Deep Creek Lake Group Ride

There is something comforting in the familiar hum of a paceline, the click and clanking sound of shifts as it gets copied down the line, the ticking hum of freewheels as passangers coast buffeted by the rider in front, wheather you are the driver eating the wind highly motivated by the fact that your work is literally pulling a string of fellow riders in your wake or the guy sitting in the back barely hanging on and dreading his turn in the wind there still exist that assurance that comes with being in the line. Today I was reminded of how much I love group riding better yet in the group amongst whom I experienced my very first paceline.

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Usually I am the late guy or should I say one of the late guys to the group ride. I either show up late or go to the wrong meeting point so my plan was to break that streak, a greater motivator however was that this group of late has been going wheels up right at the posted time and I sure did not want to have to try and find them if I got left behind so I got there early – a little too early. I got there an hour early and watched the group trickle in, after minor fat chewing we were off.

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Ride starts with a fast descent down Chestnut Ridge road for about half a mile then veers right unto Meadow Lake Dr a short steep climb that hit about 12% at one point… great way to warm up I might add…Not! I was at the tail of the group and quite impressed with the speed with which the group went up that climb even without any significant warmup. We made a couple turns going through quiet country roads typical of Garrett county, most of the houses built to provide the best views of the valley or hillside they face. We rode through fields just cultivated, farms with the cows ignoring us while performing morning libations and ablutions, we rode by hay fields with the rolled up bales AKA golden circles so close you can touch them. The smell of life lived at a slower pace was in the air with a hint of cow manure on some sections of the road.

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Otto Lane was the first regrouping spot, here also Rich Bartlette another perpetual group ride late-comer (actually the sets the standard in tardiness) and also happens to be the resident group route diverter. I am not sure if all groups have a Rick who always seems to want to change the route and pick one that goes just a “little” further and climbs just a “little” higher? His knowledge of local routes though is amazing so if you have the legs it is always a much more rewarding ride to jump on the Rick option – If you have the legs or extra gears… Rick catches us here and the first break away of the day is established.

At the head of the ride now is Rick, Richard, myself and Brian (neo transplant from Ocean City Maryland – flatlander). We layout a steady pace swooping through the wide turns and maintaining a high cadence through the shallow rolling hills, all of us but Brian have a 11-28 cassette or higher, Brian had a 11-25…around here you are either really strong and showing off to ride that, suicidal or unfortunate but Brian was able to hang on to the group till the last climb Maynardier Hill before the regroup point where gravity greatly exceeded available cadence and VAM for him. He clawed his way back to second regroup spot.

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The rest of the group trickled in and we listened to Richard and Rick compare which of their posts was longer, enlighten us on the things women look for in a man (apparently that he rides a bike is number one) and some other life lessons all in all it was the most educationally stimulating rest stop I think I have ever had on a bike ride anyways. We head out and Brian elects the stay with the group but I look back to see Tom and Scott sit in for a little bit then back off. I figure this is going to be the A group today only to see the resident mountain goat John who also just bought a new bike silently infiltrates the group. We turn onto Maynardier Rd and enjoy the shaded empty road then take a Ricktor (Rick’s Detor) onto Foy road a small beautifully shaded climb. The weather today was just perfect mid 70’s, slightly overcast with the occasional solar spurt and light breeze. At the top Rick gives the signal for pace line (rotating index finger pointing downward) calling for 30second pulls, it was one of the better paclines I have been on this year though I had to lobby to sit behind the 6.3″ Rick as opposed to the significantly “smaller” other guys John and Richard.

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We rode this to Subway in Deepcreek where the group had lunch

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After lunch we headed to US 219 N towards Bear Hill Rd and as expected there would be some ricktors on the return leg of this ride. I put in a plea to Rick that I was looking for an increase in distance and not necessarily elevation he said ok and I prayed he meant it. I  was already experiencing some “lunch legs” which was quickly shaken off once we were on Rock Lodge road, (the best part of the Gran Fondo as you are about 95 miles into a 102 mile ride and it’s relatively flat). About a mile into this stretch Rick had to adjust his breaks, any other good person would wait but I put down the hammer a little just so we tire him out a little and he doesn’t decide to guide us up Bowmans or some other ridiculous climb like Killer Miller or something…I don’t think he had too much trouble latching back on. We rolled all the way to Springs Md where I was ready to head back in.

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The final stretch from Springs to Chestnut Ridge road was beautifully rural. John showed us the farmers marker and site of the fall Springs festival, there were beautiful banked switchback turns and a dirt road section. I was beginning to suffer but the climbs did not exceed 5% and the group was moving at a accommodating pace, we were moving at a high enough clip that a very nice draft was still available, we crossed a closed bridge where I found $10 on the floor, I turned it into the nearest police station…I mean gas station. We turned onto Rt 40 which was the final climb up… This climb was exposed  and one too many for me. I got dropped when Rick whose wheel I was sitting on put in an unexpected might I add unnecessary surge (I think he intentionally tried to drop me). I lost contact, shifted into my easiest gear and limped back in.

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I met with the rest of the group for ice cream before we disbanded. This was an incredibly unbelievable ride. Before we started the day Silvester the fearless leader of our ride today told me “This is a  “Heads-up” ride, if you sit in the drops and power through it you have missed the point. It was a beautiful ride that I felt it was fast enough and I truly experienced and shared it with friends.

