2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo Ride Report (Part 3)

Find here Part 1 and Part 2

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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
Reply

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!

009

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.

007

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