As most people in my state of life, we are navigating finding purpose, setting good examples for our kids and finding fulfillment. The struggle between being passionate, following your heart, and the stereotypical millennial or being practical and endorsing logical thinking is real. Luckily, the bike has been an astute vehicle for navigating this dichotomy, one I am lucky to have found.
In the past few years, my time in the saddle has greatly decreased, my ride time reduced to solo bouts of aimless punting, and extended periods of inactivity, this coupled with swim practice, soccer coaching and assigned nights to give the kids showers and tuck them in, activities epic and club rides have been saved for middle age. In the middle of all this, one thing has always still haunted me, one goal still evaded me, the primal desire of every red-blooded, spandex-clad, cyclist on the east coast – complete the Garret County gran fondo – the diabolical doubtless.
With 125miles and about 15,000 feet of climbing, this is a bucket list ride for me. Unlike popular rides in Europe like the maraton etape, with huge coles and extended winding descents, the gcgf offers jagged winches of climbs, screening descents which are over much too quick and in the grand sceme, forgettable. You spent the entire ride feeling the only time you weren’t climbing was while at the rest stop or walking up a climb. Having completed the “grande” option, 100miles, 12,000 feet of climbing, I am familiar with in folklore and experience of the gcgf. I have also failed to complete the double multiple times, always capitulating to the pain and suffering, the first time due to my nemesis – cramps and the second time, a welcomed mechanical.
Last Saturday, I accomplished this goal, inducted into the hall of finishers, this is my account of it (what’d you mean all that was the intro? – heck yeah, a long ride deserves a long intro):
As usual, I’m always intrigued by the visuals at the start of an event. I always use this to gushed how big of a mistake I am making, how out of my depths am I attempting this? What struck me was the general absence of baby-smooth legs, deep wheels and kits so tight , you get hypoxic just looking at it. Save for the occasional triathlete (you can usually tell them by their poor choice in socks or lack of one), the field was filled with mountain men, box rimmed wheels, and hairy legs. There where many middle aged individuals, with visible bellies (nothing wrong with that) and a presence that conveyed a person as comfortable on their bikes as they are handling a riffle.
I missed the start, thanks to my inherent proclivity to African time and saw the group heading out as I was heading to the start line. I was glad to hear salutations from my coach Kevin Ellsworth, former local strongman, Tony Yurko, and the rangy unmistakable figure of Rick Bartlette comfortably sitting on a wheel like the best of them. I swung around and joined the peloton inadvertently missing the activation of my timing chip – not to worry, I was going for finisher not winner, besides where it really counts is strava. My strategy for this ride was simple, keep the power really low and constant, 270W or lower, don’t get out of the saddle unless you absolutely have to, stay hydrated, really rest at the rest stops, do whatever it takes to not get cramps.
The first climb comes about 2 miles into the ride – ASCI, this climb, this formally was the climb to the finish of the event, at 0.6 miles long, and an average grade of 10%, it is no way to start a ride. I still get unfortunate flashbacks of the out-of-body experience I had at the finish of the 2014 gran fondo, where both quads seized up, and a whole scene was made, save for calling the fire dept, a lot of $ was spent on therapy to be able to talk about it today without breaking into cold sweats. I tried to get into a rhythm, muscles stunned by the abrupt demand for more power, I noticed Rick who I had been riding with drop back a bit, Causing me to wonder if I was already going out too hard, but my heart rate was not terribly high and I felt I could give a lot more if I wanted to. I was passing all kinds of people, some with triple chain swing setup, cassettes as big as dinner plates, and those who apparently did not read the details of the event and showed up with what looked to me like 11-26 gearing. Believe it or not, one guy went by me on a single speed bike with flat pedals! I honestly chucked it up to a publicity stunt, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind really looking to complete the ride on that setup. The resulting physical, not to mention emotional damage would be too great. We made it to the top uneventfully and started on the descent – to the next climb. This too was uneventful, save for the flying lady from Ohio, who was really leaning it over, picking some great lines and visibly having fun. Like the silent assasin that he is, Rick appears from no where on my wheel, subliminally willing me to pedal a bit harder.
We hit white rock, the next significant climb, another grueling slug! All warmed up by now, I was able to get in my trusty 30-32 and attempt to spin. With legs the size of baby whales, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a cadence of anything above 77rpm. Switching to shorter 172.5mm cranks has helped, but when the going gets going, I resort to my trusted approach of Jeremy Clakson’s POWER and pay the price later. I was able to pass a few people on this one and showed a lot of restraint not to push and pass more, it was obvious though that everyone was still quite fresh. On this climb I noticed a few “brothers” too. The past few years I have done this, I have not been seen a lot of minority riders (of which there are many) partake in this suffering, so I made a mental not to chat with him when gravity was of a friendlier disposition. For the entire ride, my bike computer was set to display, Power, Cadence, Heart rate and Normalized Power. I had no interest in knowing how far I had gone, what grade I was currently on, how much time I had ridden or how much I had left. I only wanted to keep pedaling and for Mary sake avoid cramps! On the decent the ghost Rick assumed the familiar position on my wheel, and during a lull in the action told me something that changed my ride and possibly helped me finish.