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Garett County Gran Fondo 2013 Part II

This is my ride report from this ride in 2013 check out Part I

After making that turn things started to go downhill pretty quickly. I was loosing fluids way faster than i was replenishing them, I hung with the group comprising of Ed, Joe and the Tri team for most of this leg but  both quads were beginning to cramp severely. We come up on a detour giving the option so stay on blacktop  which was the official course or a 3 mile double track fire road detour saving about 3 miles, the group began to weigh their options: Stay on the black top and avoid a flat or go on the double track with the shorter distance, the question i was asking was “which option has less elevation gain”? Three of us choose to go off road and the rest continued on the road. The downside of riding a road bike on singletrack is the loss of traction when you climb standing this could be compared to having your scoop of ice cream fall off the cone, disappointing putting in all that work and loosing it to tire spins. I could not sit and pedal because my quads were cramping and I could not stand because my back wheel kept spinning out…quite frustrating. I got off and walked up half the climb.

Back on the road, it rurned into rolling hills, the type of rolling hills with more ups than downs. Usually this is the type of terrain in which I excel because I can gain good speed on the downhill and stand up and power over the rise, in this case however I was seriously hindered in the powering up department, any attempt at a quick out the saddle burst was met with quad cramps (more from the right than the left…tore my left ACL 6 years ago still favor my right and do the most work with my right). This section to reststop #4 should be coined the valley of heartbreak (its definitely no a valley though). It constantly had crests which you would expect some sort of downhill on the backside only to be greeted with another climb, my triceps and neck were now also cramping, I guess from supporting my body weight on the bars and holding my above average sized head. I was slowly getting in trouble and I knew it in economic terms this was becoming an unsustainable investment. I kept trying to drink and eat with no lasting benefit I had already used up my 2nd, 3rd and 4th wind, I was now in overtime and suffering bad!…

Half way into this section, I was pretty much walking up all the hills and riding down any negative slope. The funny thing is my legs still had some climbing in them but I was just tired, my muscles were not really doing all the work… my will was, I had to tell myself to keep going. I would tell myself to just keep spinning but the moment I looked up and saw what was ahead it zapped every motivation I had just conjured and I would have to dismount and walk. Even with all this walking, I was still catching the group after the downhills so I figured I was not doing so terribly. If I could just get to the rest stop, there are 2 more great climbs and I was home. Just then I started hearing this rattle from my drivetrain every time I went over some rough road like something was loose, I kept looking down trying to figure out what the problem was. Joe kept promising me we would get to a section from which it was a 7 mile decent to Westernport. We had some decent lenght decents but I mever really saw the 7 miles of downhill…Dang Liar..

We finally hit Westernport where I stopped at the Subway stumbled in and sign languaged for a Coke… Oh the best coke I had ever had reminded me of my Aunt Nneka’s roasted bush rabbit (dont as me why or Why). I hit the rest stop laid down and asked for the mechanic. The mechanic arrived and all i could see were the bike racks on his car and the empty backseat oh how i would love to rack my bike and SAG in but i cant, I had come too far.

After what seemed like forever, I hit the road with the mechanic claiming to have not found any issues. I started the long climb out of Westernport, It was a gradual climb which I just slowly churned out,I mean really slowly like I climb Tuscey way faster than that, Like 5mph slowly, I was in the greyzone (no one in front or behind. Having told my companions to go on without me, I rode for maybe 4 miles and could not take the gradual dessimation of my legs anymore, I got off and walked for maybe half a mile then got back on. At the top, I was happy to see Ed he had waited for me, he was also suffering but not nearly as badly as I was. We rode together for maybe 100yards and my respiratory system suddenly imploded, I was really dehydrated now walking in the sun that long and not drinking enough was catching up to me, it took so much to raise my bottle up to drink or even hold my head up Im sure I looked like the dejected prodigal son. I dismounted and walked some more.

I walked maybe 2 miles up the one switched back climb, every 5 mins I would get the urge to get back on the bike and pedal but I just could not bring myself to do it, people kept passing me. My only indication of how long the climb was the tree line on either sides of the road, I knew when I was at the same level as the highest trees I was at the top, I was walking so slowly my Garmin actually kept going into auto pause a setting I had to give an accurate average speed on group rides with a lot of breaks. After about 20 mins I reached the top, pulled out my silver bullet (no not a cell phone dufus!) I had 2 tablets of xtra strength Alieve, 2 jells and 4 Sport legs tablets, I downed all of them and drank some water, at this point I was becoming afraid of ODing (overdose) on salt tablets. This gave me some strenght and I hammered the road Randolph Jennings lake area. It was almost impossible to get over 19mph but I was moving and feeling better untill I randomly dropped the chain…Off the big ring I thought? I was like ohh well.

ATTRITION
I finally hit the last climb before the Kitsmiller Rest stop, I knew if I could make it to the top then suffer up the last climb I would be ok as I had already resolved to walk all the way up the ASCI hill, there’s no way I was making that one. I decided to walk a bit first, get my HR down and then ride up the rest. When I finally remounted, the first pedal dropped the chain off the small ring to the inside…hmmm. I dismounted reset the chain and tried again … the same thing. I thought maybe cable stretch went down to a smaller gear tried again… same thing. All this bending down to reset the chain was taking it out of me. I walked some more thinking I would try again in a not so steep section… well it just kept getting steeper. The first SAG pulls by and asks if I need SAGGED I said NO! I asked how many people were behind me and he said he did not know but not many, I kept going determined to finish this Damn thing and also vowing to never attempt it again. Another SAG came by and asked if I needed SAGGED I declined again though I could see his eyes were begging me to accept.

