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
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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!

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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.

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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….
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