2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo – Ride Report (Part 2).

For part one of this report, check here.

While discussing the route and looming suffering, Rick informs me of some zigzagging of the final third of the course intended to make up the final mileage and elevation. Knowing Rick and his obsession with navigation, topography, et al, I decide to let the man go so I can suffer in my ignorance, the less I know, the better for me. It was therefore a delight when he hooked up with a duo of fellow vetrans who were discussing prop shafts, topedo diving depths or some such things that attracted him like a moth to a flame. I casually scooted along and that was the last time I saw him the entire day.

 Pigs Ear & Devils Half Acre

I met up and took off with my good friend and gracious host the night before Dave Descutner. We set out together from the first rest stop settling into a splinter group that kept leap frogging one another. No one seemed to want to commit to a particular effort, so for a big guy like me, I would stay in the pack, but once there was a little rise and I had to push out a little more power, I would let off and whomever wants to stay on the leading wheel would have to close up. The same applied for the flats and downhill, the group would be on my wheel until it flattens out or goes downhill. Downhills were a lost cause because few people are able to stay on my wheel going downhill (I say this as a matter of fact, not being boastful at all, big guy and all).

Four miles from Pigs ear & devils half acre climb, you can see the ribbon of blacktop climb up to the hoizon. I could see the red tail lights bespeckle the road as riders claw their way up to the second rest stop. The exposure was apparent with little tree cover and what seemed like a head wind. In the past, this was the point where I acknowledged the first signs of cramps and the suffering in my immediate future. Today, there were no cramps, just a small ache in my right knee and poor shifting of my bike – I think I can, I think I can.

I got on the climb alongside “florescent green” guy. He was riding a florescent green Lemond bike, with the same colored kit and socks. For some untold reason, I could not stand the guy, we had been leap-frogging one another the entire time since the first rest stop. I would either pass or drop him on the descents, and he would catch up to me on the climbs, everything in me just wanted to put in the effort and distance him once and for all, but I again showed incredible restraint and braved the potential of a seizure from his vibrant green countenance, it had begun, my mind was beginning to suffer. 

We climbed steadily all the way to the rest stop. Here you started to see the kinks in people’s armors. Choruses of excuses, justifications and plans to capitulatewe will see when I get to mile 60, I might just go for the 100, my lower back is having spasms etc. At this stop they had a prayer booth which I seriously considered visiting to get some extra supplication for God’s assistance. I decided to go with 4 shots of pickle juice instead – now that tastes nasty! I was willing to do whatever it takes to stave off cramps, so for good measure I did one more, and then one more – I was desperate… I got my bike and took off for the next climb.

 

Bowman Hill & Killer Miller

On the run up to Bowman, I got passed by a little guy in a Nigeria flag color green kit with Leadville embossed on it, seconds later, an identically built guy, in the same kit is sitting on my wheel. At the top I see they are riding together and working great, I look back and see Mr. Florescent green, I’m like screw this, I’m working with these guys to get away from him once and for all. I get in the drops, get sucked into their draft and glide right on past. I expect to see the group slowly fade away but 400 yards down, they are still right there, looking nice and neat, now that’s what I’m talking about, best of all we had finally gotten rid of florescent green. When it flattened out I chatted with the group – they are from the Shenandoah valley region and invited me to do the Alpine loop someday. As expected on this ride nothing good lasts long. Once on Bownan Hill, they gingerly float up the climb, opening the gap to me with every pedal stroke. My legs get heavier, the steep pitches inciting pain down my shoulder and spine as I yank on the handlebars for leverage. I crawled from shade to shade, irrespective of what side of the road it was on.m, every second out of the sun counts. At this point I convince myself that anyone who passes me is either doing a shorter ride than the double or most likely not pacing properly and would certainly blow up before the finish. 

Killer Miller was less daunting than I expected. The guy I caught up with at the base literally climbed 90% of the hill while standing. Looking at his cluster, his easiest gear was so little, I would guess he had a 26 as his largest gear, I don’t think it was possible for him to sit and spin even if he wanted to. He vacillated between standing and mashing for 30 seconds, then sitting for 5 seconds only to rediscover that he had not magically found an extra gear and had to stand back up to maintain momentum. Misery loves company, I was in loving it.