This part of the ride tested me to my core, every thing in me wanted to quit. Up till now I had not once looked at my Garmin for distance or elevation only time and speed, It was 5:30 and I had 30 miles to go, the road was empty and these cars kept buzzing me. thoughts of walking up into ELK Garden alone, at dark, with the Deliverance sound track being played on Banjos kept crossing my mind seems like all he other black riders were smart enough to know to do the Century, I guess if I’m captured I’ll tell them Im a decendant of the Hartfields who absconded to Africa during the Hartfield and McCoy wars… I attempted to climb again but my chain just was’nt staying on, I then attempted to climb in the big ring but my legs would not turn over so tall a gear. I keep walking just as the SAG comes back again. I ask him if he can give me a ride to the top of the climb, he declines claiming to only be able to SAG me to the next rest stop which I don’t understand since it was not a timed section, neither was this really a race so I told him I would keep walking. I asked how much longer on the climb and he said at least a mile. I watched the guy who had just passed me cramp and get off and start pushing, he also declined a SAG.

At this point I had to be honest with myself, there is no finishing this ride without my small ring which had for what ever reason decided to keep bucking the chain. I had a couple conversations with myself..I said I would just set a target and tell myself if I could just pedal that far and when I got there move the target again…My brain was quick to point out that I could not really be stupid enough to try to trick my own self in this present situation was I. I agreed and scrapped that plan promptly. My brain then went on to rob it in by asking me why I thought I needed to do this stupid ride in the first place… For the millionth time it said YOU ARE NOT A CLIMBER! Accept it, embrace it, deal with it… like a child being chastised by his wise parent I concurred and vowed to stick with the century. The plan then was to get to KItzmiller and sadly SAG home. It took me about 45 minutes to get up that climb, I could hardly pedal down it. I was spent, my body, mind, soul, spirit were all totally broken. I reached the aid station and sat next to the guy who had a trash bag over him as well as a jacket and blanket, he was seriously dehydrated (he’s from DC)I chuckled a little when I saw him… not fair I know. His wife had just come to get him. I asked if I could get a ride and she happily obliged. For the first time that day I looked at my Garmin which said 99.75 miles…REAALLY!!? I considered pedaling around to even it up but the thought of sitting on that saddle was by now nauseating so I hit stop and held down Redet to save the data.

You know at the end of the day i am not sure what lesson to glean from this experience. I think what stands out the most is to know your limit, I’m am not certain I would have been able to finish barring any mechanicals, even if I would have I would have been utterly miserable, I truly feel the century is enough for me. I still do love the event, I think it is very well organized and will only grow. It is an awesome avenue for camaraderie and inspiration (Ellie, Sue, Donna, Paul definitely Denise)! I hope to be able to complete this race over and over again.
OK to be honest there is every chance I will attempt this again next year because my Ego is a tiny bit bigger than my Brain.

Much thanks to Donna for the hospitality and Gail for the company.

Peace and Speed

Garett County Gran Fondo 2013 Part I

I just finishd my third attempt of the Garrette county gran fondo. I am still working on that ride report but I’m just going to share my report from 2013.
Note: this was mainly written for members of an intimate bike club

So sometimes we face difficulties, sometimes physical many times mental. In some cases we feel close to our breaking point, close to our limit, to the point where there is no conceivable means of reprise or solace, the point where the only logical, the only feasible option is to throw our hands up and just give up. In this case there was always a way to quit, just stop pedaling but this test was not just physical or mental…it was both. I have seen some Discovery channel “I should not be alive” shows and it always struck me how emotional the survivors were when narrating their experience, retelling the saga was in essence reliving the experience I feel the same way. The Diabolical Double strips away layers of yourself; your muscles, your mind, your will and finally you are propelling your machine solely will power. To some the Gran Fondo was a mental challenge, a custom or a fun hard ride to this guy (me) it was a trial by fire… More accurately trial by elevation gained
Saddle up

The ride started with the customary evaluation of fellow riders and mandatory bike gawking/lusting. From my experience honed in stereotypes and an overactive imagination I scientifically deduced that this crowd today was mainly made of three groups: The Triathlete group most of whom had areo bars, deep rimmed wheels and bottle holders behind their saddle, half of them looked like misplaced models, junkies and jockeys the other looked like fit trim athletic folk. Then there was the mountain men, these people mostly weighed over 150 lbs, had hairy legs and looked as strong as an ox Morgantown like people…you could just tell they could climb. Finally, there was the adrenaline junkie or more appropriate the Lactic acid junkies: that’s the flat landers who choose to opt for the more subtle form of self mutilation to appease their sadistic desire for torture. In that mix also was me someone who was not quite sure why I was doing this. Last year I knew it was for the challenge and to see how much I could push myself, this year however with less than 1000 miles in my legs, 10 lbs heavier than last year and at least 40 hrs less sleep I was going to attempt to find that thin line that separates my desire from my will.

