It was 8 years ago and I walked into the American embassy full of trepidation greeted by many people a lot of them my age who shared the same feeling. We were nice and friendly to each other but deep down we knew there was a significant chance we would not be leaving the place with an American Visa. Instead of the customary goodbye you hear when leaving someone the most prevalent words were “good luck: when you were called up for your interview. At the top of Wisp mountain the feeling was very similar, we were there to try to have fun but it was obvious if you did have fun it would be at a price.
Unlike all other races/big rides I have done (which is not very much by the way), it was surprising to see during my mandatory checkout session (when I count out how many people weigh over 200lbs and have bikes that cost less than $2000, do not have shaved legs) that there was a very diverse mix of people there. The was the customary lance Armstrong people with matching kits and wear their glasses outside their helmet straps, the triathletes with time trial bikes and bikinis for jerseys, the Clydesdales with quad twice the size mine, some who seemed to together with their bikes weigh less when me and everything in between, It was quite an unintimidating atmosphere as long as you ignore the HR exploding elevation profile handed to you during registration.
The ride started off very nicely, newly paved road down the wisp mountain and 300 riders plummeting down traffic-less roads, it felt like a professional race save for the missing team cars, escorts, officials and riders highly trained in picking and holding their lines. After riding the brakes for what seemed like a mile for fear of running into the other tentative descenders I decided to let my wheels roll, embrace gravity and gave my brakes a break (pun?), I was upfront when we hit the first short climb then a couple miles of rolling terrain till we started up White Rock. I would compare White Rock to climbing up the back side of rocky gap road (the tar and chip side) just longer. It was not terrible but did good to start warming up the legs.
Everyone was pretty together and it showed that most of this people did know what they signed up for. The decent was awesome bar some shaded area which made it hard to see any portholes and slow people in front who either do not know or had not mastered the (outside-inside-outside) way of taking a corner but this was all rather without incident. It was beautiful to see what you could of the landscape but there was also a lot of Fog that made you feel like you were climbing into the clouds (I sort of imagined myself riding in Colorado without the Altitude sickness).The first rest stop was pleasant where it was nice to see more familiar faces, John Waugaman took my Jacket and I saw some LFM tri team members.
The climb out after the first Rest Stop Old Morgantown road was Wellesburg mtn only longer it also had a lot of false summits and not really top out till you crossed over the interstate. Another sweet decent with a couple hairy switchbacks thrown in to keep you awake in case you were getting bored or wising you up if you decided to do this ride on a Tri bike. There were a couple of short climbs from here to the second rest stop: My initial plan was to try and sit on as many wheels as I can conserving energy but the ride was just a ribbon on continuous uphills et downhills where I had to ride my pace on fast downhills on which I was faster than most people around me, I promptly came to the conclusion this will be nothing like Seagull where there was constantly trains of pacelines going by “Hommie you are on your own”. The last climb before rest stop 2 Devils Half acre I would compare to a shorter but slightly steeper Martins mountain. This is where my cramps began to appear, not terribly but I know I had to start drinking .a lot!
We (me, Ron Kessler and Steve) survived till we got to Bowmans Hill. In my opinion this was the hardest climb on the ride, pretty much Tucey without the turns, starts out with a shallow section then a brief break, two consecutive steep sections and finally another easier section. I would tell you what the grade was but I turned off my bike computer after the second climb after it said I still had over 9000 ft of climbing. The cramps were getting worse now and I just kept drinking, eating and massaging on the down hills. The most frightening climb on paper was called Killer Miller but I was not impressed, It was a decent climb but it is just like the last climb before the long downhill on our Road Kill café ride, the name escapes me. Waiting at the top of the ride was Steve’s support crew who felt it appropriate to have some Miller beer at the top of Miller.
We had some beer and I geared up for the decent. This was the greatest anticlimax ever! There was none we pretty much rolled down a little but did a bunch more climbing then came to the rest stop.
After the rest stop we had an awesome decent. This was by far the longest decent I have done ever. It was just steady, smooth and scenic it felt like the downhill from Wellesburg to Palo Alto where I earned my infamous name (Pillow man). I also got to sit on some wheels in this section. I started getting worried when we had been descending for what seems like 6miles (what goes down must come up), the field was so scattered now that there’s were no other riders besides us. After enjoying this ride, we started the longest climb of the day; I am not sure of the amount but it felt like forever. I was on the fence the whole time between doing ok and cramping up. I would eat a Jell and get relieve for 10mins then it would come back and I would do it again, it was torture, about 300yards to the top of the climb, I could only stand and pedal, is I sat down my quads would cramp up. I made it to the top and we were on the home stretch.
When we got to lakeshore my cramping was beginning to hold the guys back so I told them to go. Ron asked if I was sure I could make it and I said I would be fine. He said it should be only about 10 miles left and was corrected by Steve that we only had 4 miles left. That news sent the most potent shot of adrenal cocktail into my system and an extra spring in my pedal stoke .. it did not last . We hit the Wisp climb and I told myself ..Mandela, your wife, son and friends are going to be somewhere on this mountain Thou shall not walk your bike no matter the pain”. Half way up the climb there is a cheering committee and traffic on both sides so slaloming the climb was out of the question, you had to go straight up, half way in I got the most massive cramps I have ever had, both quads contracted and seized up, it was like I came out of my body and watched myself key over, people came up to me asked if there’s anything they could do but I wasn’t sure so I just shook my head and wallowed in the pain. I got up got back on, they gave me a push which was awesome and I crept up the climb.
I could now barely see Wheelmen Jerseys and the finish line, one of the passer bys said “almost there, sprint for it” in my mind I was saying “Buddy there will be no sprinting today” with encouragement from the wonderful wheelmen I crossed the line then proceeded to make a scene. My legs cramped up X5, I could not bend them or even get off the bike, people surrounded me and I felt like I was slipping out of consciousness (ok not that bad) but I really wanted to cry, maybe did a little. I think I have earned the right to quit one bike ride in this calendar year.
Thanks to the awesomeness of the wheelmen and family, I am able to enjoy a sport I would not have even considered 3 years ago. These are the types of things that should be on my Bucket list I need to slowdown or else I would have to put more senseless things like jumping off an airplane because I have done all the other cool things so young. I know this was long, just wanted those that did not ride it to get a sense of what they missed and know that there will always be next year. I think besides one more team, it seemed like the wheelmen jersey was the most prevalent I saw
Until the next ride .
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