 

The Gremlins were beginning to creep in, I was increasingly being tempted to scroll over on my bike computer and look at how far I had done, how much suffering was left. The roads had became a little familiar, I had reconned this section with the wonderful Ellie Hamilton and friends a few weeks ago. Blue lick was next – graveled road, a nice downhill into a steep climb where traction was a premium. The last time I rode this road, I was unable to maintain traction at the top and fell over. With the way my legs were feeling, the chance of a repeat was very high. Amazingly, some one from the event must have filled out all the potholes and maybe even regraded the road. There was ample traction and I was able to stand and stretch my poor aching back. 

My mind always goes first before my body follows, it starts with anger, anger at the organizers for putting on such an unsafe event, how is it safe to make a course with this much climbing? why in the world would anyone want to climb this much? Anger at myself for paying money to do this – what am I trying to prove? At 228lbs, I’m never going to be a great climber, all this to end up 400th on a strava segment. I could hear my breathing and mind begin to drive me crazy, then I heard it the cowbells..

Jamie my wife had tracked me down and was at the side of the road with my kids cheering me on. It was great to get kisses and give sweaty hugs as they looked at daddy trying to decipher how he was feeling. My older daughter Adaeze was exceptionally loving after experiencing me get dropped at the last criterium I did. She said, “Daddy get on your bike, ride, ride, ride”, before I obliged her, I knew what I needed. Most of you readers will not like this, and I am sure to get some scolding from this, I might even be redisqualified for this (apparently I was disqualified), but I needed my mind to shut up, so I burrowed Jamie’s headphones and headed out for the final, brutal, painful, inhumane part of the ride.

 

Come back again, final part.

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Technique

“Technique”, such a beautiful word isn’t it? One of those words with its phoneme actually matching its definition. I put it in the same class as svelte, cajole, succinct, all words that are unpretentious and in a sense very “English”.  Technique is in fact quite a heavy and far reaching consideration – the way a task is executed- its comprises knowledge, individuality, propensities and personalities. In some cases, a lifetime is required to develop proper technique, in others, almost no time, technique is expedited by natural abilities or hindered by a scarcity of motivation.
In my host of extracurricular activities like cycling, hiking, photography etc, none has demanded the servitude to technique as much as skiing. There are few things that rival the beauty of a great skier carving a turn with skis on edge, the level control highlights commitment, intuition and an understanding of dynamic balance. Beautiful skiing is an ability that cannot be faked, you either know how to, or you’re not quite there yet. In sports like biking, you could get an aerodynamic advantage by sitting on a wheel or gain a boost in speed when you descend a mountain pass, in photography, you can click the setting to Auto and get lucky or if you shoot enough, there is a high possibility you will get a salvageable shot. Skiing however requires control under surrender, put succinctly, skiing with great technique is falling beautifully.
This bring to mind the concept of surrender, when we ski we surrender to the insurmountable, and omnipresent force – Gravity. This is reminiscent of life, we are constantly falling through the crests and trough of the mountain of life, in somethings we choose to  take the time to learn proper technique, in others, we opt to play the odds. The great bump skiers use the bumps to their advantage, both to check their speed and make turns, much easier said than done when one is not balanced on his skis. Romans 8:28 “All things work for good for them who love God, who are called according to his purpose” this is believe is the balance required in the mountain of life.
like anything, learning technique is daunting, but when mastered, produces beauty so enviable. like i said i love that word technique, now I just need to get me some.
Thanks for stopping by…

He who knows not….

The popular saying “He who knows not, but knows that he knows not is wise” comes to mind when i comtmplate the current trend of seeking the uknown. Excitement and adventure seems directly linked to the degree of discovery,and the risk of danger or failure. Many go to great lengths to peer into corners of cration yet unknown. The irony is the growing trend of eschewing discovery and longing for the rare surprises in today’s world. This is evident in young couples declining the oppotunity to know the sex of their unborn, people choosing to become Luddites  cut the cable, cord and whatever else tethers them to the grid. Alas, this is most evident in the nationalist, xenophobic outlook of many. Not knowing, for all its virtues also hides its other face, – disconnection.
I’m sure this is the point many click along to the next blog or news bulletin, but hang-on, these thought are far from political:
Many know the burden of wonder that come with pondering how one came to be at a particular place or time. Deprived of the stories of ancestors and stewards of culture, language, and memories, compulsions  one is left walking in circles trying to piece together the grand puzzles albeit with pieces withheld. We reinvent ourselves ignoring the voices that beg the question who really am I?
The African Americans come to mind as one such group, few are lucky enough to have that thread intact, the thread that anchors one’s identity, to a place, a time a people… others, not as lucky.
I am from the Okwarazorumba family, in Nkwerre, Imo state, Nigeria, West Aftrica. My family can be traced back to the founder who rowed his iroko canoe to the banks of Iyi Bekeh (whiteman river) and set up an enclave. He had 4 sons who make up the 4 indiginous villages one from which i hail. Through my travels in life, I have never had to wrestle with my identity, who I am or where i come from. Listening to extended family (my wife is white) talk about DNA testing and mapping out the rest of the family tree, like most native Africans, I scoffed and with no small measure of arrogance said “Well I’m glad i dont need that, I know where I’m from”. I was however challenged with – what if you did a DNA test and the results don’t line up with the stories told?
The grand quandary – Would i want to know that?
I have been venturing into telemark skiing lately. For a pretty decent alpine skier, grasping the new concepts; dynamic balance, weighting, edge control and the likes has really highlighted The things I do not know. Knowing seems pretty hard especially when not augmented by passion, knowledge builds passion and can only be attained as the fruits of a willingness to wonder a willingness to know.
There is much value in knowing, I suppose the same goes for not wanting to know? Some say ignorance is bliss: he who knows not and knows that he knows not is not ignorant, he is wise.

