Tuesday, May 15, 2012

St. Croix 2012 - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Elle: Ok, this is the last post about St. Croix, I promise. Let's start with 'The Bad' ...

The Bad: How JetBlue almost ruined my vacation
Elle: So we got to St. Croix. And our bikes got there too. But Lenny's bike didn't make the flight from San Juan, and neither did my luggage. So I had a bike, great, but nothing else, including my race gear. And the people working for JetBlue were less than helpful. I explained that I was there for a race, and asked could they send the luggage over on another flight. No. They couldn't even confirm that they knew where my luggage was exactly. Great. I could call tomorrow at 10am to see if it was there. That's it. No apology, just a $35 voucher for a future flight.
Cut to the next morning, when we head back to the airport in the morning to pick up Lenny's bike. Woohoo! But no luggage for me. They said it would come in around 4pm on the flight that we had taken over yesterday. But if it didn't make it over yesterday, what guarantee did I have that it would make it over today? No guarantee. No apology. No money to help me buy clothes or toiletries. The race is now less than 24 hours away. So much for a practice swim, run or bike. Thanks JetBlue, you're the best.
I'll make a long story short, my luggage did finally appear, and I was able to race. But something that is still missing - any apology from Jet Blue or acknowledgement that they did anything wrong. Webb and I have a trip planned in July and we were going to take JetBlue. Not anymore.

Not us, but a pic from the website
of the nighttime kayaking
One more bad piece of luck, I took my iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle and favorite running headphones on this trip. They did not make it back. Lost or stolen, I can't say for sure.

JetBlue's lack of customer service was very disappointing. Like Elle said, it wasn't that the luggage was delayed, it was the lack of information or apology that was upsetting. They could care less one way or another. So we'll choose another way on our next trip in July. JetBlue can stuff that voucher in a sack. Hello, Southwest Airlines.

The Good: Hiking and Kayaking on St. Croix
Elle: So Tuesday night we took a Virgin Kayak Tour which offers "a unique and custom kayak tour of Salt River Bay National Park and Bioluminescent Bay." Led by tour guide Brian, who'd I'd describe if I thought that was even possible. The tour was at night, and the bioluminescence was really cool. The unexpected throng of Man-o-War jellyfish, not so much so....

On the hike
Webb: For me the tour went from wondering if we were scammed to holy-crap-this-is-cool. Maybe it wasn't that dramatic because we were in these cool pedal-powered kayaks. It turns out I would have been happy with us just pedaling out to sea and then back into the bay in our tandem. It wasn't until I was looking for non-existent bioluminscent single-cell organisms that I started to wonder if it was a bait-and-switch. But then we saw some small (5 inch?) luminescent man-o-wars. A bunch of them. Frightening, but cool. We pedaled on, getting a decent little workout as a bonus. Then Brian ran in his hand in the water and the trailing waves just lit up. All 6 of us began running our hands in the water and gaping at the light show swirling around us. At one point, I reached into the water and felt something squishy. Instinctively I withdrew my hand. Brian told me it was a jellyfish and not to worry. I stopped worrying and also stopped putting my hand in the water for awhile.

Ras Lamumba
Elle: Wednesday we went on an Ay-Ay Ecohike in Fredricksted (aka F-sted) with Ras Lamumba, a "master Gardner, Herbalist, Naturalist, and Environmentalist," amongst other things. Another highly unusual character on St. Croix. I don't think one can describe an excursion with "Lamumba," it must be experienced.

Webb: I'll take a stab at it. To me it was the closest thing to a classical learning experience, blurring the lines of philosophy, history, science, philology and spirituality. The feral goat tracks were the class room and the flora and fauna were the subjects, from which he extrapolated lessons for modern man. For instance, he talked about car companies looking to nature (i.e., the boxfish) for inspiration for their automotive designs. We looked at the cleverness of nest building and discussed the dung beetles of Ancient Egypt. We talked about the recalcitrance of the escaped slaves who refused to bend to the will of the Europeans, going so far as to leap off the ridge than return to forced labor. We all should stop more often and take the time to consider our surroundings without preconceived notions and pay attention to the small, busy activity around us. It was a very cool experience.

The Ugly: Webb & Elle ride the 70.3 St. Croix bike course
Elle: Whoa. I've done hard workouts before. And maybe it was from the race on Sunday. Or perhaps the Point Udall hill repeats we did on the bike Tuesday (we did THREE, total elevation gain: 1,696 ft, with several grades of 12% to 16%). Or the 2-hour kayaking when my legs where in constant motion. Or the hike on Wednesday. But this was quite possibly one of the hardest workouts I've ever done. It started out nice enough, with us getting lost just outside of Christiansted, doing a full loop before getting back on track. Then we were off, and it was really scenic. So you know, St. Croix has very few straight-aways and the hills are either rollers, steep hills or freaking steep hills. And I had heard about "The Beast," after all, this is one of the toughest 70.3 bike courses in the world. And I'm no slouch. But I was no match for The Beast.