Once the whistle blew, it was off to 7 miles of downhill bliss. I hooked up with the senior citizens power rangers squad (Rick, Rich, Tony and Richard) who I rode with for maybe a mile then I figured I best leave these guys before the grade started moving in the positive direction so I let my breaks breath and was hitting 56mph in no time down the east side of ASCI. The temperature was already in the low 70s at 7:12am so I knew I was in for a long hot day. We hit a flat sections and I started enforcing the rules of discipline I had come up with: Don’t be too anxious to grab a wheel and drink both bottles between each rest stop. Once we hit the first climb White Rock all you could hear was the orchestra of people’s respiratory systems making the adjustment from coasting downhill to hitting a 7% grade. Today was going to be fun. Rick appears next to me and I stayed on his pace, we zig-zaged around slower riders and those who were clearly out of their comfort zone, maybe they mistook this for the seagull century or lost a bet. For me however , Clyds in the mountains…this is what its all about. We steadily pass people all the way to the summit, I looked down and smiled at my newly installed compact crank, one climb down 1000 more to go. It is mostly rolling hills all the way to the first rest stop.

Now. Down to Buisness!
After filling up my bottles, eating some pretzels, downing some endurolytes and socializing a but I hit the road again. The next climb Old Morgantown Road I knew starts almost immediately and was a long one. I knew it does not really let up until you cross the interstate and then it just turns into a long section of false flats. This section was the genesis of my demise last year and I was determined to ride smarter this time. We turned onto the climb and bid the power rangers adieu, settled into a nice cadence and tried to find a good rhythm. On this section last year it was still cool (mid sixties maybe) the sun was beginning to peek out and the mountain was covered in dew. It felt like we were climbing into the clouds. This time however it was already scorching hot, being that this was a very exposed climb and my skin color does not only cause everyone to assume I’m a Democrat but also tends to absorb more of the suns rays…I was already sweating a storm half way up the climb. This climb was littered with riders with bikes at various stages of disrepair from flat tires to busted derailers. I asked most if they were ok and if they needed anything. Random Thought: (the truth is that most times in these situations the helpee really doesn¡¦t want you talking to him as he is already peeved off by the mechanical and the helper still asks if he can render any help knowing full well that he really would rather continue with his ride undisturbed as well as conscious of the fact that there’s is a 95% chance the helpee will say “I’m ok thanks” I know people are just being courtsious but coming from someone who has been the helpee a lot don’t talk to me unless I ask for your help Sorry still amped from Saturday. Please always offer assistance especially if you are a TA (Trail Ambassador).
I submit the climb and start winding down to the next climb that ends at rest stop #2. I remember this exact place/time last year…the site of the first cramp. I’m trying to lie to myself but the fact is I’m beginning to feel the beginnings of some cramps in my right quad, not nearly as bad as last year but I definitely feel warning of what is to come. I chug some more Heed take a couple salt tablets, eat a banana and chant the phrase I came to repeat many times that day “At least I don’t feel as bad as I did at this point last year” the word YET! was apparently missing from that statement unbeknownst to me.

I spun up that climb and into the rest stop where I was met by many friendly faces. I saw John Waugaman, Less, Rick, Rich, Tony, Joes McCaude, and Garth your friendly neighborhood Strava segment stealer. While getting ready to hit the road again, a random lady came up to me and asked how I was doing, I held the conversation as I tried to figure out how I knew her. She saw the confusion in my eyes and went on to tell me she remembered me from rolling on the floor at the finish line last year and conveyed her sincere desire and heart felt request that I try not to traumatize her children who were there last year. I was embarrassed (my dad named me Mandela after a man who was popular for fighting for his people’s freedom at the cost of 27 years in prison but I am being remembered as the big black guy rolling in agony at the end of a bicycle ride). I promised her I would do my best and peddled into the beast to come… (Have to be a but dramatic)

My legs were feeling a lot better after some stretching, I had also hooked up with Ed and the local Tri team members, we hit Bowman and I was feeling strong, Joe told me Rick and Rich were just ahead and I could catch them if I tried, I told him I did not want to. The Bowman climb could be broken down into 3 sections each progressively steeper but shorter as you went. I easily crested the first section, then hit the second, the signage on the floor ironically brought a smile to my face because it was quite appropriate; it read SUFFERING with a forward pointing arrow. The next sign read AGONY then I heard music. I looked up and saw a van with what seemed like the WMW logo then I recognized the faces of Angels º, Kate was one of them, they encouraged me and I kept moving came up on Agony section which was about a 12% I believe, Ray was right there and encouraged me up. At the top, I ate a banana, took some more salt pile (probably number 10 by now) and drank some more. The next climb was Devils Half Acre which I took my time up and then Killer Miller¡K the beginning of the end. I felt like this would be a good time to pick my battle to I climbed off and walked the steepest section (less than 5 min walk). The course then continues to climb a bit then sharply drops into the 3rd rest stop.

At this stop I took my shoes off, doused myself with some water and laid down for 5 mins, I stood up to get a drink to returned to a gentleman who had been standing around before me had taken my spot in the shade. He apologized and offered to move but I told him it was ok, I was on my way out. I asked if he was continuing and he said he had reached his limit and was waiting for the SAG. I asked where he was not from and he said he was from New York City. I said this isn¡¦t no 5 Boroughs ride is it? He concurred with an exhausted smile. He said he had trained hard for this ride but Hill repeats is nothing compared to this monstrosity¡Kaint that the truth. We wished him luck and were off.

