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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2019 Garrett County gran fondo – Ride Report (Part 1)

As most people in my state of life, we are navigating finding purpose, setting good examples for our kids and finding fulfillment. The struggle between being passionate, following your heart, and the stereotypical millennial or being practical and endorsing logical thinking is real. Luckily, the bike has been an astute vehicle for navigating this dichotomy, one I am lucky to have found.

In the past few years, my time in the saddle has greatly decreased, my ride time reduced to solo bouts of aimless punting, and extended periods of inactivity, this coupled with swim practice, soccer coaching and assigned nights to give the kids showers and tuck them in, activities epic and club rides have been saved for middle age. In the middle of all this, one thing has always still haunted me, one goal still evaded me, the primal desire of every red-blooded, spandex-clad, cyclist on the east coast – complete the Garret County gran fondo – the diabolical doubtless.

With 125miles and about 15,000 feet of climbing, this is a bucket list ride for me. Unlike popular rides in Europe like the maraton etape, with huge coles and extended winding descents, the gcgf offers jagged winches of climbs, screening descents which are over much too quick and in the grand sceme, forgettable. You spent the entire ride feeling the only time you weren’t climbing was while at the rest stop or walking up a climb. Having completed the “grande” option, 100miles, 12,000 feet of climbing, I am familiar with in folklore and experience of the gcgf. I have also failed to complete the double multiple times, always capitulating to the pain and suffering, the first time due to my nemesis – cramps and the second time, a welcomed mechanical.

Last Saturday, I accomplished this goal, inducted into the hall of finishers, this is my account of it (what’d you mean all that was the intro? – heck yeah, a long ride deserves a long intro):

As usual, I’m always intrigued by the visuals at the start of an event. I always use this to gushed how big of a mistake I am making, how out of my depths am I attempting this? What struck me was the general absence of baby-smooth legs, deep wheels and kits so tight , you get hypoxic just looking at it. Save for the occasional triathlete (you can usually tell them by their poor choice in socks or lack of one), the field was filled with mountain men, box rimmed wheels, and hairy legs. There where many middle aged individuals, with visible bellies (nothing wrong with that) and a presence that conveyed a person as comfortable on their bikes as they are handling a riffle.

I missed the start, thanks to my inherent proclivity to African time and saw the group heading out as I was heading to the start line. I was glad to hear salutations from my coach Kevin Ellsworth, former local strongman, Tony Yurko, and the rangy unmistakable figure of Rick Bartlette comfortably sitting on a wheel like the best of them. I swung around and joined the peloton inadvertently missing the activation of my timing chip – not to worry, I was going for finisher not winner, besides where it really counts is strava. My strategy for this ride was simple, keep the power really low and constant, 270W or lower, don’t get out of the saddle unless you absolutely have to, stay hydrated, really rest at the rest stops, do whatever it takes to not get cramps.

CLIMB 1

The first climb comes about 2 miles into the ride – ASCI, this climb, this formally was the climb to the finish of the event, at 0.6 miles long, and an average grade of 10%, it is no way to start a ride. I still get unfortunate flashbacks of the out-of-body experience I had at the finish of the 2014 gran fondo, where both quads seized up, and a whole scene was made, save for calling the fire dept, a lot of $ was spent on therapy to be able to talk about it today without breaking into cold sweats. I tried to get into a rhythm, muscles stunned by the abrupt demand for more power, I noticed Rick who I had been riding with drop back a bit, Causing me to wonder if I was already going out too hard, but my heart rate was not terribly high and I felt I could give a lot more if I wanted to. I was passing all kinds of people, some with triple chain swing setup, cassettes as big as dinner plates, and those who apparently did not read the details of the event and showed up with what looked to me like 11-26 gearing. Believe it or not, one guy went by me on a single speed bike with flat pedals! I honestly chucked it up to a publicity stunt, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind really looking to complete the ride on that setup. The resulting physical, not to mention emotional damage would be too great. We made it to the top uneventfully and started on the descent – to the next climb. This too was uneventful, save for the flying lady from Ohio, who was really leaning it over, picking some great lines and visibly having fun. Like the silent assasin that he is, Rick appears from no where on my wheel, subliminally willing me to pedal a bit harder.

