The Ups and Downs of Relay Racing
Photos by LeAnna Stewart, Jenny Willden, and Courtney Ruff
“We have some bad news ladies. The company scheduled to provide the pampering during the race was unable to attend at the last minute,” a voice said into a loudspeaker at the starting line. Ha ha, that’s a bad joke, I thought. Then I noticed no one was laughing. Pamperfest just got pamperless.
If you don’t know what Pamperfest is, let me explain. This annual women’s cycling relay is a 160-mile trek from Snowbasin Resort in Ogden to Soldier Hollow in Midway held in July. You get girl time as you drive to each exchange as you support your rider. Then you, in theory, receive professional massages, facials, and manicures along the way. So what happens when the company providing these treatments bails at the eleventh hour? If you’re the Stewart family (creators and directors of Rockwell Relay) you call for reinforcements.
The results were impressive for just a few hours notice: race volunteers offered hand massages, the race directors’ tweenage daughters painted fingernails, and two therapists gave full-body massages.
But there’s more to this event than indulging. Teams of two or four women sign up in competitive race or non-competitive ride divisions to complete eight cycling legs with distances varying from 14.5 to 24 miles each. The course has a total ascent of 8777 feet and a total descent of 9530 feet. You begin by riding down Trappers Loop, back up, then the course continues past six beautiful reservoirs, through scenic farm country, up grueling hills, down a pine-filled canyon, to end on the outskirts of the charming, Swiss-inspired town of Midway.
I wish I could say each of these legs went smoothly for our four-girl team, but Mother Nature had other plans.
For the Men
As a side note, I believe manicure-laden, girlie bike rides interest guys as much as the three-hour Bachelorette Season Finale. If this is you, here are three ways you can get in on the Rockwell Relay action without having a single fingernail painted.
1.Volunteer. Are you a single dude looking for an active lady to love? Quit scoping out local clubs, and get to this relay. The high ratio of women to men puts the odds in your favor, and the event is a gold mine of fit, cycling-obsessed chicks. Be a knight in shining armor and offer to repair broken bikes or give hand massages. Even if you don’t score any digits, you’ll still feel great about doing good.
2. Already taken? Still volunteer! Support your spouse or girlfriend by cheering her on at the finish line and offering to grill burgers at the post-race barbecue.
3. Do a Rockwell of your own at the Moab to St. George Race. Held every June, this 516-mile, four-rider relay is not for the faint of heart. Open to men and women, the tough course will test your mental and physical mettle as you ride three challenging legs through Utah’s backroads and two national parks to reach St. George in less than 48 hours. Sign up at rockwellrelay.com.
Race Day Thrills and Mishaps
Three of my girl friends—Kelly, Melissa, and Courtney—took on the Pamperfest Challenge with me, and our day began with a beautiful sunrise over Snowbasin Resort. With just 86 teams participating, starting line traffic and crowds were minimal. So minimal we almost thought we were in the wrong place!
At races, details count, and Rockwell Relay gets it right. Instead of fliers that you wind up recycling, they stuff packets with useful goods! Each rider receives a Rockwell Relay bag and sticker, PROBAR, and a fitted race tee. Teams also get a bound copy of the Race Bible, team-branded stickers for the back of the car, race bibs, a Rockwell window flag, cowbells, and tiny cards that listed each route’s directions with a bitty map for riders to carry on their bikes (brilliant). A free pancake breakfast seals the deal for this race’s radness. (Yup, I still say rad. Don’t judge.)
The lack of on-course massages was disappointing, but once our first rider got going, we focused on riding hard. Melissa, a newish road-rider, charged through her first leg. Kelly and Courtney took on insanely steep climbs in hot sun. I brought up the rear with a rolling 14.5-miler past Echo reservoir and rock formations. The race spread out fast, with many legs ridden in near solitude, but we loved the fun in occasionally passing others.
At the race’s mid-day exchange, a chocolaty oasis sponsored by Velata and Geigerrig awaited us. Chocolate fondue paired with marshmallows, bananas, and cinnamon bears filled our stomachs, along with cold water to refresh our now warm supply. Pamperfest is self supported, so this mid-day treat came as a delightful surprise. As Kelly rode up Weber Canyon for her unsupported out-and-back, we stayed behind and got polka-dotted manicures from enthusiastic eleven year olds.
But the fun abruptly ended when booming thunder invaded and rain flooded the parking lot. We expected the storm to pass, but as it grew more intense, we knew we had to get Kelly. We loaded the car, getting soaking wet in the process and sped up the canyon as lightning struck around us. We soon found Kelly waiting, drenched, on the road side. The storm continued to rage as we drove down, so we skipped our seventh leg, which included a 1.5-mile dirt (now mud) portion. Competitive teams completed this, even in the torrential downpour. Impressive!
Finish Line Festivities
Our team crossed the Soldier Hollow finish line at 6:30 p.m., 10.5 hours after beginning. By then the rain had subsided, so we stayed for Rockwell’s hopping post-race party. All racers received team photos, inscribed finisher rings, and raffle tickets, and a free barbecue for riders and their supporters kept all from getting hangry. My only suggestion? Veggie burgers!
Though on-course pampering was limited, the post-race treatments were nothing short of spoiling. A full body massage? Yes please. Roll out my tight IT band? Sure! A hand treatment from local spa product purveyor, Salt of the Earth? Yes indeedy. (The Fire and Ice Menthol-infused lotion is sweet relief to sore muscles.) Still not impressed? An adult slip-n-slide offered childhood thrills in a grown-up size.
Plus, the raffle featured plenty of prizes, like jerseys, gift cards, and bowling passes, all provided by race sponsors. Three from our team won—Courtney a lotion, me a case of Vitamin Water, and Kelly the grand prize…a team entry into the Rockwell Relay Moab to Zion Race! I have a feeling that one will require a bit more training!
To sum it up, Pamperfest didn’t go as planned, but races rarely do. I’ve run a fall half marathon in a blizzard, waited in hour-long lines for a bus to a race start (twice), and worn road racing flats at what turned out to be primarily a trail race.
These problems can’t always be prevented, but how a race handles them says a lot. Thankfully, the Rockwell Relay Pamperfest crew rocked their challenges. Plus, their team cares. I saw Race Director, Dan Stewart, helping out all day, aiding an overheated rider and giving others a push start. Other staff members jumped in too, one with a massage certification worked riders’ tired muscles after the race.
So if you’re looking for an all women’s ride/race that’s as relaxing as it is challenging, end your search now. Pamperfest is it. This year’s event has passed, but sign up early for next year at rockwellrelay.com and save big on registration! Or, if you can’t wait until next July, sign up for the new Arizona Pamperfest in May 2013.