Downhill to the sign where life was about to change. At this junction the sign said left for 125 miles and right for 100. Ed asked what I wanted to do I said Left or bust… That my friends is where I crossed into the cave of agony¡K Part II coming up after my next round of therapy¡K
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Race Report: Big Bear 2×12 Part II

This is part II of the race we did last week, if you are late to the party checkout Part I here

it is funny how difficult it can sometimes be to rest when you are exhausted not sure what chemical malfunction of the body is responsible for that but I think Lactic acid, Adrenaline and Caffeine in unfriendly proportions might have something to do with it.  After my first lap, I soft pedaled to our basecamp and drank a Gatorade, coke, water, another Gatorade and another coke then laid down to take a nap but I guess the aroma emanating from me summoned this flesh eating flies to a feast. I aborted that plan and headed over to chat with Danny (a teammate in a different Duo who was recovering from his first effort also) and another racer evangelizing the benefits of Beet juice as a recovery beverage even offering us a trial to which we declined (don’t try something new on race day, definitely not half way into the race). All this while it never occurred to me that I did not note the time I got back in so I could not tell what time I should start heading back to the exchange tent to pick up from Ron.

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After reclining for about an hour, I refilled my bottle, lubed my chain just as Jason came in from his lab. He helped me fix my limit screw availing me with my bailout gear which I had avoided since my last mishap. On the issue of a bottle, It seems almost crazy to use a bottle and not a pack in such a technical course. It was also very difficult to drink, I thought of wearing a hydration pack but I do not see any of the cool guys use one so I decided to go with a bottle, well for one thing the trail was littered with bottles so I guess these guys are either pros who discard their bottles after drinking or were having trouble like me riding over baby-head sized rocks while trying to fit our bottles in the cage.up and headed to the exchange tent to look at the leaderboard where I discovered we had dropped to 2nd in our class. Usually the faster guy goes out first but in the case of the current leading team, their second guy was faster… A lot Faster…’ My first lap was done in 1:25 and this guy did it in 1:19, at this point this team was on their third lap and Ron was nowhere to be found. I was about to resign myself to the fact that he must have had a mechanical, a crash or both when he pulls in doing it in 1:30

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I headed out on my final lap feeling quite composed and cognizant of what was to come, I carefully threaded my way through pretty much all the rock gardens I had previously had trouble with. I passed 3 or 4 guys and 2 girls on the climbs and was feeling solid, I tried to go at a hair just below race pace but was brought to face the impotence of even my race pace when I got passed by a couple of the Expert class riders (those guys do not even coast, their cadence on the flats was higher than mine going downhill). Through the Pine section (a section of the trail that meanders through a grove of pine trees with the floor completely covered in pine needle giving it a cushiony feel). I get passed by a lady on a FS bike and in my head I make excuses why I am not that fast (her nice bike, her weight, her shaved legs etc.) The fact though is she was a far stronger rider than I am  but she was for me a rabbit to chase I knew I would not catch but I pushed to keep her in sight as long as I could (I didn’t last very long).

I got to the baby head monster down hill section and this was the beginning of the end. Prior to this section I was confident I was on a 1:17 pace but it just seemed like my body had taken such a beating from all the rocks it was difficult to flow through the trails, pick/hold lines or crank out any significant power. I was squeezing the break so hard down this DH section I had to stop and shake them out a little at the bottom. At one section, after I let go of the breaks, my fingers were locked in place and I could not relax them…I was thinking this must be how all this people with Arthritis feel.

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From mile 10 it was pretty much a climb in, I believe I officially bonked on this section, I kept praying and asking God to keep me from any mechanicals or crashes till the finish line, I definitely did not have the energy o will to deal with either.. It took everything in me not to get off and walk on the climb out, I totally fell off my original pace and thought I was going to finish in 1:40 if I were lucky…At this point, the 12 year old kid passed me and said…good job men (at least he didn’t call me big guy). I managed to crawl in in 1:30 five minutes slower than my first lap . Ron had a solid first lap but we were unable to dethrone the other team now, it was not even close, their fast guy did it in 1:15.

We were happy with 2nd place and figure even if we don’t race again this season we have earned it….

Race Report: Big Bear 2×12 Hazelton WV Part I

It seems there is something about competition that is quasi-primeval in humans, once there is more than one participant even the most mundane things intended to be leisurely or collaborative become competitions. This is evident in group rides, professional work where team members begin to compete and even sabotage, government…even church. Competition seems to be everywhere and it is GREAT! It incites passion, it kindles effort, it bids effort and provides motivation, I love to compete. The good thing however is that I believe I am a good sportsman andan awesome loser.

Having said that, since the arrival of Adaeze my competition itch has been competitive eating against myself (I always win) or largely ignored to the chagrin of the local bike shops (most of my bike racing comprise mainly of physical turmoil and mechanical mishap). Earlier this week I get a call from my buddy asking if I wanted to do the Big Bear 2×12 race: a relay race in WV where teams of 2 race 2 12 mile laps (Expert class races 3 laps) to which I said yes. Now I have been logging some decent miles this year though nothing like last year, I have also been on the mountainbike only 4 times this year so I figured this was going to be interesting.

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Now Big Bear lake trails is a super technical trail system stewed with drops, rock gardens and tight singletrack ideal for a full suspension MTB which I do not have of course, I have a Giant XTC 29er hardtail running a 1×9 drivetrain, everything else stock.