Home

Home they say is where the heart is, where one’s treasures are hidden. Home is the place where neither riches nor glory can replace, age and experience may take one through different stations in life, but as is affectionately said “home is home”. In the mist of chasing bluebird days, being awestruck by love, surviving immense swats of time chained to a computer in a cubicle, I find myself taken to different places in my childhood by the most random of things; A distinct sudden chill the rolls through my spine down to my fingers takes me to crisp mornings in boarding school, the simultaneous smell of gasoline and music pumping out of the the car stopped next to me at the stop light, reminds me of life in Abuja before it became what it is today. I have however been most captivated by light, more specifically the bursts of yellow, reds and orange peaking out beyond the horizon just before sunrise, its magnificence takes me to a place and time I can not put a finger on. Its like a time I have lived and one I am yet to see. It reminds me of home, one that is far, yet so close.
With my recent foray into serious photography, I am glad for the new found sensitivity to change, an appreciation of the extreme and the subtle, the rare and the routine. As we live life, it will do us good to be cognizant of where our eyes rest, we should strive for things that stir the heart, that create treasures of the heart, for the heart will always seek home.
Thanks for stopping by, lots of things coming up this year so subscribe, check out old posts, and keep your eyes on this space.
 lets hang out a little more in 2018.

Food for Thought

Can the world accommodate everyone living in their purpose, with every step and decision intentionally propelling them towards their pre-designed destiny? Many people I know are like trains locked into tracks made of responsibilities, obligations and social expectations, unforgiving and unrelenting. We are governed by mantras like – “man must chop” and “I have a family to think of”, the system needs everyone to play their role to exist, we must go to work to earn and pay the mortgage, the bank must give loans to kids to go to college, who must in turn find a job to pay back those loans and on and on. The system needs us just like we need it.

Staring out this window at my regular 15 minutes work breakfast, I watch people file into worker, I ponder their faces. Some look like they are still trying to fully awaken while others look laden by what awaits them as they walk in the door. I see some people who look like drones, compelled to put in their 8 hours by some unseen force, living for the 48hrs between Friday and Monday. I can’t help but wonder – are all these people doing what they want to do or better yet, are they doing what they are meant to do? Is it possible for us all to do what we are meant to do?

Can the world support a mass awakening, the systems: education, financial, political, social even spiritual are all built on people sucking it up and accepting the hand dealt, what would happen if half the people in our jobs decide to quit tomorrow and follow their heart, downsize and live for contentment. I am not quite sure. Would that be a good or a bad thing? What if the farmer, accountant, doctor decides to quit and become a musician, or load up a backpack and through hike the Appalachian trail? As much as I want this for everyone, I wonder how this would play out. In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam work to do, I assume he liked doing it, it was what he was meant to do. The woes of living in a fallen world.

As usual I have more questions than answers. I just am moved by our collective level of compromise, overwhelmed by the courage and vulnerability required to unshackle oneself and take the leap, intimately aware of the possibility of failure which if the other face of the coin on which courage lies. The saddest part is that the effort required to dream for a better tomorrow or contemplate decisions in the past that has lead us to our today, actually ends up robbing us of today. I guess all we can and should do is keep fighting, keep dreaming but all the while not forgetting to keep leaving because as of today, TODAY is all we have.

I do need to get some pictures, I know posts without pictures to lighten up the melancholy sometimes end up sounding depressing

 

The Planks.