The bike ride. See if you can figure out
where 'The Beast' is....
Webb: I knew what was coming. I vacillated over whether to hype or downplay The Beast. In the end the decision was simple: just describe it how it is. It is tough but do-able. Since we were not racing, we took the first 20 miles easy, deliberately keeping the pace mellow. Plus, the course does not get much easier after The Beast. You can't just hit it and think it will be smooth sailing afterwards. On the backside, Headwind Highway and hills of the East End await. The Beast is one ugly bump on a rough, rough 56 mile ride.

Elle: I knew it would be hard, but fully planned on climbing The Beast without having to stop. But this hill is notorious for being one of the most difficult climbs in the sport of triathlon, with grades up to 24%. So I attacked. And it started well. But then...

"Ok, this is hard. But I've ridden tough hills before, just keep pedaling. Shit. This is really steep. Crap, it's getting steeper. I can do it. I can do it. Damn. Just push down. Harder. YOU CAN DO IT! Just keep pushing those pedals down! Use your muscles! Don't stop! Whoah, why can't I breathe? What's going on? What's wrong with my heart? I'm scared...."

And because I was actually afraid of passing out or having a heart attack....I stopped. Crap. Failure. Dammit. I caught my breath and got a hold of my heart rate, jumped back on the bike, and headed up to finish this bitch of a Beast. But what now? It's happening again?!? Before I knew it, I was off the bike. AGAIN. Folded over my bike. Heaving. Searching for breath. And that's when the tears started to flow. What is going on? I felt like a total failure. But I wasn't going to get anywhere, crying on the side of the road. So I jumped back on my bike again and climbed that freaking hill until I reached the top, where Webb was waiting for me.

Webb: This is an experience you can all learn from. Elle did not fail. This is a tough course, which we attempted on fatigued legs. I did not underestimate her ability so much as I underestimated how tough Tuesday's repeats up to Point Udall were. I remember thinking The Beast should be easier because I am one year stronger and on a bike better suited for climbing (road vs tri bike). And yet, I struggled too.

Elle: I think Tom Demerly of BikeSport Inc. and TriSports University put it best:
"Once you navigate the winding descent of The Beast (this year on wet, slick roads) you begin a tortured push against wet mattress headwinds that started over Mexico and gained momentum across a thousand miles of open ocean. The effect is humbling. Think you’re a strong cyclist? Mile after mile of riding at a full effort but only yielding 17 M.P.H. may change your concept of what “strength” means. The bike course at St. Croix is more a test of will, patience and tenacity than strength and fitness. It is also a test of bike handling skill that requires concentration so intense I entered T2 with a cornering migraine.
The bike course never relents until you clip out. It is simply one climb, one turn, one brutish headwind section after another in rapid succession. Sometimes you are climbing on wet, slippery, rough chip seal pavement into a headwind on a tricky uphill corner when a chicken runs into the road in front of you. Welcome to St. Croix- watch out for that chicken!"

The workout seemed to get longer and harder as it went on. Near the end I felt similarly spent as I did after running the Boston Marathon. I didn't know how much further I could go. I had given everything I had to give. Everything. There wasn't anything left. What's this now? Another climb? Will it ever end? I don't know how much longer I can hold on......
And then the ride was over. And we were walking our bikes up the driveway to the house we were renting. I've never cried during a workout before. And certainly not ever after a workout. But there I was, standing in the driveway, weeping. Poor Webb didn't know what to think. But I couldn't stop. I was crumpled over my bike. Crying.

Webb: To be candid, I was surprised to see the tears, but I did have an idea what was going on. In 2008, I took part in the Mt Washington Auto Road Hill Climb. It is a 7.6 mile ascent with no descending at any point and an average grade of 12% and a max of around 22% at the summit. Readers of the blog know I consider myself a poor climber. I want to be clear, I am not being modest. I wasn't then; I am not now. And that is why I think I know what was going on with Elle. At the top of Mt Washington that day many of the competitors were crying. I was struck not with a sense of accomplishment but of the simple feeling that the unending was over. You see, when you do something like that you accept you'll be doing it forever. I accepted I was going to climb for the rest of my life. And then it was over. So as I stood there with Elle in the driveway, I imagined she too had made a similar commitment to being on the bike forever. And then the end came and so did the emotions. Cycling is suffering.

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