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The drive up there was uneventful… beautiful but uneventful, right before you cross into West Virginia, you could see the morning sun burning off all the fog creating almost a celestial backdrop. We picked up our registration packages and headed up to meet the rest of the team. Ron starts setting up while I relaxed and work on my tan, Next thing I hear is 15 MINS TO REACESTART…( our strategy was for me to start since I am the faster of the two of us and for Ron to keep us in a good position or at least slow the competition down by plugging up the trail). Ron’s advice as I headed to the start line was  Don’t start in the rear, be confident -go out strong so you  don’t get held up behind the slow guys… I should never have listened to that…

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The Prolog was up a gravel road climb for about a 0.7mile section, I settled in the middle of the pack and went out full-gas at the whistle. All classes started out together so as expected the experts pretty much disappeared once the whistle sounded while the fast sport guys started pulling away. I got to the position where I was just at the tail end of the fast guys and I figured this was where I wanted to be. My heart rate was pretty much at that point right before you consider going to the ED (I’m thinking cause you Ron for your terrible advice), we headed right into the singletrack and oh my was it a technical singletrack. I passed a couple people and ran into this rock gumbo of a technical section – of the 600 so miles I have ridden this year about 580 have been on the road coupled with the fact that I have never really been good at technical riding or line selection, I am more of a -point and shoot- kindda guy so my choice of gear (drivetrain) selection was less than perfect. I stalled on the first rock garden being in too tall a gear to power over the rocks, having too much air in my fork and tire hence a really rigid front end, I kept stalling on every technical section (there was a lot of them) having to dismount and walk around them, this resulted in my HR never quite dropping.  I kept getting passed all this while with people giving the customary “Are you ok”? salutation as they zoom by ( I truly wonder if they would really stop and help if I said I wasn’t, I’m not sure I would)

I stopped, took a deep breath and said to my self “Mandela get in a rhythm” so I got back on the bike and started slow like I usually do and originally planned to before sage Ron gave me his false oracle. At this point I could not see any other racers so I still had to remind myself this was a race and I needed to push. At about mile 6 I could see a group ahead, my legs were beginning to feel better so I cranked a little harder, dug a little deeper. I would close in on the group on the climbs but it seemed at the crest of every climb was a little technical rock arrangement designed just for me, I would stall me and they would get away from me but I will claw back to them on the climb (obviously we all must have been really slow if I was catching them on the climbs). On the climb I was the closest to them I hear this huge clank in my drive train, look down and my chain has shifted behind my cassette and lodged in there (limit screw adjustment), I yank on it a couple times then pull the wheel off and reseat the chain (this results in my being passed by another group of riders including a 12 year old yes 12 year old and he will pass me again but I am getting ahead of myself). I remount chase and quickly pass this group calling out “passing on the right/left” You know there should be a universal etiquette for passing during a MTB race, heck there could be one and I don’t know about it, it just seems like whenever I am trying to get out of the way of a faster rider or vise versa  we always end up trying to go on the same side resulting in both of us slamming on the breaks…

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The big downhill was next and being my Clydesdale self I bombed down if with a couple close calls, one time going off a drop, I could not decide if I wanted to air it out over the ledge or gingerly roll down it so gravity decided for me sending me in a sideways orientation- I am not sure how I saved that one. I crawled up the last 2 miles certain I was last by this time by the time I got there. The timing tent was at the buttom of this steep bridge which of course I was in the wrong gear when I got up to. I crawled to the top and gracelessly handed over my baton to Ron and apologized for my time… He said you did well we are leading. I had don’t it in a 1:25mins fastest in the Clydesdale class.

Part II soon…

 

Garrett County Gran Fondo 2012 Race Report

With the 2014 iteration  of the Garett County Gran Fondo coming up June 21-22 where you climb for a cause. This is my ride report from 2012, I plan on also sharing those for 2013.

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!

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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.

At the top of Miller, Before the worst ever descent... EVER!!!

At the top of Miller, Before the worst ever descent… EVER!!!

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.

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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….
Allez Allez Allez

Ride Report Abuja, Nigeria II

It was clear there existed a hierarchy in the group, the foreign expats just stood and watch clearly now accustomed to the “African Time” approach to setting off, their patience was actually enviable as they watched group mechanic try to change a tire.
So this guy shows up with a mountain bike and a flat tire and group mechanic immediately swings into action. He takes off the wheel and calls someone on their way there to bring him a tube. I ask what the cause of the leak was if it was a puncture or a pinch, this gave me an opportunity to educate them on what a pinch looks like versus a puncture. As it turns out, they changed the same tire the last week and used CO2 to air it up so obviously it was down after a week and really did not have a hole in it. So amazingly for the first time I had more mechanical knowledge than anyone else in a group….Scary I know.

