Words from the Stoker - By Sarah Hardy | Broken Spoke Bike Studio

Words from the Stoker - By Sarah Hardy

15 August, 2016


Salsa Powderkeg Photo by George Kapitz

 Ore to Shore 2015 

The first tandem couple crosses the finish line. They come in fast. I'm standing there as a spectator blown away at the speed with which they crossed that line. I see the effort they both put out on the course written on their faces. I want that. I want to know that feeling. My boyfriend, George Kapitz, crosses the line not long after on his fat bike. I tell him I want to do Ore to Shore next year on a tandem with him.

 Ore to Shore 2016 Hard Rock 48 Mile Race

What on earth am I doing? George and I have only been out on the tandem a couple of times. Our longest ride only being 20 miles on a flat trail. I am so nervous. I give myself two rules: 1. Do not stop pedaling. 2. No matter how hard it is, how much I hurt, I will not tell George. I know his mental state will depend a lot on how I am doing. 

 We line our Salsa Powderkeg up at the start. I have never been in this environment. All the bikes saving the riders' spots scare me. They are so close together. I have images of us crashing into people or being crashed into right away. 



My view of the race start Photo by George Kapitz

 The countdown begins and there is no turning back. George and I are straddling the tandem with one foot clipped in. Two minutes to start. My heart is racing. Ninety seconds. My breathing speeds up. Thirty seconds. I take a deep breath. Go! We are off. I tuck in and pedal my ass off. I hear nothing but the hum of the wheels of our bike and all the bikes around me. Other than that I hear nothing. The smack talk of the riders has stopped, I don't hear the crowd, just the wheels and silence. It's incredible. Goosebumps rise on my arms because I am so overwhelmed with the awesomeness of that moment. 

 The lead out ends and we hit the dirt road. It's wet. It rained early morning so there are big puddles on the course. George is steering us around them. I know he is an incredible bike handler, but now I get to experience it first hand. I trust him completely. I could not do this race with him if I didn't. I cannot see what is ahead of us so I have to have total faith in him. And I do. 

The race Photo by Ben Mullin

I feel like I am in a video game. My head is down and I'm watching the ground fly by. My legs are pumping as hard as they can. Mud is splattered on my legs and arms almost immediately. I hear fatties go by, I see wheels as we pass them. But mostly I see the ground and hear the bikes. I'm thinking of nothing but how cool this experience is. How fast the ground passes under my feet.The ground gets pretty rutted and I can feel George working to keep the bike upright. I try to keep my body as tucked in as I can so I don't add a lot of extra movement to the bike. There are a few points where George unclips his foot and gets it on the ground as fast as he can to stabilize us. My foot unclips a second after his to help keep us steady. 

 We keep moving. I feel the bike start to lose its momentum. I see beneath us the trail is chewed up and muddy. We go down. Neither of us is able to unclip in time. I hear the other bikers yell, "Riders down." I look up and see someone coming toward me and yell, "Rider down." I can't get one of my feet unclipped and I feel panic set in. Finally I get it. We get the bike up and hop on and the race begins again. 

 My left side is entirely covered in mud. My hands are slick and it takes effort to keep them on the handlebars. I see blood and mud running down my leg. I hope the mud will coat the cut and stop the bleeding. I look at George's left side. He's caked in mud too but I don't see blood. He asks me how I'm doing and I tell him I'm great. We are almost 10 miles in. 

 George keeps communication up with me. He lets me know if we are going to coast, climb, or try to make up time. That is our only talking besides the occasional, "How are you doing?" I always tell him I'm great. 

 We keep moving forward. Riders start to yell out, "Go tandem!" as they pass us or we pass them. Every time we pass spectators we hear, "Alright tandem!" It's motivating and keeps me pushing harder. 

 We hit some pretty big hills and power up them. The Powderkeg climbs like a champ. George and I pedal and push. I'm amazed at how many riders we pass. My legs burn. I tell George, "We got it, Baby." I don't want him to know how much it hurts to climb the hills. I say "Fuck yeah!" every hill we crest.

 We fly on the downhills. I tuck my legs in and get low. It is terrifying. We are bumping off roots and rocks. Some of the descents go into a sharp turn. George handles the bike flawlessly and gets us through every one. 

 We pedal on. George tells me we are about to climb Misery Hill. I look up and see the sign for Misery Hill. Then I steal a glance ahead and see it. It's a steep, rocky ascent. We hit it and try to keep our momentum going. The rocks are slick from the rain and the wheels have a hard time finding traction. Riders are getting off their bikes and walking. We lose our momentum and have to walk too. It is exhausting. Trying to scramble up the rocks and mud and push the bike on legs that don't want to keep moving isn't easy. My heart is racing and I am having a hard time taking a breath. But we keep moving forward. We reach the top and I think the worst is over. But the rocks and mud continue. We bike as much as we can. I am so scared. I lock down on my thoughts and clear my head. All I can do is keep pedaling. I hear George say, "I just want to get out of this." I know he is working physically and mentally to keep us upright and safe. I want to reach out and touch him to let him know I believe in him but I'm too scared to release my death grip from my handlebars. 

 We finally get out of the rocks. We leave the dirt and hit road. We get moving. I look at my watch and see our pace is over 28mph. We fly past other riders and George cheerfully yells out, "Hop on!" I see a rider as we pass look over at us and hear him yell to his friend, "Get on the back of that fucking tandem!" We become a freight train. I look back and see a line of riders drafting off us. The sound of us moving at such a fast pace is incredible. The hum of the wheels on the road is exhilarating. 



Drafting Photo by Sarah Hardy

 Back on dirt. Our pace slows but we keep one rider with us. The rest of them pass. We climb and descend. We come to a downhill that is so fast and bumpy I close my eyes. I'm too scared to look. When we come out of it George says, "I couldn't see for part of it!" 

 The trails are still wet but they aren't as bad as the first part of the race. We keep pedaling. We pass riders who passed us. Going back and forth with them on the course. We still have the rider who decided to stick with us. Drafting us when we start going fast. He stays with us for quite awhile but eventually he leaves. 

 We are at the base of a hill. I peak to the side and see it's a long steep one. I'm exhausted but I keep my mouth shut and we begin the climb. It feels like we aren't making forward momentum. I push with everything I have. I want to throw up I'm working so hard. Then I hear it. A rider from behind starts screaming, "You got it tandem! Keep pedaling!" He hoots and hollers until we are at the top. He tells us there is one more hill then drops back to cheer on another racer. 

 We keep pedaling. At the final hill climb the rider who cheered us on reappears to give us our final encouragement. We tackle the climb and keep going.

 We finally shoot out of the single track and onto the road that will bring us to the finish. The road flies by under my feet. The grey blurring in my vision. I can hear the cheers of the crowd getting louder as we race to the finish. I look up for a moment and see my friends Kari and Darrell off to the side. Darrell shouts out and Kari's snapping pictures. 


Racing to the finish Photo by Kari Sheppman

 We are in the chute but we don't stop our speed. The announcer says the name of the rider who crosses before us, the crowd is cheering loudly. We are so close to the finish line and I finally sit up straight. I can see everything around me. It's no longer the greys and browns and blacks of the ground beneath my feet. I see the people clapping and yelling. I see the sky and I see the finish sign is overhead. 


Done Photo by Kari Sheppman 

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