handed the wristband off to me I was around six minutes behind the leader of Team Flywheel, Ryan Wilcoxson, the first cyclist to head out on the long road bike course. There were four other cyclists between Ryan and I so I had plenty of work to do.
Usually at this hour of the morning my legs were just climbing out of bed, rather than onto a bike all spando’ed out. The soundtrack for the first few minutes helped to calm, focus, center, and start to ramp-up,
and from there it was pretty much like this..
with a healthy hand of some of this
The long road bike course made a slow climb up into the orchards and farms east of Talent, some hills and punchers though it was all about staying in the dog, chasing down strong man Ryan Wilcoxson with his disc wheel, and making sure to go hard enough to ensure there was a lot more doing than thinking going on. In a techno-metal-E.R.M.-lactic acid induced stupor I rallied up through Lithia Park, now in 2nd place, our team was a fox-hound strong on the scent of a furry beast named Podium.
I found the chute to make the hand-off to Pete “Hayduke” Wallstrom, who, like any fast runner, rocks short-shorts and no shirt. There simply wasn’t enough fabric to pin a number on the man, so he went ‘Jesus Crown of Thorns’ style, and pinned the number straight to through his skin, mentioning that the initial sting of the pin through the skin helps him access his E.R.M. with greater presence.
Pete ran himself ragged in the hills above the park and surrounds. Blazing up each one with the fury of George Washington Hayduke laying systematic destruction to a big CAT dozer, his own blood mixing with sweat, adrenaline and pain, a cocktail stronger than any Gatorade. Hayduke was on fine form that Saturday morning, catching the eye of a local reporter, as quoted from the newspaper story on Sunday’s front page:
“One of the most relevant aspects of Hayduke is the fact that for all the property destruction dished out during his efforts with, “The Robots With Souls”, despite the explosions, the excavation equipment ruined digging deeper and deeper, the survey stakes pulled up from mile after seemingly endless mile of soon-to-be-destroyed countryside, Hayduke never hurt, maimed, or killed anyone.”
Pete entered the park rocketing down with the grace and skill of Hayduke traversing a labyrinthy sandstone mesa. Pete maintained our 2nd place during the run, Le Black Beauty and I then had the mountain bike leg to try to pull in some more time on the leader, and I found myself working to chase down another talented athlete of the Flywheel Team and Wilcoxson family, Jade. I shifted back into the part of my brain where pain becomes pleasure as Le Black Beauty and I danced a dance that while effective, was not particularly pretty.
The Ashland MTB trails were in sore shape after a dry summer and abuse from the mass of shuttlers who use more gas to ride their bikes on Mt. Ashland than the average person does on their weekly commute. Still, I used my special visualization of imagining my Brosef Patrick Means charging it in front of me and trying to follow his line. During the course of the MTB leg the gap closed from seven minutes to just under thirty seconds, the podium scent was soon to be fox pelt in our teeth.
Like a salmon funneling threading boulders upstream on the Rogue River I made my way into the transition chute and made the final wristband hand-off to Joe “Father of a Baby named Courage” Vaile. Joe set out on the anchor leg, the crucial final step to ensure success, like taking the nozzle out of the car before driving away from the gas station, or paying for your groceries before walking out the store, the final step matters. The anchor leg also carries the added pressure of having been witness to the mayhem of your team gutting themselves on each leg, returning on empty, having left all form of physical, mental, and spiritual mojo on the course, knowing they are all counting on you to seal the deal.
On the likely two hours of sleep he had the previous night, an amount most new fathers would consider a good night, Joe set out on the 3.6 mile course with the goal of touching the ground for as brief time as possible. The interesting thing about a relay is the amount of time you actually spend with your teammates during the event is minimal, just enough time to hand off the wristband and watch them propel themselves by foot, pedal, or paddle into the horizon.
Despite that isolation, there is an electrifying feeling I imagine most of us robots felt when out on the course one would look down and see the wristband, knowing that throughout the morning it had at one time been on the wrist of each of us, a rubbery thread of connection, and each time its image inspired its wearer to dig deeper, breath harder, E.R.M. it to the max.
And Joe felt the electricity, the voltage firing axons and endorphins like an automatic rifle, churning his legs like well oiled pistons, his lungs like a blacksmith’s bellows, he took the form, a Robot with a soul, honed on the finish line, crossing to keep our solid hold on a well earned and satisfying 2nd place.
Le Black Beauty and I had one more MTB lap to run for another team, Burgundy Mold, who was in last minute need of a MTB. Again we charged, sweated, and made a controlled falling descent of Ashland’s slippery summer single-track. And after was some good maxin’ and relaxin’ in the park, drinkin’ drank and tasking time to enjoy the sun of the day all in the same spot at the same time, The Robots with Souls took on the Extra Leg #7 Team shopping spree to the Ashland Outdoor Store. We were going to buy matching Team Down Track-Suits, like these, then we realized that our gift amount only had one zero after the first number, so we opted for some Team water bottles that keep your sake cool and your coffee hot.
After it was all done Chad and made the round to drop off kayaks and I made a cool down ride to the creek above the reservoir where Whyte Nynsha and I had a little swim in some fresh clear water. In a cool deep pool I lay with my back in the granular granite bottom, opened my eyes and looked up to the trees and sky through the lens of the water, the cool water refreshed every muscle, I stood up, out of the water, clarity consumed, the juxtaposition between the total stimulation and excitement of first half of the day and the quiet solitude of my nature swim struck me as a gift, Ashland is a great place to be a Robot with a soul.
Mr. David Bylsma, the man with the plan, and a really long, fast kayak.
Modern Fan for sponsoring the team.
Tracy and Deborah for creating a fun way to support education and farming in the Rogue Valley, and all of the amazing volunteers who made this event possible!
Amy and Sarah, enduring an early morning, sweaty smelly men and peeing babies to rally and support The Robots With Souls!
Don’t forget, only 359 more days to start training and getting your team together for next year’s edition!