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Group Mechanic AKA Fast Guy

I tried to start a conversation with the Oyibo (Nigeria for white people, we also call African Americans “Akata” Nigerian 101) but they seemed a little stand offish, I could however tell one was English, another Flemish (I believe that’s northern Belgium) and the last guy was clearly American. After some small talk, I guess I passed their security clearance or sometime he told me he was from North Carolina and had a son who attempted going to Garrett College but could not handle the cold. He had been out of the states for 25 years and had no plans of coming back…hmm America’s most wanted anyone?
Down to the riders: There were 11 of us 3 expats on decent mountainbikes with super knobby tires pumped way too high (I thought to myself… they either are not be going very far or these guys are not very experienced). Of the local riders, 3 had real road bikes; one a 90s’ steel Cannondale, the other an older Trek Madone and the last guy a lower end Boardman. The Cannondale guy named Yemi was pretty much the leader with a whistle and everything. The other guys had …how do you put it Junk bikes pretty much convenient store bikes you find in Publix (UK Walmart), and 2 other guys had fitness bikes. I had to make a decision, do I take it easy and hang with these guys and just enjoy the experience or do I do what I do best: Stroke some egos and initiate a breakaway…. The problem is I don’t not know the roads!
We finally set off after all 6 finished changing a tire that really just needed pumped, what a way to start your ride. About a mile in, the pace was depressingly slow so on the first of only 2 significant climbs I went out front just to just open up the legs a little. It was difficult striking up a conversation because most of them were not fit and could not pedal and talk at the same time and I was a little worried about someone crossing wheels with me. I did not expect anyone to stay with me but I picked up the pace a little I sensed someone on my left well really I heard someone’s breathing, You know how you try to control your breathing to prevent someone from knowing you are suffering… Well guess what it’s usually obvious so you might as well go to your plan be “Proclaim you did a double century the previous day and this is a recovery ride”. I look around and to coach Yemi and he is putting some power in. I try to be modest but from his breathing and the grade I knew I could drop him even if I was climbing that at the end of a hard century. I resisted and did not drop him though. Yemi would go ahead and use his whistle to stop traffic as our rag-tag team limped through with a security detail in tow for the embassy delegates, It was quite comedic because we looked nothing like a well oiled bike club in a pace line expertly chaperoned by SIlvester or Jack. We looked more like a kid’s bike group being led to school in Portland Oregon.

RIding on shoulder of Expressway

Riding on the shoulder of Expressway

Unlike American Interstates, Nigerian interstates mimic the old British interstates. You do not exit from an interstate right into the settlement you are headed to, instead you exit unto a service road then exit to where you want to go, well guess where we were riding…. Yep the service road of an interstate with cars going by at 70mph all honking of course. It was a Saturday morning so traffic was light and it was new tarmac, just flat pedaling heaven. Again I headed out front and just put the hammer down, I wasn’t do this to cause a breakaway I just wanted to feel speed then I heard that clicking sound of a freewheel (Dang Wheelsuckers) then something amazing happens the rider comes around and starts taking a pull, it was the group mechanic (AB) on his Madone with Easton wheel… it was obvious the dude could ride…

Sitting on AB's wheel... Safest place to be.

Sitting on AB’s wheel… Safest place to be.

We left the group and took turns pulling for about 6 miles; his experience was invaluable as he pretty much bullied cars and rickshaws called Keke Napep (Keke is the Hausa word for bicycle), Hausa is one of the three major languages of the over 250 found in Nigeria, (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are the major three. I am Igbo) as they tried to cut us off. Taxi’s stopped at the side of the road to offload passengers got bangs from AB’s skinny arms as we went by, he would let out screams 10 yards before he gets to the car and give it a good smack as we wheeze by. At some points we got on the shoulderless interstate and I pretty much sat on his wheel the entire time. I wasn’t sure if it was safer to lead or follow for protection not only from the wind but from the unbelievable situation. It was a crazy experience …. My senses were on overdrive, I was pedaling as fast as I could to get off this never ending road, conscious of every car that zipped passed me at over 70mph but also conscious of the fact that if one of them does not see me or misjudges my location no amount of alertness could help me. At a point I started to tire and AB led us to a gas station where I had a coke (I mean real coke) made with real sugar. I was ready to do another 50K.

I could go on but I will end it here… I truly hope to get on some good rides with the group this year though I know it will be greatly limited… I am truly beginning to learn the level of commitment a child brings, my priorities are truly changing… but then again it’s a circle I will be old like some of you one day (Hey.. I did not name any names Larry)…
The ride was one of the highlights of my trip. It was good to experience and share in the lives of up and coming cyclist. I am now looking for Bike mechanic learning opportunities and hopefully a better connection with Bike for the World for opportunities to share more of the magic of cycling. Amazingly in the country I am aware of only 3 bicycle shops…
Prayers for Sue, I hope this cheers you up a little… we miss you…

Ride Report Abuja Nigeria I

Hi guys,

Just wanted to give a little write up on my ride during my trip home:

The dilemma that gave me sleepless nights was how to get my bike home. So standing at the checkin counter I looked at my newly upgraded bike and a montage started to roll to a Aerosmith’s I don’t want to miss a thing: the first time I sat the awkward machine, when I realized those skinny tires are not terribly twitchy if I kept my speed up, my very first road ride with Andy, Rick and Jack, Jaunts with Ron. I remembered how beautifully she pulls into the wind with a host of wheelsuckers staring at backside, how much those canti brakes squeal during a cross race, how no matter what I do the bike just cant seem to stay clean. I remember its companionship on my jaunt up ASCI during my inaugural gran fondo and how we cried together when my quads decided to protest having to propel her over 100 hard miles. I could not help but wonder if alas this was adieu to an old friend.

You see I had looked around for a bike case to ensure safe transport of my bike to Nigeria especially since we had to change planes in Frankfurt Germany and though the Germans are known for their meticulous and excellent engineering, baggage handlers worldwide are trained in the same facility all doctors take their penmanship class, watch them work and I guarantee you will learn to travel with nothing but carryon luggage, If you want to stuff to arrive in one piece pack it great and pray.