 

I feel myself plummeting down this narrow sketchy patch of snow and ice, the lift line at the bottom of the run is approaching a lot faster than I would expect or like. I know I don’t want to skid my turns, like some of the seemingly cool kids do with a roost spraying off the trails of their skis, I want to be in control, riding the edges and using controlled turns to bleed speed the whole way down, however, that is not working. My brainstem is going crazy and relentlessly firing up my reflexes, I start leaning back, fighting gravity and turning away from the fall line. On a black diamond slope, things are happening so much faster, the stakes are higher and time for recovery is scant. I am rattled now and questioning my decision to turn down this trail, the next pitch is coming up and its much steeper.

The common thread that weaves through all these events, actions and reactions is the ever present “Fear”.

I read somewhere that there are only two emotions: Love and Fear. All negative emotions come fear, fear drives us to run, it dissuades us from inching closer to the edge, and taking the plunge, it keeps us grounded in the safe and predictable. We standby, watch others riding the waves, making the turns, airing it out and tell ourselves things like: “they have less to loose”, “they are much younger”, “they heal quicker than I do” when we see someone crash we hang on that as justification for our “caution/fear” Missing the point would be thinking that I am saying to endanger yourself, however we must be reasonably uncomfortable, a state where we feel more, are more vivid and embody a more intense version of ourselves.

After getting in the back seat a couple times, and unsuccessfully forcing my skis to turn before the edges engage, I stop!

At the edge of the trail, I take some deep breaths and acknowledge fear, yes this is dangerous, but it is not ever going to be, this trail is never going to get less steep just like I am never going to stop wanting to ski it, so today is as good a day as any to do it. I keep my eyes ahead – looking where I’m going and not where I have been, drop into proper squared up stance, I feel for my shin against the tongue of my boots and tell myself to keep them there, I loosen up and let the planks ride, carving Ses in the snow and ice. Fear is calling but I’m really not listening, just letting them skis ride, all the while loving not fearing.

Thanks for stopping by

Ramblings of a cyclist on hiatus…

Every avid cyclist has been there, the rumination of your mind as you approach the base of a big climb, usually starting with the early optimism when for a minute it seems like you might be able to hang in the pack till the top, then early signs of anxiety slowly emerging from the corners of your mind like new born critters poking their heads in the sunlight for the first time. No power is the registered error message as you try to keep pace with the pack, the road tilts skywards, a gap opens up and the group gradually becomes a sperk in the distance.

 

It is at this point of desolation that I pondered the gamut of emotions that we go through as humans, how diverse, compelling and most acutely, how fickle…our emotions are. I contemplate how thin the craverse is between love and hate, how elation and ruin walk side by side, how the only constant is change. I think on this age of “pay as you go” marriages, a woman could walk by her ex husband, one she spent 15 years years of her life with, through joy, pain, loss an triumph uttering nary a word but watering down such overwhelming ironies in statements like I saw Joe yesterday…

The mysteries of our passions are quite intangible and in emotions lie the essence  and reasons for our indulgence . 
Passion is in many ways an epiphany to me, it is an amalgamation of emotion, drive, ambition, external influences, internal inspirations and the intangibles. During this 15 minutes climb which felt like 2 hours, it occurred to me that no group of people are bigger slaves and masters of their passion as Musicians. Capable of fully opening themselves to the fury of the creative process and fully in touch with the intangible to command, bend and express it in its fullness, music can bring you to your knees emotionally as you watch the musician poured out. Many times we walk through life like a plugged stream, able to let out only portions of our essence, dammed, by fear… Fear of judgment, failure… Fear to be vulnerable and called out into the light. Musicians on the other hand seem to be able to break that dam and if only momentarily flow at full force, portraying their full self in all its splendor all the while pulling the listener out from behind his mask and exposing to the light deep things rarely seen.

A great song is to me like the view from a mountain submit, stiring so much of your souls that the best you can offer is speechlessness and a nodding of the head. This brings to mind Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard, CEF, Jon Foreman


 On this climb I thought of my brother CEF, a musician and artist in its true sense, living his life in seasons and servitude to his musical calling, capable of disarming the most distraught with the wail of his voice and contortions of his face, evidence of the deep spring from which the music flows. Right now I wish there was a spring from which to draw energy to get up this hill, alas I must ride this current emotion out, looking down every 50 yards to see if miraculously an extra gear appears and waiting for a gay emotion at the summit all the while  humming the song Hero and trying to recreate the magic only music can give.


Sing on, play on, ride on…