CLIMB 2

White Rock

We hit white rock, the next significant climb, another grueling slug! All warmed up by now, I was able to get in my trusty 30-32 and attempt to spin. With legs the size of baby whales, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a cadence of anything above 77rpm. Switching to shorter 172.5mm cranks has helped, but when the going gets going, I resort to my trusted approach of Jeremy Clakson’s POWER and pay the price later. I was able to pass a few people on this one and showed a lot of restraint not to push and pass more, it was obvious though that everyone was still quite fresh. On this climb I noticed a few “brothers” too. The past few years I have done this, I have not been seen a lot of minority riders (of which there are many) partake in this suffering, so I made a mental not to chat with him when gravity was of a friendlier disposition. For the entire ride, my bike computer was set to display, Power, Cadence, Heart rate and Normalized Power. I had no interest in knowing how far I had gone, what grade I was currently on, how much time I had ridden or how much I had left. I only wanted to keep pedaling and for Mary sake avoid cramps! On the decent the ghost Rick assumed the familiar position on my wheel, and during a lull in the action told me something that changed my ride and possibly helped me finish.

Stay tuned.

The Intangible. 

Slow days at work put me In a state of malaise and deep introspection, I sit feeling un/underutilized like a luxury sports girl used only to run errands…wasting. I wrestle between desiring full utilization and living a bohemian nonconformist life style, do I press to be a CEO and control the destiny of others or sell all I have buy a VW Westiva and drive cross country biking and skiing whatever my pleasure. Both options contain room for doubt and discontent. Deliverance at such times come in a slow long ride (SLR). I punched out early, bundles up and rolled out for a lumpy, windy, slow spring ride on an overcast 45degree day. 

  

Irons mountain remains my second favorite place in the world, the beauty of that place hunts and hugs me simultaneously. It is an ode to the solitude usually required for such beauty and the urban infrastructural cost (lack of). I love to drive up that mountain on my lunch break and watch the turkey vultures soar, jib and juke with the thermals as the rise out of the adjoining valley. The ride to the top was tasking to put it lightly, my legs were flat and instead of ruminating on my thoughts and figuring out the world’s problems, I was wrestling the mountain gradient, mentally struggling not to abort, point my front wheel downhill and do what ever thinking I had hoped for in front of a TV set. I suppose there are some climbs great for getting in a zone, where the body goes into autopilot, churns out the miles liberating the mind to think and there are others where all faculties (physical and mental) are summoned to maintain forward momentum. 

   

 

Lately I have been working on relocating to Nigeria, there is so much to look forward to, and so much to miss in that one decision. Endless sunny days to ride, a slower pace of life and community alien to western living where you actually know your neighbor beyond the once in month hello exchanged as you walk out to get the Sunday paper.  There is however the price paid in the forfeit of some level of comfort: Mosquitos with teeth, insecurity, lack of snow and winter sports, state parks, the vibrant Appalachian mountains in the Fall. This was what I was chewing over on this ambitious ride for someone with Spring leggs I have taken many a long rides intent on sifting through the fog, to convincingly articulate to myself the reason I am really trying to move there, many times I end with more questions than answers. 

  

Grinding up Warrior mountain, on the section with a steady 7% grade, it becomes clear, the answer is “the intangible” that which can not be quantified, can’t be articulated, qualities like providence, destiny, serendipity. The intangible if the anchor that keeps one commited to a resolve when all fails. The enigma however is that we seek to unravel the intangible, to clearly articulate and bring to the light the ethos of our motivation, but we fail every time. I guess we have to keep going on those Slow Long Rides. 

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.

Sweeping with a Shovel.

I contend that there are few things more satisfying than using the right tool for the right job. The perfect fit of the torque bit as it mates with the perfect bolt head, no wiggle, no loss of energy. The “Quiver-killer” is the accolade most trail bikes aim for, a jack-of-all-trades and master of most. A bike that eliminates the need for another, many a cyclist have attempted to shoehorn the cyclocross bike into this role.

We welcomed 2015 with the traditional mountain bike ride around the Gap. All the regulars were there, including Brian on his Cyclocross bike which sees dirt only on this ride and a couple cross races in the fall.

