Get off the front. 



sourse: paketabike.wordpress.com



The first time I did the Seagull Century was my first time riding with thousands of other riders in the same event. The riders came in all shapes, sizes and configurations and the whole mass was most organic, riders jived and bounced in response to one another and the staccato of gear shifts rattling through the peloton was most surreal. Riders came in a myriad of categories : the “pro-isk” guys with matching kits, shaved legs, riding $6000 bikes and shooing any peasant mortal who dared to sit on their wheel, there’s the strongman type with leg hair the lenght of James Hardins beard and leg muscles the size of a babies head, the tri guys in their singlets and bikinis seemingly poured over their aero bars sucking some unnaturally colored fluid from their strawed sippy cup . It was a concuction of various styles, sizes and abilities. The group I want to talk about though is the tandem group; two riders (captain and stoker)on the same bike. On a flat route, there are few things better to sit behind than a tandem: ample windshielding and the speed of a freight train. 

On said ride, I was at the tail of a 10 man paceline being dragged along pretty speedily by a tandem. For 10 miles these guys did not get off the front, they just drilled it, they never flicked the elbow (universal symbol for someone else to take a pull) or drop the pace to give others a hint “time for someone else to come kiss the wind”, no… they just punched a big gap in the atmosphere for the rest of us wheelsuckers to slip through. By mile 12 though, their legs were obviously done, train after train started passing us and a few riders abandoned ship and jumped on faster wagons. Tandem guys still would not get off the front, all they needed to do was let someone else pull but it seemed like they wanted the glory or maybe they did not know how to get off the front…

I finally pulled the ripcord and joined another train. Just as I passed the former engine, I saw them put in a dig to grap onto the tail of the new ship but their legs were too far gone. They were left to face the coastal wind by their lonesome (thanks, see you later)  the glory of 10 miles but a faint memory now. 

Rightly or not, all I could think was ” there lies the fruits of pride“.  

Last Saturday, I found myself in a sipping of the same chalice. My delivery of the neighbors dog poop to their door step resulted in a serious but not unexpected confrontation. Many unkind words were said and absurd threats exchanged. After the show was over, and hormonal level rebalanced, a feeling of guilt and exhaustion replaced those of bravado and machismo. I told myself my behavior was justified, it had to be done, I had to stand up for myself, I could not look weak, I had to pull my weight. The thought of walking over to the same door I dropped a shovel load of dog crap at to apologized seemed too far a step to take. I would look weak, they would feel their threats got to me. 

Goldie encouraged me to do it and I did. I walked to that door, knocked, apologized and struck my arm out to seal the deal of reconciliation and forgiveness. The whole experience was so uplifting it was akin to that you get when leaving the slopes after 8hrs of powder skiing. 

Like Tandem guys, prides keeps you in front making you value more what people think about you than really addressing the true you. I believe my 2 biggest nemesis are Pride and Fear, fruits of the same vibe that must be overcome by love. 

Wheel sucking…

Torture Chamber AKA Sufferlandia

There truly are few things as dreadful as sitting on your bicycle in a cold, damp basement riding spinners or rollers in the heart of winter.  The monotony and lack of visual stimulation is stifling, even with all the tools available both affordable (Sufferfest videos) and not (wahoo trainer). It is at such times that one must pull from an inner reserve, one must conjure up memories of epic climbing conquests, blazing fast group rides or races, perhaps even failures to stay motivated. 


My de facto motivational scene was my spring 3 day “riding camp” last April. A three day organized ride in the coastal flat lands around Oriental North Caroline. On the third day after turning cranks for 160miles (since there is no coasting in the flat lands), with tired legs, I got on a four man train comprising primarily of locals. Unaccustomed to such long straight roads, whenever I took my pull, I always planned to pull till we made a turn then get off ( back home a road is never straight for more than  400yards). It did not take me long to realize that the roads there went on into the horizon, straight as an arrow. 

Needless to say, all I could see for the last 15 miles was the wheel in front of me, as I struggled despairingly to hang on to it. The group did all they could to drop me as I became dead weight but I hung on with as much pinash as the parasite I had become could muster… I would not make the rest of that ride on my own, I knew it. 

source: plattyjo.com


There were many times my body begged me to ease off, let them go, it’s not worth it. I was so close to the end of the ride but yet so far. In my life I have been struggling with the same sentiments, sometimes we hold on so long waiting for a breakthrough that never seems to be coming. Like a tempo ride, your heart seems to redline right before you hit a slight downhill or your turn on the front is over and you get some reprieve. We get similar compulsions, an inclination to go it ourselves, abandon the struggle. The fact is we need that wheel to hang on to, we need that stronger rider to pull us to the finish line. 

In my times of turmoil and dejection the wheel is so love to hang on to is Isiah 40:30-31: even the youth grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. 

I love that….

Accepting he is stronger

I remember the very first time I rode a fellow rider off my wheel. It was the first time I experienced my progression in strength and endurance. suddenly the speed the speed we were clipping at was unsatisfactory, my legs begged to be unleashed, internally I was smacking the rev limiter and needed to move up a gear. The organized pace line, shedding a set of wheels every 10 miles thanks to a vicious head/side wind, the average speed was beginning to suffer. I surged from the back of the pack embracing the gust and pitted my slow-twitch muscle fibers against Mother Nature, the group all too happy to oblige me clamped onto my wheel like eels to a wet body. For a whole mile, I buried my head in the bar, graveled low and mashed my pedals – only to look back and see a gap had been opened and the group torn asunder. The prodigy has finally found his wings. Elated by the slaps on the shoulder I received from fellow riders post ride and recognition of a my fine display, I remember buoyed to do more work, to get better.

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Professionally, I realize I happen to be one floundering in the wind, opening up a gap. I find myself struggling to hold the wheel of the new young gun in the office. I try to reconcile the various variables that birth the disconcerting feeling, like the local stay getting dropped on a climb by an unknown; he is really better than me, he is younger and more in touch with technology, maybe he is smarter with a higher IQ. Alas, the truth is he is better because he cares more.
I don’t not care, but sadly Father Time drags with if the sag of drudgery with monotony. I am not weaker just bored, not slow or sore just need a recovery day.

Having said that, I have resolved to try to keep up, to accept he is better and eschew pride and embrace humility. I must sojourn for a higher calling, a higher peak, a bigger climb where experience is more weighted than youth and strength. Not price… Temperance.

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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