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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seattle 2009 Challenge Ride Report

The LIVESTRONG Challenge Seattle 2009 weekend is over and it’s time to take stock of the whole experience.

For me, the weekend began by saying goodbye to my family and making the drive from my in-law’s house to Seattle. Once I navigated downtown to my hotel and checked in, at noon, I walked a couple blocks to Seattle Center, home of the LIVESTRONG Village and the start/finish for the Challenge.

Check-in was very fast so I gave myself a little time to make a card for the wall, vote for the Team Fatty jersey and wander the LIVESTRONG Village. The setup for the LIVESTRONG Village was in a circle around the entertainment stage. Vendors and volunteers were friendly and freebies were everywhere.

I stopped at a booth set up by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and talked with the three ladies running the show. I told them I rode with a team in the Challenge a few years ago in honor of a friend of my teammates, Erik Engquist, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. One of the women said she was a survivor of pancreatic cancer and asked about Erik’s outcome. Sadly, Erik did not survive his fight and left behind a young family. Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survivability rates of all cancers and also has one of the lowest dollar commitments to research. It is effectively where breast cancer research was in the 1940’s. There’s probably a correlation between research and survivability so if you ever feel like you want to make a difference for a specific cancer, I would say pancreatic cancer would be a good choice. In the conversation, and after I put down my information, the survivor asked about my pink wristband and my team. After telling her about Susan and her fight with metastatic breast cancer, she asked if I would ride with a purple PanCAN wristband for her. Of course I would.

From Seattle Center, I walked to the Team Fatty pre-ride barbeque. We had burgers and conversation. It was mostly get-to-know-you chatter, putting faces with names and making connections with people. We had 112 people on the team from all over the region with many having only a connection through the online world of Fatty’s blog and, by extension, this team. Dan was generous enough to open up his place to host us and Nick and Dom artfully grilled up the food.

After the barbeque, I wandered over to REI then downtown to Niketown. I went to REI because it was there and Niketown in the hopes of getting a LIVESTRONG t-shirt I’ve been eyeing for a while but have been trying to avoid paying shipping to get. The shirt reads: Me, My bike, My cause, Just do it. I love the message; it resonates with me. I found it on the rack on sale and grabbed it before walking back to the hotel.

On Wednesday night, I got an email saying I might be going to the awards dinner and had it confirmed the night before, so I had to hustle back and change into my formal jeans and 10/2 collection pull over. We left home Wednesday morning and I didn’t bring nice clothes. I figured I was on vacation so I didn’t need the formal wear. I felt a little underdressed but the dinner was a blast. I ran into one of my college professors and her husband, who is trying to raise enough to go to Austin for the Ride for the Roses, so we chatted a little before going in for the meal.

Team Fatty had tables right at the front and we were served first. The food was great and remarkably light. The program had a few revisions as Lance was training in Aspen and Doug Ulman was in D.C. for the signing of the bill to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco. One of the LAF staffers, Renee, who has spent the last year kicking breast cancer’s tail took over M.C. duties and did a Q & A with Dr. Craig Nichols, Lance’s oncologist about cancer, survivorship, cancer issues and health care. Jimmy and Molly Fowkes were awarded the Individual Messenger award, with the highest number of individual donors, and Jimmy was inspirational, as always. He has been an award winner since 2006, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Then the night became Fatty’s. Our team won the Team Messenger and Team Champion awards, with the highest number of team members raising at least $100 and the greatest amount of money raised. Our co-captain, Steve, won the Individual Champion award and spoke about Team Fatty, the inspiration he finds through his brother and Susan, and the power of the community Elden has built. Elden spoke via recording from Utah, thanking all the folks involved in this process and speaking from the heart about the battle his wife, Susan, has faced. Steve’s brother, Scott, then spoke of his decision to meet cancer head on and survive in the face of long odds. I walked away in awe and with a deeper commitment and contentment that what we have done is powerful, meaningful and absolutely the right thing to do in the face of this insidious disease.

After a message of encouragement from Lance via recording from Aspen, I wandered back to the hotel, stopping at the grocery store for some safe foods to eat in the morning, and settled in for sleep before the big day.