So just before I purchased a reinforced bike bag I decided to call the airline (Lufthansa) and see what their policy on bikes was; as it turned out the plane had a bike rack and all I needed to do was make a reservation (which I did), deflate the tires and pay $150 at checkin being that it is considered “Oversize” though it weighs less than 20lbs with pedals and a saddle bad. At the checkin counter the gentleman said he does not see a reservation for my bike but after some inquiry he said they could take it…. sadly for him he forgot to charge me and I did not remind him. So I looked at my bike wondering if this was the last time I would ever see it, Maybe I should just pay the $150….ahhh No!… being a victim of lost luggage numerous times, I put the chances of seeing my bike again at 35%.

I had been in Abuja, Nigeria for 6 days now and was yet to ride. Before leaving I had connected with some riders in Lagos (another city in Nigeria) on Strava and was really looking forward to schooling them on some good fashioned mountain man climbing albeit on winter legs. Due to circumstances beyond my control I could not take the bike with me to Lagos. So 2 days before I had to return to the States I resolved do whatever is necessary to get a ride in. Via some contact at the British embassy I learnt of a cycling group in Abuja who met at 7am. This was it, a social ride in 90 degree weather through the heartland of Nigeria AKA The Giant of Africa.

 

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I could barely sleep the night before this ride, the opportunity to explore my childhood stomping grounds or better yet the motherland by bike was tantalizing. though this was the first day I was actually beginning to adjust to the 6hrs I gained from flying across the Atlantic, I pushed aside any hypnosis of sleep, slapped on my Wheelmen kit (full wit bandana burrowed from Donna), mounted my lights and tip-toes outside the gate being deliberate not to alarm the sleeping by my cyclists cleats.

The time was 6am and the temperature was 74degree, the air smelt of fruits and gasoline and there was not that distant chill you usually feel early in the morning.

You could hear the distant call of an imam beckoning the Muslim followers to morning prayer. The was a general calm feeling almost stagnant no head/tailwind, I adjusted my saddle, clicked on my headlamp and pushed on into the slowly awakening city.

As I slowly pedaled in the direction of the meet-up the only traffic I encountered where the early taxi drivers in the VW golfs and Peugeot 309s continually tapping their horns to get the attention of potential passengers (car horns are really the soundtrack of Nigeria) The buzz of the cities is hardwired into your consciousness by the innumerable amount of car hunks you hear and process daily kind of reminds you your alive and not droning in some perfectly manicured socially correct system…(After 15mins of driving, my 11yr old asks…why is everyone so mad… I say buddy over here people don’t hunk because they are angry, they do it to pass time)…

I could tell the sun was beginning to rise but due to the relative flatness of this part of the country and excessive development I know I did not have a good chance of seeing a sunrise. More importantly we were in Harmattan season when the northeasterly winds blow dust in from the Sahara desert to the Gulf of Guinea so the city is in a constant dust haze, no clouds…just a greyish haze…

It does not rain in Harmattan, actually it is considered an ominous sign if it rains in this season so needless to say I did not bring a jacket. lol

I did a 10 mile loop, watching people wake up and get about their business. The roadside restaurant lady brings her business back to life by stoking her kerosene stove with her baby velcrowed to her back by a length of clothe. The water sellers pushing their homemade wheelbarrows with loads of jerry cans, The fruit and nuts seller embarks on her route effortlessly balancing her goods on her head as she texts and walks, the occasional Range Rover ferrying the boss man home after a long night of clubbing… Abuja is such a vibrant city where all classes rob shoulders. In such a raw place, you can be a water seller today and a billionaire tomorrow its apparent the country and more appropriate Africa is the next frontier in business venture and opportunities and the fruits are very evident . The blacktop was immaculate, with a sidewalk and traffic and street lights, there was not a bike lane but an empty bus lane so it turned out to be a great personal bike lane.

 

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The terrain was primarily flat…false flat…little climb/rise…then back to flat. A couple decent climbs but nothing I would even consider a cat 3… Due to my winter legs, by 10 miles I was beginning to feel the effects of constant pedaling and by this time the temp had risen to about 80 (no humidity though). Though I group up in this city, the development and changes have happened so fast I got lost almost immediately, Finally I got on this long stretch which I knew would take me to the meeting point then I say a couple white(Caucasian) gentlemen on mountainbikes with a car behind which I realized was an escort and the first thing I though was Dang…this is going to be a slow sucky ride.

Sadly I was kind of a rock star, no one had ever met me before and they liked my kit and bike. Nigerians are a different breed, and this is true with many other nationalities. Nigerians pretty much wear their emotions on their sleeves and are quite touchy feely people so I had a lot of people touch me to feel my jersey, pick my bike without asking , checkout my lights, for the only prominent/popular/famous/awesome bicycle rider in Cumberland MD that I know of all that attention made me a little uncomfortable. It took me a while to readjust to this natural behavior but it was also ironic how they admired my aluminum cross bike with no bling whatsoever. I couldn’t help thinking “well if you see Silvester’s bike you’ll probably worship him them”

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In typical Nigerian fashion, a ride that was supposed to kick off at 7 was not showing any signs of heading out and it was 8 now and 95 degrees….

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