Cross bikes are lighter than most mountain bikes, capable of accommodating significantly larger tires and made all the more attractive by their availability in disc brake option, improving power and modulation. As great as the hype is around the versatility of a cross bike, there is some inflation of reality going on. If you ride on embed or loose rock single track like most on the East coast, I dare say the lack of compliance and potential flats would make your jaunt less than pleasurable. Riding behind Bryan, he did not look like he was having the time of his life. Grip was at a premium even with the 34” tires he was running. He muscled the bike around turns and obstacles, leverage of a flat bar and forgiveness of suspension could have made obscure. He risked sitting too long and have his sit bones knocked out of alignment.

Using a shovel to sweep the floor generates a similar sensation. The job will get done, albeit slowly, painstakingly and inefficiently. God created us for a purpose, but very often, we compromise our gifts and callings to be a cyclocross bike. We attempt to be amphibious in our philosophy of life, appease society’s expectation of us, and follow our dreams…at some point. Cruising behind Brian, he was going to get around the 5-mile loop that was for sure, he just was not having fun doing it.

The Unknown

Sitting on the steps of my driveway, the  Fall chill sipping past my soft shell jacket, my skin and nose bask in the crisp aroma of tired leaves, the atmosphere saturated with the smell of fall, and the sun – missing in action. It was decision time: do I go on this ride or not? You see, every once in a while, especially post riding hiatus comprising of full on absence from the saddle, I decide on some big exploratory ride the theme (slow and long) where I attempt to go off lots of unbeaten paths and explore roads I have never been on before. It so happens that somehow on those rides I end up riding some variation of the rides I already know, I never really get lost, I stay constrained in my curiosity and always stay within the buffer of the familiar.

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What do we fear in the unknown? Is it trepidation of mental and physical anguish we might experience in discovering it, or the effort required in embracing and mastering it, maybe its just the awareness of our nakedness and ignorance made glaringly apparent in a state of not knowing. I think in my case, my fear is that I might not be able to afford the cost of the venture. Due to the significant topographical fluctuations in elevation (climbing) around Cumberland, I would have to climb and/or decend a couple thousand feet before I even reach uncharted territory, when finally on virgin territory the further I go the more worried I become: I worry about how climbing lies ahead, am I going to get lost and have to backtrack, what about getting back home? I am going to have to do all that climbing to get back home (this conversation set to the Banjo ridden soundtrack of Deliverance as I go deep into Appalachia). The fear of running out of energy is so immense I inevitably end up doing a variation of the ride I already know.

On Saturday though, I mounted and headed towards the limits of my familiarity, I got to the cross road of decision where I could turn left and head towards Centerville and back home or I could head towards Everitt, towards more struggles with gravity, towards adventure. I chose the latter. I rode all the way to Bedford PA, through a cathedral of changing colors and Fall foliage, the scrubs signaled their welcome to old man winter with bright shades or green, yellow and amber, the maple trees displayed every shade of orange occasionally liberating a confetti of spent leaves as the wind demanded, I coasted on the downhills ignoring my Garmin, I drank of the beauty and searched for a deeper meaning of all this. I dug deep looking for a palpable connection between this awe and my inadequate comprehension of God’s magnificence, constantly failing, my attention wrestled away by a vibrant shrub or a cammo-clad youngster stretching his bow.

Thanks to inadequate planning, I ran out of food was cold, worried and my butt and legs hurt. There comes a point in ever Century ride when it is no longer as much fun, you just turn the cranks in order to get to that 100mile marker. In many aspects of my life I feel that’s where I am: like I just rode past the 75mile marker and the views are beginning to look the same, the company the same since mile 1 and conversation is running thin, in my ride of life, change is imperative but I remain clueless as to its initiation. I was tired but I somehow knew I was going to make it, the hardest part had been done, I had gotten on and started riding, I had made that turn and had been rewarded for it.

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I recently heard “Fear is the fruit of forgetfulness” when we forget all the other times we have taken the leap of faith and God has brought us through it builds our faith and debunks fear. Another I heard is “Faith is not the opposite of Fear…Love is” when we finally comprehend the love God has for us, and how much he has done and is willing to do for us, we gain perspective and faith and loose fear. You know, I think even those we think are brave like the Nomad and Vagabond need to ask themselves if deep down they are actually afraid of stability, assurance and calling a place home. In the Bible my favorite passage about fear is 1John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”.

After 70 miles and 6k ft of climbing, I arrive home, toes numb, shoulders locked, ears and face numb but a smile frozen in place. It was difficult, it was lonely, it was hard ….. But it was New!