At 5:40 a.m. Sunday, the alarm went off in my hotel room. I rolled out of bed, grabbed some food and a quick shower to wake me up, and geared up for the short ride to Seattle Center. I stuffed a few extra food items into my jersey pockets so I could finish breakfast at the start line since we had to be there at 6:30 for a team picture. The weather was partly cloudy and I was warm but not toasty in arm and leg warmers.

The ride started with a fabulous roll out behind a pace car. Only it wasn’t a pace car. And it wasn’t on the right street. But it did start in front of us as the air horn from Dan Wilson sent us on our way. Pretty much the whole of Team Fatty took a wrong turn out of the gate. We got it figured out after the car turned up the hill and we looked to see other riders whizzing by us on 5th.

Once we got on the right route, it was smooth sailing across the I-90 express lanes to Mercer Island. On a side note, the tunnels were a little on the creepy side on a bike. Weather was just about perfect: not too warm, not too cold. Hills were rolling, views were gorgeous, and the pace was solid. Various groups of Team Fatty riders formed, broke up and formed anew until we got off the island and into Bellevue.

From there it was a bit of a blur until May Valley for me. By May Valley, distinct groups had formed up and I was riding with Jon and a few folks I never did identify. We got east of Tiger Mountain and all of a sudden it got a bit chilly. The climb was a good one with a pretty good, long descent off the back. Jon and I got stopped about halfway down as one rider was directing traffic around a pretty horrific crash that took out 3 riders and sent one to the hospital with a pretty bloody face. The road was damp but we got no drops until we got to the Issaquah Highlands.

The rain came down pretty steady along East Lake Sammamish, making drafting roughly akin to getting your teeth polished but without the sickly sweet kiddy flavor. The rain let up a few miles before Marymoor. I reconnected with Jon and Steve at the Marymoor stop and we rode together along West Lake Sammamish. We caught up to Kent rolling along on his single speed (42×17 I believe) on the century. We hit a bit of a rise and he dropped us like a crazy girlfriend.

By the time we navigated West Lake Sammamish, the sun was out again. At the base of Montreux, we came together with Jeff and Matt. I suffered mightily, having to hike a bike in a couple of spots due to pretty awful cramps. I blame it on the lack of any kind of climbing on my part prior to the event. I fully expected to catch on with another group going a bit slower once I made it over that beast, but Steve, Matt, Jon and Jeff were all waiting for me at the top. Thank you.

The descent off the hill was not nearly worth the suffering to get up there, but it was a good working downhill to the next rest stop, where we ran into Janet and a few more questions about Team Fatty. Jeff, Jon, Matt and I stopped and Steve kept rolling so we didn’t see him again until the finish.

We cruised along Lake Washington through Renton and met up with more rain. And hail. And thunder and lightning. It was a short storm as far as distance, and we tried to plow through the rain so we got soaked. Wet chamois is not a good thing. We stopped when the peanut-sized hail started pelting us. Good thing for my official FatCyclist.com cycling cap for protection against that hail.

Once it let up a little, we didn’t ride much more than a mile before we hit dry pavement again and turned down to Seward Park. It happened to be a closure day for the road along Seward Park so we dodged families riding and Dads teaching their little ones to ride bikes.

We stopped at the final rest stop at mile 95 before attacking the hill to downtown. Descriptions of its length are subject to some interpretation but regardless of length, it was steep up to Yessler and steep over Yessler. Jeff’s Garmin had us at 18% grade in a couple of spots. A climb that steep that late in a century was not very nice.

The roll up to Seattle Center was slow due to the traffic lights but we made it as a group and have some good photos of the four of us coming in together. The cheering section at the finish was as loud and large as it was at any of the Portland events. Despite the exhaustion, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment to complete the ride, having worked as a part of something so much larger than you in the fight against cancer.

It was a great ride. I met some great people over the course of the weekend. I’ve decided the people who are a part of Team Fatty Seattle are a quality bunch and I’ll ride with any of you, anytime.

For more links, pictures, and information about the event, check out:

Rider X's course preview - a pretty good description of the topography of the course

Kent P.'s photos

Matt K.'s report and photos

Andy W.'s report and photos

Lisa's report

KOMO News coverage

Video of the 100-Mile roll out - without the wrong turn

and of course FatCyclist.com -

First report

From the start line

The aftermath

Co-captain Steve's report

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