2019 GCGF part 3
With afrobeat tunes in my head, I felt reenergized, no more breathing sounds like a misfiring steam engine, voices of complaint and self pity, it was back to one pedal stroke after the other in the Appalachian paradise we call home, the road forever going skywards.
The top of Douglas road climb leads to the fast and flowing downhill into Lonaconing. With sharp switchbacks and blind corners, line selection, confidence and disc brakes make this a good place to recover. Taking the racing “outside-inside-outside” line, I safely navigated my way down the mountain. I know this road well, as I have done many a training rides here.
It crossed my mind that at the bottoms, I could hang a right instead of a left and in 40 minutes be at my houses reclining in my lazyboy, binge watching reruns of The office, instead of continuing with this sufferfest. Alas as was said by revolutionaries of colonial Africa – Aluta continua, Latin for the struggle continues.
Lonaconing and Savage river road all the way to rest stop 5 is flat, slightly climbing or downhill. I passed a guy on a purple Cannondale and decide to wait up and work with him. He seemed to not want to or be having trouble bridging up to me. It did not help that I could not make up my mind if to fully sit up and wait or get on with it. I would wait for a few seconds, look back, see him not make up any ground, keep pedaling, look back, still see him, wait, repeat. I finally decide to wait up and we worked together. He took a pretty long pull and for the first time that day I fully drank of the free wine of unmerited speed – zipping along with nary an effort, just a feathering of the brakes-if only the rest of the way were like this! I pull through and get in the wind only to see the rest stop a few yards away, I feel bad, like I had just taken advantage of the poor guy, he had to chase, work and get shanked.
After the rest stop, somehow I was feeling really good. Revitalized by the food and the best tasting coke I have ever had. I refilled my bottles, reapplies some lubrication to my southern territory and put the hammer down. I passed a few people, motioned for then to jump on and either got the dead look like your on your own buddy or no thank you. I finally catch up with Cannondale guy again, he must have left the rest stop before me – time to repay my debt. I get in the wind and the prolonged high pitch ratcheting of his free wheel tells me homeboy is getting a supreme draft. We work very nicely together, rolling at a click apparently too fast for anyone else to jump on. The train rolls all the way into the next stop.
At this point the buzz in the air is that we had made it at least 90 miles. People are rolling in looking wretched and wrecked, some people are talking about the shortcuts and their inability to find it, others lay prostate on the floor trying to stretch, others like me are imbibe on copious about of pickle juice, coke, and Heed. I take my shoes off the let my aching feet breath, feels similar to how they feel after prolonged stents backcountry skiing in my telemark boots that have refused to pack out. I notice a guy sitting by himself looking all melancholic. We start talking and he informs me he was one of the original members of the Western Maryland Wheelmen when he worked at the bike shop in frostburg. He says he did this ride last year and is worried about the next climb – Michael road. Having blazed the last section, I was riding on a fresh dose of energy and adrenaline, so I told him he would be fine, how bad could it be.
Micheal road/Big Savage
Holy crap! I have done some pretty tough climbs but I don’t know where this climb came from! I have been riding in this area for 10 years and have never ridden, driven or heard of Michael road.
It started out quite mellow, the first section was maybe a mile, so since we are not in the Rockies, I figured there couldn’t be much left. There was actually a very little descent, and then there it was, the Savage pyramid, a wall that rose up to a silo at the top, my heart literally skipped a bit. I first tried to spin, shooting for 75rpm, that did not last long, I stood up and mashed away at the pedals, only to sit back down after maybe 10 pedal strokes. I shifted one gear down, trying to build more momentum and had to return to my largest gear, all this and I had only moved 150 feet. I unzipped my jersey to maximize ventilation and then went into rule number 15 of The Principles of Clydesdale Climbing – when in unimaginable turmoil, do the paperboy. For those who do not know, the paperboy is when you zigzag across the road in an effort to lesson the direct vertical distance you need to climb – like delivering the newspapers to houses on both sides of a street. I look back and literally the 3 riders behind (felt like below, it was that steep) were all zig-zagging across the road. It looked like some wired version of the Macy’s Memorial Day parade procession.
After what seemed like a lifetime, I got to the silo, Holy Mary, that was hard, but I did it, I made it up this volcano face of a climb, that was bad, but not traumatizing. I zip up, fish out my glasses, and get in the drops, let’s rip this downhill and get some life back in these legs. What! That was it! The downhill is over?! That wasn’t the top?! I’m dead…
I unzip, and get back on the paper route, apparently the climb was not over, wouldn’t be for another 2 miles. I honestly have never zig-zagged that much on a climb before. While on the paper route, you should always be going uphill as you go across the road. There were times where I actually went down a little just to give me legs a break. When you think about it, that was stupid because you have to regain that elevation, but I did not want to walk. No walking, not just because of pride but for the practical reason that I would never be able to restart and clip back in if I did.
There was one more false summit where I repeated the zip up and glasses thing, only to be met with more climbing. At this point, your legs stop hurting. It’s like your brain is tired sending the pain signal that keeps going unanswered. They just feel heavy and dead. Everything is aching your neck from holding your head up, shoulders, arms, back, sit bones, quads, and feet. They are all pulsating and letting you know you are approaching the edge. I finally make it to the top and the final rest stop
Red Creek climb
After Michael rd, this climb was quite enjoyable. Mostly shaded on the lower slopes, and gentle in grade. Here I felt the first inclines of cramps in my left quad. At this point, finishing was a foregone conclusion, barring a catastrophe. My legs were now used to the constant demands for power, my triceps ached from holding up my bulk, my palms tingles from resting on the handlebars, my stomach distended from drinking what seemed like a gallon of fluid. I was suffering from intermittent reflux of pickle juice and PB&J. I was ready to be done.
The worst climb was the Frank Brenneman climb, I was not expecting it, I thought the suffering was over, there were people pulling over and walking, they must have been blindsided by this just like me. The paperboy approach got me through.
I was able to finish strong and cross the line in 9:54mins. I think it was at least 15mins faster than that as I forgot to turn I’m on my auto pause until after the 2nd rest stop.
This was an excellent event, unpretentious in its intent and privileged to be housed in some of the toughest, prettiest, least congested roads on the east coast. It is a true challenge and personal journey for every rider, made easier by experience, yes, but a ride where we discover the untapped potential of the human body and mind.
Many cyclists have made completing the GCGF an annual tradition, and many continue to set it at the top of their cycling year’s calendar like I did. As much as I love it to grow and attract more people for the county and region, I appreciate that it still feels blue-collar like most of us mountain folk.
Big shout out to my family, for enduring all the training and skipped dinner nights, to my trainer/coach Kevin Ellsworth, my friends and cycling mentors – many members of the Western Maryland Wheelmen, the organizers and wonderful volunteers of the GCGF and Mr. Fluorescent Green, for adding some color to the day.
Ride on and thanks for stopping by.