by Ray Thibault
I was really blessed to help my uncle Jack and cousin John through the Cochise Classic. The idea came in August when my uncle and I met in one of many hospital visits for my mom. I had already written off racing this year due to professional difficulties, my mom's illnesses, and my brother's passing. My uncle is 71 and in his third year of riding. He used to be very heavy and has made incredible progress. He doesn't have a lot of power but can maintain a good cadence over a good distance. My cousin is 49 and also in his third year of riding. His power output is a bit better than my uncle. He has trouble with pressure points on his feet which can result in excruciating pain after a long ride. But he has learned to mitigate that with careful application of power, so we thought it would be doable for both of them to finish within 9 hours or so.
We did not know there was a cutoff time until the pre-ride dinner and that increased the anxiety a bit because our 9 hours turned into 8. But, we thought we could do it. My cousin and uncle did the long El Tour last year but it was flatter than the CCCC and I honestly was a bit concerned about Mule Pass for my uncle. My plan was to keep close to my uncle and let my cousin get out as far as he wanted to.
When the ride started, we were quickly near the back save for a few people. The three of us stayed together to the first sag stop and it was pretty easy going so far. But the elapsed time was just a bit much for my taste at this point, but I said nothing and just kept encouraging my uncle. We had been practicing for Mule Pass best we could with runs up Pistol Hill and the SNPE Loop, but we could have used more. As the incline to Bisbee started, my uncle started slowing, but still kept a steady cadence and his spirits were high. My cousin meanwhile was out in front almost out of sight and I hoped he was taking care not to put too much pressure on his foot. We got to Double Adobe road and my uncle kept going and I stopped to make sure I knew when the sag stops and the sag wagon would stop operating. I was starting to form a backup plan in case things went south with my uncle or cousin. I got back to my uncle and we kept grinding it out to the Bisbee Sign at the top of the rise south of Bisbee. We stopped for a drink and bite to eat here and I could tell my uncle was tired by now but was willing to keep on going. We got into Bisbee and my cousin was waiting for us at the Roundabout. I think we were in last place by now. I sent my cousin on ahead and told him to take advantage and try to make it in by the cutoff time. He was concerned about his dad, but I told him, "I've got your dad -- go!".
When we started back up, I found out my uncle thought we had done all the climbing. I had to tell him we still had another few miles to go the top of Mule Pass. This got really hard now as my uncle was well into unknown climbing territory on a road with no bike path. He was so tired that he was wandering into the traffic lane sometimes and I had to keep him focused on the tunnel. "We'll get to the tunnel and then the climb is over! For now. We kept grinding it out and finally got to the tunnel. I was worried we would get hit from behind with our slow speed and dark environment, but God had our backs and we got out to the end of the tunnel and to an unexpected checkpoint at the top. We took a well deserved rest here to congratulate my uncle on his achievement. My poor uncle was just hammered now, but he wanted to go on thinking he could recover on the down hill. He sent me on as he wanted to take the downhill at his speed, which consisted of a lot of brakes. So I tucked in and rode to the checkpoint at Highway 90 and waited for him there. I waited about 7-8 minutes and started to get concerned but he finally showed up. He said "I'm done". At some point down the hill he got disoriented and found himself in the traffic lane which only added to his fear of downhill speed. That was it - it was 11am with 40 miles in and 54 to go. "Are you sure?". Yep, time to sag out. Biggest achievement of my uncle's three years of riding! God is good!
My cousin has been out of sight since the roundabout in Bisbee and with my uncle safe in the sag wagon my plan was now to catch up to my cousin and help him through the wind. I have been in the saddle for four hours at a very slow speed but it was still four hours. From Highway 90 I took off and tried to go fast but not all-out since I have not done any distance training at speed in a long while. I really felt pretty good at this point and made it up the hills on Davis Road with very little problem. I caught up with my cousin about 25 miles later past the top of the rises on Davis Road. I got in front and rode through the wind for him for most of the rest of Davis Road. Two things happened at this point almost at the same time. My cousin's cyclic pain started in his feet and I started getting cramps in almost every muscle in both legs.
We stopped at the sag stop at Davis and 191 to rest my cousin's feet and the moment we did my legs seized up front and back and I couldn't move at all. It took me about five minutes to walk it off and get back on the bike. I'm not sure what time it was but we have 20 miles to go now and since the wind was behind and to the side of us my cousin told me to go on , that he would be alright. My cramps were coming and going so intensely that I could not concentrate on helping my cousin any longer. I had no choice but to go into an autopilot mode, set the pace and just keep going. I was hurting a lot but I knew that the pain of stopping would be even more intense. I managed to keep this up until I turned onto Glenn Road heading towards the fairgrounds, when my front tire flatted. I had to stop and predictably I siezed up again and since I was the only one around I started yelling and screaming trying to get off the bike and get moving. Frustration and pain do not go well together. I walked off the cramps and changed the tire and was able to keep going to the finish where I crossed the line at seven hours and 43 minutes. My cousin was able to keep up and crossed 4 minutes later I think, getting his finishers medal!
It was really cool to see my uncle Jack and my cousin John accomplish such awesome things when it didn't look like we would be able to do it earlier in the day. The ride turned out to be much harder and much more intense than both of them had anticipated. But having overcome this ride made every previous difficulty look easy by comparison and they are both pumped to go after bigger and better things for the future!
Ray getting reading to head off